“Content is king, but strategic content is the emperor. It reigns supreme in capturing hearts, minds, and market share.” — Unknown
This article is for those who delve deep into the realms of learning, knowledge management, and the art of personal information mastery.
Throughout my experiences at Microsoft and beyond, I have immersed myself in the world of knowledge acquisition and organization to accelerate learning and to share and scale expertise.
I hope sharing my adventures in knowledge management at Microsoft, might help reshape your understanding of learning, information organization, and the boundless potential they hold.
In this article, I’ll take you on my journey where the world of knowledge management and personal information mastery come together, and I’ll unveil a core aspect of my knowledge hacking approach—the creation of what I call “strategic content types.”
All Problems are Knowledge Management Problems
Every problem, at its core, requires knowledge to be solved effectively. As a result, you can argue that every problem is, in essence, a knowledge management problem.
The key lies in the ability to organize, manage, and integrate perspectives from multiple sources and experts. By doing so, we enhance our chances of addressing problems with greater skill and success.
When we encounter a problem, we rely on our existing knowledge and expertise to find solutions. However, no single individual possesses all the knowledge required to tackle every problem comprehensively. That’s where effective knowledge management comes into play.
By actively organizing and managing knowledge, we create a repository of information that can be easily accessed and shared. This repository includes diverse perspectives, insights, and experiences from various sources and experts. When faced with a problem, we can tap into this collective wisdom to gain a broader understanding and uncover innovative approaches.
Integrating perspectives from multiple sources allows us to transcend individual limitations and tap into the collective intelligence. By leveraging the knowledge and expertise of others, we can find new insights, challenge assumptions, and discover alternative solutions that we might have otherwise overlooked.
Furthermore, effective knowledge management enables us to capture and preserve valuable lessons learned from past problem-solving experiences. This knowledge can be utilized to avoid repeating mistakes, build upon previous successes, and continuously improve our problem-solving capabilities.
By recognizing that every problem requires knowledge to solve reinforces the importance of effective knowledge management. By organizing, managing, and integrating perspectives from multiple sources and experts, we increase our ability to address problems with skill, creativity, and a higher likelihood of success.
By doing this well, you compound what you know, and you grow your ability to solve bigger problems.
Strategic Content Types Unlock a World of Possibilities
Driven by an insatiable lust for learning, I discovered the incredible potential of structuring information through tasks and types, leading me to a profound realization.
Within the realm of strategic content types, I found a magical synergy unfolds, like crafting a human-consumable form of a Very Large Language Model—think ChatGPT.
By creating and organizing content into large collections of strategic content types, remarkable connections and patterns emerge, revealing insights that can often elude others.
Adventures in Building Microsoft Knowledge Bases
Building Microsoft Knowledge Bases taught me the immense power of shared knowledge, scalable content, and the impact they have on problem-solving worldwide.
It revealed that well-crafted articles could transform lives, simplify complex domains, and empower individuals to find their own solutions.
Let’s continue to embrace the modular nature of knowledge and unlock the transformative potential it holds.
Here are a few highlights of my adventures…
- Starting as a Power User: My journey into the realm of Microsoft Knowledge Bases began as a super user, immersing myself in the vast libraries of articles to unearth solutions to complex problems. This experience taught me the art of effectively sorting and sifting through massive repositories of knowledge, discovering the immense value of well-written content that could be shared globally to tackle challenges.
- The Power of Shared Knowledge: Witnessing the impact of a single, expertly crafted article resolving critical server down scenarios, saving organizations thousands of dollars per hour, left me awestruck. The power of empowerment through shared and scalable knowledge became crystal clear. It was remarkable to witness individuals all around the world finding solutions to their own problems by accessing the same piece of content.
- Becoming an Author: Driven by the desire to contribute, I transitioned from a user to an author, crafting articles that underwent real-world testing on the frontlines. This immersive experience revealed that content was not just meant to be read but had the potential to be a practical tool, enabling users to solve tangible problems. Learning through the feedback loop, where the efficacy of my content was swiftly assessed, became a transformative way to enhance my understanding and expertise.
- Gaining a Balcony View: As my journey progressed, I took on the responsibility of managing multiple knowledge bases within the Microsoft Knowledge Base system. This vantage point offered a panoramic view, enabling me to discern patterns and insights across diverse domains. Armed with metrics, I could witness firsthand how real-world content addressed genuine problems while recognizing the pitfalls of theoretical content that contributed to unnecessary bloat.
- The Life-Changing Realization: A moment of epiphany struck when I realized that content, when harnessed effectively, could be game-changing knowledge. It became evident that any intricate knowledge domain could be simplified by breaking it down into modular articles or “chunks of knowledge.” These pieces, designed for reusability, unlocked endless possibilities for disseminating knowledge and solving multifaceted challenges.
The exchange of wisdom and expertise can empower lives around the world.
Strategic Types of Content: Unleashing the Power of Clarity and Structure
In the early days of Microsoft’s Knowledge Base, a remarkable breakthrough emerged—categorizing articles using strategic prefixes denoting their purpose.
These prefixes, such as How To, PRB, BUG, INFO, and more, revolutionized the way we organized and accessed knowledge.
- The Impact of Strategic Types: By assigning clear prefixes to our articles, we sliced through vast repositories of information, swiftly grouping them into useful sets. These simple yet powerful labels offered a glimpse into the nature of each article, providing users with quick clues and a repeatable structure to guide their exploration.
- The Power of Clarity and Structure: INFO articles became beacons of general information and instructional guidance, empowering users with explanations, guidelines, and valuable tips. PRB articles stood as guardians, diligently focusing on known issues and specific problems, armed with troubleshooting steps and workarounds. BUG articles meticulously documented software defects, offering insights into symptoms, causes, and potential solutions. HOWTO articles acted as navigators, leading users through step-by-step instructions for performing tasks and configurations. Q&A articles stood ready to tackle common queries, providing concise answers and enlightening explanations.
- The Transformational Benefits: These strategic types of content proved instrumental in simplifying knowledge access and facilitating understanding. They provided clarity amidst the vast sea of information and empowered users to swiftly locate the precise resources they needed. The repeatable structure instilled confidence and consistency, fostering a seamless learning experience for individuals worldwide.
