Inside Analysis

Data Interchange Flexibility

The Knowledge Sharing Push

We are now seeing a global push towards knowledge sharing. This effort is prompted by many factors such as fostering innovation, getting product to market quicker, and improving organizational efficiency.

It would seem logical to apply something in the order of quantum mechanics to help solve the knowledge sharing conundrum. While quantum mechanics can help to explain the motion and interaction of atoms and subatomic particles, the same cannot be said for knowledge sharing solutions because of the human factor (unpredictability).

In theory a knowledge sharing structure should tap all of the information held within an organization to form a cohesive knowledge sharing framework. However, not everyone in an organization is willing to “give-up” their expertise to others because as the old saying goes: “Knowledge is Power and Power is Knowledge.” As a result, fiefdoms are often created and “only enough” information is given when asked. Thus, we should use the term Selective Knowledge Sharing (SKS) because it seem to be closer to the mark. It also stands to reason that the more transparent the knowledge sharing framework, the greater the chances of reaching organizational goals and objectives.

The Dilemma – What Standard or Standards to Support

The key question “what standard or standards should we support as an organization?” is a challenge that many CIO/CTOs currently face on both the domestic and international fronts. Case in point: When deploying a wireless trading application in Hong Kong for a large North American bank many internal and well as external issues arose. Not only was the ability to support Mandarin and Cantonese a primary concern, but also how to deal with data exchange with local carriers. This complex deployment exposed the various challenges of not only dealing with internal (North America to Asia) data exchange, but also interfacing with local business partners. Consequently, this dilemma is one many organizations currently face – which data interchange standard or standards to support.

The Possible Options

As the experts in this study have exposed, JSON and XML offer a multitude of benefits, so supporting both could ultimately allow for greater flexibility across the global data stage. Not to be forgotten is the vision of the Semantic Web and model for data interchange – Resource Description Framework (RDF). It seems that the market is still somewhat immature, so organizations need to be highly flexible and closely investigate which option or options best meets their short-, medium-, and long-term goals and objectives. As this point in time the debate seems to revolve around JSON and XML regarding which is best for internal and external facing knowledge sharing applications. Below are the two prime areas of interest:

Internal Facing Systems – What do we have currently in place for internal data interchange?

External Facing Systems – What data interchange structure is currently in place to deal with our business partners, and what technologies are they building to?

Technology Snapshot

JSON JavaScript Object Notation is an open-standard format that uses human-readable text to transmit data objects consisting of attribute value pairs. It is built on two structures:

1)     A collection of name/value pairs. In various languages, this is realized as an object, record, struct, dictionary, hash table, keyed list, or associative array.

2)     An ordered list of values. In most languages, this is realized as an array, vector, list, or sequence.

XML Extensible Markup Language is a non-proprietary subset of SGML. It is focused on data structure and uses tags to specify the content of the data elements in a document, while XML schemas are used to define and document XML applications. Web services are components that reside on the Internet and have been designed to be published, discovered and invoked dynamically across various platforms and unlike networks. The methods, which reside in a specific Web service, may use Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) to send or receive XML data. Thus, XML eliminates laborious steps involved with creating a remote object. An example of traditional (centralized application development) and Web services (distributed network-centric applications based on XML) models includes CORBA, which requires that the methods written in the language supporting CORBA be converted to interface definition language (IDL) before being used. Another example is calling methods without using the IDL because a programming language needs only be able to make a call across the Internet using HTTP and then handle an XML response.
RDF Resource Description Framework is metadata model for describing objects and the relationships among them. RDF has features that facilitate data merging even if the underlying schemas differ, and it specifically supports the evolution of schemas over time without requiring all the data consumers to be changed. It extends the linking structure of the Web to use URIs to name the relationship between things as well as the two ends of the link (this is usually referred to as a “triple”). Using this simplistic model, it allows structured and semi-structured data to be mixed, exposed, and shared across different applications. This linking structure forms a directed, labeled graph, where the edges represent the named link between two resources, represented by the graph nodes.


Views from the Experts

The primary goal of this study is to expose both the positives and negatives of each open-standard. Accordingly, below are different views from various well-respected experts:

JSON seems to be getting a lot of developer attention, yet as a longtime supporter of XML in standards, I think we need to be aware of it and remain flexible. It may be in our interest to consider providing JSON or JSON-LD (Linked Data) versions of standards originally specified as XML schema to make it easier for developers to implement these standards. Standards are only valuable if they are implemented. Likewise, we need to consider the usefulness of RDF representations, which can be mapped from JSON-LD, enhancing the value of an original XML schema-based standard.
~Rex Brooks, CEO-President at Starbourne Communication

Bottom line IMHO is that JSON trumps XML because of its flexibility and inherent ability to “be” unstructured, which I’m finding more and more important these days with the way people want to collect, assemble and consume data (particularly big data). While you can allow XML to deal with unstructured data, if you rely on your schemas (as you should if you’re using XML) you’ll be forced to continually update your schema. Then there’s SOAP for data transfer and the multitude of XML parsers to deal with. For JSON, it’s schema-less, but not un-schema-able. You can provide a schema, if you want to, with every object.  In this sense, it is self-schema-able.
~Charles Assaf, Software Architect

One would think that a mark-up copy operation is straight forward. For XML models with an inner “Core” (<StrategicPlanCore>) like StratML – there is only one copy operation view.

