Part three, the final segment of ^z notes on Larry Prusak's recent talk; check out 13 October and 23 October for PrusakConversation1 and PrusakConversation2, plus additional context. Prusak concluded:

  • See Isaiah Berlin's essay "What Do Politicians Know?" re the importance of rapid-fire synthesis plus ability to decide. Bismarck, Churchill, & FDR weren't "smart", but they had those abilities; the "smartest" Presidents have tended to be failures.
  • Better communications — such as corporate email — increasingly gives visibility to individuals who help, who respond to questions, who solve problems. This highlights the contrast/conflict between managers (budget/resource people) and productive knowers who create value for the organization. It's like the situation in France ~1780; puzzlingly enough, pay scales have become increasingly unequal in recent years (between CEOs and workers), perhaps as part of a winner-take-all economy? "Culture trumps technology every time." The management model for most American firms is Stalin.
  • See Ithiel de Solla Pool's The Social Impact of the Telephone; people sincerely thought that there would be no more wars once heads of state could call each other up and talk together. It's a similar myth that the Internet will bring about a Golden Age of anything. Instead, "People use technology to create the sort of world that they want." See also Scott's Seeing Like a State, an excellent book on organizational psychology and history.
  • To understand a large institution, "The unit of analysis is the Group — not the individual and not the organization." A group consists of at most 300-500 people, which is the maximum number that can really know one another. The group is where knowledge resides — common themes, shared rhetoric and experiences, stories, etc. People who stay around don't necessarily like their organizations, but they do like their group. Groups can't be created; they self-organize. A shared belief in a mission defines a group.
  • Human facilitators are key to group health: "connectors", "mavens", "gatekeepers", "boundary spanners", etc. See Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point. There are about 12% of "nosy people" in any population, individuals who like to be aware of what goes on elsewhere in the outfit. They are extremely valuable.
  • Groups need requisite variety — a term from applied math, where it is known that one needs enough complex inputs in order to successfully model a complex system. If a group is too homogeneous it won't be able to recognize new emerging challenges and will fail to respond to them.
  • To succeed, a group needs at least one person responsible for intelligence-gathering and sharing. A group also needs money, management, focus, and above all time and space. See Aristotle's Rhetoric; groups need room to tell stories together and learn together. Nobody learns much from written documents; people have to sit with experts to pick up their tacit knowledge. "It takes the same amount of time to learn French now as it did 500 years ago."
  • Trust comes in several varieties. It usually develops from repeated interaction and proven reliability, but also one can have swift trust via a visceral reaction to somebody. And one can have functional trust in people to perform well in a narrow area, while still distrusting them otherwise.
  • Face-time is needed for virtual teams to cohere; otherwise, entropy grows and the teams unravel, then die.
  • "What makes a learning organization? Not the Information Technology budget or the training budget! A thought-experiment: "What would happen if you spent the day visibly reading a book at your desk? Most firms would tell you to do that on your own time. But if you spend the day responding to email, you're a hero." The cultural norms don't allow people to study at their desks. Everyone is overloaded with moment-by-moment scheduled activities; an individual becomes "a human transaction system".
  • To learn, people need time for reflection. "Think — it used to be an IBM slogan!"
  • How can change come? Mainly when a senior person hears and champions new ideas. "I've never seen anything work in knowledge management from the bottom up. Middle up, maybe. Without real top-level support, no." (^z comment: as a devout believer in bottom-up revolution by the individual, I gently disagree!)
  • How to sustain organizational change? "Have small successes and publicize them — even if you have to lie a bit!"
  • What's the biggest win? "I would strongly encourage talking. I can't emphasize it enough. Words fail me!" (^_^) "Hire smart people and let them talk to each other." Free and open discussion is essential in order to discover and correct errors.
  • "We aren't just like animals — we are animals!". (credited to Peter Senge) (^z comment: See also Mary Midgley's books, ^zhurnal entry of 6 July 2000 etc. = TopicMidgley)

Saturday, November 04, 2000 at 07:33:12 (EST) = 2000-11-04

TopicSociety - TopicOrganizations

(correlates: CommonCompSciSense, UniversalDisclaimer, PrusakConversation2, ...)