Commencement and Convocation Speeches

My last posting on inspiration generated more interest than expected. By a significant margin that blog post was accessed more times than any other for the last year. In addition, several colleagues shared the link on their Facebook pages, posted public comments and also sent me private notes. Of all the notes received, I was most humbled by the notes from my current and former students. After all, it is because of the opportunity to work with these kind souls and creative minds that I decided to join academia, and the University of Washington. I cherish and value my time with students. Several of my students asked me, albeit in different ways, what might I advice them as they graduate?

What better issue to think about on my flight back from England to the USA. As I reflect on various speeches that I have heard at graduation ceremonies, the best ones, not surprisingly the ones I remember,  met the 4S criteria – sticky, simple, short, and sweet. Sticky is because they contained a powerful story that stays with you. Most of the time the story is one of a personal struggle, either experienced or witnessed by the individual; Simple in that the speech did not try to convey too many ideas or lessons, but focused on delivering one significant message; Short speeches are better than long ones (remember, most of the time you are standing in between the students and their celebrations with family and friends); and finally, speeches that are sweet and not sour have a greater chance of being well-received by audience (I once heard a speech where all the speaker did was to complain about how the students, like myself, were the ‘lost generation’ and did not care about anything else but themselves. While the message had truth in it, the method of delivery did not go over well, and students even booed the speaker, and applauded multiple times in the hopes that he would end his speech!)

Given my criteria, here is what I would say to my graduating students:

Each of you is talented, special, valuable, and have a vital role to play in the advancement of our society. Today, is your day, your day to celebrate your accomplishments. Do nothing else but celebrate, and if possible, celebrate with the people who helped you reach this day, whether it is your parents, siblings, relatives, friends, and the faculty and staff at the Information School of the University of Washington. I take pride in all your achievements and am expecting nothing but the best from each of you as you pursue your professional and personal achievements.

The one message that I want you to consider today is that as you leave this University, you do not have to leave behind the bonds with your faculty.  Academia thrives on the bond between students and their professors, even after a course of study is completed. Let me share with you my own experience. Recently, I celebrated one of the most important days of my life, my wedding! Now, why talk about the wedding? One of the most important tasks when you get married is to choose the significant individuals who you want to standup with you. In thinking of my best men, the choice was easy and not surprising, all of them came from academia – my best man, was my first doctoral student, my two groomsmen, where former professors who are now best friends of mine. For brevity, let me share a bit on how Dr. George D. Kraft, a former professor of mine, has forever influenced my life. I met Dr. Kraft in 2000 while completing my MBA at the Illinois Institute of Technology. I enrolled in his, Knowledge Management and Decision Support Systems class and we got into a heated argument a few weeks into the course. To be honest, I do not remember the substance of the argument, but I do remember making a statement like - “you are wrong, data warehouses do not work out you are describing or as noted in the book…I am working on two data warehousing efforts and know better…” He smiled, gave the class a break, and then asked me to join him for a coffee at the lounge. Needless to say, I soon realized that I was in a lot of trouble. But, he kindly and graciously, encouraged me to write-up my idea. I looked shocked and puzzled (and of course, was thinking about what was his ulterior motive). His next set of words were some of the most powerful that I have heard, “a lot of people have ideas and want to change the world, there are only a few, very few, who take the time and energy to see your ideas from concept to implementation.” I remember not sleeping for more than a few hours the next week, and working on the paper. I have never worked on a paper harder in my life; little did I know that this paper would eventually lead me to doing my doctoral studies, my first book, my first research fellowship, and the eventual move into academia. Over the past 10 years, I have had numerous such episodes where the generosity and kindness of this individual, who I originally thought would only be a professor, has had a profound influence on my life. What is surprising is that while no individual would come close to the impact Dr. Kraft has made on my life, there are several other professors who have helped me achieve professional and personal achievements.

My advice to you is quite simple, if you need help, all you need to do is contact your professors. Our doors are open for you.

