Topsight: A Guide to Studying, Diagnosing, and Fixing Information Flow in Organizations

Topsight: A Guide to Studying, Diagnosing, and Fixing Information Flow in Organizations

Now available in print and Kindle editions!

Topsight—the overall understanding of the big picture—is hard to achieve in organizations. There’s too much going on, too many moving pieces. But without topsight, we have a hard time figuring out how information circulates, where it gets stuck, and how we can get it unstuck.

 
In Blog

Writing :: Chapters in the Handbook of Writing and Textual Production

Posted by: on Mar 21, 2014 | No Comments

Handbook of Writing and Text Production
Ed. Eva-Maria Jakobs and Daniel Perrin

Here’s another entry in my series on writing publications.

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, in 2011, I met Eva-Maria Jakobs at the Writing Research Across Borders conference in Washington, DC. She and coeditor Daniel Perrin were trying to recruit authors for a visionary collection on writing and textual production, one in which each chapter would be coauthored by two scholars from different continents. My mentor David R. Russell introduced us, and we hit it off immediately—we chatted about the proposed structure, discussed what scholars to approach for some of the chapters, and agreed that I would coauthor one of the chapters (on writing in professional domains) with her.

When we got back to our respective institutions, we began Skyping and sharing drafts, and quickly discovered that we had the same approach to scholarly writing—write quickly, iterate rapidly, read and cite extensively. We coauthored the chapter, but also the introduction to the section in which it appeared:

  • Jakobs, E.-M. & Spinuzzi, C. (2014). The domain perspective in text production research. Handbook of Writing and Text Production, ed. Jakobs, E.M. & Perrin, D. De Gruyter: Berlin/New York. 325-332.
  • Jakobs, E.-M. & Spinuzzi, C. (2014). Professional domains: Writing as creation of economic value. Handbook of Writing and Text Production, ed. Jakobs, E.M. & Perrin, D. De Gruyter: Berlin/New York. 359-384.

I greatly enjoyed this collaboration, and I’m especially happy with the work we did on “Professional Domains,” which synthesizes work on professional writing across Europe and North America and suggests future developments. Sometimes collaborations don’t go well, and sometimes they are adequate, but this collaboration really worked brilliantly for at least three reasons:

  • We both made it a priority. People have lots of demands on their time, and often a collaborative writing project will take a back seat to other priorities. In this case, Eva and I both made these chapters a priority. We had frequent Skype meetings in which we agreed upon writing and research tasks, then faithfully executed those tasks before the next meeting. More than that, we read and commented on each others’ writing and we suggested sources and read each others’ sources. And we kept a calendar of changes so we always knew where the endpoint was.
  • We appreciated each others’ work while still providing critical comments. It’s sometimes tricky to critique people’s work, but in this collaboration, it was easy. We respected each others’ expertise and collaboratively developed angles that we wouldn’t have been able to provide on our own.
  • We read widely. Eva reads English and French; I unfortunately read only English. But Eva was great at providing me with appropriate translations and pointing to English works that I hadn’t read yet; I was able to tie in some work in English that she hadn’t seen. In our Skype meetings, we worked to integrate all of this scholarship and prune redundant work as appropriate. The result was a pair of chapters that crossconnected a lot of research across two continents.

Overall, it was a great collaboration, and I hope you’ll find the resulting chapters to be useful too.

In Blog

Reading :: Journey to the West

Posted by: on Mar 13, 2014 | No Comments

Monkey – Journey to the West
By Wu Cheng’en

Journey to the West is a famous collection of stories about Sun Wukong, a monkey who achieves immortality and then creates chaos in Heaven, only to be sent back to Earth to pay for his crimes. He is imprisoned for 500 years underneath a mountain, then tasked with accompanying a monk on his journey to the West (India) to fetch the Buddhist scriptures. Like any fairy tale, it’s full of magic and lots and lots of killing. It also satirizes inept bureaucracy—the version of Heaven described here seems pretty ineffectual.