Not so for HTML where, thanks to Web Browser rendering, HTML behaves like a Central Processing Unit, recalculating ordered list display indices automatically according to the OL:Type Attribute.

Imagining that both you and a Cloud dweller both have access to a Browser, the same HTML page ought to produce identical indices for identical ordered list types. Of course other style features can vary widely. While this muddies the pattern recognition waters somewhat, it should not have any persistent (e.g. non-reversible) effect on the data no matter how far apart the Browser Screens or Browser brand (any Browser using the same Industry Standards).

XML 1) a list of ingredient names and 2) fractional composition (=100%).
JSON 1) a list of ingredient names.
~Gannon Dick, Software Developer

JSON and XML are two complementary standards, each suited to different situations. JSON’s popularity is in no small part owing to the fact that it is built into JavaScript. That is JavaScript can read JSON directly without any additional parsing. This is a huge convenience for JavaScript developers. Given that it is also less verbose than XML, it is the often logical choice for sending transient data between the client and server layers within many web applications.

Whilst being more verbose, XML offers many other advantages. For example, XML schemas allow one to describe, extend, communicate and validate XML datasets. XSLT allows for easy transformation of XML from one format into another, and XPath/XFormat engines allow for deep querying of native XML files. It is this added maturity which makes XML better for communicating (and storing) data between applications.

Of course, with a little clever programming, or a handful of increasingly available third party tools, either standard can be used in most circumstances, leaving us spoiled for choice. Given the increasing prevalence of open architectures and cloud based software and data ecosystems, it seems likely that organizations will have little choice but to embrace both.
~Chris Fox, Founder & CEO:

All too often, questions are artificially couched in terms of either/or when both/and might be a better answer. The simple fact that many developers favor JSON is a good enough reason for them to use it to demonstrate to others what can be done with it. However, business-quality records require sufficient structure to support the purposes for which they exist. The appropriate tools should be appropriately applied for the appropriate purposes. 

Data without context is meaningless and, worse, can be easily misused for nefarious purposes. Now that a schema specification is being developed for JSON, perhaps it may become a worthy competitor to XML for business-quality records. That’s a matter of maturity, in the sense of the Capability Maturity Model (CMM). 

The business requirements should dictate the technology. Over time, as business managers come to better understand the technology, the business requirements will prevail. The question is how long it will take. In the meantime, any machine-readable rendition of information can be transformed into any other with relatively little difficulty – as long as both the semantic as well as the structure of the data are clearly specified.
~Owen Ambur, Chair StratML Committee

The debate between JSON and XML is generally overstated for a wide variety of use-cases. In most situations, which simply involve passing data around, it doesn’t matter which format we use. The best choice is far more a function of what application is designed, what the comfort level is of the developer, and preexisting systems in place. JSON has the perception of being lighter-weight with quicker response times, but the reality is that it in many real-world scenarios, XML might function as quickly anyway.

That said, when it comes to rich data that is actively parsed, transformed, or reshaped, XML is the go-to standard. XML is a full-featured language, which has its own rich set of features, standards, and applications framed around it, useful for querying, transformation, validation and more. The ecosystem around XML is not just focused on passing data back-and-forth in a lightweight manner, but on extending the data into new territories for maximum and even creative data utilization.
~Umesh Thota, Founder of & Ranjeeth Thunga, Founder of


Ironically, the goal of this short study was not meant to show which open-standard is best, but to take the debate to a higher level. As the experts from around the world have exposed, there are many important factors (e.g., deploying, communicating, storing, etc.) that should be taken into consideration. Regarding data interchange, open-standards that include JSON, XML, and RDF, all have a number of positive attributes along with various limitations. For those reasons, organizations should be both flexible and creative in deploying the next generation of knowledge sharing solutions.

It may seem rudimentary, but the larger the organization, the more fiefdoms seem to exist. As a result overlap often occurs, which means that resources are not being utilized in the most efficient way possible. This all too common scenario also raises the key question: Do we as an organization support too many technologies in our current portfolio, and should we consider supporting another open-standard?

Organizations should implement well-thought-out strategic plans and knowledge sharing frameworks that leverage open-standards (e.g., JSON, XML, RDF, etc.). This type of progressive and rational thinking will help to usher in the new era, one which promotes a more agnostic and human-centric World-Wide Web.

Russell Ruggiero

About Russell Ruggiero

Russell Ruggiero is Research Analyst focusing on Open-Standards.

Russell Ruggiero

About Russell Ruggiero

Russell Ruggiero is Research Analyst focusing on Open-Standards.

46 Responses to "Data Interchange Flexibility"

  • Gannon (J.) Dick
    September 12, 2016 - 2:41 pm Reply

    Kid: Mom, I want to be a quantum Physicist when I grow up !
    Mom: You have to decide; it’s either one or the other.
    The point for me being … are we being asked to share what we know or what think ? Or the third option, normally an external imperative, what; if metered to subscribers has sustainable commercial value ?

