Knowledge is power, but sometimes what you really need is Power

At least that is what retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, PhD told the House Armed Services Committee (.pdf) at a July 15, 2004 session entitled Army Transformation: Implications for the Future. (For more info on DoD transformation, check out the Office for Force Transformation.) Some excerpts (the emphasis is mine):

I will begin by examining two of the fundamental assumptions that are distorting Army transformation. The first of these distortions arises from the belief that information can substitute for armored protection, firepower and off-road mobility.

Situational awareness promises that information about the enemy and his intentions will always be available when it is needed. It also assumes that everyone inside the battlespace will create and exploit information in exactly the same way.

In terms of doctrine, tactics and organization, the Army views FCS [Future Combat System] as shaping the battle “out of contact,” assuming that perfect situational awareness will turn every actual engagement into an exploitation operation rather than a decisive battle. Of course, unless the network operates perfectly the FCS equipped force may not be powerful enough to shape the battle extensively, much less win an engagement in contact.

More important, the kind of thinking that underpins the FCS also denies the enemy a vote in how he will fight.

For most of us, failures in effective information/knowledge management do not usually result in the catastrophic consequences that can result in the heat of battle for military forces. This does give us an extreme example, though, of the importance of not relying exclusively on technology to gather and process information and make decisions.

People ARE important, no matter how much the technology vendors try to tell us differently.

UPDATE: Reading through some of the other testimony at the meeting mentioned above, I came across the following in the testimony of retired Army Major General Robert Scales (again, the emphasis is mine):

Yet the military still remains wedded to the premise that success in war is best achieved by creating an overwhelming technological advantage. Transformation has been interpreted exclusively as a technological challenge. So far we have spent billions to gain a few additional meters of precision, knots of speed or bits of bandwidth. Some of that money might be better spent in improving how well our military thinks and studies war in an effort to create a parallel transformational universe based on cognition and cultural awareness. War is a thinking man’s game. A military all too acculturated to solving warfighting problems with technology alone should begin now to recognize that wars must fought with intellect.

Clearly these imperatives place an increased premium on the ability of America’s

military to understand the nature and character of war as well as the cultural proclivities of the enemy. Yet increasingly military leaders subordinate the importance of learning about war to the practical and more pressing demands of routine day to day operations. In a word, today’s military has become so overstretched that it may become too busy to learn at a time when the value of learning has never been greater.

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The Network Effect of “Brains”

Several recent articles have focused on the ability and power of groups to come up with better solutions than any individual can.

The power, and goal as I see it, of Knowledge Management is to make it possible to make the group connections that enable this improved decision making while preventing the negative aspects (e.g., groupthink) of human social decision making. The problem, as always, is that we humans don’t always act the way we should.

(An interesting read along these lines is What is neurofinance?, first in a series by David Edwards posted on Brain Waves.)

On the importance of rules

After reading some of the various recent posts concerning Mind Maps® and downloading and using the trial version of MindManager, I went back to the source of my first introduction to Mind Maps®, Michael Gelb‘s book How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. I was fortunate enough to meet Michael when he was touring for the book when it came out several years ago and hear him speak about the book and his experiences. If you’ve not read this book, I strongly recommend it.

After a brief description of Mind Maps, Michael lays down the rules of Mind Mapping before presenting the exercises. The rules themselves were very familiar to me since I have been playing around with Mind Maps over the last couple of days. What really grabbed me was Michael’s “justification” for using rules, a quote from DaVinci’s Treatise on Painting:

These rules are intended to help you to a free and good judgement: for good judgement proceeds from good understanding, and good understanding comes from reason trained by good rules, and good rules are the children of sound experience, which is the common mother of all the sciences and arts. (emphasis added by me)

Throughout my adult life I’ve had a “glass half full” perspective on rules that somewhat mirrors DaVinci’s sentiments. This comes from the scientist and engineer in me. To paraphrase another great mind, Richard Feynman, it is important to know what has been done before so that you can build from it.

