Robot hand I.eP.jpgI really enjoy consulting and coaching executives and other professionals, because it allows me to make a difference in the lives of others. There's nothing like that moment when their eyes widen and they say "I get it!" or "That's cool!"

I also get to experience this same thing with students in my Intro to Robotics course. This course isn't just a bunch of computer science geeks doing geeky things: I use it to prepare my students to work well, both in their personal and professional lives, by teaching them essential life skills.

I know teaching life skills through robotics sounds far-fetched, so I'm going to prove it below.

Robotics life lessons thumbnail.jpgIn this course, one of the exercises I teach is the After-Action Review. This consists of five questions:

1.        What was supposed to happen?
2.        What actually happened?
3.        Why did it happen?
4.        What did we learn?
5.        How can we do better next time?

On Monday, as I lead them through an After-Action Review, I wrote the answers to the final question on the board (as you can see on the left). The action under review was the students' preparation for their final in-class competition (which involved designing and building a robot in teams), but the answers they came up with also translate to work and life in general.

Note that these are not in order of importance or priority. They're all lessons learned. Here's what my students had to sayplus applies to best practices for life:

Continue Reading "Best Practices for Robotics Competitions, Work, and Life in General" »

My first paid consulting job convinced me that technology would solve all our problems. Over 30 years ago, I was writing flight-planning programs with a 1-kilobyte* programmable calculator, and it was incredible: calculations that took hours by hand were done in a few minutes.

What I didn't see then was the whole picture. Technology is (and always has been) only part of the equation. My client and I had to put our knowledge together: his knowledge of the math needed for flight-planning, and my knowledge of how to write that into a program.

What I've discovered is that machines can never do our thinking for us – even though advertisers have been claiming they can for decades. Exhibit A:

Want to buy a brain - old computer ad cropped, smaller.jpg

"Its vacuum tubes will make up your mind for you far faster than your gray matter can." Somehow I'm reminded of modern ads claiming that technology can decide what's important to you.

What I found out
During my graduate research on how people work. I saw that even people with the best technology could work very ineffectively. At the same time, some people could use outdated equipment – even as simple as pen and paper – and create great value for their organization. Obviously, technology alone didn't make people better workers.

It became clear that technology is useless if people don't know how to work with it – and more importantly, use it to work together.

Based on my experience and research, I came up with this equation as a model for the effectiveness of individuals and teams:

Value (V) = Knowledge (K) x Methodology (M) x Technology (T)

Technology is literally only part of the equation. There are two other factors:

  • Methodology: the habits, rules, and practices that people follow to get work done. In other words, how people work.
  • Knowledge: what you know, who you know, and what they know

Let me go back to the flight-planning example:

  • K = my client's knowledge of the mathematics needed for flight-planning
  • M = my process for translating that math into programs
  • T = the 1-kilobyte programmable calculator

Without all three, our operation wouldn't have worked and I would've been out of a job.

A kindred spiritMark Mortensen headshot.jpg
I was delighted to come across a very insightful article that Mark Mortensen of INSEAD recently wrote for the Harvard Business Review: "Technology Alone Won't Solve Our Collaboration Problems." He emphasizes "a simple truth: it’s not what technology you’ve got, but how you use it" and includes three specific examples of how to work more effectively with today's technology.

I'm glad to find someone who recognizes "it’s less important which technology you choose and more important that you align it with how people do work." Mortensen acknowledges the importance of method and knowledge as well as technology. See here for his article.

Technology Alone Wont Solve Our Collaboration Problems.jpg

Three factors to success
The interaction of knowledge, methodology, and technology is critical to any organization's success and the value of any individual's work. This is what I've brought to my consulting clients over my decades in the field, and I've clearly seen the results: it works.

To share your thoughts on this topic, connect with me on social media (below). When you're ready discuss how I can help you and your organization manage the balance of KMT, click "Contact" in the upper-right. I'd love to chat!