Journey to the West has been produced many times, in many different versions. (For instance, the Japanese version of the name Sun Wukong is Son Goku, who should sound familiar if you’ve ever watched Dragon Ball Z.)

In fact, stop reading this review right now and go search YouTube for Journey to the West.

Are you back? Yeah. Whatever video you clicked on, that is exactly what the book was like. Supposedly someone refilms the story in Asia at least once a year. Here’s the latest one, with Chow-Yun Fat in the starring role.

The book itself is an odd mixture of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Pilgrim’s Progress. But, as I mentioned earlier, it’s much more violent. If that appeals to you, check it out—or just watch more of those hallucinogenic YouTube videos.

In Blog

Reading :: Babylonians and Assyrians: Life and Customs

Posted by: on Mar 13, 2014 | No Comments

Babylonians and Assyrians, Life and Customs
By the Rev. A.H. Sayce

I was looking for some pleasure reading a couple of months ago, so I downloaded this public domain book on Kindle. It’s what you might expect from a book published in 1899, with phrases such as “Of this there is no proof” and lots of superfluous hyphens. Still, it paints an interesting and entertaining portrait of the Babylonians and Assyrians as they were then understood.

The book covers what was then known about Babylonia and its inhabitants; the family; education and death; slavery and free labor; manners and customs; trades and land; banking; government; law; writing; and religion. I was particularly interested in the last two.

Can I recommend this book? Not as scholarship—it’s too dated and too imprecise. Not as entertainment—it’s not really a page turner. But if you’re the kind of person who becomes curious about a particular topic, such as Babylonian religion, and finds himself spending way too much time reading about it on Wikipedia, this might be a good way to learn a little more about it for free.

In Blog

Reading :: 76 Fallacies

Posted by: on Mar 13, 2014 | No Comments

76 Fallacies
By Michael LaBossiere

Some people like to learn about, name, and examine logical fallacies in detail. I confess that I’m not one of them. Identifying fallacies is a detail-oriented proposition, and although I can focus on details, I tend to look at the big picture first. So, clearly, I needed to read a book like this one. And 76 Fallacies is only 99 cents on Kindle.

I’m glad I did. Although I won’t be memorizing the names of all 76 fallacies anytime soon, I enjoyed the spare text and clear examples supplied by the author. In paging through the fallacies, I gained some appreciation for what makes a fallacy a fallacy, how fallacies relate, and how one might use a reference such as this one to spot them.

If you’re interested in fallacies—or even, like me, just interested in gaining some appreciation for their pursuit—take a look.

In Blog

Reading :: Totemism

Posted by: on Mar 13, 2014 | No Comments

Totemism
By Claude Levi-Strauss

“Totemism is like hysteria,” Levi-Strauss says in the first sentence of this slim book, “in that once we are persuaded to doubt that it is possible arbitrarily to isolate certain phenomena and to group them together as diagnostic signs of an illness, or of an objective institution, the symptoms themselves vanish or appear refractory to any identifying interpretation” (p.1). Like hysteria, he says, totemism involves bracketing certain phenomena as outside one’s own moral universe (p.1).

Levi-Strauss develops this argument throughout the book, as here: “it is not because they are totemic that such systems must be regarded as irregular; it is because they are irregular that they can only be totemic” (p.53). Through a careful examination of the then-extant work on totemism, Levi-Strauss developed this influential work, calling into question what was up to that point a broadly held assumption about how “savage culture” worked.

I’m not an anthropologist, so although I enjoy Levi-Strauss’ works, I can’t evaluate the argument directly. But as a scholar of rhetoric and writing, I do recognize the approach—identifying a well known concept, taking it apart, and seeing how well it stands up to scrutiny. Levi-Strauss does this well and methodically, and as a result, the concept of totemism (at least, as a universal phenomenon) declined after this book made its impact. If you’re interested in totemism—or in how concepts disintegrate—take a look.