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Personal toolkit: Creating knowledge on the run

This article appears in the issue March 2004 [Volume 13, Issue 3]


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By Steve Barth

In my last column, I suggested that the collaborative, networked nature of business today requires more—not less—from each individual knowledge worker. The more people there are in a formal or informal network, the number and types of connections and interactions that each of us are likely to have expands rapidly.

The group needs each of us to carry our weight, to understand the issues, to listen and to appreciate other people's values, emotions and perspectives. The group also needs us to be productive. That's why I think it's important to talk about both tools and techniques that individuals can use to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their own knowledge work. Information skills and social skills have to go hand-in-hand. Information management tools and knowledge and communication tools have to be integrated for us to be productive workers in teams and communities.

For the last two years, one of the communities to which I've belonged has been the staff and readers of KMWorld magazine. Turning in these articles is a pretty good example of the way in which collaborative sense-making requires individual knowledge work.

In order to meet my obligations to the KMWorld community, I use many of the personal knowledge tools mentioned in this column. Last month's column was a good example. It was written while driving north on Hwy 5 from Los Angeles to Santa Clara. As the only one in the car, I also had to do the driving, so the column was drafted by dictating into a noise-canceling microphone attached to a laptop computer running voice recognition software.

The trip used several gadgets. The first was the iGo Juice universal power supply. Because it has interchangeable input and output plugs, the Juice can charge many models of laptops and gadgets from AC power globally and from DC power in automobile cigarette lighters and lately on more and more airplanes.

Unlike other universal adapters, the Juice will also charge two devices at one time, using a secondary output cable. Specifically, the Juice provides power to my IBM ThinkPad (see Toolkit, July 2003) and also my Ericsson mobile phone (see Toolkit, November 2002), both of which were getting a lot of use during the drive. Though the 7.5 oz. Juice is a little heftier than the Targus universal AC or DC adapters (Toolkit, October 2002), it's lighter than the combination of separate adapters most people have to carry.

I dictated, via a Plantronics USB noise-canceling microphone, to Dragon Naturally Speaking. Version 7 is the first release of the speech-to-text package since Dragon was acquired by ScanSoft. Voice recognition seems quicker and more accurate than competing applications, with less overall burden on the operating system (since voice recognition is rarely open by itself). Naturally Speaking now inserts its own punctuation as you type, with more or less effectiveness depending on the pattern of your speech.

How good is it? "To give you an example, at the moment. I'm driving south on Highway 5 200 mi. north of Los Angeles. At more than 75 mi. an hour. I'm dictating this message. Using a headset microphone plugged into my laptop computer running voice transcription software, with a huge font size on the screen. So that I don't kill myself every time I look over to check it. It actually works pretty well. I'm sending this paragraph without making any corrections."

The biggest drawback of Naturally Speaking for my own way of working was that Dragon has no native format to save to. IBM ViaVoice's own file format retains the audio dictation underneath the text. That lets me run off a quick dictation without having to make corrections at the time. The transcription is good enough to index, so that files can be located. Then when you return to those notes, you can rest assured that even if a now-forgotten idea was misunderstood by the system, you can double-click to hear the original audio.

So with the laptop open on the passenger seat with its screen glowing in the darkened interior of the car, I was able to keep my eyes on the road because of the confidence that I have in the ability of the system to do what I need to do. Otherwise, of course, nobody at home should try this.

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Steve Barth is editor of destinationKM.com and a new journal on complexity theory in human organizations due out next year from Palgrave Macmillan, e-mail barth.pkm@global-insight.com


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