As we discussed in class, we need a sophisticated model and method for apprehending problems of business and technology that are themselves quite complex and where our understanding of them evolves over time and outlining goes far to satisfy that need.
This week, please build on the introduction and tutoring I offered you in class by studying my (newly revised) Outlining page and learning as much of it as possible.
We will spend more time on this as we go along, so do your best: spend at least an hour on it now, and aim to build an efficient workflow that you can then apply to your study of 7-11 Japan
As last week, your mission is to create an outline that looks something like this, and which addresses problems of scope, prioritising, and setting the stage for analysis in depth
When you scan the article for the major elements we do so typically in two parts. First, we scan to identify the article’s presentation, how it goes about its business, identifying the major parts; for this, outline simply the major sections in the manner of a directory or map of the presentation. Second, we scan to identify the relevant business problems that, in this case, feature innovative use of IT in e-business; for this, your aim is to identify such issues as how best to control inventory that are larger than this particular firm and the you might, when conducting more research, explore in depth
As you see in the illustration, the topics (in blue) of the original article have been listed, most have been demoted into a section called “Other topics”, while this particular author’s interest in “Learning and Development” has been assigned to “My Chosen Topic”; in this way, outlining helps us survey many potential issues, select the one we think most important for us, and set the rest into a place for safe keeping
Prioritizing is a matter of necessity, we can’t do everything, and as we are selecting not only the topic but where we will spend our limited time to the greatest benefit it is a strategic choice, too. You will want to justify your choice, and I suggest you do this by being ready to explain how satisfies the criteria of your professional and personal interest (a preference), that it interests other relevant professionals (a determination, and that it is of both conceptual and practical relevance and interest
Analysis in depth
Here, the author has indicted briefly the potentially fruitful sub-topics of what the article says “Learning and development” is about, including “improving the leadership pipeline,” “increasing skills” and “enhancing employee engagement”; he (in this case, me) thinks that these issues are of both personal and larger professional interest (I am a teacher, so if the HR people are talking about that I have something to learn that might be useful to me in my field).
This is sufficient for this week’s exercise, because it is strategic and rather decisive: I have reduced a 30 page text to a simple outline of what interests me and would surely interest others.
Skills and motivations now appear to me to be both a special interest, and hopefully examined helpfully by the HR people this article is talking about, and my long-term interest as someone in another HR department, a top manager surveying the advice of many departments, or in this case an academic wanting to learn more for my particular use
In this way I am setting myself up for a next step, developing a research project, where I will search for their sources and others from this perspective and others
By outlining, then, we are here organising the foundation of future work
Traditional institutional guides to academic writing are limited to presentation, on the design and formatting of a term paper, which is important, but only one or two steps of about 24 that we typically identify in the writing process
But if you examine the competencies outlined by professors developing a writing enriched curriculum at Carlson School of Business and elsewhere say is involved, as I have outlined here, there are a dozen or more important descriptive, analytical, and evaluative skill sets to be developed along the way.
When you address problems of scope, prioritising, and set up your stage for an analysis in depth, you are doing all-important foundation work, because if your foundation is too narrow, simply grabbing onto an idea without surveying context, alternatives, and reasons you and others are interested in something, what the conceptual and practical interest is, and who is talking about it and why, you will end up with a very week foundation — as illustrated here.
What you want to end up with is a strong, well-structured analysis that looks like a pyramid, and best where there are other half-completed pyramids in the background: the metaphor here includes a strong, broad, four-part foundation (addressing the interests of you and relevant professionals, and concepts and real world examples) as well as lots of details carefully framed.
In practice, you will end up with a partially completed structure like this painting of The Tower of Babel by Bruegel, which includes an excellent analysis of your problems structure or architecture, but reveals lots of half-completed and half ruined elements as any survey of human endeavour will reveal: in business we are dealing with complex problems, our tools are often quite powerful, technically refined, but the world mostly refuses to cooperate, success is fleeting, and much of what can hope to achieve is doing our best.
- Do all the exercises Chapter 1 & 2
This time, adopt a hands-on approach to the gadget and the problems, skimming and re-reading the discussion just enough to fill in the blanks, answering the questions of the problem sets, and so demonstrating that you can actually work the thing.
In the following week we’ll go back to the discussion in slow motion and see how you solve the problems and how they recommend you think about the problems and explore the difference.
Do as many of these as you can, and quickly, and spend no more than 45 minutes on it: if you run out of time, document quickly what you’ve done (how you do that is up to you, we will discuss this, there are no mistakes here as we are just starting out!), and write simply: “this is all I could do in 45 minutes”.
Reflection on learning is vital to our enterprise, because only with reflection, some distance from what we’ve tried to do, do we have a chance to identify success and figure out better ways. And sometimes the best way to do this is explore some topic you find interesting that might not be so directly tied to a technique or an assignment your are supposed to do.
There are many ways to do this, so my advice is to find some little topic that is completely fund and write it up, and along the way you’ll likely find yourself reflecting on other things, such as the assignments even: for any subject, assignment, or discipline, there is no one single correct point of entry: schools and disciplines try to sell you this, but nowadays medical schools, law schools, and business schools are filled with people who did other things first.
- Briefly discuss the time, place, and order of your “scene of writing,” where you do your homework and how: Where and when do you write best? What do you need to get going (clean room, drink coffee, write an email to a friend?)
- Or: Who are your writing heroes? Role models are your friends, they offer examples of topic, method, style, attitude, and their own admirable example.
My writing hero these days is the physician Oliver Sachs, here shown traveling, having dropped everything to write down what he is thinking. Among the many memorable lines is from the movie based on his work called Awakenings: “…these people, I know, they are alive inside …
- Or, explore the principles of clean, modern typography and page design we examined briefly in class in the article Whitespace
- Or, discover your inner geek and look up the many programming terms I explained in class when we were learning to manipulate MS Word’s user interface, such as, well, “user interface (GUI)”, object, function, variable, constants, tree structures, and to do that you’ll likely want to find an article on programming.
- Or, master some powerful little method, like making annotated screenshots using Jing or your OS system’s snipping tool: install it, learn how to use it, write up your learning, and discussing this tool and your learning how to use it
- Or, learn how to use a window managers, an application starter, image collections, and shortcuts like you see me do in class and so get to know your machine, reduce the mysteries, develop an efficient workflow, so your machine really becomes your friend
- Or, explore OMMWRITER, IA WRITER, Workflowy, or any of the many free writing applications for writers so that you understand the alternatives to MS Word and how and why we are learning how to make MS Word our fast, fun writing application
- Or, visit ifixit to learn how to fix your phone, buy an old broken iPhone 4 for 1EUR like I just did, borrow the simple tools, and learn how to take the thing apart and put it back together again and so learn that you can do it, learn what the components are inside, and thereby demystify these tiny beasts
That is, find a way to spend 30 minutes or so doing some IT thing for fun, whatever your fun might be, and if you are lucky you will discover another side to your already completely interesting selves!