LI: Eric Mack

*For the younger crowd: 1 kilobyte is about 1/16,000,000 of the memory of a standard iPhone 6.

Image credit:
"Buy a Brain" image by DigiBarn [CC BY-NC 3.0 (]. Changes made: image rotated clockwise 1 degree; article text cropped out; additional border coloring added. Scanned by DigiBarn from Popular Science, May 1949. Link to original image:

Part 2 | Part 3

My favorite way to get energized for the holidays is to look back on what I've accomplished this year.

Unless you keep your whole world in your head, you've got a list somewhere of what to do. Now is a great time to take that list (or collection of lists) and tear it to pieces! -- after you've reviewed its contents, that is.

As you look back on your old lists, you'll find four kinds of stuff

  • Stuff you need to finish
  • Stuff you'd like to do someday
  • Stuff you're not going to do
  • Stuff you've already finished!

Here's how to deal with each one. Along the way, you'll make two clean, shiny, new lists to work from in 2015.

Stuff to finish

First of all, don't panic. If this is well and truly something you must get done by a certain deadline, here's what to do:

  1. Think about the very next thing you need to do to accomplish this
  2. Put that very next thing on your list (not the list you're reviewing, but your brand spanking new New Year's list)

Take one step at a time, and you will get it done.

If you're using eProductivity, make a new Project (or update the old one). You're one step closer to a fresh new year.

Stuff for someday

You could, should, or would do this, but right now you don't have the time, resources, knowledge, or deadline. What do you do with these?

Get ready for a high-tech term:


This is not:

  • A black hole where things go to die
  • Your procrastinate list
  • For stuff you'll never actually do

This is your list for things you want to do, but can't or shouldn't right now.

If you're using eProductivity, this comes built-in. Just look on the left!

Stuff not to do

Let's face it: you will never actually do this. It's time to recognize that, cross it off, and move on. Shred it, delete it, crumple it up -- it's not going to stress you anymore.

Stuff you've finished!

Read your list and realize, "I did that. I'm finished. It's done." Just soak in that accomplishment.

The feeling you got when you actually finished it was the sundae -- crossing it off your list is the cherry on top.

In eProductivity, just click the handy "Mark Complete" button. It's not shaped like a cherry, but it should be.

Smell that fresh, clean New Year

Once you're done, your trash is full, your desk is clean, and your lists are fresh. You are one organized captain of your work world. Now go have a happy holiday -- you've earned it!

(Hint: all these steps work just as well for your personal stuff!)

Over the next few days, I will share 3 more tips to help you wrap up the year. Meanwhile, I wish you the happiest of holidays!


Part 2: Review your future conversations | Part 3: Get inspired with your creative ideas

Do you ever find yourself unable to make a decision about whether or not to move forward on something?

Have you ever asked yourself, "self, why did I waste my time in that way?"

I've done both. Many times.

As I continue to do research in high performance knowledge work and personal knowledge management, I've collected a number of tools and methods to help me make smarter decisions about what to do or not do.

Today, I'd like to share one of those tools with you. I call it my opportunity decision matrix,

When I was in graduate school and trying to run my consulting business and launch a software company and be a loving husband and father to my four daughters, I hit a wall. Something had to give. But what?

My good friend, Michael, gave me some sage advice that helped a lot. He told me to ask myself two simple questions to ask whenever I needed to evaluate options.

Here's how this works:

First define the "opportunity". Perhaps it's "Attend ABC conference". Next, evaluate that opportunity through the lens of two filters: opportunity and timing, like this:

Question #1. Is this the right opportunity?

If it isn't,  stop. Don't waste your time. Done. Decision made. If it is the right opportunity, then, I continue to question #2

Question #2. Is this the right timing?

Many times, I have a right opportunity but bad timing. It makes no sense to proceed unless both the opportunity and timing are right.