The world needs you to exploit your talents towards positive change. To this end, you should never fear doing the right thing and making difficult calls. We, in academia, look at you as the future change agents and game changers. We are here to support you. Let me share with you another small story. When I was teaching in South Africa, I had a chance to meet a young lad. This 19-yr old always had a smile on his face, was one of the most pleasant people to deal with, and never complained. During one of our conversations, I asked him – “what makes you so happy?” He said, the people I serve make me happy. I was taken aback a bit, and asked for details. He went on to explain about how he spent about 25 hrs a week working with people who either 1) did not have anyone, mostly orphans, or 2) were HIV-positive. This youngster had created a complete volunteer organization to address the needs of these communities. He recruited his buddies from college, worked with local high-schools, and even got business establishments to donate food and other supplies. As he described his project, he did not do so in a tired way, but did so with hope and optimism. I have to say that this was one of those moments where no matter how much one has achieved in life, you are quickly struck by how much more is possible.  I think about this young lad regularly, and when I think about how difficult things get, I am reminded that he the word ‘difficult’ does not exist in his vocabulary.

We need people like this youngster. We need people like each of you. You are fearless and we have great hopes for the world. You need to view setbacks as opportunities for change, not as reasons for quitting. Simply think about how many times this young lad could have had a reason to quit. He did not, and today, his program helps about 350 people per year! He has made a difference to the betterment of this world, and we need to build on his energy and others like him.

I thank each of you for giving me the opportunity to get to know you as individuals. At times we have butted heads and even disagreed, at times we could have been more patient with each other, and maybe there are situations we wish we could take back in hindsight. For anytime that I have made your life difficult or unpleasant, you have my sincere apology and promise that I will work harder in the future. As you embark on the next steps on your career, remember that my doors are always open to each of you. You are welcome to stop by all my offices (yes, even my Irish Office), should you need help or just need to someone to talk with. I hope you will keep me abreast of the developments in your life.

In closing, thank you for everything and best wishes for all your future endeavors!

Today is your day, take time to enjoy it and celebrate your achievements!

Cheers, Cheers, Cheers!!!

(FYI: The Information School will hold their convocation on June 10, and the University of Washington will celebrate commencement exercises on June 12)

Keynote Address at the 2010 Computational Social Science Society Conference: From Hunches to Evidence Driven Policy Design

I will be giving a keynote address at the 2010 Computational Social Science Society Conference (CSSS). CSSS 2010 is hosted by the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity and the Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems at. For more information on the conference, please click here [LINK].

From Hunches to Evidence Driven Policy Design: Leveraging Information through Simulation

Constructing public policy, whether at the national or local level, is a complex undertaking. Complexity arises from the number of stakeholders involved, varying agendas and incentives, resource constraints, a multitude of interacting variables, multiple time horizons, and even political climates. Due to these complexities, we too often categorize political and social problems as ‘wicked’ and unanalyzable. The default option is to take a haphazard approach to policy design, most often the outcome of the ego-based debates and negotiations of the decision-makers. In this keynote address, I will argue for a move from hunches (or intuition) to evidence driven policy construction. Today, due to the advancement of computational power and modeling techniques, we can simulate complex scenarios. Simulation gives us an ability to move policy construction from an activity primarily driven by historic case analysis and intuitions, to more of an applied science, where we can actually predict and control phenomenon. Through simulation we can, with reasonable certainty, ascertain the cost, benefit, risk, impact, and value proposition of a given policy. Using examples from simulation projects, such as a project that examined strategic options for dismantling terrorist networks, I will demonstrate how we can move policy design from being an ‘art’ to more of a ‘science.’

Conference on Intelligence and Nuclear Proliferation: Threat Identification, Policy Formulation and Decision Making, June 3-5, 2010

I will be speaking at the Conference on Intelligence and Nuclear Proliferation hosted by the Centre for Science and Security Studies (CSSS) at King’s College London in June. Kristen Lau and I have authored a paper that examines how information management failures led to an inability to adequately assess and detect nuclear threats in recent times. Lack of adequate information management capabilities have led to numerous international crises surrounding nuclear non-proliferation. For example, the inability to predict nuclear tests by India in 1998, the colossal failures surrounding assessments of Iraq’s WMD capabilities in early 2000, and today, the challenge of addressing Iran and North Korea.

