Buckets and Balls

Linked Data is still largely unknown, or misunderstood and undervalued. Often, people find it simply too difficult. So I keep looking for new ways to make Linked Data more accessible. And with some success. In my training courses so far over 60% of the participants had no IT background. I hope even to increase this percentage in the future.

What seems to be most challenging is writing SPARQL queries. The specification is written for IT people. There are some great courses and books but they also target people with some or more IT experience. If anything, that scares the rest and keeps SPARQL away from the masses.

I keep learning what is challenging. A recurring problem – and an unexpected one – is the concept of variable.

What is a variable in SPARQL? Just a placeholder. But how can you imagine a placeholder? It’s abstract. We have no way of grasping abstract things unless we associate them with something physical and concrete. It’s difficult to imagine time, but once we draw it in space it gets easier. We can’t picture furniture, but we have no problem with chair.

The other issue is how a SPARQL query looks. While working with SPARQL helps to understand how a knowledge graph works, a SPARQL query doesn’t look like one. It is like with symbols in mathematics. “5 doesn’t look like five, while ||||| is five”. The problem with SPARQL is similar:

You want to query knowledge graph.
You want to learn new things.
But your query doesn’t look like knowledge graph.
It looks like lines of strings.

So, how to handle together the problems with grasping variables and with the look of SPARQL?

My suggestion is to imagine every SPARQL query as a graph of linked buckets and balls.

Variables are placeholders but abstract. We need a physical container1The idea of using containers is very powerful. The whole arythmetics and alegbra can be done using only the concept of container as demonstrated by William Bricken. to fill with things. We need buckets. And nodes are like balls. So, think of running2“Running” is also a metaphore and what it stands for can be communicated more gracefully. And that’s important. As you know, language shapes the way we think. a query as filling buckets with balls.

A graph pattern then will look like this:

A bucket ?A should be filled with those balls which have a relation R to ball B.

But it looks nicer when we abbreviate it like this:

This is a graph pattern in Buckets’n’Balls notation. The direction of the relation R is not shown but it’s always from left to right.

The process of writing and running a SPARQL query would then go through the following steps: Continue reading

Roaming through contexts with Roam: Distinction

This is the second part of the series on Roam. The first part was about what is Roam like. If you’ve read it or if you know already, carry on.

The concept of digital twin became popular thanks to the digital transformation fad. It’s now amplified by both market research companies such as Gartner, and by academics.

Roam is expected to be the digital twin of your brain. Working with Roam is like “building a second brain”, the community echoes, after the training course of Tiago Forte by the same name.

Looking at Roam as a second brain is understandable. It is conditioned by a long history of swapping metaphors between computer science and cognitive science. At first computer science used the brain as a metaphor for the computer. This was reciprocated by cognitive science taking computer as a metaphor for the brain. But, as Lakoff and Johnsson convincingly demonstrated, metaphors are not innocent figures of speech. And indeed, the-brain-as-a-computer was not just a metaphor. It was, and for many still is, a guiding light and a paradigm in cognitive science. As with computer, the brain was understood as both a location of the mind and as a processor of representations. Both computationalist and connectionist schools in cognitive science and philosophy of mind held this view of cognition and still do1The computationalist even saw the mind not just as a processor of representations but of symbolic ones. This goes in line with the symbolic tradition in mathematics which paved the path of many sciences. For the consequences and alternatives, see http://iconicmath.com/ . Now, to go through all the arguments on why this is not the case is beyond the objectives of this article, but the curious ones are invited to follow them2These arguments are well developed in the following books: The Embodied Mind; Enaction; Mind in Life; Linguistic Bodies . Let’s just say that, if you are using Roam with the expectation that it will be your second brain, you might be disappointed. But here’s the good news:

Roam is even better than that.

Continue reading

Roaming through contexts with Roam

The first note-taking tool I used was Zim. What I liked most about it was that every word or piece of text in a note could be easily turned into a new linked note. And each note showed backlinks to all other notes referring to it. All that stored as simple text files. Neat and powerful.

Yet, it was a standalone application. Having no native mobile app and no clipping functionality made it difficult to integrate with my workflows. For example, I had to collect and organise my bookmarks and web clipping elsewhere.

So I moved to Evernote. It offered a good mobile app with document camera. Evernote improved my workflows. A note can be created from a mail message, from any web page or selection of it. Evernote quickly took centre stage in my personal information management, supporting not only note-taking and content collection, but also task management and research. And I found my way of using it, which is not necessarily the way it is commonly used. I’ve described it here.

And I’ve been using Evernote for more than 10 years now. But all that time I’ve been missing the ability to create notes from the context of another note, the ability to effortlessly turn strings into things.

The other lasting frustration has been the required maintenance. Without good filing with tags and notebooks, it’s impossible to make use of the content. And this constant split of effort between core content and managing metadata turned Evernote into more of a storage room than a place for work and creativity.