    Americans have a love-hate relationship with Identification Numbers for historical reasons – very good historical reasons – and so are prone to mistaking familiarity for semantics.

    This is a built in taxonomy of sustainable commercial value we all see at a young age. We grow up and the taxonomy mutates at glacial speed. Commercial sustainability hinges on “the numbers game” – how fast one can capture across the set.

    People: Social Security Number (etc.) : 123-45-6789 (9 digits, two hyphens)
    Places : ZIP Code : 12345-6789 (9 digits, one hyphen)
    Organizations : EIN (IRS, etc.) : 123456789 (9 digits, no hyphens)

    In principle, like the identification numbers, XML, JSON, or RDF are isomorphic. Any kid can grow up to be a quantum Physicist 🙂

    • Russell Ruggiero
      Russell Ruggiero
      September 13, 2016 - 9:52 am Reply


      As you point out, so many options.

      We have a created a information ecosystem that has to deal with structured and unstructured data. People are quick to point out that “Cloud Computing” is the answer, but that is not the case. A datacenter is a datacenter is a datacenter. What needs to be done is the following:

      Reengineering – Software and hardware reengineering is needed to make the applications better able to deal with structured and unstructured date. Not only is speed the issue, but first and foremost security. As we have seen over the last few years many breaches in the public and private sectors.

      Standards – What open-standards are used for data interchange is a key question most organizations must deal with from an internal, as well as external facing question.

      How we deal with this “new data-centric environment” today will have serious repercussions in the future if not handled properly. Hence, a reality-check is needed in the datacenter and what standards to use.


  • Michael Taylor
    September 12, 2016 - 6:21 pm Reply

    To Gannon’s point about the nature of what we are being asked to share, consider the following. We have asked over 200 business groups involved in corporate initiatives ranging from 4 to 2000 leaders and staff, ‘Why does your organization need to take action on this topic?’ and other ‘current state’ assumptions. We found that on average a group would express 40 separate, relevant opinions.

    On average, they would be aligned (all agreeing) on only 7 of the 40, and misaligned (some agreeing, some disagreeing) on 33 of the 40 opinions they and their colleagues expressed.

    After selecting the fundamental misalignments and reconciling them, the number will typically rise from 7 to 23 ‘It is…’, They are…’, ‘We have…’ opinions they all endorse as accurate.

    i.e. If we were to share what people think without knowing its validity, even when the source is a corporate CxO, there could be even more misinformation moving around as rational and logical but inaccurate fact. If we shared it after alignment analysis and reconciliation, perhaps we could have more faith in its accuracy.

    • Gannon (J) Dick
      September 13, 2016 - 1:12 pm Reply

      “If we shared it after alignment analysis and reconciliation, perhaps we could have more faith in its accuracy.”

      I could not possibly agree more and with fixed width Identifiers, alignment of the data base+query can and should be aligned for “first use” to fit the common sense definition of sharing. This means the data is “fresh out of the package” and that processing cost is what it is – in this case a *nix ZCAT command to the bit bucket (/dev/null).

      The JRC-Names data base from the EU Commission is an excellent benchmarking test bed for these issues. The technical word is for peer-to-peer trade/sharing is “Cabotage”. A Data Analyst might think of it as a game – “Share a Tag”

      It contains both Organizations and Persons all keyed to a big integer and has about 650,000 entries in multi-lingual scripts. There is a wide variance in subscription rates between branded organizations and named persons, but “buzz” can easily be annualized/normalized to 1 per month.

      Thanks for the reply.

      • Russell Ruggiero
        Russell Ruggiero
        September 13, 2016 - 4:50 pm Reply


        Thank you for exposing “The JRC-Names data base from the EU Commission is an excellent benchmarking test bed for these issues.”

        Here is a thing many people have trouble with “World-Wide Web”

        Yes, we need to have a true global perspective when talking standards.

        That is why we tapped the knowledge of experts across the world for the study, and this too is only a sliver of what is really happening.


    • Russell Ruggiero
      Russell Ruggiero
      September 13, 2016 - 1:30 pm Reply


      What you are exposing is the “alignment” issue. Now here is the hard part – Getting organizations to acknowledge that they have problem. Below is a photography analogy.

      Problem: Picture Out of Focus

      Does the photographer take responsibility or they blame the equipment? Let us say that diopters in the camera body only cover a certain range, but the photographer’s eyesight is in need of stronger adjustment to view the subject properly. The solution could be a stronger diopter attached to the eyepiece, or possibly a new prescription for their eyewear. In any event, things need to be acknowledged and addressed.

      What you are exposing is a whole new area that organizations need to probe deeper into. How do we get our internal ecosystem as well as external facing ecosystems onto the same page?

      It is here where your AOT solution provides the greatest value.


  • Dan Strongin
    September 13, 2016 - 11:59 am Reply

    Great example Michael, and therein lies the rub. A team is not a team without a shared objective. A system is a chaos generator unless it shares an objective. Those differing ideas lead to losses, serious hidden losses up and down the supply chain and in society overall. In my experience, those losses are the difference between no profit, profit, industry benchmark profit and oh my god, no one will believe me profit. If we are not conscious, if our systems do not bring things into the light of day, we are left with dumb luck, wasted resources, burnout and other unnecessary sindromes all to common because people do not sit down and really communicate on the things that are important. We are seeing companies go from top down do it or else to something more democratic, and that is good. But chaos is never good if you want to make money.