Intelligence and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Programs: The Achilles Heel?
Intelligence is a critical component of all counter-proliferation activities. It allows us to assess and determine what makes up the current threat environment in terms of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. When informed with an accurate assessment of the situation, policy makers are better suited to counter the proliferation threat. However, success and failure hinge upon how well information is managed during the intelligence process. The intelligence process as it relates to estimating nuclear capabilities or intentions is wrought with many challenges and complications. The denial and deception techniques employed by states running covert weapons programs and the dual-use nature of many weapons components create many difficulties for intelligence organizations. Additionally, illicit transnational networks obscure the situation further by serving as a source, for both nation states and non-state actors, for acquiring dual-use commodities and technologies. These challenges can lead to the miscalculation of a state’s capabilities or intentions. As was seen with the case of Iraq in 2003, western intelligence services grossly overestimated the capabilities of Saddam’s regime. This paper presents a comparative analysis of three cases of nuclear proliferation: India, Pakistan and Iran. Drawing from the analysis, the authors examine the lessons learned and propose recommendations for future counter proliferation policy and strategy.

To read prior papers published on this topic, please see:
• Desouza, K.C., and Lau, K.A.* “Managing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: An Information Management Perspective,” International Journal of Public Administration, 31 (13), 2008, 1457–1512. [LINK]
• Desouza, K.C. “Information and Knowledge Management in Public Sector Networks: The Case of the US Intelligence Community,” International Journal of Public Administration, 32 (14), 2009, 1219–1267. [LINK]

Speaking at Microsoft: Intranets for Collaborative Innovation: From Failed Promises to Emerging Potential: April 29, 2010

I will be giving a talk to Microsoft’s Enterprise Content Management team on the role of Intranets in fostering collaborative innovation. Since their initial debut, Intranets have been touted as a platform to promote collaboration within an organization. Most organizations have invested serious resources in developing viable Intranets. Despite the significant investments, only a handful of organizations will claim that their Intranets are anything more than glorified document repositories. In this talk, I highlight key reasons that Intranets have failed to deliver on their original promises. I will also point out how users have had to build work-a-rounds to avoid interacting with Intranets when engaging in collaborative work. My talk will conclude with key recommendations for designers of next generation Intranets that can support collaborative innovation.

Speaking at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University on Political Cyberprotest in Contemporary Russia

I will be presenting a paper at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. The paper, Political Cyberprotest in Contemporary Russia, co-authored with Volodymyr Lysenko, a doctoral student of mine at the University of Washington Information School, was accepted for the Etiology and Ecology of Post-Soviet Media Conference (May 7-9, 2010).

Technologies may be intertwined with politics. In particular, the Internet has the potential to cause enormous social and political changes in today’s society. In this research we discuss possibilities of the Internet as a tool for supplying information necessary for organization and mobilization of the successful oppositional movements, especially under the non-democratic regimes. We pay special attention to: in-built capabilities of the Internet to promote active popular involvement in the political process; possibilities of the Internet for democratization of authoritarian regimes; attempts at Internet censorship and possibilities to counteract them; the roles that the new Internet-based media are playing in the power shift in society; the roles that the Internet played in the success of the color revolutions in former Soviet countries; and the roles that new information elites play in social change. We discuss in detail recent examples of the roles the Internet plays in the political processes in Russia.

While in free societies opposing political forces have practically unlimited access to mass media, in Russia the authorities control almost all traditional means of mass information.  Only the Internet retains the possibility of limiting control by the Russian authorities. Thus the purpose of our research is to establish whether the Internet in Russia can fulfill the function of ensuring the flow of information necessary for successful dissident activity. Accordingly, we seek to answer the following research question: Does the Internet provide an effective tool for politically-interested people in Russia to conduct dissident activities under the authoritarian regime?

Besides showing the Internet’s leading role in organizing modern protests, our research also prove that in the information environment where practically all traditional mass-media are under the authorities’ control, the Internet becomes the only powerful and effective source of alternative information about the real situation on the repressed territory.

