Negotiating between chaos and project deadlines

I watched Dave Snowden talk about tacit knowledge, and many other things, at the State of the Net Conference. Several comments are worth repeating, in my opinion:

If we don’t understand the why of things, we can never scale the how.

Management science regularly confuses correlation with causation.

We will always know more than we can say. We will always say more than we can write down.

Fallacy: If you give the right information, to the right people, at the right time, they will act accordingly. As “pattern-seekers” we may not even “see” the data when it is presented.

Human knowledge requires mediation.

Resilience comes from early detection, fast recovery & fast exploitation of the opportunities presented, which then becomes a new paradigm. We need to architect organizations based on an assumption of failure, not an assumption of success.

As I reflected on Dave’s comments I thought about my previous presentation on coherent communities and how it is important to connect people in the most appropriate way for the problem at hand. It seems that chaos abounds on the Internet, with a flood of ideas  and nobody really knows what is causation and what is correlation. However, there may be something to be learned here, hence the value of disparate social networks. Communities of practice have the openness and flexibility to deal with complex problems as people can share freely but are in a constrained problem space, so that over time we can share more than what we say or write down. Meanwhile, getting work done inside the organization has to be further constrained, and focused on projects where we can see the relationships between cause and effect.

For the knowledge worker, and for networked organizations, the challenge is in negotiating, and understanding, all three spaces. It is necessary to know where failure is optimal (early) and how to mediate knowledge from the chaotic edge to the work bench. Work needs to be simultaneously informal & structured and balanced between both goals & opportunities. Constantly negotiated boundaries (as Dave says, it’s like raising teenagers) can help organizations become more resilient. Identifying the boundaries is a good start.


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