Thursday, October 29, 2009

Boardroom and battlefield "wisdom workers"

There's some uncanny parallels between the skills we now require from chief executives and the modern soldier. In a sense, both are wisdom workers., the new kind of work we can expect to see more of in the emerging Wisdom Economy.

The CEO's job is hear all the information coming in from all the parts of the organization and work out how all the bits of the jigsaw fit together. Then  to act wisely and decisively, in the interests of the organization and its' stakeholders. Not just once, but thousands of times in a career.

The task is a process of dialectical integration, to fashion from the stream of inputs a model of reality that is as close to the "truth" as possible, to reach a new strategic position which embraces and is a good fit with all the data, not just some of the data that suits your politics or world view. This kind of reasoning is often a "game changer" because you discover how to embrace the cultural lens through which competing interests view the world into a single, unified system of thought. It's how knowledge is created and evolves.

Get it wrong as the CEO and your organization is a dinosaur, like Lehman Bros, or the corporate "walking wounded" like some motor car and banking giants that are 80% owned by the US government.

The modern soldier's job is to do the same as the CEO, to create new knowledge "on the fly" and to apply that knowledge wisely. In dangerous terrain or a suburban war zone, there's a stream of contradictory data coming into your brain from many sources at the same time. Your own eyes and ears. Your colleagues and an array of powerful sensors. You assess the data against a backdrop of "cognitive templates" learned over several years of rehearsal for this very moment. Except the reality is much worse, more intense, and more complex, by many factors.

Your lookout is giving you his or her opinion about the rapidly evolving situation. A stream of visual data may be arriving in real time from a predator drone operating overhead but the operator could be 10,000 miles away in a suburban operations center. And culturally out of tune with your situation. On the road ahead it's hard to tell whether you are about to be a Good Samaritain come to save a life or the target of another "insurgent" offensive.

Your instant decision will determine whether you and your buddies live or die, if your high-value target will be captured or escape or if his fellow house guests - mostly women and children - will die in his stead. If you make the wrong decision you and your unit could be featured on prime time news on CNN and Al Jazeera, the subject of an in-depth Commission of Inquiry about what goes wrong in war, the subject of a feature article by the New Yorker, the focus of a Presidential war-room briefing, or infamy.

Sometimes the "bad guys" look like you, or your grandmother or your girlfriend.  Sometimes they wear friendly uniforms. Sometimes they change their mind. What if the guy who delivers the mail today delivers a bomb tomorrow? What if the nice girl you were chatting up at the bar really hates your guts, because you are an American or an Australian or a Brit? Often the "bad guys" are "good guys" who don't believe what you believe. They are merely fighting to protect their families or their countries from you, the invader.

So here's a workshop that will help you build the kind of high-level cognitive templates required to make sense out of chaotic situations in the emerging Wisdom Economy. It helps to have a collective voting tool to rate each possible outcome by probability (0 = will never happen, 1 = certain) and (0 = no damage to 10 = total catastrophe). Begin the session by describing the situation/scenario.

1. What do we know about the situation?
2. What don't we know about the situation?
3. How does all the data fit together? What overarching concept embraces all of the data, so every bit of the jigsaw fits?
4. What are all the possible outcomes from the situation?
5. What could we do to avoid/overcome the dangers/risks presented by each outcome?
6. What are the consequences of each course of action to minimize/avoid the dangers/risks?
7. How could we re-frame "the game" so we see the issue from a higher level and we act unexpectedly but wisely?
8. What are the probabilities of each possible outcome?
9. What should we do? And do as the next best alternatives?
10. How will we know if we made the best decision?

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