As anyone with children – especially teenagers – knows, though, rules have a very bad reputation. From the kids point of view, rules are evil things meant to repress (oppress?) kids and limit their adventures in life. I see this as a “glass is half empty” perspective on rules.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that many people in organizations I’ve been involved with have this same perspective. Rules in the form of organizational processes, best practices, etc., are all too often ignored – often quite blatantly and proudly. The not invented here syndrome is alive and well. That said, I do not advocate blind following of rules or application of past success (best practices) to any “knowledge” problem.

One aspect of Knowledge Management, process improvement, etc., is the capturing and use of best practices. Much of the writing and practice of best practices, at least that I’m familiar with, and my past experiences with organizations doing work with best practices focuses on the capturing of past practices that worked and the application of those practices, as is, to future situations that are similar. While this works fine for what I call “information” processes – and is, I believe, a critical step in helping any organization improve – I don’t believe that it is appropriate for “knowledge” processes. Or, in terms of DaVinci’s scheme above, the blind use of rules, in the form of best practices, stops short of the goal – good judgement.

This is not to say, however, that past experiences should not be exploited in creating/acquiring new knowledge. Except for the rarest of occasions of thinking “outside the box” (e.g., Newton’s discovery/invention of the calculus and Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity), most new knowledge created today is derivative of something past. It is important to know what has come before and learn from the success and mistakes of others. The rules that come from those past lessons then become the framework for the future, not the fully developed solution to be applied like a generic template to a MS Word or PowerPoint document.

Testing Meme Propagation In Blogspace: Add Your Blog!. —

This posting is a community experiment that tests how a meme, represented by this blog posting, spreads across blogspace, physical space and time. It will help to show how ideas travel across blogs in space and time and how blogs are connected. It may also help to show which blogs are most influential in the propagation of memes. The dataset from this experiment will be public, and can be located via Google (or Technorati) by doing a search for the GUID for this meme (below).

The original posting for this experiment is located at: Minding the Planet (Permalink: http://novaspivack.typepad.com/nova_spivacks_weblog/2004/08/a_sonar_ping_of.html) – results and commentary will appear there in the future.

Please join the test by adding your blog (see instructions, below) and inviting your friends to participate — the more the better. The data from this test will be public and open; others may use it to visualize and study the connectedness of blogspace and the propagation of memes across blogs.

The GUID for this experiment is: as098398298250swg9e98929872525389t9987898tq98wteqtgaq62010920352598gawst (this GUID enables anyone to easily search Google (or Technorati) for all blogs that participate in this experiment). Anyone is free to analyze the data of this experiment. Please publicize your analysis of the data, and/or any comments by adding comments onto the original post (see URL above). (Note: it would be interesting to see a geographic map or a temporal animation, as well as a social network map of the propagation of this meme.)

INSTRUCTIONS

To add your blog to this experiment, copy this entire posting to your blog, and then answer the questions below, substituting your own information, below, where appropriate. Other than answering the questions below, please do not alter the information, layout or format of this post in order to preserve the integrity of the data in this experiment (this will make it easier for searchers and automated bots to find and analyze the results later).

REQUIRED FIELDS (Note: Replace the answers below with your own answers)

* (1) I found this experiment at URL: http://www.focusedperformance.com/2004_08_01_blarch.html#109158614693757545

* (2) I found it via “Newsreader Software” or “Browsing the Web” or “Searching the Web” or “An E-Mail Message”: Newsreader Software

* (3) I posted this experiment at URL: http://nsl.blogspot.com

* (4) I posted this on date (day, month, year): 11/08/04

* (5) I posted this at time (24 hour time): 16:35:00

* (6) My posting location is (city, state, country): Eatontown, New Jersey, USA

OPTIONAL SURVEY FIELDS (Replace the answers below with your own answers):

* (7) My blog is hosted by: blogspot.com

* (8) My age is: 40

* (9) My gender is: Male

* (10) My occupation is: System Engineering

* (11) I use the following RSS/Atom reader software: Bloglines

* (12) I use the following software to post to my blog: Blogger

* (13) I have been blogging since (day, month, year): 05/03/02

* (14) My web browser is: Safari, IE

* (15) My operating system is: Mac OS X, WinXP