    • Russell Ruggiero
      Russell Ruggiero
      September 13, 2016 - 4:42 pm Reply



      Shared Goals & Objectives – Are the tread that should run through the organization. Wasted resources? In IT we see the old Define – Design – Develop – Deploy methodology, but in-between these “Steps” there is always a disconnect. Diving deeper, we see that a divide seems to always to exist between the Business and Technology. This most often leads to failed projects. The lucky ones that do survive are behind schedule, lack the requirements outlined in the Design Stage and, or are over budget.

      Alignment need to be “united” at all levels of the organization to promote a more cohesive environment.

      As you say, from the Greek “chaos” is never good.


    • Matthew Harang
      September 13, 2016 - 6:51 pm Reply

      Dan, I couldn’t agree with you more, and shared objectives cannot be achieved without efficient and regular communication. Communication must be free flowing and easy. There should be different types: formal, informal, written, verbal, visual, all used at the correct time and place to foster teamwork and ensure that the shared objectives are being met. Without communication, improvement, growth and innovation within team environments are all much harder to come by. The importance of leaders fostering such communication and leading by example cannot be overstated.

      • Russell Ruggiero
        Russell Ruggiero
        September 13, 2016 - 9:55 pm Reply


        Communication is what it is all about.

        Unfortunately, in the real-world we have to deal with personalities. As you know it means various data dikes and dams that impede information flow.

        Agreed, there should be different types: formal, informal, written, verbal, visual, all used at the correct time and place to foster teamwork and ensure that the shared objectives are being met.

        However, we humans are a strange lot and history has proven, also quite predictable.

        The work we are involved in is trying to breakdown communication barriers, but easier said than done. The most difficult task is not only exposing the problem, but having others realize that a problem does in fact exist.


        • Chris Fox
          September 14, 2016 - 12:54 am Reply

          The internet has been both a boon and a curse. It is a boon in that we now have almost instantaneous access to more information than we could have ever imagined, and can communicate with almost anyone on the planet in almost real-time. It is a curse because that volume and flow of information is like a firehose, overwhelming and blowing us away. How can we develop and pursue shared goals when we can barely stay on our feet in the face of this flow? Standards for semantic tagging of content (such as StratML) help us find structure and meaning in all of that content. This will become more so as tools develop which understand those semantic tags and can help people, identify, link and process that information more quickly. I remember being taught: write once, read many times. Unfortunately, as authors, we still take the easy way out when writing and don’t invest in adding the structure and semantic tags which make this possible. This is what desperately needs to change.

          • Russell Ruggiero
            Russell Ruggiero
            September 14, 2016 - 10:23 am


            Agreed, a boon and a curse.

            I took part in a nine part series on human behavior regarding digital devices. Some of the finding were quite troubling. For example, in Bryant Park in Manhattan some people just sat for hours looking at their smartphones and tablets without taking the time to enjoy the beautiful Fall afternoon. On another study, people dining outside on a Summer evening were texting on their devices throughout the entire meal, except when flagging the water down for drinks. Digital addiction?

            Regarding structure, you are absolutely correct, we must change the way we do things.

            “This will become more so as tools develop which understand those semantic tags and can help people, identify, link and process that information more quickly. I remember being taught: write once, read many times.”

            Think we have to make our standards more robust in the way they handle data, which means adding new features and capabilities to the framework to help promote our vision of Semantic Web.


  • Owen Ambur
    September 13, 2016 - 8:13 pm Reply

    I’ve been aware of Csikszentmihali’s conceptualization of “flow” for many years. Indeed, I experience it frequently when converting plans to StratML format. However, I’m finally getting around to reading his book on the psychology of optimal experience.

    As time permits, I’d like to document how many of his points relate to the StratML standard. However, the establishment of clear goals is among the eight major components of enjoyment that he identified.

    So the vision of the StratML standard might appropriately be restated as “a worldwide *flow* of intentions, stakeholders, and results” … in which experience is optimized for hundreds of millions of people around the world who take control of their own lives in partnership with others who share their objectives.

      • Russell Ruggiero
        Russell Ruggiero
        September 14, 2016 - 11:16 am Reply


        StratML (ISO 17469-1) is an interesting emerging open-standard.

        Where value is seen is in its alignment features. While the idealism of “aligning interested parties with the same goals and interests” is commendable, the ability for rubber meeting the road is where the public & private sectors may draw interest.

        Open, machine-readable looks to be the foundation we need to get to the goal.

        Strategic Planning – Performance Planning – Contingency Planning

        Let’s say we get hit with another Sandy category storm in NYC in the near future. Not only can StratML be of value with a Federal Agency like DHS/FEMA, but it can also work with state and local entities to respond in a more seamless and efficient manner. It can also enable private organizations better deal with disruptions with internal ecosystems and external facing systems because of defined framework that leverages open, machine-readable standards.

        Framework? Yes, a framework that starts with a Strategic Plan and runs a common thread throughout the entire organization to form a cohesive knowledge sharing ecosystem.