I have since expanded into an this 2x2 opportunity decision matrix:

This matrix has proven extremely valuable to me when I have a lot of hard choices to make and a new one shows up (like, "hey, do you want to fill in the blank.... ?")

For example, at a particularly busy point in my life, I got invited to speak at a conference. It was a great opportunity and I really wanted to go. However, it was not the right timing, so I declined. Having this simple two question matrix really helped me make a hard decision easy.  

The following year I was invited to speak at a different event. I concluded that it was both the right opportunity and  the right timing, so I accepted the invitation and the "Beyond Planning Conference" was born.

Sometimes, when it seems like I have many large or complex decisions to make, It helps me to pull out a sheet of paper and make a 4x4 matrix, like the one above. Then, I list of all of the options on my plate and one by one, and I write them into the appropriate quadrant.

It's usually quite a sobering experience.

Next, I cross off everything in quadrants 3 & 4 and move quadrant 2 items to my "someday/Maybe" list. This leaves me with only my quadrant 1 items, which I do.

By being ruthless in evaluating all of my choices against these two criteria, I can get unstuck quickly and feel good about the choices I make.

How do you make choices? What tools have you found helpful to make decisions?

I'm only into my first day at the KMWORLD conference in Washington DC and I've already met several folks that told me (unsolicited) that they hate Lotus Notes with a passion. They are everywhere. If you've read this blog for any length of time you know I have a field day with this. It is frustrating -- that IBM does not appear to do much to change user perception while Microsoft markets like crazy to convince organizations that SharePoint will solve all of their problems. It's also exhilarating - that I can help show people how their investment in Lotus Software is a good one and that in fact, Lotus Notes is quite capable. The problems are not Notes as much as they are how Notes is frequently deployed, managed, or supported -- or not.

SharePoint isn't the solution either.  (If this blog were about using SharePoint, I could have lead with the title "Is it just me, or does it seem like everyone hates SharePoint?") Two years ago, at KMWORLD, it seemed that SharePoint could do no wrong; in fact, the answer to every ill, it seemed, was SharePoint. Now that organizations have had some time to work with SharePoint, we see the same issues and hear many of the same complaints about SharePoint that we have heard about Notes. And, of course, we have the cloud vendors telling us that they can fix the problems of SharePoint and Notes. Yeah, right.

Continue Reading "Is it just me, or does it seem like everyone hates Notes?" »

newsletter-dclug-logo.jpgI'll be speaking at two different Washington DC venues next week. If you're in the area, I'd like to meet you! And if you have the chance to drop by one of my sessions, please do.

On Wednesday, November 17, I'll be presenting to the DCLUG (DC Lotus User Group). You can find more details on the DCLUG website. I'll be providing free GTD resources for attendees, plus holding a drawing for free eProductivity software so bring your business card!

NOTE: You must RSVP by Monday morning, Nov 15th, because of IBM's building security requirements. Sorry for the short notice but our IBM hosts just relocated their offices.

newsletter-kmworld-logo.jpgThe next day, Thursday November 18, I'll be moderating/presenting on a panel at KMWorld, the annual conference on knowledge management. I'll be joined on the panel by Art Murray, CEO of Applied Knowledge Sciences, Inc., and's VP of Business Development, Karen Appleton, and our topic is Future Focused Formulas for Enterprise KM Success.

Both sessions give me the opportunity to share my expertise on knowledge management, in addition to discussing best practices of personal and corporate productivity. I'm looking forward to it.


Enterprises invest a great deal of time and money protecting their information, be it intellectual property, user information or customer information, and for good reason. In fact, security is one of the many key reasons that many enterprises choose to deploy Lotus Notes. Like the RIM BlackBerry, Notes allows information to be secured and encrypted end-to-end so that the only time the information is not encrypted is when it is being viewed by the authorized user. Lotus Notes gives me a great sense of security.
No matter how secure our software may be, that security can be undermined, however, when Social Software applications outside the enterprise offer to "connect" you to your friends or people you may want to know.

