“Reality is faith that smells of truth”

Paolo Brunello presented his Net-Map experience in ICT in Burundi at the International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development in Doha. But as you watch this

or read this (161 KB), you will see how this is not so much a presentation of empirical research but much more a very interesting philosophical deliberation aiming at embedding a tool like this in a theoretical context.

I greatly enjoyed the use of pictures and humor in his presentation, showing how context determines relationships determines content. And examining the relationship between positivist and non-positivist approaches of researchers – with a whiff of Chanell No5 (see heading).

The three most important things

The other day a researcher colleague asked me for feedback on a presentation she was going to give at a meeting that was important to her. After working on it with her I thought about how the training of researchers mainly focuses on content and not on presentation. And how simple some of the tricks are that make a presentation more interesting and effective.

My favorite for structuring a talk that wants to say it all in 10 minutes (or 20 or 30…) is:

What are the three most important things that you want your listeners to remember afterwards?

Because, realistically, they won’t remember more than three – well, you are lucky if they do remember that much. And once you know what is most important, you can remove a lot of clutter and arrange the rest around these three points.

Another question that we often forget if we talk about our area of expertise: Why would this be interesting for anyone in the audience? If you adapt the direction of your talk to the audiences interest, they might stay awake…

If you see your talk as a stage performance (and that’s what it is), make sure that your entry line sets the tone and wakes everyone up – for example with a confusing fact, an open question, a story from own experience; instead of lulling everyone in a comfortable presentation-slumber, by bombarding them with theory or figures. While the entry opens the door for your listeners to be curious, the last sentences are most likely to stick in their mind and give a direction for the discussion. How about an open question that you really want the audience to answer / discuss? That might (in case you need that) even help to steer the discussion away from issues you don’t want to discuss.

And finally: Give a talk that you would enjoy. Sure, it’s important that your audience likes it, but sometimes we feel compelled to give a boring talk (stuffed with too many facts and details) that we wouldn’t enjoy either, just because that is the standard in our discipline…

The study I quoted below…

Dear Neil and Noora, your comments (see below) made me dig into this issue more seriously and I did finally find the study (302 KB) I talked about in the last post. Katie Liljenquist at BYU’s Marriott School of Management studied how adding a socially unique outsider increases both group discomfort and the quality of results. The radio discussion was on WAMU (American University Radio), part of the Kojo Nnamdi Show.

What diversity does to work groups…

Apparently it doesn’t make them happier but more effective. That’s the result of a study I heard about on the radio (NPR) two days ago. Unfortunately I cannot find it on the web and I didn’t pay attention to the name of the researcher while I was listening – but the point they made deserves some consideration:

In their self assessment diverse work groups (in terms of gender, race, cultural background, professional background, political affiliation etc.) tend to claim that they are less effective and efficient than more homogeneous groups. But when their goal achievement was assessed using external measurement, it turns out that they achieved higher goals or found better solutions within the same amount of time. One possible reason being that a more diverse group doesn’t fall into the trap of group-think that easily, and – as social network analysts know – diversity of networks is linked to innovation, as strangers bring in new ideas. Two words of warning though:

1. Often the mixed groups didn’t enjoy their work together as much as the homogenous groups, as there was more conflict.

2. The positive effect of heterogeneity can only be realized if those with “strange” ideas and opinions get the room to speak and don’t shut down because of pressure to follow established norms.

The trust you need for the evil deed

Isn’t “trust” a beautiful and positive attribute of the relationship between humans? We trust our friends. We argue that trust within or between organizations furthers good knowledge management and fosters innovation. Societies where people have lost trust in their neighbors (e.g. after a civil war) are defunct and dreadful places to live in. Trust is theĀ  glue that holds us together beyond the meager guidelines of laws and contracts…

But today, upon reading “The Illicit Arms Trade: A Social Network Analysis(1,178 KB) by David Kinsella, I realized, that trust is even more important, if you are looking for partners to smuggle arms or drugs with or to run any other mafia-style operation – because you cannot rely on laws and contracts to safeguard your interaction and – in most cases – a betrayal would lead to much more severe consequences.

So a lot of these positive concepts (trust, social capital, reciprocity) can be used very well to understand illicit informal networks.