About the Harriman Institute: Founded in 1946, the Harriman Institute housed at Columbia University is the oldest academic institution in the United States devoted to the study of the countries of the former Soviet Union, East Central Europe and the Balkans. (For more details: http://www.harrimaninstitute.org/)

About Columbia University: Columbia University, a member of the Ivy League, was founded in 1754. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and the fifth oldest in the United States. (For more details: http://www.columbia.edu)

Building Sustainable Collaborative and Open Innovation Programs – University of Ljubljana

I will be giving an invited lecture at the Raziskovalni center Ekonomske fakultete (Faculty of Economics) of the University of Ljubljana on February 15, 2010. My talk will focus on how organizations can design collaborative innovation programs.

Organizations cannot innovate in isolation. Ideas, knowledge, expertise, and processes needed for innovation are often distributed in the marketplace across a wide-assortment of actors from business partners, to customers, government agencies, and even competitors. Organizations have to find ways to collaborate and develop open, rather than closed, innovation programs. Collaboration calls for the ability to share required artifacts from ideas to knowledge and expertise, and even processes, with external entities. Being open requires an organization to unlock, and make available, its innovation process to external entities. Developing Collaborative and Open Innovation (COI) programs can be a daunting challenge. Issues such as ensuring trust, governance structures, rewards and incentives, and mechanisms for rent sharing from innovations can seem insurmountable. In this presentation, I will share actionable knowledge on how we can build sustainable COI programs. I will draw on research and consulting on designing organizational innovation programs in over 50 global organizations. I will share a framework for organizations that want to collaborate on innovation. This framework will outline methods for collaborative idea generation and mobilization, idea advocacy and screening, idea experimentation, idea commercialization, and idea diffusion and implementation. Examples will be used to illustrate how leading organizations collaborate with external entities for innovation and build open innovation programs that external entities can plug-into.

What do you mean by a “good idea”?

Here is a simple exercise: Find 20 people in your organization. Ideally, choose people across the various hierarchical levels and functional departments of your organization. Ask each person two questions: How would you define a good idea? How do you recognize a good idea? Chances are high that if you work in a typical organization, you will arrive at 20 different answers! Some individuals may not even be able to articulate what is a good idea or to clearly describe how to recognize good ideas. Is this a problem? You bet it is! One of the major challenges faced by organizations as they try to come up with good ideas is the lack of a definition of what constitutes a good idea. It is common to find organizations that take the stance that a good idea is in the eye of the beholder, or in contrast, that a good idea is like pornography, you will recognize it when you see it. Similarly, most organizations lack a clearly defined process on how to recognize good ideas. As one manager put it, “employees may not recognize a good idea if it smacked them right on their faces.”

The organization that wants to foster a spirit of intrapreneurship must: 1) clearly define what is, and what is not, an idea, 2) arrive at a typology for the various types of ideas, 3) articulate a process for refining thoughts into ideas and then into ‘good’ ideas, 4) reward employees for sharing ‘good’ ideas, and 5) reward employees who serve as brokers (or intermediaries) for mobilizing ideas from one corner of the organization to the next.

What are some practices that your organization has in place to address these issues?

For more details, please stay tuned for my new book on intrapreneurship…or drop me an email!

Global Text Project: A Panel Discussion

I will be serving on a panel with the co-project leaders of the Global Text Project, Rick Watson (University of Georgia) and Don McCubbrey (University of Denver) at the 2nd Annual SIG GlobDev Workshop. The goal of the panel is twofold – 1) to continue to raise awareness about the project and recruit professors to participate in the effort, and 2) to update the IS community on the work to-date, the opportunities on the horizon, and the challenges we face. My prepared remarks focus on 1) highlighting the work being done by graduate students in the Masters of Science of Information Management program at the Information School, University of Washington, and 2) outlining ideas on how we might build learning communities around each textbook. I am looking forward to a stimulating discussion.