What many people may not realize is that to do their "magic" and connect us with others, these social networking applications must scan your personal and company address books as well as your calendar and related information and upload it to a server where it can be indexed and cross referenced. That's the power of LinkedIn, Plaxo and similar "Social Networking" services and we are seeing more and more of these applications are showing up on the desktop, the web, and even in our mobile devices.

I consider myself a very security conscious individual and yet, today, I installed an application that forced me to reevaluate my own responsibilities toward the information on my system and what I choose to share externally. As soon as I installed the application, I noticed the CPU and network activity spike as I realized that my personal information in my encrypoted Notes databases was being scanned and that some of it was being sent outside my firewall to the service. Apparently, I had consented to this automatic upload when I installed the software, so shame on me. I had misunderstood the privacy agreement, which I did read. I thought that I would get to choose which information would be uploaded and when before the upload would happen. I was wrong. My bad. Fortunately, the company had a method in place to allow me to quickly delete my information from their service. It was a good wake-up call.

This does not mean that I will never use that software again. In fact, from a productivity and knowledge management perspective, I'm actually very intrigued by this class of software. I plan to do a more structured review of this and other similar applications in the near future because I think the productive potential is significant. At the same time, I am concerned that the relative ease of deploying Web 2.0 applications that so easily allow anyone to bypass the corporate firewall may create an environment where people do not consider, do not understand, or perhaps are simply unaware of the implications of what they are doing. Web 2.0 allows anyone to be their own IT manager; that's great but with that freedcom comes the need to take personal responsibility for the tools we use as well as how we use them.

Continue Reading "When Social Software does an end-run around information security" »

As a knowledge worker, we must take personal responsibility for the tools and methods we use to share information with those we work with. Living in a Web 2.0 world, those options are growing daily. yet many people fall back to the tried and true email -- much to the chagrin of the social software vendors. Email is neither good or bad. It just is. In some circumstances it may be the most effective tool for a conversation. In others, not. I think the key is not to say that email is good or bad for something, but rather to identify operating principles that will encourage you develop excellent habits for how you communicate and share what you know.

Luis Suarez does just this as he shares three different principles he works at when whenever he processes his email, which he says he has down to about 10 minutes per day...
  • Stop sending emails yourself
  • Stop replying to emails
  • Refuse to engage through email
I think these are three excellent behaviors to master, whether you get 10 emails a day or 200. At the same time, these principles will help you encourage others to communicate with you in the most efficient way possible.

Continue Reading "How to break yourself (and others) of the email habit" »

Tonight I reread The Difference between "Tools" and "Technologies" by a colleague and personal knowledge management expert, Steve Barth. I first read the article many years ago in the context of my KM research and PKM presentations at KMWORLD. Steve talks about tools and technology from the perspective of the knowledge worker and their different impact on knowledge worker productivity. He describes a phenomenon we have seen with our Notes customers for many years but could not easily explain. But this post is not about our product, it's about a fundamental shift in thinking that happens when the the technologies that people use become personal.

Here's an experiment for you to do or imagine doing - either way will work:

Call 100 end users of vanilla Lotus Notes and and ask them what they think of Lotus Notes.

Now, call 100 Lotus Notes end-users that use eProductivity (or any other personal application for Lotus Notes) and and ask them what they think of Lotus Notes.

Why the dramatic difference in user perspective?

Simple. The people in the second group have made Lotus Notes personal.  I know this to be the case, I've been asking people for several years and the answers are reasonably consistent.

In the first group, Lotus Notes is just a technology, imposed by the organization. They may or may not even see the connection to the work they do. When people see themselves using a technology, something's wrong.

In the second group, Lotus Notes is personal.

Technologies are pushed down by the organization. Tools are picked up by the user.

When technology becomes productive and fun it becomes a tool that people care about. It becomes personal.  

When tools become personal to someone, they care for them and they get passionate about it. Think iPhone.