- From Chaos to Clarity: The introduction of strategic content types into the Microsoft Knowledge Base brought order to chaos, creating a navigational framework that transformed the way we accessed and consumed knowledge. By harnessing the power of clear prefixes and repeatable structures, we unlocked a world of efficient information discovery and enhanced user experiences.
Embracing the concept of strategic content types, ensures clarity and structure in our knowledge repositories, and empowers individuals on their quest for understanding.
Action Vs. Reference: Unleashing the Power of Clear Purpose
In the realm of knowledge creation, I discovered a fascinating dichotomy between articles focused on action steps and those designed for reference.
What intrigued me even more was the remarkable ability of my teammates to differentiate between thinking and doing.
It became evident that the brightest minds excelled at separating these realms, fostering their efficiency and effectiveness in their problem-solving approaches.
Here are a few key insights…
- The Power of Clear Purpose: The true masters of their craft would embark on a cognitive journey, carefully contemplating problems, evaluating potential solutions, and envisioning various paths forward. Armed with insights, they swiftly translated their thoughts into decisive actions, ready to adapt based on rapid feedback. In contrast, those who struggled attempted to fuse thinking and acting simultaneously, creating impedance, especially in complex scenarios fraught with pressure.
- Distinctions for Leaner Articles: Delving deeper, I recognized the profound impact of distinguishing between action-oriented, reference-driven, and conceptual articles. Each article type had a distinct purpose, and honoring that purpose led to the creation of leaner, more focused content. By preserving the clarity of intent, we ensured that articles delivered their intended value without unnecessary bloat or ambiguity.
- Action vs. Reference: The dichotomy between action and reference holds valuable insights for knowledge creators and problem solvers alike. Embracing the separation of thinking and doing empowers us to navigate complexity with grace and efficiency. By recognizing the distinct purposes of articles and staying true to their intended nature, we can craft lean and impactful resources that guide users towards effective action or provide comprehensive reference material.
Embracing the power of clear purpose, enables us to thrive in the dynamic landscape of knowledge creation.
Conceptual Articles: Unveiling the Art of Insight
Within the realm of knowledge creation, certain articles stand out for their ability to convey ideas, introduce concepts, and provide enlightening overviews.
These conceptual articles have the potential to be true works of art, offering profound insights born from real-world experience and customer feedback.
- The Masterful Craft: Some authors possess a remarkable talent for crafting conceptual articles that leave readers in awe. These authors have dedicated substantial time to understanding a problem, incorporating genuine customer feedback into their thinking, and sharing the knowledge they have garnered to address challenges within that domain. Reading their articles is a transformative experience, as they unveil the intricate thought processes and problem-solving techniques they employ in their field.
- The Pitfalls of Muddled Concepts: However, not all conceptual articles reach the same heights. Some authors, amidst their pursuit of blending action and explanation, inadvertently create convoluted pieces. These articles become tangled webs of intertwined information, making it difficult for readers to learn or take actionable steps. The result is bloated content that fails to provide genuine insights or serve a practical purpose. In some instances, authors may regurgitate common knowledge or express their thoughts without revealing any meaningful or useful perspective.
- The Art of Insight: It’s within this landscape that I developed a deep appreciation for the art of insight. The ability to distill complex concepts into clear, meaningful, and actionable insights is a skill that separates exceptional authors from the rest. These insightful articles resonate deeply, leaving a lasting impact on readers’ understanding and inspiring them to explore new possibilities.
- Genuine Insights from Real-World Experience: Conceptual articles possess a unique power to enlighten and inspire, provided they are crafted with care and purpose. The ability to convey genuine insights, derived from real-world experiences and customer feedback, is an art form that few master. I learned to really embrace the transformative potential of well-crafted conceptual articles, appreciating the value they bring to the world of knowledge creation.
As we continue our quest for understanding, let’s use the art of insight to guide us towards new realms of enlightenment.
Unleashing the Power of How-Tos: The Pioneer Project at Microsoft
Embarking on the first-ever How Tos project at Microsoft was an incredible stroke of luck. The aim was to test the waters and determine whether creating a deliberate library of insightful How Tos could genuinely propel progress in tackling challenging topics.
With my existing background in utilizing How Tos to overcome real-world customer obstacles daily, I had already experienced the transformative power of well-crafted How Tos.
However, this endeavor was different. It involved recognizing and embracing the strategic nature of the How To as a distinct content type.
Here are a few highlights…
- The How To: A Strategic Content Type: At its core, the How To sets clear expectations for both content creators and consumers. It promises an actionable roadmap—a set of steps designed to achieve a goal, objective, or desired outcome. I likened How Tos to recipes or scripts that guarantee results.
- Mastering the Art of Learning: Unveiling the best How Tos was akin to possessing a secret weapon—an extraordinary advantage in rapidly acquiring and mastering any subject matter. This advantage held particular significance for me, as a hands-on learner who thrived on active engagement. By swiftly reproducing problems and their solutions, How Tos became my steadfast allies, especially when venturing into uncharted territories.
- Empowering Progress through Actionable Guidance: Leading the pioneering How Tos project at Microsoft was a serendipitous opportunity, allowing us to explore the immense potential of this strategic content type. Acknowledging the power of How Tos to guide learners towards concrete results fostered an environment of accelerated learning and expertise acquisition.
By embracing the art of actionable guidance, we unveiled a pathway that empowered individuals to conquer tough challenges, venture into new realms, and forge their own paths to success.
Elevating Prescriptive Guidance: Illuminating Microsoft’s Path to Success
The journey I embarked on, building prescriptive guidance at Microsoft, elevated my knowledge and expertise of learning and knowledge management itself, to unprecedented levels I never imagined.
It propelled me to harness the power of content as a competitive advantage, capable of winning competitive assessments, instigating remarkable transformations in customer confidence and success in the Microsoft platform, driving widespread adoption around the world, and even shaping the future of products.
Here are a few highlights…
- A Paradigm Shift: During this transformative period, my early patents emerged as pioneering information models. I realized that at the core of every challenge lay a knowledge management problem. By constructing superior information models, one could disrupt any domain or space, igniting a spark of innovation that reverberated throughout industries. This realization left me in awe of the boundless possibilities that lie within the realm of knowledge.