I heard of Notion and other nice alternatives, but none of them justified the migration cost. I had amassed over 12 000 notes in Evernote.

Enter Roam.

I found in Roam all that I was missing in Evernote. And initially, I thought, that’s all there is to it. It’s just a package of the capabilities I was missing. As it turned out, Roam offered much more than that. Roam is not just useful for supporting any kind of knowledge work, it also stimulates writing and thinking. It has certain affordances by design, which makes it addictive. But unlike drugs, it is a healthy addiction.

What is Roam like?

Continue reading

Problem as Cylinder

Recently a friend of mine told me “I can’t get my head around the law of requisite variety”. I’ve heard that before. I have also heard the opposite and sometimes found it wasn’t the case. That’s why I wrote Variety – part 1 and part 2 back in 2013. Part 3 wasn’t that lucky to get published. But whatever was there and much more is now written and will be published as part of the chapter “Stimuli and Responses” in the forthcoming book about organisational balances. Until then, here’s an elaboration of my response to “I can’t get my head around the law of requisite variety”.

First, as a reminder of the law, I’ll just reuse a paragraph from Variety – part 1 :

It’s stated as “variety can destroy variety” by Ashby and as “only variety can absorb variety” by Beer, and has other formulations such as “The larger the variety of actions available to control system, the larger the variety of perturbations it is able to compensate”. Basically, when the variety of the regulator is lower than the variety of the disturbance, that gives high variety of the outcome. A regulator can only achieve desired outcome variety if its own variety is the same or higher than that of the disturbance.

That sounds way too technical so we need an example. As this medium is text, it will be easier to count the variety of words. The variety of cuckoo is four, as there are four different letters. If your goal is to count the variety of a word, as long as you can distinguish these letters, you have enough variety to achieve your goal. But what about the variety of melon and lemon? It’s five for both of them. If these are two hands of five playing cards, they are exactly equal in strength. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be a winner. The cards will be played in certain order. And it is also (and only!) the order of letters that helps us distinguish melon and lemon. The different type of letters, size and order all may participate in measuring the variety of a word. If the font or the colour of letters is different, that would be another criterion for distinction, depending on how it matters for the goal that you have. And then, there was the assumption that the elements of a word are the letters, which is a common and fair assumption. But if your goal is to print them clearly, then you would be more interested in the number of pixels1You won’t have this problem with the sketch below as it’s in vectors. You can scale it up as much as you want without loss of quality..

Like gravity, the Law of Requisite Variety is omnipresent. Whenever there are purpose and interaction, it’s there. To demonstrate this, I can use just the complaint that triggered this post: “I can’t get my head around the law of requisite variety”. It contains this popular idiom “I can’t get my head around” which can be seen as a conceptual metaphor2See Metaphors We Live By and Philosophy in the Flesh by Lakoff and Johnson. See also here QUTE and Human Resources? for some examples. where certain problem or theory is seen as something physical, and the ability to wrap it, as the ability to understand it.

Don’t improve services, kill ‘em!

Photo by Dana Vollenweider

It could be only in my bubble, but my ears now ache from louder and louder service improvement talk. Ever better ways to map customer journeys, to analyse touch-points, and to improve user experience. I get it. It’s all good, or at least the intention is. But I can’t help thinking how much it resembles the process improvement hype. It lasted until some remembered Drucker’s words that “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”, and embraced Lean. Others embraced Lean on other grounds. In fact, it wasn’t much more than just zooming out. The focus changed from processes to the whole business and improvement included getting rid of unnecessary processes.

That’s understandable, you may say. Processes generate costs. Getting rid of processes cuts costs. Services, on the other hand, generate revenue. No obvious reason to get rid of them but plenty of reasons to come up with new services and improve the current ones.

And yet there are so many services I don’t want to have a better experience with. I want to have no experience at all. Continue reading

Exploitation and Exploration

I love going to jazz festivals. Listening to good jazz at home is a pleasure, but what’s missing are the vibes during a live performance. And it’s not the same when you listen to a recording of a concert. Everything changes when you are actually there, immersed, experiencing directly with all your senses. I guess it’s similar with other types of music. But what makes the difference between listening to a recording and being at concert even bigger for jazz, is that it is all about improvisation. And then the experience with single concerts and festivals is also different. With concerts, you immerse yourself for a couple of hours into a world of magic and then go back to the normal world. But with jazz festivals, you relocate to live in a music village for a couple of days. This doesn’t only make it a different experience, but also calls for different kind of decisions.

Previously, when I learned of a new jazz festival or read the line-up of a familiar one, the way I decided whether to go was simple. I just checked who would be performing. If there were musicians that I liked, but hadn’t watched live, or some that I had but wanted to see again, then I went. If not, I usually wouldn’t risk it.

