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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wilensky on Organizational Intelligence 1

Have finally got hold of a library copy of the original book on Organizational Intelligence by Harold Wilensky, published in 1967. Some of Wilensky's assumptions look a little dated now, but there's a wealth of great ideas and examples.

One of the problems talking about intelligence is that people may use the word to refer to a number of different concepts.
  • Signals and their content - intelligence as raw material for sense-making and decision making
  • Expertise - intelligence as the individual and collective ability to reason efficiently about significant questions - Wilensky discusses several different types of expertise, which may be mobilized in an intelligent organization
  • Function - a set of processes for acquiring and deploying intelligence as required across the organization, typically operated by a specialist organization unit
  • Strategic capability - intelligence as a property of an organization, enabling it to operate effectively in volatile environments
Wilensky himself defines intelligence as "information - questions, insights, hypotheses, evidence - relevant to policy" (p viii), and mostly uses the word to refer to the content rather than the process or capability. But the book is largely about the intelligence function, and how this function is supported by relevant skills, capabilities, doctrines and organizational structures.

Value of intelligence

In Chapter Two, Wilensky argues that an intelligence function has particular value and relevance for large organizations in complex environments. He identifies three key specialist roles, contributing to his notion of organizational intelligence, and identifies three factors creating particular need for these three roles.

Contact men, responsible for liaison and communication with the external environment, This role is similar to the "Resource Investigator" team role identified by Belbin. Especially needed when an organization is in conflict with its social environment or depends on it for the achievement of its central goals (p10).
Internal communications specialist, responsible for liaison and coordination inside the organization. Especially needed when an organization depends on the unity and support of persons, groups, factions or parties within its membership for the achievement of its central goals (p13).
Facts and figures men. These are responsible for building and deploying analytic models and methods. More recently known as quants or wonks. Especially needed when an organization sees its external environment and internal operations as rationalized - that is, as subject to discernible, predictable uniformities in relationships among significant objects (p14).

Wilensky's argument now looks dated, not only because of his assumption that these roles would be filled by men, but also because of his trust in rational and predictable analytical models, which would now be seen as unrealistic and simplistic. However, it seems like a good historical starting point for starting to think about a division of labour / expertise within the intelligence function and beyond.

...  to be continued


  1. Hello, looking for the Wilenski's book, about organizational intelligence, i found your blogg. Please, i'm brazilian and i'm trying to find this book, but here i don't found it in anywere. Do you know if this book had a e-book/online version ??

    Please, could you help me ?


    ps: my e-mail adress if you know something is:

  2. I've just managed to get a second-hand copy via Amazon UK. I can see a few second-hand copies in the US as well.