- The Legos of Microsoft: To encapsulate the essence of my role, I often described myself as the facilitator of assembling the intricate Lego pieces of Microsoft for customer success on our platform. My mission revolved around orchestrating virtual teams comprising brilliant minds from around the world. Together, we tackled significant Microsoft challenges, spanning security, performance, application architecture, the cloud, and beyond. The objective was to provide customers with comprehensive guidance on seamlessly integrating the diverse elements of Microsoft’s bits and pieces.
- Building Virtual Teams, Unleashing Potential: By assembling these virtual teams, we leveraged collective intelligence and diverse perspectives to unlock solutions that surpassed traditional boundaries. This collaborative approach paved the way for innovative breakthroughs, enabling us to address complex customer needs and fuel the advancement of Microsoft’s technology landscape.
- Empowering Transformation through Collaboration: The process of building prescriptive guidance at Microsoft helped me into a realm of profound understanding, where content became the driving force behind success. As I witnessed the tangible impact of our efforts in competitive assessments, customer satisfaction, widespread adoption, and product evolution, I was humbled by the immense potential that lies within the art of knowledge management.
By assembling virtual teams and fostering collaborative endeavors, we harnessed the collective brilliance of minds worldwide, embracing the power of collaboration to shape a brighter future.
Owner’s Manuals + Driver’s Guides: Unleashing the Power of Prescriptive Guidance
In my role, I was entrusted with the task of constructing prescriptive guidance, taking the form of comprehensive guides or books.
These two essential content types can be likened to the familiar concepts of an “owner’s manual” and a “driver’s guide.”
- Owner’s Manual: The owner’s manual, analogous to documentation, demanded an intricate understanding of how a product, solution, or technology operates. It delved into the complexities of intended use cases, models, and relationships with other technologies. While challenging, when crafted effectively, it imparts not just the knowledge of how to utilize a technology, but also insights on how to approach it, think critically, and employ it optimally.
- Driver’s Guide: On the other hand, the driver’s guide was born from the “do it and write about it” philosophy. We mobilized teams of experts to tackle real-world scenarios using the platform of various technologies. The integration of these technologies presented the greatest challenges.
- Architects that Do It and Write About It: What made these guides truly special was the collaboration with architects who immersed themselves in the real world, partnering with product team professionals to solve actual customer scenarios. These guides were infused with practicality, having been tested, refined, and informed by the invaluable experiences of those who faced complex trade-offs and tailored solutions to fit specific customer contexts. Such a level of knowledge is rare and immensely valuable.
- The Toughest Challenge You’ll Love: Building prescriptive guidance stands as a formidable endeavor, one that simultaneously challenges and captivates. It possesses the power to transform lives, blending the art of the possible with recommended practices for long-term success. It is the only form of content that, in my experience, bridges the gap between what is achievable and what is advised, offering a unique fusion of practicality and strategic direction.
- Empowering Success through Prescriptive Guidance: Crafting prescriptive guidance epitomizes the ultimate challenge and the ultimate reward. It empowers individuals and organizations to unlock the full potential of technologies, offering guidance that spans from understanding their essence to successfully navigating complex real-world scenarios.
As we embrace the art of blending the possible with the recommended, we embark on a journey of transformation, shaping a future where prescriptive guidance could propel us toward unparalleled achievements.
Unleashing the Transformative Force of Patterns: Sharing Strategies and Winning the Game
Patterns, at first, appeared cryptic, with “the pattern people” seemingly conversing in a language of their own.
However, a pivotal encounter with Ward Cunningham, the visionary behind the Wikimedia platform and an Agile pioneer, forever changed my perception.
He simplified patterns as “sharing strategies,” revealing their true essence.
Here are a few highlights from my adventures in patterns…
- The Power of Shared Strategies: Imagine encapsulating complex ideas, strategies, and knowledge into a single word or pattern—a concise representation that unlocks a shared understanding among individuals. It’s a truly potent notion. Patterns serve as vehicles for scaling and disseminating strategies, empowering collaboration and fostering a collective approach to problem-solving.
- Framing and Naming the Space: Further insights came from one of my greatest mentors, who emphasized the significance of framing and naming the space. Understanding this concept at an intellectual level was intriguing, but its real impact resonated when I witnessed how Martin Fowler’s book on Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture exerted influence over product teams. Customers began demanding the implementation of patterns Fowler had framed and named—a testament to the immense power patterns wield.
- Unveiling the Power of Patterns: Yet, even now, many fail to fully grasp the potential of patterns. They require a distinct way of thinking, the ability to abstract from concrete examples, and a focus on choices that truly matter. While anyone can learn to create patterns, some individuals possess an extraordinary gift for recognizing patterns in the world around them.
- Building Collections of Patterns: Recognizing patterns as catalysts for progress, I made it a personal mission to create and curate collections of patterns in every domain I ventured into. I discovered that by focusing on principles, patterns, and practices, I could navigate any knowledge domain more effectively. This approach became the cornerstone of my work, enabling me to harness the transformative force of patterns.
- Embracing the Power of Principles, Patterns, and Practices: Patterns hold the key to unlocking profound insights and accelerating progress in any field. By perceiving patterns as strategies to be shared and as a means to frame and name the space, we tap into their immense power. They provide a common language for collaboration, fuel innovation, and guide decision-making.
Embrace the ability to recognize patterns, curate collections of knowledge, and harness the forces of principles, patterns, and practices.
Through this mindset, we can embark on a journey of unparalleled understanding and transformative impact.
Unleashing the Potential of Pattern Languages: Mapping the Constellations of Knowledge
Pattern languages offer a fascinating framework for comprehending and navigating complex domains or spaces.
In my mind’s eye, I envision a constellation of patterns, interwoven like a Mind Map that illuminates key choices through problem and solution pairs.
Here are a few highlights from my adventures in pattern languages…
- Simplifying the Complex: With pattern languages, I can tame the inherent complexity of a space, forging a simplified roadmap to understanding. It becomes possible to create a visual map of patterns within a domain, enabling us to easily perceive their relationships and connections.
- Naming Solutions: Most patterns derive their names from the solutions they provide, with anti-patterns being the exception. This nomenclature establishes a clear and concise language for discussing and addressing the challenges within a particular domain.
