The core problem of Management is stagnation of Collective Ability. Enough evidence has accumulated to deduce Collective Ability is raised by removing all barriers to the flow of Knowledge.
My Barrier ‘Absence of a means to exploit the latent collective ability for pursuing success’ emphasizes the crucial importance of teamwork for performance. We have understood the power of teams constituted by active individuals. Pioneers like Packard, Iverson, Welch, Walton and others have shown the extraordinary gain in productivity that can follow from a constructive collective of inspired individuals given the wherewithal to deliver. Their work identifying Freedom as the means for inspiration is defined in detail by the draft study "Freedom-Based Management" referred to in the excellent hack of Bill Nobles on "Overcoming the management hierarchical control mindset—the key to re-inventing management and resolving 20 moonshots".
While Freedom is a natural yearning of human minds, progressing it requires considerable drive, discipline and organization to overcome power equations, self-interest, insecurity, comfort zones and plain shortage of quality time and energy. The available means are extrinsically induced motivation supported by the dismantling of Command and Control. Experience has shown that an imposed change unravels, and tutored motivation is difficult to develop and sustain, though Bill Nobles is confident about the sustainability of Freedom as a motivating factor.
Sustainable means to practice the guiding philosophy of 'Freedom' have yet to be created. The existing means are all dependent upon the energy of personnel for their drive and organization. Today the argument for Freedom rests on its power to initiate self-organization, self-drive and self-motivation.
Intrinsic empowerment requires not only grant to the individual of rights and levers for action but also compelling means to liberate her/his time and energy, induce in her/him the volition to express herself/himself, assure voluntary participation in the goals of the organization and drive the person's membership of communities for high quality collective work and thinking. Free-flow of Knowledge is associated with Trust & Teamwork and formation of Collectives (see Hack: Achieving the ends of Knowledge with feedback). It is possible that the free flow of Knowledge will satisfy all requirements of empowerment, i.e., Freedom translates to free-flow. Free-flow can spread this Freedom only if its means is easy to roll out
Command and Control is the antithesis of Freedom and hence a Knowledge Collective. Such collectives function best when they are voluntary. We have likely inherited Command and Control thinking from the times of Niccolo Machiavelli, the 16th century Italian philosopher/writer considered the main architect of political science as practiced in the 20th century. After deep study of the exercise of power and events he opined (Wikipedia):
“All cities that ever, at any time, have been ruled by an absolute prince, by aristocrats, or by the people, have had for their protection force combined with prudence, because the latter is not enough alone, and the first either does not produce things, or when they are produced, does not maintain them. Force and prudence, then, are the might of all the governments that ever have been or will be in the world.”
It is possible that the principle of Command and Control built into Machiavelli’s thinking was believed by him to be a necessary evil, required by power equations, for success during uncertain times. He in fact cautioned against its overuse during times of peace. He believed that the end justified the means in times of instability and uncertainty, and even counseled lying to the people to get them to fight against a common foe. The US Government of 2001-2004 practiced this thinking in its war on Iraq but earned the disapproval of its citizens when the truth emerged.
Perhaps the Iraq war has conclusively established that enhanced flow of Knowledge has changed the practice of power. Besides, the war also showed that Command and Control and the related use of Force are a weakness of governing regimes: Communist regimes, notorious for their repression of free-flow of Knowledge, have a rather poor record for Command and Control. Command and Control may only be checkmated by an infrastructure that assures a strong flow of Knowledge.
3M is an example of the power of free-flow to drive innovations and success. Tom Peters in his book ‘In Search of Excellence’ has described their prevalent culture of engaging in intense debate in rooms meant for the purpose. His carry away impression was of an environment with multiple ongoing conversations. The culture for free-flow at 3M is a product of years of development. The culture is unique in that many organizations have sought to reproduce it but failed.
Dialogue is a Greek word that stands for flow of meaning (dia: through, and logos: word or meaning) around and through participants. It effects the free-flow of knowledge. The colonial administration demonstrates the power of Dialogue to efficiently and effectively run an administration. Drucker has recorded in his 1988 paper (3) that the use of Dialogue enabled just 1000 administrators provide effective governance which thousands of Mandarins with their elaborate hierarchies could not achieve in neighboring China. The system overcame distribution of administrators over remote regions inaccessible by road, rail and telegraph, and supported a reporting (mentoring) span of 100 administrators to 1 principal! The colonial system, though highly successful in its heyday, is now in decay.
The failure of Collaboration:
The distinction between Knowledge sharing and Knowledge free-flow is important for the formation and ability of Collectives. Both are performed in their own time. However, in Sharing personnel decide what is worth sharing and whether they would like to update content to a common repository. It may not distinguish between content and opinions on the content. An opinion may or may not be updated. Further, the User decides the context. This permits different Users to categorize the same content per different categories. In free-flow, the worker is expected to express an opinion while progressing the work on a specific content categorized by the System. The opinion is captured with context in a natural way as in a Discussion Board attached to news stories on the Web. Everybody in the loop has a right to respond to the opinion/insight expressed by a member. The response can be made at convenience, i.e., does not require same time presence. Conversations are open till the event or issue of which it is a part is formally closed. The categorization enables access to the flow in context. Consequently, Sharing as a concept suffers from several drawbacks that do not arise with free-flow. The major ones are:
- In the absence of a centralized system for categorization there is no certainty of systematic access to particular content in any retrospective sense-making. Further, with voluntary categorization, there is no certainty that 100% of the content is captured.
