Saturday, January 26, 2008

Looking for Intelligence

I am fascinated by the emerging thinking about how to individually and corporately thrive in complex environments. A common thread in these discussions is the growing dissatisfaction around our experience of optimizing known processes and activities. It seems that the more we use technology to eliminate one type of human effort, the more we need new human capabilities to bridge the glaring gaps. This awareness manifests itself in a variety of contexts:
  • Highly controlled sequential development vs. Agile methodologies
  • Capability maturity vs. Value innovation
  • Rigorously implemented workflow vs. Adaptable decision support
  • Six sigma continuous improvement vs. Creative process innovation
  • Business intelligence data vs. Business process management
  • Enterprise Project management vs. Dynamic social collaboration
  • Directed leadership vs. The wisdom of crowds
  • Tightly integrated implementations vs. Autonomous loosely coupled services
It's Not a War

Although the proponents of any emphasis tend to aggressively critique their novel counterparts, I believe their fear is largely misplaced. We need to keep both the baby and the bathwater. When dealing with complexity, it is imperative to simultaneously:
  1. Maximize the efficiency of what is known, and
  2. Maximize the probability of successfully leveraging the unknown
The Human Body Metaphor

Andy Moore, uses a very helpful metaphor in his January 2008 KM World article on business process management. Here he compares human physiology with these business realities:
[mature data and workflow implementations..] represent only brain-stem functions—the autonomic respiration and blood flow that continue to pound away in the daily existence of the organism... But—excuse me while I completely beat this metaphor to death—what do you do about the immediate, real-time response to environmental stimuli? The observation, reflexes and response to the changing influences that come at you from all directions? For that you need higher brain functions—you need sight, hearing and touch to protect the body corpus from the elements.
Learning from Design

I think we have much to learn from the design of humans and our capabilities (physical and otherwise). To navigate today's complex challenges, businesses need to improve their "senses", tuning their corporate ability to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel, heightening the awareness of what's happening around us. We need to be incredibly introspective to be self-aware and adaptable. And, as an organization, we need enhanced cognitive and intuitive abilities to discover patterns and and identify emerging threads of opportunity that emerge. Thankfully, decision support technologies like Business Process Management and Semantic Web capabilities are accelerating these corporate "higher brain functions".

Perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that the universe itself seems to be a combination of precisely engineered dynamics and seemingly disconnected activities. There is much to observe and much benefit to be derived by applying what we learn.

As the folks at Cognitive Edge remind us:
"Serendipity is a human quality"
And, as we continue this journey of discovery, you might just discover that there is, in fact, Intelligence out there.

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