The solution to making Notes users happy is to find ways to shift their perspective from Notes as an impersonal technology to Notes as personal tool to get things done.

So what can you do with this information? Think about the way that Lotus Notes is deployed and used in your organization. How do you and your users perceive it? Ask yourself what you can do to make Notes personal.

Is TweetDeck Twittering over the Twop?

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009
I signed up for a Twitter account over a year ago but seldom used it, mostly because I had plenty going on and I was concerned about it becoming a distraction. I began using Twitter seriously as part of a knowledge management course; I wanted to evaluate Twitter from a Personal Knowledge Managment (PKM) framework.

While Twitter is great, I quickly outgrew the Twitter web interface  - too inefficient for me. My first thought was to find or create something in Lotus Notes, perhaps even to add to eProductivity. I decided to see what was out there  first. I decided to try TweetDeck. TweetDeck allows me to more effectively manage and track Tweets. It's also highly addictive - especially when viewed on a 30" cinema display.* I am no longer leaving TweetDeck on my computer, preferring instead to check it just a few times a day. Here's a screen shot of my current system and feeds.

Eric Mack TweetDeck Twitter Feeds, use to support my Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) strategy

I'm still trying to determine what role and place Twitter will have in my own PKM strategy. For now, I commit to use it through the end of the term and I'm collecting my thoughts about the use of Twitter as a tool for Personal Knowledge management.

So I ask, "Is my Twittering over the Twop?" More important, how does Twitter fit into your Personal KM strategy?

*I just learned that the new Apple Mac can support eight 30" cinema displays concurrently. Hmm. Maybe it is time... Unfortunately, I still have a few thousand reasons why I won't be doing that just yet.

I've blogged before about how we are using IdeaJam at our company to interact with our customers. We have several IdeaJam forums, public and private, and it has changed the way that we evaluate ideas.  Since this blog is supposed to be about productivity, I'll share that what makes using IdeaJam productive for me is the fact that I can tap the mind of the crowd saving me guessing and time.

IdeaJam creator, Bruce Elgort has just posted a new IdeaJam video that does a great job of telling the story of what IdeaJam is, how it works and how it can work for your organization. The video is as good as the product. I think Bruce has done an outstanding job of communicating the story. No doubt he's gearing up to win a Lotus Award - which I am certain he will. Best of success to you, Bruce and team. Great video.

IBM Innovation Jam 2008

Monday, October 6th, 2008
This is my first year to participate in the IBM innovation jam and I'm thankful to have been invited. A Jam is a massive gathering of thousands of people around the world to discuss and innovate around key themes. This year's theme deals with the enterprise of the future. It's the ultimate application of social media to thinking about specific outcomes.

As part of my graduate work in KM, I've been aware of these legendary events for years. Personally,  I'm interested not only in the outcome, but in the process and the tools (in this case, IBM's Innovation Jam web site itself) to see how people from all over the world can come together and innovate around key themes.


This year's areas of inquiry are:
  • Built for Change
  • Customers as Partners
  • Globally Integrated
  • The Planet and its People
From a productivity perspective, thing are on a roll at this year's Innovation Jam. As part of the 12,000 page NDA that I had to review and sign (just kidding) I'm not permitted to blog very much about specifics. But, I am permitted to generically blog, so I may make a post or two as time permits.

Continue Reading "IBM Innovation Jam 2008" »

Lotusphere 2009: Have you voted yet?

Monday, September 29th, 2008
Many excellent proposals have been submitted for Lotusphere 2009. Whether you plan to attend Lotusphere in person or watch the broadcasts and read the blogs after the fact, as part of the community it's your civic responsibility to understand the topics and cast your vote for the session's you would most like to see - or not see - on the Lotusphere agenda.

I encourage you to visit the IdeaJam site, review the Best Practice session proposals, and cast your vote for or against the session proposals as you choose.