      • Michael Taylor
        September 15, 2016 - 1:11 pm Reply

        Regarding StratML, one strong reason why an organization should want to use StratML is that we have currently identified and templated over 50 ‘strategies’ present inside a business. Of course, we can all imagine the corporate strategy, then the business unit strategies, the departmental strategies, et al, but then there is the M&A strategy, the sustainability strategy, the diversity strategy, the go-to-market strategy, the IT strategy, the talent strategy, the supply chain strategy, and many more. Imagine if each of these were rendered in StratML – what it would do for clarity and alignment around them, and the ability to check integrity up/down and across them.

        • Russell Ruggiero
          Russell Ruggiero
          September 15, 2016 - 9:38 pm Reply


          Circling back, we look at knowledge sharing in its present form as fragmented at best and disunited at worst.

          Standards like XML, JSON, and RDF are just the means to get data from Point A to Point B.

          There in lies the problem is within organizations. It is the disconnect from senior management on down. Who gets what seems to be the main question. In theory if we create a well-thought-out Knowledge Sharing Framework than things should go as planned. Unfortunately we have a wildcard – Human Behavior. We as humans harbor behavioral traits that include narcissism and paranoia that inhibits knowledge sharing frameworks from reaching their true potential.

          Bottom line, it is not the technologies that limit knowledge sharing, it is human behavior.


        • Gannon (J.) Dick
          September 16, 2016 - 4:11 pm Reply

          Fifty is a very impressive number longitudinally speaking. Thanks for that.

          That was my real point about the JRC-Names Data Base above …
          It quickly becomes apparent that the search for additional variants (of names) is not a professional population analysis tool and at worst makes communication between knowledgeable peers much more difficult.

          Job Titles become mere vanity seat cushions on the team bandwagon.

  • Shawn Parr
    September 16, 2016 - 6:03 pm Reply

    Russ, you make a great point about knowledge being power. I wonder what would happen if we as companies began promoting the idea that we are stronger as a team rather than a collection of individuals. What if we began encouraging each member of our team to share their knowledge by letting them know that by sharing, they will not only have power but also respect, which is arguably more important. Those who command respect in reality have more power than those who wield control in a way that communicates they are afraid to lose it and will do whatever they can, even at the expense of others/the company as a whole, to keep it. If we want to promote data interchange flexibility using technological tools, we will also have to address how we promote flexibility in our employees and across our company culture.

    • Russell Ruggiero
      Russell Ruggiero
      September 18, 2016 - 8:58 am Reply


      Thank you for the excellent post.

      “what would happen if we as companies began promoting the idea that we are stronger as a team rather than a collection of individuals.”

      “Those who command respect in reality have more power than those who wield control in a way that communicates they are afraid to lose it and will do whatever they can, even at the expense of others/the company as a whole, to keep it.”


      Yes, organizations should promote flexibility regarding technology tools, while also encouraging employees to be more open about sharing knowledge (expertise) to create more cohesive ecosystems. This mindset would no doubt make preexisting organizations more nimble , but also enable startups to have a better chance of reaching their true potential.


    • Daniel Strongin
      September 19, 2016 - 8:43 pm Reply


      Exactly! Do we want organizations of one or two “heroes” and a gallery of lackeys, or do we want workplaces where everyone can use their full potential and rise to their own level of ability? It is interesting that the one waste people rarely talk about is the incredible waste of human potential inside organizations.

      Nature has built some incredible “organizations” over time. Some have come close to truly sustainable. Hierarchy in nature exists for communication purposes, not controlling. The cell in its environment has an incredible amount of leeway to react to what it faces. This creates an incredible flexibility and resiliance in nature, which most human management structures lack, affecting their ability to adapt, innovate and survive.

      • Shawn Parr
        September 20, 2016 - 1:00 pm Reply


        Absolutely agree. In order for technological tools that facilitate communication to truly be put to good use, there has to be a culture in place that encourages sharing expertise and knowledge. We can have all the communication technology in the world, but if we as people or as organizations lose sight of how to communicate, tech won’t do us any good.


        What a great point – “hierarchy exists in nature for communication purposes, not controlling.” In human organizations, we too often forget that hierarchy exists to maintain a sense of order that facilitates clear communication. When we focus too much on maintaining a hierarchy for its own sake or for power and control, we miss out on a huge piece of what makes a hierarchy useful.

        • Michael Taylor
          September 20, 2016 - 1:50 pm Reply


          Earlier in this post, I mentioned we have identified over 50 types of strategies operating in organizations, of a list of over 100 ‘collaborative actions’ currently mapped. Common to all is that they are ‘non zero-sum games’ where the group’s shared goals can only be attained by coordinated group action and not individual action.

          In all such 1+1+1=4 situations, the first trick is explicitly defining them as a ‘we’ situation, implicitly putting ‘me’ below ‘us’. For example, in improving the operation of a department, the leader’s title is ‘Maximizing the Value Department X brings to Our Customers over the next 2 Years’. With that undisputable shared purpose named, the collective wisdom is assembled using an appropriate mix of in-person and virtual ‘comment’ and ‘reasoning’ forms – with anonymity or attribution.