- The Power of Pattern Languages: Creating a pattern language holds tremendous power in simplifying and facilitating reasoning within a knowledge area or space. It empowers users to engage in meaningful conversations, gain deeper understanding, and navigate complexities more effectively. Sadly, the art of pattern languages seems to have diminished over time, making encounters with individuals knowledgeable in this realm a pleasant surprise. While finding people well-versed in Domain-Specific Languages (DSLs) may be more common, those who understand and appreciate the intricacies of pattern languages are a rare gem.
- Rediscovering the Art of Pattern Languages: Pattern languages provide a unique lens through which we can comprehend and harness the vast landscape of knowledge. By envisioning patterns as constellations and constructing pattern languages, we unlock the power to simplify and reason over complex spaces.
Let’s revive the appreciation for this lost art, connecting with fellow enthusiasts and reigniting the conversations that propel us toward a deeper understanding of the intricate patterns that shape our world.
Unifying Microsoft’s Security Knowledge: Constructing the Security Information Model
One of the most formidable challenges I encountered was tasked with organizing Microsoft’s extensive security knowledge into a cohesive model.
To grasp the magnitude of this undertaking, envision a time when numerous channels at Microsoft regularly published a wide array of security content.
My responsibility was to identify all these channels, comprehend the various types of content being produced, and decipher how they all interrelated.
From this foundation, I set out to construct a comprehensive security information model—a framework that would harness the wealth of knowledge while uncovering gaps and opportunities for improvement.
Here are a few highlights from my adventures in building a security information model for Microsoft…
- Collaborating with Brilliant Minds: This monumental effort required collaboration with exceptionally intelligent individuals from across the company and around the world. Together, we embarked on the mission of creating a harmonized structure that would unite Microsoft’s diverse security resources.
- Unveiling the Power of Indexes and Lists: To achieve this ambitious goal, I painstakingly crafted never before seen indexes and comprehensive lists of all available security content. This process exemplified the creation of human-consumable Very Large Language Models, empowering users to navigate and harness knowledge with ease.
- A New Lens on Knowledge: Through this effort, I underwent a profound transformation in my perception of knowledge. It revealed yet another facet of understanding, shedding light on the intricate interconnections within the vast landscape of security knowledge.
- Embracing the Power of Unified Knowledge: Constructing the Security Information Model for Microsoft stood as a towering challenge—one that pushed me to grow in unexpected ways. Collaborating with brilliant minds, we endeavored to unify Microsoft’s vast array of security knowledge, constructing a model that would empower users and expose new opportunities for advancement. The process of creating comprehensive indexes and lists propelled us toward a deeper understanding of knowledge organization and unveiled a fresh perspective on the power of unified knowledge.
Unlocking the Essence: Topics and Types as Knowledge Organizers
In my quest for knowledge, I ventured beyond the confines of the tech space and immersed myself in exploring how the world at large organizes information.
I delved into a vast array of sites, ranging from online bookstores to retail platforms, and even outdoor gear destinations like REI.
To my surprise, a profound revelation emerged—I could distill the world’s vast pool of information into two fundamental pillars: topics and types.
This simplified approach became the cornerstone of my ability to curate, catalog, and present massive libraries of knowledge.
Here are a few key insights I learned from working with topics and types:
- Topics: Illuminating the Pathways: Topics served as the guiding beacons that illuminated the diverse realms of knowledge. They represented the distinct areas of interest, the domains in which information flourished. By organizing content around topics, I was able to provide individuals with clear pathways to explore and delve deeper into their chosen subjects.
- Types: The Essential Dimensions: Types added an additional layer of structure and understanding to the knowledge landscape. They represented the various forms that information could take, ranging from articles and guides to videos and interactive experiences. This dimension allowed for a multidimensional exploration of knowledge, catering to diverse learning preferences and enabling users to engage with content in ways that resonated with them.
- The Power of Curating and Presenting: By embracing the concepts of topics and types, I discovered the power of curating and presenting vast libraries of knowledge in a coherent and accessible manner. It allowed for the organization and presentation of information in ways that catered to the unique needs and interests of individuals, fostering an environment of seamless exploration and discovery.
- Simplifying the Complexity of Knowledge: In my journey to understand how knowledge is organized, the principles of topics and types emerged as transformative tools. They provided a simplified framework for navigating the vast ocean of information, unlocking pathways to exploration and understanding. By curating and presenting knowledge through these lenses, we empower individuals to embark on their own quests for wisdom and enlightenment.
Unveiling Insights: Questions and Tasks as Catalysts for Knowledge Advancement
Amidst the intricacies of organizing vast libraries of content, I discovered the profound impact of employing questions and tasks as transformative tools.
While the process may seem complex, at its core, it involved simplifying and refining knowledge through the lens of questions and tasks.
Here are a few key insights about using questions and tasks to transform knowledge…
- Questions: Catalyzing Progress: In my pursuit of advancing knowledge domains, I realized the immense power of crafting comprehensive catalogs of thought-provoking questions. These questions served as beacons, illuminating areas where deeper insights were needed. Rather than positioning myself as the sole provider of answers, I aspired to be the orchestrator, skillfully connecting the brightest minds to tackle challenges collectively.
- Tasks: Guiding Action: Another invaluable aspect of knowledge organization unfolded as I categorized tasks into well-named How Tos that aligned directly with users’ objectives. By offering users actionable steps and guidance, organized into cohesive lists, I empowered them to navigate their desired accomplishments with ease. This approach fostered a sense of accomplishment and facilitated users’ success on our platform.
- Insight and Guidance: The Culmination: Through the meticulous construction of lists of questions and tasks, I gained a sharpened perspective on the needs and aspirations of our customers. These lenses into their experiences highlighted areas where deeper insight and enhanced guidance were essential for their triumphs on our platform. This realization fueled a commitment to continually refine and expand the knowledge resources available, ensuring users had the support they needed to excel.
- Empowering Knowledge Advancement: Harnessing the potential of questions and tasks in organizing knowledge brought forth a profound shift in how I approached the complexities of content management. By employing these catalysts, I not only facilitated access to insights but also empowered users to take purposeful actions. Through this lens, I dedicated myself to providing customers with the clarity, guidance, and support required to achieve remarkable success on our platform.