While you are there, please be sure to check out (and vote!) on these two recent proposals:

Lotus Notes and Me - Maximizing Personal Productivity
Getting Things Done with Lotus Notes - Making Notes Personal

Remember you have a vote.

Make it count.

All week, I've been blogging about knowledge management, social networking, and innovation.  With so many sessions at this week's KMWORLD conference dealing with innovation and social networking, I couldn't help but think about how we use IdeaJam as a tool to support innovation and collective thought. Several months ago, I set up an IdeaJam to learn from our customers about the features they most want to see in eProductivity . Recently, several of our new features are ones that came directly from our customers - that's innovation!

I see many other practical uses for IdeaJam: Yesterday, I was talking with David Allen about how we might handle questions at our proposed Lotusphere session. I decided to use IdeaJam to allow people to post questions in advance of the session and then vote on them. This is just another clever way to use the power of social software to innovate.

As a tool to support innovation and social consensus, IdeaJam should be in every organization's innovation toolkit.

My name is Eric Mack and I approve this message.

Personal Knowledge Management & Productivity

Saturday, September 13th, 2008
KMWorld is just two weeks away.  Last year, Steve Barth and I presented a workshop on Personal KM. Steve's moved on to other things, so this year I've invited a Paul Heisig, from Disney, to join me in presenting this workshop.

On Monday, September 22, (1:30 p.m - 4:30 p.m.) Paul and I will be presenting a workshop on Personal KM:
Personal Knowledge Management & Productivity
Paul Heisig - The Walt Disney Company
Eric Mack, eProductivity Specialist - ICA.COM
This workshop illustrates how personal knowledge management (PKM) can make a lasting impact on the enterprise. Workshop leaders take a look at how productive knowledge work evolves from individuals, teams, and organic communities to ultimately impact the entire organization. It offers an overview of potential entry points for the individual knowledge worker and explores the top challenges that companies and those individual employees face, including the variety of collaboration vehicles offered in the marketplace. Discussion and categorization of the emerging collaboration technologies includes how to apply them to the individual user to fit into the larger enterprise road map. The workshop discusses key success factors and lessons learned; insights from past industry project implementations; and takes a fresh look at the successful habits, tools, methodologies, strategies, and techniques of knowledge work in a Web and Enterprise 2.0 world.


If you're planning to attend the conference, let me know - it would be nice to meet you in person.

In my graduate research in Knowledge Management (KM), I've noticed several things about KM tools and how they have been positioned...

[Note: Before I go on, let me state that in this blog post, I'm not judging Microsoft or IBM/Lotus for the effectiveness of their respective products. This post is about the positioning and promotion of their products.]

In the mid 1990s many of us thought of and promoted products (e.g. Lotus Notes) as Knowledge Management (KM) "solutions", rather than "tools".

For organizations that did not develop an underlying methodology or knowledge sharing culture, they blamed the "solutions" [read: tool] for failing to transform the organization, while other organizations that did develop a knowledge sharing and collaborative culture thrived with these same tools.

In the late 1990's, the KM and collaboration tool that was often promoted was Lotus Notes, and for good reason: companies were then and continue now to achieve dramatic rates of return on their KM and collaborative initiatives supported by Lotus Notes as a tool.

Now, in the 21st century, as I read and study about KM tools and technology, I see some very successful case studies for Lotus Notes as a knowledge sharing tool (from the 1990s) but much of what I see being touted as the "KM solution" is not Lotus Notes but Microsoft SharePoint.

I see a few problems here:
Continue Reading "It's all about the process, not the tool, or is it? Where's IBM/Lotus in the Knowledge Management space today?" »

Steve Barth and I will present a new workshop on personal knowledge management at the 11th annual KMWorld & Intranets Conference and Exhibition. New Fundamentals of Knowledge Worker Productivity will be on November 5, 2007 while the main sessions and show are Nov. 6-8. The venue is the McEnery Convention Center, in San Jose, California. Steve's posted the details here.