Strategy in the age of uncertainty
Now we get to Dave Snowden’s session. I always enjoy listening to Dave. Very measured – theoretical yet practical illustrations. He goes over the 7 basic principles of KM:
- * knowledge is a voluntary act – cannot be compelled
- * we only know what we know when we need to know it. We are pattern-based intelligences not information processors. People will know things in the right context but not independently of that context. KM has thought its role is to summarise, aggregate and reduce. But summary etc is specific to your context.
- in the context of real need, few people will refuse to share their knowledge. But no-one will share it in anticipation of that need. So if you reward, you are rewarding info sharing only.
- tolerated failure imprints learning better than success. Human brain pays more attention to failure than success.
- the way we know things is not the way we say we know things. Embodied knowledge of experts is not something that can be transformed into decision rules.
- we always know more than we can say and we will always say more than we can write down
- everything is fragmented. Fragmented micro-narratives. True KM is about creating conditions for messy coherence and not orderly “filing cabinets”. Humans do best when trying to make connections in exciting, novel ways.
Now Dave moves onto – thinking differently and ways we think about our organisations. Talks about S curve – new idea or concept comes into play and gets little traction. Slow acceptance. But then becomes dominant way of thinking before it declines due to excess use. Very few people see the new things until they are already present. First S curve we lived through was scientific management (dominant narrative). Then new paradigm comes in; old paradigm suppresses adoption of new. Organisations that don’t make the switch to the new paradigm never get a second chance. Example: IBM dominated IT then failed to see switch to distributed computing and nearly went down.
Systems thinking 1980s: dominant metaphor being engineering. BPR, Senge’s Learning Organisation. It says things are joined up and connected but we can still understand connections, model them and define where we want to go. This is where KM came from. Nonaka is firmly in this dominant metaphor.
Now moving into third based on complexity and cognition. Future is inherently uncertain. So two or five year organisational plans are useless. We are dealing with a complex ecology – requires new methods and ways of thinking. Technology role = can provide cognitive augmentation, augments human decision-making – does not replace it.
3 ways of thinking: deductive (scientific mgt, control of function); inductive (systems thinking, control of information); abductive (complexity and cognition, cognitive augmenation). Abductive processes facilitate novelty.
Question for organisations: will you continue on an upturn or will you fall down because you dominate? New way of thinking now: natural sciences, complexity.
Uses example of London taxi driver – novice spends 2 years of life driving around streets of London until he knows name of every street. In exam, has to describe London street by street, landmarks etc on a given route. There is a 40% pass rate. This two to three year process changes structure of the brain. Then we have a map of New York – public transport system – codified knowledge and deeply symbolic. But map didn’t tell Dave that muggers and whackos lay along the route he was taking. But everyone who lives in the area knew not to go where Dave did. So….the narratives that people tell are important.
Now Dave goes through his projects:
- cultural mapping – micro-narratives of day to day living
- Inzalo in South Africa- education – learning diaries and look at patterns of behaviour based on day-to-day and not on questionnaires.
- understanding customers – real time feedback and disintermediation
- staff engagement in strategy – micro-scenarios, real time construction
- decision-makers need to sense/see patterns as early as possible
- ethical and safety auditing in South African mines – attitudes to safety, moving from compliance to attitudes.
- innovation across silos – gathered stories about what people like about their gardens, lights – 5 new service offerings. Brought knowledge together in real-time.
Key lessons for management:
- technology and original vision of KM are now aligned. And technology is largely free, low cost. You change your software to match your needs.
- applications co-evolve within architectural constraints with changing software components in varying forms to adapt but also exapt
- constraints are key, shift from compliance to attitude and from outcome to impact
- context is everything – it’s the big word that everyone forgot in KM
- risk and outlier detection – most risk is assessed on Bell curve. Everything else is an outlier I can ignore. Problem – this is an abnormal distribution. What happens in nature is Pareto distributions. So Bell curve is crap.
- our ability to detect failure early is paramount and a resilience strategy is necessary.
Another great Dave Snowden talk.