Unleashing the Power of Knowledge Organization: Taxonomies, Ontologies, and Folksonomies
As my journey in breaking down complex knowledge spaces unfolded, my approach evolved, blending agility with methodical precision. Scalability became a crucial factor, but the true differentiator lay in empathy.
I heavily relied on those working directly with customers, striving to “feel the pain,” while remaining hands-on myself to truly “be the customer.” This allowed me to identify friction points, uncover bugs, and push the boundaries of what was possible.
Here are a few highlights from what I learned…
- Knowledge Management is a Team Sport: Knowledge management is undeniably a team sport, demanding effective ways to address significant challenges, group insights into meaningful themes, and take purposeful action. To achieve this, I delved into the art of framing spaces in meaningful ways—a journey that commenced with taxonomies.
- The Power of Structured Taxonomies: By creating structured taxonomies, I laid a foundation that brought immense value, particularly for content producers, facilitating efficient organization and retrieval of information.
- Ontologies and Folksonomies: However, I discovered that the real test of knowledge organization lay in constructing ontologies and folksonomies. These powerful tools empowered users, enabling them to curate knowledge, think critically, and take action.
- Navigate Complex Knowledge with Ease: Ontologies provided a framework that fostered enhanced understanding, while folksonomies harnessed the wisdom of crowds, tapping into the words and phrases people naturally used to find and share information. Together, ontologies and folksonomies revolutionized the user experience, equipping individuals with the tools to navigate complex knowledge spaces with ease and precision.
- Empowering Users and Producers Alike: In the realm of knowledge organization, taxonomies, ontologies, and folksonomies play distinct yet interconnected roles. While taxonomies cater to the needs of content producers, enabling efficient content management, ontologies and folksonomies empower users to curate, navigate, and extract insights effectively. By embracing these tools, we create an ecosystem that caters to the diverse needs of knowledge seekers, cultivates deeper understanding, and propels users towards better decision-making and action.
Navigating the Maze of Language: Unleashing the Power of Controlled Vocabularies
In my exploration of knowledge spaces, I encountered a common challenge—people often used an array of words to convey the same idea.
This linguistic diversity sparked a realization that ideas could be understood through the lenses of concepts, labels, and implementations.
However, labels presented a significant stumbling block. I observed instances where individuals were passionately in agreement, yet the discrepancies in the labels they used hindered their ability to recognize their shared understanding.
This realization drove me to focus on refining language within the realm of security, where precision was paramount. Introducing a controlled vocabulary became my ally in overcoming this obstacle. Essentially, a controlled vocabulary acts as a map, linking diverse labels back to their underlying concepts.
Consider the realm of security, where discussions may involve terms like access control, role-based access, or role-based authorization. These variations all revolve around the core concept of authorization.
By establishing a comprehensive map that captures these terms and their alternatives, navigating the sea of language variations becomes effortless. Confusion dissipates, and individuals can confidently engage with the subject matter, unencumbered by linguistic hurdles.
Create clarity through controlled vocabularies. Controlled vocabularies emerge as powerful tools for conquering the intricacies of language variation.
By creating maps that align diverse labels with their core concepts, we equip ourselves with the means to navigate this linguistic maze.
In realms where precision is paramount, such as security, controlled vocabularies serve as guiding beacons, fostering clarity, enabling effective communication, and facilitating shared understanding.
Illuminating the Path: “Hot Spots” as Catalysts for Knowledge Activation
Picture colossal libraries brimming with a treasure trove of “knowledge nuggets” awaiting discovery. The challenge arises—how can we transform this wealth of information into actionable insights?
Enter the concept of “Hot Spots,” an organizational construct that adds a touch of dynamism to the knowledge landscape.
By categorizing and grouping content under these strategically defined areas, we unlock its findability and accessibility.
Within my Hot Spot framework, I diligently crafted categories that encompassed principles, patterns, practices, How Tos, Questions, Tasks, and more. While the Project Management Institute terms these categories as “Knowledge Areas,” I opted for Hot Spots to emphasize their role as focal points of action and engagement.
My objective was not to achieve exhaustive completeness but rather to foster competition and catalyze the transformation of insights into tangible outcomes.
Guided by the 80/20 rule, I targeted the vital 20% of high-value knowledge, enabling me to swiftly capture 80% of the knowledge space.
This strategic approach acknowledged that by sowing the seeds of knowledge, I could accelerate the community’s learning journey and propel the domain’s advancement.
Ultimately, my pursuit centered on constructing robust learning frameworks, equipping individuals with the tools to unlock their potential and accelerate collective progress.
You can empower knowledge activation through Hot Spots. Harnessing the power of Hot Spots as organizational constructs revolutionizes the way we engage with knowledge.
By intelligently grouping content into meaningful categories, we create pathways to exploration, discovery, and action.
Through strategic curation and targeted efforts, we unlock the potential of communities, fostering accelerated learning, and driving collective advancement.
Unveiling the Key to Success: The Value of Knowledge in Problem Solving
In my journey of tackling the most intricate challenges, a profound realization emerged, transforming the way I approached knowledge—The value of your knowledge is inherently tied to the value of the problem you solve.
Tip: If you want to create more value, solve high value problems.
This revelation proved to be a guiding light, illuminating multiple facets of my professional growth. It enabled me to distinguish between strategic and tactical content, recognizing that some knowledge possesses a broader, long-term significance, while other insights cater to immediate, situational needs.
Understanding the value equation of knowledge inspired me to seek out and engage with more complex and consequential problems.
Recognizing that the caliber of knowledge produced is directly influenced by the magnitude of the problems addressed, I embraced the notion that tackling more significant challenges was not only intellectually rewarding but also a catalyst for personal and career development.
This single piece of insight wielded tremendous power, shaping the trajectory of my career over time. It inspired me towards embracing impactful problems, pushing the boundaries of my capabilities, and continually expanding my expertise.
You can empower growth through problem-centric knowledge. The recognition that the value of knowledge lies in the problems it resolves serves as a compass for success.
By discerning between strategic and tactical content and striving to address substantial challenges, we elevate the caliber of our knowledge and create opportunities for continuous growth.
This invaluable insight fosters personal and professional development, enabling us to make meaningful contributions and shape our careers in profound ways.