Advocating and Screening for Ideas

If you have ideas, what should you do with them? How do you know which ideas to pursue (and which to abandon)? As an idea creator, how do you know which ideas will get the attention of managers or how to present ideas for consideration? As a manager, how do you screen the numerous ideas you get from your staff? These are not simple questions to answer. Unfortunately, this stage of the intrapreneurship process represents the Achilles' heel for most organizations. Too many organizations spend a lot of time, effort, and resources to get ideas from their employees but then do not know what to do with them. Equally discomforting are cases where employees spend too much time creating ideas for which there is no organizational interest or need. The end result is a lot of waste – from the individual to the organizational level.

Consider the case of a global technology organization. The organization, founded in the mid 1990s, had seen unprecedented growth during the Internet boom days. As one senior executive remarked, “we were not only running on all cylinders, but were actually borrowing cylinders and fuel rods to keep up with demand.” The organization grew from humble beginnings (3 students!) to just under 200 employees in five years. It now has 10 clients in US states and 3 international clients (based in London, Brussels, and Amsterdam). As soon as the glory days came to a screeching halt with the dot.com bust, the organization, like many of its compatriots in the industry, had to do some hard thinking to redefine business strategies. To this end, the organization solicited ideas from its employees concerning the company's direction for the future– the slogan – 10 for 10: 10 big ideas for the next 10 years! The goal was to get the firm to think big and to identify 10 broad areas that 1) they would want to invest and build capability in, 2) they would want to build collaborative capacities by reaching out to start-ups and established firms, and 3) they would require re-tuning (or complete obliteration) of their current strategic focus. The company did what any other organization would do; It solicited ideas from employees across all ranks. The company commissioned online “idea drop boxes.” Employees could send in their ideas via filling in a brief online questionnaire. Within a week, the company had over 500 ideas (about 2.5 ideas from each employee!); and by the end of the four week idea solicitation period they had captured over 1200 ideas (a little more than 6 ideas per employee!) As one executive remarked, “we underestimated the whole [idea solicitation] thing…employees were scared…their friends were losing jobs, companies like ours were closing, venture capitalist were getting tighter with the purse strings…all of this contributed to fear…employees wanted to help the company, and themselves, by sharing their best ideas that would not only keep us afloat but secure a better future…” This was the easy part-- getting ideas-- the big challenge ahead for the organization was what to do with these and how do to go about screening them. Over the course of the next five months, the firm tried its best to bubble up the best ideas through applying various screening procedures, getting comments and feedback on ideas from internal (i.e. employees), as well as external (i.e. board of directors, collaborators from academia, venture capitalist, etc), sources.

Unfortunately, the organization did not have a robust process for advocating and screening ideas. The end-result is best summarized by a statement made by the CEO – “absolute disaster…we ended up pissing off more staff than those we appeased, lost good employees who felt their ideas were not duly considered, and what hurts me most, is employees lost faith in the organization as a place that valued ideas…front-line programmers and system designers who are our most important assets felt ideas get promoted based on ones political network and clout…we all lost, I will never do this again…we might never recover the trust and camaraderie that we had prior to this undertaking.

The bad news for organizations is that the advocacy and screening stage of the intrapreneurship process is fraught with difficulties.

To learn how to build sustainable processes for idea advocacy and screening, please contact me (or wait for a future posting…or my new book)

Blogging and Writing: Keeping me Honest

It has been a while since I actively blogged. I have engaged in “passive blogging” over the past few months. This has involved posting snippets of upcoming speaking engagements and papers that have been published. This has been helpful in getting the word out and networking. For the next few months (or years, if I stay disciplined!), I am hoping to engage in active blogging. I will share my thoughts on two major topics: 1) innovation – leveraging ideas for innovation, and 2) managing intellectual assets – how organizations are building and deploying intellectual assets. I will also share thoughts on other random issues from entrepreneurship to terrorism and government information policy. I will do this for two reasons: 1) to engage you, my reader and /or website visitor, into a dialogue, and 2) to keep me honest on my writing projects. Over the last few months, I have built a huge backlog of writing projects. Blogging will help me share notes, musings, and ideas, as I draft concepts, papers, or even get close to completing two book projects. Stay tuned for more details...