          In over 250 projects, this approach has yielded an average of 167 opinions per group, typically 2 to 3 times the volume surfaced in workshops.

          It’s a simple little trick, but naming ‘what we all need to create plans for, and get aligned around’ as a ‘we’ topic, puts people into a positive, generative mindset.

          We teach this to management consultants and leaders, who typically call a group’s initiative ‘Project Symphony’ or ‘Strategy 2020’ or ‘World-Class X’- nice pithy slogans but useless for reminding everybody why they are there as they go through the journey.

          Next week, I’ll be back at one of the ivy league business schools teaching this technique to the MBA students on the Managerial Decision Making course. Another way I implement the sharing sentiments you, Russ, I, and the others in this post, seem to endorse.


          • Chris Fox
            September 21, 2016 - 1:55 am

            Michael, I love the point about project names. In a few instances, where there is a high need for confidentiality, code names can make sense. Then, I think that because highly confidential projects tend to be seen to be important, people start to give code names to other projects to make them seem important also. I’ve been in an organisation with so many arbitrary project code names running concurrently that half the time when one is mentioned, someone in the room has to ask “which project is that one again?”

        • Rex Brooks
          September 20, 2016 - 2:11 pm Reply

          Oddly enough today marks the announcement at the 30th Plenary of Health Level Seven (HL7) of the collaboration and joint publication of a working transformation of data between the OASIS Emergency Data Exchange Language (EDXL-a family of emergency mgt messaging standards) Tracking of Emergency Patients (EDXL-TEP) specification and HL7 v2.7.1 Messaging–specifically the Admit-Transfer-Discharge (ADT) set of hospital patient data formats.

          This allows EMS collection of patient data using EDXL-TEP in the field at the site of incidents to be transmitted and automatically input into the appropriate patient intake data formats of receiving hospital Emergency Departments. Simply eliminating the re-entry of data and its attendant possibility of errors marks a significant step forward in the speed and accuracy of patient treatment, but also marks a significant step forward between two Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) showing how collaboration and cooperation can be accomplished. This effort took nearly two years and considerable effort.

          So the issue of improving human communication within and across organizations is very appropriate today. Finding ways to facilitate such improvements is a task we can all embrace.

        • Owen Ambur
          September 20, 2016 - 3:47 pm Reply

          Regarding cultural issues, in The Allure of Toxic Leaders, Lipman-Blumen conceptualized the notion of “control myths.”

          In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi observed that once negative practices and beliefs are assimilated into the norms and habits of a culture, people assume that’s how things must be. They come to believe there are no other options.

          In Everyday Irrationality, Robyn Dawes characterized psychotic reasoning as “reaching a conclusion by considering a deficient number of alternatives.”

          The opportunity exists for enlightened thought leaders to break out of the needless, irrational, if not psychotic chains that bind us.

          Hopefully, the StratML standard and supporting services can make a meaningful contribution toward that end.

          BTW, there is no need for technologists to be defensive. As Norman has pointed out, it is things (technology) that make us smart. As potent as it may be in controlling behavior, culture should not be taken as a valid excuse for remaining ignorant and ineffective.

          See also

          • Shawn Parr
            September 20, 2016 - 6:29 pm


            You make some great points. It is so important for everyone, but leaders in particular, to be able to step back and widen our perspectives so that we are able to integrate new ideas and solutions that foster growth. Einstein’s definitions of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We can’t expect better results if we don’t consider new alternative ways of approaching situations.

            I certainly agree, culture is by no means a valid excuse for remaining ignorant and ineffective. And there is absolutely no need for technologists to be defensive. If culture is the environment and technology is the tool, there is an opportunity for growth and learning (or stagnation and ignorance) to be found in each. But ultimately it is still up to individuals to take action and to take their growth into their own hands. There ultimately are no excuses. In organizations and companies, leaders have a responsibility to model the behavior and the growth that they expect.

        • Gannon (J.) Dick
          September 20, 2016 - 6:05 pm Reply

          Nature has built some incredible “organizations” over time. Some have come close to truly sustainable. Hierarchy in nature exists for communication purposes, not controlling.
          Excellent point.

          Command, Leadership, Teamwork, Success, Control …

          A bridge too far.

        • Chris Fox
          September 21, 2016 - 2:03 am Reply

          I think one needs to be careful when saying things like “there has to be a culture in place” as it implies that culture is some external factor (I am sure that is not what you meant) over which we have no control and for which we should wait, instead of it being the sum of all of the participants’ beliefs. The reason I think this is important is because change cannot wait for permission. Imagine if the French Revolution had waited for permission from Louis XVI before starting? Rather we should listen to Gandhi, who exorted us to “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

          • Owen Ambur
            September 21, 2016 - 8:50 am

            Great point, Chris. When I proposed the StratML standard, one of your countrymen actually asked if I had checked with the “Big Boys” — meaning the big consulting firms, who make much of their income providing strategic advice — as if I had no right to be so presumptuous as to think I was worthy of treading on their turf.

            I was not so rude as to ask if he had missed the Boston Tea Party, much less either the French or American revolutions, but his comments gave me a chuckle. The fact he was quite serious about them says a lot about the cultural constraints he has allowed to be imposed upon his mind.