Unlocking the Strategic Potential: Scenarios and User Stories
Within the Microsoft ecosystem, the term “scenarios” enjoyed wide usage, primarily referring to the question, “What is the customer trying to accomplish?”
However, it became apparent that the term held distinct meanings in different contexts, prompting me to delve deeper into their significance and explore ways to enhance their usefulness.
During one of my presentations, I delved into the multifaceted nature of scenarios, recognizing their potential alignment with use cases, as the path through a use case or as an instance of a use case. The challenge lay in defining these concepts precisely, considering the intricate interplay between expansive enterprise scenarios and more focused, compact scenarios.
In the Agile realm, a relentless pursuit of refinement led to the evolution of capturing and documenting user stories. I found tremendous value in user stories, as they facilitated the construction of extensive catalogs or portfolios that encapsulated user demand—a trove brimming with future value waiting to be unlocked.
Essentially, if you possess a portfolio of prioritized user stories sourced directly from real customers, you wield an asset of exceptional strategic significance. Regrettably, not everyone grasps the full power and potential held within this invaluable resource.
You can harness the power of scenarios and user stories. The strategic potential embedded within scenarios and user stories is far-reaching.
By comprehending the diverse dimensions of scenarios and their relationship to use cases, we unlock a deeper understanding of customer objectives.
Meanwhile, user stories offer a pathway to construct comprehensive portfolios, encapsulating the demands and desires of real customers—a treasure trove of insights and future possibilities.
Embracing the strategic value of these assets positions us at the forefront of innovation, enabling us to cater to customer needs and drive transformative impact.
“What Is” and “How To” as a Strategic Type
As I mentioned earlier, “concepts” can be a strategic type of content. And they are different from action or reference.
How To worked really well to share and scale recipes for results and action steps.
For concepts, What Is was a simple way to share and scale conceptual information or answers to questions.
You can tell this is a strategic type because of the amount of demand for it on the Web.
People ask “What is X?” all the time. And so many people fight for pole position to define and explain and elaborate on what X means.
Checklists as a Strategic Type
One of my favorite types of content is the checklist. And it is an art to do this well.
I created many checklists early on in Microsoft to learn, share, and scale things faster.
These were mostly action checklists or reminders at a glance.
A lot of us tended to share checklists of steps for installing complicated software, or how to get up and running fast on new stuff.
But my world of checklist making changed when a mentor swung by one day and said that I needed to consider the structure of pilot checklists.
I asked him what’s the difference?
He said, it’s a construct of noun + state: fuel full, light on.
He said it very quickly helps you check the conditions or the “state” of things.
The “state” of things can trigger multiple actions.
I fell in love with checklists and used them to help share and scale hardcore expertise, especially with security and performance and architecture.
For example, I was able to turn the deep, insightful questions that security experts asked into a question-driven checklist that empowered everyone to think better and act on security choices.
But, after a while, I realized that some of my checklists felt very different.
They felt very smarter, somehow. After all, they embodied the best questions on a page from some of the deepest experts around the world.
I was using them to win in competitive assessments, and to help reduce the cognitive load people had.
Then, one day, I remember reading some beautiful insights from Steve McConnell on the power of inspections.
Inspections as a Strategic Type
I realized the power of inspections was having a virtual expert intentionally check for common issues.
It’s like those 12-point inspection or 100-point inspections that some dealerships use.
Inspections are powerful in multiple ways.
You basically have a map of the stuff that’s important informed by experts.
Once you have the shared map, now people can make it better.
If you treat it like a living set of inspection questions, you can now evolve it as you learn.
Again, this is the power of having knowledge live in some form, outside of heads so that people can work on it together. (And this is the danger when people don’t put knowledge into a shared form, but have it only live in software or “the smarts are inside”.)
Exposing knowledge, building the grain, and creating shared information models is how we advance together.
“iTunes for Knowledge”
One of my greatest projects at Microsoft was my early innovation project. To help people understand it fast, I would just say to think of it as “iTunes for knowledge.”
It was before Evernote, but actually looked like Evernote. Maybe we inspired them?
My goal with the project was to build a library of actionable insight organized by topics and strategic types.
I mocked up a lot of screens based on use cases I wanted to solve:
- Browse by topics (Architecture, Performance, Security, etc.)
- Browse by types (How Tos, Checklists, Patterns, etc.)
- View knowledge in different ways (Mind Maps, Graphs, Checklists, etc.)
- Compose knowledge from multiple types.
- Share knowledge with others as “collections.’
- Build your “playlist” of knowledge.
- Sell your knowledge to subscribers.
- Explore and subscribe to different knowledge collections from your org or around the world.
- Create new content types.
- Sort knowledge nuggets by source, authority, priority, time, etc.
To bottom line it, it was a pretty epic creation. Scott Guthrie, SVP at Microsoft, blogged about it when he learned about it.
And some folks at different companies said point blank it would be one of the most powerful things to every come from our group. Ray Ozzie sent me a note that he thought it was a game changer because it was like “RSS collections of read/write knowledge” (or something along those lines).
And several folks around the company actually wanted to leave to go start a company around it. And it actually inspired and served as the backbone for flagship products in other companies.
I learned priceless lessons in innovation, that I couldn’t understand at the time, but in hindsight reveal a lot about the nature of change, adoption, and innovation itself.
Google Uses Strategic Types to Organize the World’s Knowledge
Interestingly, I got a lot of pushback from some people when I organized knowledge by “type”. Their argument was nobody searches for “types” of content.
I would as, “So you never looked for a video or an image or a slide deck?”
Believe it or not, they would say, “No, and users don’t search for those, they search for their topic.”
I followed with, “Well, wouldn’t it be nice to search for both?” And, by the way, did you know Google lets you search by content type?”
They didn’t use Google, so it was funny when they realized that some content types are actually strategic, so much so, that the company who made it a mission to “organize the world’s info” actually let’s user search by content types.
To get to strategic content types, I realized that people come in different ways:
There’s more, but I just want to make a few points about the idea of entry points. I remembered Ward Cunningham making a distinction between Wiki and some other engines such as blogs. He said he wanted the Wiki to be timeless, but blogs organized by time.
It helped me really think in terms of a library of knowledge here, but multiple entry points into it from there.
