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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Connecting the Dots

@dahowlett has a good post on Enterprise 2.0 and its supposed contribution to improving the American security services’ ability to counter terrorism. @skemsley picks out the key quote "content without context in process is meaningless".

Dennis points out the apparent gap between the claims of Enterprise 2.0 champions (notably Andrew McAfee, author of "New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization's Toughest Challenges") and the continued failure of the U.S. intelligence community to "put the pieces together" (as reported by the New York Times). Dennis goes on to quote a critique from Sig Rinde, who talks about "stitching collaboration tools together hoping for some process structure to ensue".

Dennis calls for a "sharper focus on organizational issues" and "a more rigorous examination of the limiting factors which bedevil technology introduction". I wholeheartedly agree with that. Dennis talks about process, but I believe my capability model of organizational intelligence is equally powerful.

As fans of Malcolm Gladwell may have already recognized, the title of this post coincides with an article published in the New Yorker, March 2003 (now reprinted as a chapter in his latest book "What the Dog Saw and other adventures"), which analyses US intelligence failures before and after the Al Qaeda attacks on September 11th 2001. Gladwell points out that anyone can connect the dots after the event, and that things that were confusing at the time often seem a lot clearer with hindsight. It is easy to criticize intelligence agencies for failing to spot connections in a mess of data, once we know where the connections are.
Even President Obama complains that the intelligence community had failed to "connect the dots" [BBC News 5th January 2009].See also Peter Ubel on the Politics of Invisibility and Farnam Street on Inevitable Intelligence Failures.

In the course of his analysis, Gladwell quotes a paragraph from Harold Wilansky's 1967 book on Organizational Intelligence, which praised President Roosevelt for maintaining a state of "constructive rivalry ... structuring work so that clashes would be certain". This is certainly a long way away from the naive and fluffy fantasy of organizational collaboration as sometimes depicted by the champions of Enterprise 2.0.

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