Once I chose to go, this brought another set of decisions. Jazz festivals usually have many stages with concerts going in parallel during the day and into the night. Last time I went to the North Sea Jazz Festival there were over eighty performances in only a few days.  So there is a good chance that some of those you want to watch will clash, and you are forced to choose. And I kept applying the same low-risk strategy for choosing what to watch as I did for deciding if I should go at all.

Then one day, I arrived late to a festival just before two clashing sets were about to begin. I dashed into the closest hall with no clue what I would find. And there I experienced what turned out to be the best concert of the whole festival. I hadn’t heard of the group and if I had read the description beforehand I would have avoided their performance.

I realised then, by only choosing concerts with familiar musicians, I was over-exploiting and under-exploring. My strategy was depriving me of learning opportunities and overall reduced the value I got from the festivals. Continue reading

What can Social Systems Theory bring to the VSM?

In 2015, when the Metaphorum was in Hull, I tried to kick off a discussion about potential contributions from cognitive science, and particularly from the Enactive school. I shared some insights and hinted at other possibilities. This year the Metaphorum conference was in Germany for the first time. It was organised by Mark Lambertz and hosted by Sipgate in Düsseldorf. I saw in the fact that the Metaphorum was in Germany a good opportunity to suggest another combination, this time with the Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann.

These are the slides from my talk and here you can also watch them with all animations.

Related posts:

The Mind Of Enterprise

Redrawing the Viable System Model diagram

Productive Paradoxes in Projects

SASSY Architecture

Human Resources?

People are valuable. That’s why they have an established status as human resources in organizations. When they are more valuable, they are even called assets.

Assets

“People are our greatest asset!” You’ve probably heard that a lot. If not, try “People are our * asset” in Google, and you’ll get over 300 million results. “Greatest” is sometimes replaced by “biggest”, “most important”, and “most valuable”. The results are mainly of two types. The first is people praising narratives, and that’s by far the bigger group. The second is criticism of the statement being hypocritical. Probably most of the authors of the first type are well-meaning and most of the second type have good reasons. But I find this aphorism neither people-praising nor hypocritical. I find it downgrading and offensive.

Can we see people as assets? An asset is “anything tangible or intangible that is capable of being owned or controlled to produce value”. Continue reading

Notes on Stability-Diversity

To be healthy, organisations – like human beings – have to operate in balance. Going temporarily out of balance is OK, but if this goes on for too long, it’s dangerous. Just like riding a bike, the balance is the minimum organisations need to be able to move forward.

What kinds of things need to be balanced? There are three essential balances. The first one is between autonomy and cohesion, the second is about maintaining both stability and diversity, and the third is balancing between exploration and exploitation. The important thing to recognise here is that the nature of each balance will differ between organisations. And what needs to be done to restore balance will change over time. So we can’t be prescriptive or learn “best practice” from others. We can only give people the glasses to see what is going on and the knowledge that will help them maintain the balances in their organisations.

I’ve been doing the Essential Balances workshop for four years now. During the workshop, all three of them seem relatively easy to get, yet a bit more difficult to work with and create a habit of.  Based on the feedback I received from people using in practice these glasses for organisational diagnosis and design, the first and the third balance, Autonomy-Cohesion and Exploitation-Exploration, come more naturally (with certain difficulties in the fractal dimension), while the second one, Stability-Diversity, creates problems. All three of them and a few more will be explained in detail in the forthcoming book Essential Balances, but until then, I’ll make some clarifications here. I hope it will be of use also for people who are not familiar with this practice.

Stability and Diversity. At first glance, it might be difficult to see it as a balance. In fact, it covers three dynamics. So, it might be easier to see it as three different balances. Different, yet somehow the same. And the key to it is exactly in these two words: different and same. Continue reading

The Art of Form as a Form of Art

In Brussels, at the southeastern end of the Mont des Arts garden, there are stairs leading to Rue de Musée. Climbing up one of the stairways, there is a wall on your right. A few months ago, a form of art started spreading on that wall. I don’t know if it was spontaneous or organized.  In fact, it doesn’t matter. Every organization was at some point spontaneous and everything spontaneous is worth talking about if it has led to some organization.

When approaching it, all you see is just frames.

Getting closer, they (actually, you) start to make sense, but the name, given by the artist, accelerates the process. The name and the image enter into a loop, the name confirming the image, and the image confirming the name. Continue reading

SASSY Architecture

SASSY Architecture is a practice of combining two seemingly incompatible worldviews. The first one is based on non-contradiction and supports the vision for an ACE enterprise (Agile, Coherent, Efficient), through 3E enterprise descriptions (Expressive, Extensible, Executable), achieving “3 for the price of 1”: Enterprise Architecture, Governance, and Data Integration.