Not physically, just as a mental model that I could manage an evergreen body of knowledge, but then create multiple entry points into it. You might want to browse by questions, or browse by scenarios, or browse by tasks or by topics, etc.
Stable vs. Volatile (Enduring Ideas & Strategies)
One of the big challenges I had to struggle with was the idea of stable vs. volatile knowledge.
Some knowledge changes faster than others.
At the same time, some knowledge is very enduring.
That’s what patterns can be good at, especially for the investment.
The key learning curve though is for content creators to be able to recognize the stable stuff and extrapolate it from the knowledge that changes more frequently.
This is why things like principles can work very well, too.
There are many timeless principles around human behavior, for example, that are enduring and help us better understand the human nature.
Some timeless quotes can fall into this bucket, too.
What helped me to deal with this challenge better as to create information models around the challenges and recognize that while the solution or technology might change, the challenge is more long-lasting.
So this made it easier to refresh knowledge by carving out the volatile information from the more stable backbone.
Design for Change
Change happens. I found that if I fought it while trying to create “evergreen” content, it was a losing battle.
Instead, I embraced it.
I designed for change. I figured if I can change things fast, then I won’t mind things changing so much.
This turned out to be a very healthy philosophy.
In fact, it’s how I broke the “log jam” early on when I was building out knowledge bases for the Microsoft Knowledge Base.
People were afraid to work on some of the articles because changing them was very difficult. They were long monolithic things, that if you touched a paragraph in the middle, you broke the article at the top and bottom somehow.
To fix this, I really focused on refactoring articles to have them solve a problem well, or do their “one thing” well.
This helped create much more sustainable content, and at the same time, made it easier to compose knowledge together when needed.
On the flip side, this also had the undesirable effect of making some topics more difficult to learn or put together, because it was fractured.
What I learned was to create strategic content that pulled it all together and provided good overviews. So while the large body of content was modular and reusable, a smaller portion was more big picture or overarching, and the difference helped for both producers and consumers.
What I learned, yet again here, is that if something wasn’t designed to fit together, It doesn’t always fit together, and integration can create a new set of challenges.
Navigating Strategic Content: Orchestrating Catalogs and Portfolios
Managing and organizing strategic content, be it a library of patterns, scenarios, or How Tos, is a paramount task that demands careful attention to cater to both producers and consumers alike. Within the realm of content management, I often found myself conceptualizing the collections I curated as portfolios, while viewing the public-facing libraries I created as catalogs.
I think this is because of my early immersion in consumer-oriented sites, where the notion of “browsing our catalog” became a familiar refrain. The term “portfolio” resonated well within creative domains, catering to makers, designers, photographers, artists, and the like.
However, the true essence lies in discerning the purpose and audience of the content. It is essential to contemplate whether the content warrants the formation of a portfolio or the structure of a catalog, all while being mindful of the intended recipients.
Organizing your portfolio or catalog becomes the linchpin for unlocking the value embedded within your strategic content. A poorly navigable structure renders even the most valuable knowledge ineffective, falling short of its potential.
Carefully consider the framework in which you present your strategic content. Craft an intuitive and user-centric structure that empowers consumers to effortlessly navigate the wealth of knowledge at their disposal.
By doing so, you ensure that the value you have meticulously curated is truly harnessed and serves as a catalyst for transformative outcomes.
Developer Hub Pages at Microsoft
My job here was to design an information model to organize better entry points into the full range of developer guidance across Microsoft.
I will say this was insanely insightful and definitely one of my most challenging projects.
By this time, I had my tools of organizing information, and I knew how to slice and dice large libraries of knowledge.
I went to work building “collections” of code examples, videos, How Tos, etc. and organized them by “Hot Spots” or “Knowledge Areas” and by “Topics and Types”.
When I built one example out as a demo, it was shocking how far, how wide, and how deep the existing knowledge was.
Interestingly, what I observed was at Microsoft we had an incredible library for intermediate and advanced scenarios, but were lacking on getting started resources, while other companies were great at getting started, then dropped you off a cliff.
Getting Started vs. Intermediate/Advanced
Getting Started is a very special category of knowledge, especially if you want to drive adoption.
And in the Getting Started category, there is yet another very special scenario:
How many otherwise great products get that wrong. That’s a common challenge that all product leaders share.
How well can they translate the vision into a great first time experience, and build momentum through great Getting Started resources.
And then, how to continue the journey, through more intermediate and advanced scenarios becomes the next challenge.
Winning Getting Started and First Time Use is table stakes in today’s world.
People have so many choices, and if you can’t create a simple pathway to success, then people choose whoever does.
Core, Common, and Niche
Along the lines of Getting Started, I realized that I could also group a large library of scenarios or use cases or content into a set of simple, but strategic categories:
- Core: Core is a category to reflect all the most fundamental scenarios or user stories. It’s “essential”.
- Common: Common reflects all the common tasks people do and questions they ask.
- Niche: This is the category where advanced, or corner cases or highly specific scenarios fall under.
It’s a simple mental model, but as a producer of knowledge, it can help to evaluate your portfolio to see where you have better coverage and where you have gaps. It can also help you organize your knowledge better for users.
Unlocking Value: Value Realization Accelerators as a Catalyst for Transformation
Embarking on the Value Realization Accelerators initiative propelled me into uncharted territories, demanding a deep mastery of bridging the realms of business and technology to unlock tangible value.
This effort proved to be an all-encompassing voyage, intertwining the principles of value engineering with the orchestration of high-performing teams to address and accelerate customer business challenges while driving exponential growth.
Picture the intricate task of forging meaningful connections between business capabilities and technological prowess—an endeavor that demanded weaving together people, processes, and technology, aligned with overarching business priorities.
It entailed fostering a fundamental shift in behavior, propelling the swift adoption of change. For, as our saying goes, “the value is in the change,” rendering user adoption crucial in realizing the full potential of any transformation initiative.
In this multifaceted landscape, the key was to chunk large-scale organizational transformations down into smaller, digestible chunks of change centered around specific scenarios, enabling focused efforts and targeted outcomes.
It was not enough to simply initiate change; the ability to gauge and measure its impact was equally crucial. Before embarking on the transformational journey, a comprehensive assessment of the current state of people, processes, and technology laid the foundation for informed decision-making and bespoke solutions.