- The flow may be unreliable because Sharing requires personnel to self-organize capture of opinion.
- Sharing does not distinguish between Root causes and its consequent Mistakes and Symptoms. This may lead Sharing to stop short at “fixing” a mistake and responding to the obvious while the live rrot cause generates more mistakes and the symptoms flourish. A corrupted system provides a simple example. The small fry are routinely held up as culprits while the sharks thrive. .
- Sharing relies upon incentives for adoption of tools and the motivation to share Knowledge.
The absence of a concept to drive free-flow:
- The Conventional Wisdom, more fully explained in my Barrier: 'Absence of a means to exploit the latent collective ability for pursuing success', holds only personnel can drive Knowledge flows. The existing thinking has yet to graduate beyond Knowledge Sharing. Personnel energy to organize and drive Knowledge flow cannot be relied on unless great pains are taken to motivate it. The value of this motivation is suspect because the outlook of personnel is biased.
- The reason for failure of technology to drive free-flow has been precisely articulated by Davenport (4) in 2007: “Most of the barriers that prevent Knowledge from flowing freely in organizations – power differentials, lack of trust, missing incentives, unsupportive cultures, and the general busyness of employees today – won't be addressed or substantially changed by technology alone. For a set of technologies to bring about such changes, they would have to be truly magical, and Enterprise 2.0 tools fall short of magic.”
- Technology bloggers have concluded that organizing Knowledge for superior application is a lost cause. While reviewing the delivery of spot information independent of data structures Lee Provoost noted (5) in 2010: “Well, I argue that we shouldn't lose too much time and effort on meticulously categorising and tagging information and knowledge across all the different systems we have. This because I believe that it is almost a lost cause anyway: it doesn't scale and it's often not the quality you want.”
The importance of Dialogue for Free-flow of Knowledge:
There are two types of conversations - Dialogue and Discussion.
- Discussion or simple collaboration assists evolution of thought but may fail to emerge the Reality as its goal is self-satisfaction. Discussion satisfies itself with limited motives, which may include venting of the ego.
- A reliable means for meaningful Dialogue requires a process for conversation that fosters unrestrained participation by all, gives right of feedback, assures security as desired, organizes the context, distinguishes between facts, assumptions and insights, is effortless and convenient in operation, and is free of support staff as well as simultaneous presence of the participants in a common space. The means demands organization of context, Knowledge of precedence, availability of the history on the issue, access to experts, freedom to interact with available resources, contemplation time, and a mechanism to surface assumptions and mental sets in the pursuit of goals.
- Simple collaboration, which includes Discussion, more often than not needs to be same-time for effectiveness, demands self-organization of context, relies on self-motivation for sharing Knowledge, and requires a culture for adoption of IT tools. Unlike Dialogue it lacks thrust to surface assumptions, emerge reality and initiate innovation. In effect it is incapable of raising the Collective’s Ability to apply Knowledge though it does inform.
There is a consensus among Behaviorists, System theorists and philosophers that Dialogue delivers free-flow of Knowledge and that Discussion does not. IT tools exist for Discussion. Conventional IT holds that means to organize Dialogue are inconceivable.
The delivery of Dialogue.
Conversations take place in interactions. My Barrier: Neglect of the accumulated Management Wisdom presents my concept of the Knowledge Assembly Line to harness technology for capturing and taming interactions. The Assembly Line sets up coordination to create a pipeline for systematic flow of Knowledge.
The proven Blog/Comment Board format is available to convert the Knowledge assembled on each event into Dialogue. Comments on news stories to emerge the truth / form opinion have established their popularity on the Web. Blogs have already established themselves for generating thought:
- CNET quoted the blog-tracking and search site Technorati to report in 2007 that the Web is home to about 110 million blogs, with about 120,000 new blogs created every day and about 1.5 million new daily posts.
In my use of the Discussion Board concept contributors do not go to a site. The context comes to them in a highly visible and accessible form. I have modified the Discussion Board Comment format to emphasize Facts and Assumptions and emerge a consensus of opinion on business events. The specific format and its effortless operation is explained in my hack: Compelling Energy for a quantum jump in organization performance with the same resources.
There are tested and well researched ways of superior thinking like the Six Thinking Hats or the methods promoted by MITA. However, common to these methods is the need for a platform to conduct meaningful conversations in a chaotic environment where the personnel are overloaded. Dialogue is not only a means for conversation but also fosters superior thinking. Its means will facilitate the delivery of scientific Knowledge on better thinking to raise the overall value add.
(1) Sun Tzu. (~500 BC). The art of war. http://www.chinapage.com/sunzi-e.html (Accessed July 01, 2010).
(2) Senge, P. M. (2006). The Fifth Discipline. NY: Currency Doubleday (First Published: 1990)
(3) Drucker Peter, F. (1988). ‘Coming of the new organization’. Harvard Business Review, January-February, 1988.
(4) Davenport, T. (March 21, 2007). Why Enterprise 2.0 Won't Transform Organizations. Harvard Business Online.
http://discussionleader.hbsp.com/davenport/2007/03/why_enterprise_20_wont_transfo.html (Accessed July 01, 2010).
(5) Provoost (January 28, 2010). The Structured vs. Unstructured Data Dilemma. Headshift.
http://www.headshift.com/blog/2010/01/the-structured-vs-unstructured.php (Accessed July 01, 2010).