Here is another in a series of session notes for KM World 2010 and Enterprise Search Summit 2010. I attended the keynote session, The Resilient Organization led by Dave Snowden, Founder & CTO -Cognitive Edge. Here is the session description.
“In trying to create robust and successful enterprises, organizations have traditionally attempted to eliminate uncertainty through techniques such as scenario planning, risk assessment, process control, and using such programs as Six Sigma. However, the level of uncertainty and the consequences of failure have continued to create major problems for governments and industry alike. This presentation takes a radical new approach to uncertainty and supplies strategies to absorb uncertainty rather than eliminate it, thus creating a resilient organization. Resilience involves the recognition that failure of some type is inevitable and that what matters is early detection of failure and rapid recovery.
Such approaches involve using modern technology to augment human sensor networks and distributed cognition (commonly but mistakenly referenced as crowd sourcing, or wisdom of crowds). Snowden looks at the basic principles and drivers of the shift from robustness to resilience and outlines new methods and tools to move strategy from a linear process developed and implemented over months to dynamic real type approaches with rapid adjustment of objectives, funding, and resources. He examines the way in which modern organizations are focusing on effectiveness, rather than efficiency, creating flexibility in organizational structures, and installing information systems that can support dynamic interaction. Using real-world examples and providing practical tips, Snowden emphasizes an ecological approach to creating resilient 21st-century enterprises.”
Just prior to the session Dave tweeted “finalising slides with an hour to go to keynote, debating how many shibboleths to savage.” So I was interested to learn his decision. He was fast and furious. Dave began by noting that the main reason for KM is to support decision making and this has not changed over the past 15 years. Practical experience is necessary for wisdom. You need both theory and practice. But unfortunately now too many people are looking for simplistic answers. I would agree here.
Dave noted that most people can produce a decent meal through recipes and the right ingredients. A master chef can produce a great meal with whatever is your kitchen. We need theory and not just recipes to blindly follow.
Often low probability events can have high impact, such as when the levees broke in New Orleans. You need early detection of these possibilities and fast recovery. Counter terrorism is a good example. I would add the BP oil spill to the list. You need to architect for resilience. He gave a great example of homes turning back to the 18th century designs to survive floods in the UK.
The human brain scans a small percentage of the available data and makes quick decisions. The only people who look at all the data are autistic and they are overwhelmed but management theory adopts this autistic approach. To react to the charging lion you cannot examine all the data before you react.
Despite what Chomsky said, there are no deep structures in language and so taxonomies are useful but limited. We would certainly agree at Darwin since we let the content self-organize dynamically rather than impose an external structure.
The nature of the system determines how to organize it. You need flexible boundaries. He gave a great example of how to manage a children’s party through complexity theory. You create achievable goals and adapt to what happens. The only way to manage a complex system is to engage in it.
He went on to evolutionary theory. Within humans traits that develop accidently often prove useful. Culture can change DNA within a few generations. You want to set up serendipity. Many successful companies were happy accidents. They were outliers at the right time and seized the new opportunity. You need to be open to seeing these innovations. Context is king. In my own experience I have seen the desire of consulting companies to create recipes that new hires can deliver at high profit margins result in an ignorance of context and failure.
The worse movements are the ones with a single founder. KM did not have a single founder so that helped it. If you destroy variety in the system you destroy innovation. Six Sigma is an example of worst practice as it destroys morale and innovation.
Platitudes deserve derision. They only give comfort to the incompetent. Avoid recycled selective cases chosen in hindsight. You need to promote safe fail experiments. Technology needs to be seen as cognitive augmentation. Larry Prusack said intuition is just compressed experience. The human brain blends fragments in the face of challenge. He noted how Patton did this in World War Two.
Moore said that new ideas get traction until they threaten the dominant ideas. Dave noted his own experience. Companies that dominate a particular cycle have trouble moving to the next one. The same holds for countries or predators. The next paradigm will always come. We went from scientific management to systems dynamics (an engineering approach). We are now reaching the end of the systems dynamics era. It was too rigid and focused on outcomes but can be blind to new stuff. Now we are moving into the cognitive complexity era and a focus on impact rather than outcome. There are more evolutionary opportunities here.
He dumped on Myers Briggs brilliantly. I totally agree here and have always disliked it. It puts people into boxes based on discarded science but supplies a simplistic answer for those who need them. We need to shift away from the categorization of individuals to understanding collective capability. We need to move from scenario planning and linear process toward engaging everyone in continuous assessment.
Too much transparency is the enemy of innovation as it destroys risk taking. We need to move away from annual budget planning to continuous asset allocation. I have struggled through not much time wasted on large scale project planning so this strikes home to me.
The ability to create a network is key and not trying to hold power by having hierarchical authority.Hiedegger said that man acts as if he is the master of language when in fact language is the master of man.
We need to move from aggregation for people to allowing people to synthesize fragments. We need to allow for contextual blending of fragments. We need to put decision makers in direct contact with the raw data. This is our goal at Darwin.
Failure leads to learning faster than success. At the same time, self-organizing requires some constraints or you just get anarchy. Social computing is what KM needed ten years ago. More to agree with here.
We need to distribute cognition but avoid the foolishness of crowds. Above all else we need to encourage messy coherence. Going form mess to order and mess to order in iterative fashion allows for adaption. Much to consider here.