At the heart of this effort was the imperative to rapidly assemble tailored solutions and navigate complex transformations across the intertwined realms of people, processes, and technology. T
he quest to conquer these intricate challenges required the development of a strategic content type that surpassed conventional boundaries—a content type that unlocked the true potential of transformational endeavors.
You can unleash tremendous transformational potential through strategic content. Value Realization Accelerators emerged as a formidable strategic content type, igniting profound organizational transformations by aligning business aspirations with technological possibilities.
By seamlessly intertwining the intricate tapestry of people, processes, and technology, this approach empowered organizations to unlock tangible value and propel exponential growth.
As we surmounted the challenges inherent in orchestrating change, this strategic content type took center stage, driving purposeful transformations that harnessed the full potential of organizations and catapulted them into a future of unparalleled success.
Unleashing the Power of Dreams: The Book of Dreams as a Strategic Type
Within my role, I embarked on a mission to foster digital transformation on a global scale, envisioning digital innovation as a collective endeavor. To achieve this, I forged a framework that facilitated a visionary approach—working backwards from the future while propelling business value creation forwards.
At its core, the framework aimed to empower leaders to reimagine the possibilities that technology held, enabling them to create and seize value in novel ways.
In this pursuit, I unearthed profound insights about innovation. However, the true revelation lay in recognizing the immense ease with which innovation flourishes when underpinned by a repertoire of strategic content types.
Consequently, I painstakingly curated extensive libraries brimming with digital patterns for the future—an invaluable resource that empowered me to envision a tomorrow grounded in reality.
By collaborating with brilliant minds across industries worldwide, I constructed a network of foresight, gaining unparalleled glimpses into the evolving landscape long before it materialized.
Working across diverse industries proved instrumental, affording me the opportunity to discern patterns that transcended sector boundaries.
My engagements spanned automotive, banking, consumer electronics, defense, education, government, healthcare, media, oil & gas, retail, telecommunications, and ventured into realms like the future of cities, sports, and wellness.
Leveraging vast repositories of strategic content, I seamlessly cross-pollinated ideas across industries. Solutions that fostered “raving fans” found relevance in sports, banking, retail, and beyond.
Tackling the challenge of knowledge management in the oil & gas sector unveiled insights transferrable to other domains grappling with distributed expertise.
Amongst my numerous initiatives, the creation of the Book of Dreams posed the greatest knowledge management challenge. This pursuit profoundly shaped my understanding of the future of knowledge management. Reflecting on the lessons learned, my aim is to leverage this knowledge to help humanity forward in some way, even if it means empowering individuals to master their learning journey and harness the transformative power of knowledge.
The Book of Dreams stands as a testament to the boundless potential of strategic knowledge management. Through its pages, we unlocked the power of collective imagination, fostering digital transformation, and inspiring innovation across industries.
By curating vast libraries of strategic content, we transcend sector boundaries, enabling the cross-pollination of ideas and the emergence of visionary solutions. As we leverage these insights to advance humanity, even in the smallest of ways, we empower individuals to navigate their learning journey, inspiring us ever closer to a brighter, knowledge-driven future.
Igniting Change: The Transformative Force of Strategic Content Types
My journey has been marked by an unwavering commitment to drive impactful change, embarking on significant challenges and assembling teams of high-performing innovators.
Central to this pursuit has been the construction of extensive libraries of strategic knowledge—a powerful arsenal in the quest to transform the world.
Here are a few key insights…
- The Pen is Mightier than the Sword: In the knowledge-based economy we inhabit, I have witnessed the profound truth that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” The written word possesses an unparalleled ability to shape our world, propelling us towards a future teeming with possibilities. Embracing the concept of “write once, share many,” we unlock the potential to disseminate patterns and practices that empower others to achieve resounding success.
- Narrative Memos: Jeff Bezos, renowned for his visionary leadership, captivated Wall Street with his transformative 7-year plans, encapsulated within Narrative Memos. These meticulously crafted narratives serve as rallying cries, galvanizing individuals towards a common purpose, and guiding organizations towards new frontiers.
- Point-of-Views (POVs): I have been fortunate to witness the inspiring influence of brilliant product leaders who wield the written word to ignite disruptive innovation. Through the artful creation of Point-of-Views (POVs), they have harnessed the power of persuasion, inspiring teams to question the status quo and explore uncharted territories.
- One Person Can Change the World: By leveraging frameworks, mental models, principles, patterns, and curated collections of strategic content, organizations of all sizes—be it large corporations or nimble teams of individuals—can reshape the world as we know it. This transformative potential is mirrored in the enduring impact of books that have shaped human history, forging new paths, and challenging existing paradigms.
You can empower transformation through strategic content. In the realm of change-making, the potency of strategic content types reigns supreme.
Through the written word, we wield the power to inspire, guide, and ignite innovation on a grand scale.
Whether it be the profound influence of Narrative Memos or the persuasive force of well-crafted Point-of-Views, these strategic content types serve as catalysts for transformation.
Embracing their potential, we unlock the capacity to reshape our world and leave an indelible mark on the tapestry of human history.
The Key to Better Knowledge is Strategic Content Types
Understanding the power of strategic content types unlocks a world of possibilities for enhancing knowledge acquisition and dissemination.
By diversifying the formats and structures of our content, we tap into different learning styles, engage a wider audience, and make information more accessible and digestible.
Strategic content types, such as informative articles, practical tutorials, interactive videos, engaging podcasts, and immersive infographics, offer unique advantages in capturing attention, fostering comprehension, and inspiring action.
They cater to diverse preferences and enable us to communicate complex ideas effectively.
Embracing a thoughtful and intentional approach to content creation empowers us to deliver value-driven resources that educate, inspire, and empower others.
By strategically utilizing various content types, we can bridge gaps in understanding, overcome barriers to learning, and drive positive change in individuals and communities.
Let’s harness the potential of strategic content types to cultivate a culture of continuous learning, innovation, and growth.
By adapting our knowledge-sharing efforts to different mediums and formats, we unlock new avenues for acquiring knowledge and fueling intellectual curiosity.
Together, we can shape a world where knowledge knows no bounds and everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
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