The second is based on self-reference and is a way of seeing enterprises as topologies of paradoxical decisions. Such a way of thinking helps deconstruct constraints to unleash innovation, reveal hidden dependencies in the decisions network, and avoid patterns of decisions limiting future options.

As a short overview, here are the slides from my talk at the Enterprise Architecture Summer School in Copenhagen last week.

Continue reading

QUTE: Enterprise Space and Time

Here’s another pair of glasses with which to look at organisations. It can be used either together with the Essential Balances or with the Productive Paradoxes, or on its own. For those new to my “glasses” metaphor, here’s a quick intro.

The Glasses Metaphor

As I’m sceptical about the usefulness of methodologies, frameworks and best practices when it comes to social species, my preference is to work with habits and instead of using models, to use organisations directly as the best model of themselves.

The best material model of a cat is another, or preferably the same, cat.

N. Wiener, A. Rosenblueth, Philosophy of Science (1945)

What I find important in working with organisations is to break free from some old habits, by changing them with new ones. And most of all, cultivating the habit of being conscious about the dual nature of habits: that they are both enabling and constraining; that while you create them they influence the way you create them. Along with recipes and best practices, I’m also sceptical about KPIs, evidence-based policies, and all methods claiming objectivity.

Objectivity is a subject’s delusion that observing can be done without him. Involving objectivity is abrogating responsibility – hence its popularity.

Heinz von Foerster

Instead of “this is how things are”,  my claim is that “it’s potentially useful to create certain observational habits”. Or – and here comes the metaphor – the habit of observation using different pairs of glasses. “Different” implies two things. One is that you are always wearing some pair of glasses, regardless of whether you realise it or not. And the other is, that offering a new pair is less important than creating the habit of changing the glasses from time to time. I prefer “glasses” to “lens” metaphor and here’s why. Glasses have indeed lenses and lenses are meant to improve the vision or, at any rate, they change it.  Quite often, the glasses I offer bring surprises. Where you trust your intuition, you might see things that are counter-intuitive, and where you’d rather use logic, they might appear illogical. It’s not intentional. It just often happens to be the case. The first reason I prefer glasses metaphor to just lens is that glasses have frames. That should be a constant reminder that every perspective has limitations, creates a bias, and leaves a blind spot. Using the same glasses might be problematic in some situations or in all situations, if you wear them for too long. And the second reason is that glasses are made to fit, they are something designed for our bodies. For example, they wouldn’t fit a mouse or even another person. This has far-reaching implications, which I’ll not go into now.

QUTE

QUTE stands for “Quantum Theory of Enterprise”. Continue reading

Wikipedia “Knows” more than it “Tells”

When pointing out the benefits of Linked Data, I’m usually talking about integrating data from heterogeneous sources in a way that’s independent of the local schemas and not fixed to past integration requirements. But even if we take a single data source, and a very popular one, Wikipedia, it’s easy to demonstrate what the web of data can bring that the web of documents can’t.

In fact, you can do it yourself in less than two minutes. Go to the page of Ludwig Wittgenstein. At the bottom of the infobox on the right of the page, you’ll find the sections “Influences” and “Influenced”. The first one contains the list (of links to the Wikipedia pages) of people that influenced Wittgenstein, and the second – those that he influenced. Expand the sections and count the people. Depending on when you are doing this, you might get a different number, but if you are reading this text by the end of 2017, you are likely to find out that, according to Wikipedia, Wittgenstein was influenced by 18 and influenced 32 people, respectively.

Now, if you look at the same data source, Wikipedia, but viewed as Linked Data, you’ll get a different result. Try it yourself by clicking here or use this link:

http://bit.ly/wittgenstein_influenced1.

The influencers are 19 and the influenced are 95 at the moment of writing this post, or these numbers if you click now (most likely bigger). Continue reading

Productive Paradoxes in Projects

In 2011, when I started this blog, I wanted it to be a place for reading and as such the initial theme was just a bit busier than this one. I didn’t go that far, but you still don’t see categories, tag clouds, my Twitter feed and so on. It was only recently that I added sharing buttons and started putting more images. And because of me keeping it minimal, you might have been reading this blog for some time without knowing about its tagline, as it is simply not visible in the blog. But it’s been there and when the blog appears in search results, you can see it.

The theme about paradoxes appeared only a few times, for example in  From Distinction to Value and Back and previously in Language and Meta-Language for EA. I haven’t focused on it in a post so far. It was even more difficult to start talking about it to an audience of project managers. First, claiming that projects are produced and full of paradoxes might appear a bit radical. And second, project managers are solution-oriented people, while in paradoxes there is nothing to solve. There is a problem there, but its solution is a problem itself, the solution of which is the initial problem. And third, talking about paradoxes is one thing, but convincing that understanding them is useful is another. Continue reading