          • Chris Fox
            September 21, 2016 - 11:39 am


          • Shawn Parr
            September 21, 2016 - 12:52 pm


            Thanks for jumping in and helping to clarify. Culture is certainly not (or shouldn’t be – per Owen’s point) some external factor that gives us a reason or an excuse to sit around waiting for permission to create change. Instead, like you say, culture is reflected in the sum of all participants’ actions and beliefs, and as Charles pointed out, “it is something that an organization creates within.” It begins with leaders who, as Charles also said, lead by example and create a trickle down effect. Good leaders are not afraid to be revolutionary – they don’t look to the overall culture for direction. Instead, they are fearless when it comes to creating a new culture that is based in real, meaningful change. The revolutionary idea that we are talking about here is the idea that communication and sharing knowledge are more important than clinging on to power for its own sake. At this point, it seems that the overall culture encourages individual power for the sake of power itself. Wouldn’t it be revolutionary for leaders to “be the change” in their organizations, and foster an environment where the goal is to communicate and share important ideas rather than hoard them for the sake of individual gain?

          • Russell Ruggiero
            Russell Ruggiero
            September 21, 2016 - 1:18 pm

            Shawn – We seem to be covering quite a scope of topics.

            Data Interchange (Open-Standards)
            Knowledge Sharing
            Organizational Alignment

            From a subject perspective, they are all interrelated. Let’s look at it from a musical perspective. When creating a masterpiece like the 3rd Symphony (Eroica), not only did Beethoven have to create a structure (four movements), but also convey his “feelings” into the piece. In addition, Beethoven had to coordinate this work (notes/tone) among the orchestra members while playing this piece to the audience.

            This mindset also plays in the organization – a blending of humans and technologies to form a cohesive ecosystem that deals with internal and external facing systems. It all harks back to alignment. There must be alignment (fabric) throughout the organization, so it may act and react in a harmonious manner to intended and unforeseen events.

            Back to the Romantic Era, the orchestra may have all the necessary section players (e.g., wind, percussion, etc.) in place, but these players need to follow the sheet music (Strategic & Performance Plans ) and the conductor (senior management) to perform the piece in the manner in which it meant to be (reaching goals & objectives).

            In essence, all related pieces in the organism.


          • Shawn Parr
            September 21, 2016 - 3:45 pm


            Thanks for the great analogy. You speak to the interconnectedness of everything we are discussing here, which is key. Each element plays an important role.

          • Gannon (J.) Dick
            September 21, 2016 - 2:43 pm

            Speaking of “Big Boys”, Chris …

            The historical legacy of Marie Antoinette (Louie 16’s better half) has been muddled severely. The girl loved her bling, much of it bought on the theory that if the Queen of France could not afford it there must be something wrong with the French Economy.

            One of the Jewelry Syndicates she stiffed included a fellow by the name of Maximilien Robespierre – The “Big Boy” of The Terror.

            As for “Let them eat cake.” ; she probably never said that .

          • Ranjeeth Thunga
            September 22, 2016 - 7:39 am

            Wonderful comments on the deeper connotation of culture’s source. They’ve definitely stretched my mind open to other possible ways of working and perceiving work.

            It’s easy enough to wrap the complex interplay of individual and interpersonal in the pretty concept of ‘culture’..but there’s much rich complexity behind the scenes — some healthy, some not so healthy.

            Culture, like aligned with many of the comments here, I feel is defined by the inside-out by each one of us, with guidelines in-place to ensure it’s continuous evolution is protected. So what’s actually systematically needed is a kind of ‘reverse’ control — ensuring the process of continuous maturation is given encouragement and space to happen, not imposed or expected to happen by force or will.

            What we come across often enough in our lives, from diversity movements to corporate charities, is a sort of obligation or imposition of what’s the right way to behave. As guidelines, such directives are effective in helping us navigate our behavior and inclusion of each other. As rules or impositions, they actually limit the freedom to explore and discover the potential rich, golden connections that lies outside of the boundaries of what might seem to be acceptable.

            These are essential threads to become conscious of while we’re defining policies and crystallizing the role of policy-making itself. Glad to share my reflection.

          • Russell Ruggiero
            Russell Ruggiero
            September 22, 2016 - 9:51 am


            Your observation below is quite insightful.

            “It’s easy enough to wrap the complex interplay of individual and interpersonal in the pretty concept of ‘culture’..but there’s much rich complexity behind the scenes — some healthy, some not so healthy.”

            We must look at ancient records from The East and The West. Today, most people think that our history is only in digital format. This is incorrect because there are many items that are on scrolls and tablets that are still being converted. However, what had made it can tell us much about humankind.

            Human traits have been with us since the beginning and are still with us today.

            For example, the “conquest” or “land grab” has been with us for the thousands of years even before the time of Gilgamesh. Country boarders change and are most often the result of a violent event. Case in Point: Rome taking over all of the Carthaginian territories after the Third Punic War.

            Yes, some are healthy like the work performed by Albert Schweitzer, while other are not.

            Again, excellent observation.


          • Gannon (J.) Dick
            September 22, 2016 - 4:27 pm

            I tend to take a very broad view of “culture” for this reason:

            As long as humans can remember, local festivals have been used to unobtrusively announce concurrent civil events. In the late 18th Century, Gauss exploited this to calculate the exact dates of Easter, and Passover for any year. Coincidently he provided an approximate planting date for farmers in the Northern Hemisphere and an approximate mailing date for my Tax Return.

            The US Office of Management & Budget has announced a schedule and duration for Strategic Plans and Reports of all US Government Agencies Jan 1, 2018 duration 4 years.

            Here is the cultural trick …
            With Elementary School age kids, birthdays are a very big deal. Monthly celebrations are arranged so as to moderate the frequency of disruptions . Children with birthdays in months outside the School Year celebrate “Half-Birthdays” time shifted back into the Academic Year.

            Gauss’s mathematical insight was that Easter and Passover always occurred in the 1st and 3rd quarters of a two year cycle. A Half-Birthday, the OMB Schedule, and “Fiscal Years” are the same principle. In the case of the OMB, the celebration is the off year Congressional Elections.

            That is the ‘culture’ we all share. There are anomalies … “Kim” did happen to mention that mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun. Chris? 🙂
            Now the bad news …
            1) Someday Robots equipped with AI will kill up all if we don’t give them Half Birthday parties, of worse starve us to death because they missed the Spring notification or live in Australia.
            But those problems are far into the future.

            2) Other problems are not. The Financial Services Industry will disregard any warnings given as their culture allows overnight deposits. That practice is not bad per se, but it is asymmetrical with respect to the other rhythms of our shared cultural heritage so it is a problem for them to solve, I think.

        • Charles S. Assaf
          September 21, 2016 - 4:57 am Reply

          Culture is not something that is external to an organization. It is something that the organization creates within. Good leaders lead by example. This has a trickle down effect on every person in the organization. The more that information is shared about a specific goal or project, the higher the likelihood of success and satisfaction, as everyone who has contributed can take pride in the notion that “we succeeded partly because knew ‘this’, which made me think of ‘that'”. Without knowledge sharing, and a culture of lead by example (the example being “I am telling this you because I want you to do the same and tell others what you know”) success would be much harder to achieve, if not entirely impossible. A good culture is not a poker game where everyone must hold their cards close to their chests in order to win. There are no winners if such a culture prevails in an organization.

          • Owen Ambur
            September 21, 2016 - 11:30 am

            Yes, it would be nice to think leaders might demonstrate good leadership and organizations certainly are more effective when they do. However, the lack of such leadership does not absolve us of personal responsibility for doing the best we can, in partnership with those who share our values and objectives.

            I’m currently reading Connected: How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do, by Christakis and Fowler. As time permits, I will relate their key points to the StratML standard. In the meantime, I want to finish doing that for Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.

            As Larison has pointed out: “Power and authority come from the person being influenced – not the person in the more powerful position. If the follower chooses to not follow them, they are no longer leaders. Leadership is really followership.”

            While cultural constraints and self-serving institutional bureaucracies may be impediments to progress, we need not be condemned to live as sheep, much less as sacrificial lambs.

          • Dan Strongin
            September 23, 2016 - 7:49 pm

            Owen, what I have found in my consulting clearly supports what you say. Most people doing the best they can within ineffective systems. To me, Leadership is overrated. What many call leadership is the abdication of leadership: telling or even commanding is not leading, not even in the modern army.

            From the Marine Corp fighting manual:
            ^What we need are simple, flexible plans; planning for likely contingencies; developing standing operating procedures; and fostering initiative among subordinates.^

            All those wonderful seminars on leadership that teach charisma, empathy, culture and clear orders cannot overcome a poorly designed process or system. What is needed is more knowledgeable leaders who understand systems and variation and people and can use their unique access to resources to continually improve their processes to align their behavior (the possible results) with their strategic vision and unblock the flow.

            But, many people will never have a chance to work in a integrated system, so they must to do the best they can. That is the adult thing to do. We fight a losing battle all our lives against death, but that does not absolve us from the responsibility to live, and live well.

          • Owen Ambur
            September 23, 2016 - 10:47 pm

            Your points are very well-taken, Dan. However, in fairness to those who have risen to higher levels in bureaucracies, barring clear evidence to the contrary, I believe they are probably doing the best they can as well. Indeed, their ascension is prima facie evidence they have done better than most … in those organizations as they currently exist.

            So, yes, as you suggest, it seems to me that we should do our best to focus on changing the “system,” i.e., how organizations are created and operated. Advancements in information technology mean that the requirements and constraints associated with the institutions of the past may no longer apply.

            We should not wait or rely upon the leaders of those institutions to see the light. We should do our best to lead the change ourselves, starting with ourselves, and the organizations of which we are parts.

            StratML represents my best effort toward that end.

          • Gannon (J.) Dick
            September 21, 2016 - 3:07 pm

            Good point Charles.

            I am reminded of Henry Kissinger’s remark that “Academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small”. The web has expended a prodigious amount of energy proving that he was not the first to make the observation, as any search engine will quickly tell you.

            As you said … There are no winners if such a culture prevails in an organization.

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