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The Cognitive Limit of Organizations. The structure of a society is connected to its total amount of information | MIT

"The total stock of information used in these ecosystems exceeds the capacity of single organizations because doubling the size of huge organizations does not double the capacity of that organization to hold knowledge and put it into productive use. In a world in which implementing the next generation of ideas will increasingly require pulling resources from different organizations, barriers to collaboration will be a crucial constraint limiting the development of firms. Agility, context, and a strong network are becoming the survival traits where assets, control, and power used to rule. John Seely Brown refers to this as the "Power of Pull.""
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Peter Strempel's profile photoChris Jones's profile photoAmira notes's profile photo
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Amira, +Leland LeCuyer suggested that I copy my comments on a re-post by +Jeff Jockisch of your original above. So here it is.

Jeff, building on your permeable organisational boundaries concept, but pursuing my own train of thought, it seems to me that the problem of information management overload applies to small organisations just as much as larger ones.

I see this as a human failing, not a technological issue with a mechanical solution. The human failing is that of not acting like human beings rather than emulating automatons. What I mean is the increasing emphasis on specialisation of disciplines — particle physicist, not scientist; neurosurgeon, not doctor; corporate lawyer, not legal representative; human resources executive, not business manager; and professional title before humane conscience or social being.

It is my contention that humans excel at acquiring multiple skills and generating innovation by abstract thought that combines these skills in ever new ways, thus driving what we call progress.

The practical upshot of specialisation is a large group of highly skilled workers who nevertheless can’t see past their own areas of specialisation because they lack the basic education in the humanities that informs a sense of self, of history, of a continuity in human thought and the influence this has had on shaping contemporary societies, social structures, and both public and private institutions. This lack of deeper knowledge about culture and society limits the capacity to make abstract connections across a range of knowledge disciplines.

My thesis is that without this multi-disciplinary knowledge grounding, and at a level equivalent to a year or two of university education, people function much less efficiently in organisational endeavours than they otherwise might. They are subject to professional group-think and lack of empathy for other disciplines that reduces the chance of collaborative ‘cross-pollination’. In short, they are not ‘intellectually permeable’.

The flaw in my thesis is that we need highly specialised professionals in the cited areas, and many others. If I’m going to have brain surgery I want the most highly trained specialist available, not a suburban GP/MD (though I may like the GP/MD much better as a human being).

So, I need a synthesis of aims and barriers to make this workable. There are constraints on my time and this forum that make completing such a synthesis here all but impossible, but I have some ideas that might jolt the imaginations of potentially interested readers.

One part of the answer might be to return to a concept that makes a base humanities syllabus a pre-requisite for any specialised tertiary qualification. This is in itself not easy territory given the contamination of humanities courses with so much self-righteous, highly tendentious left theory, but that’s a matter of will to change things, and not an insurmountable problem, particularly if addressed with appropriate controls on reward structures, tenure, and curbs on politically correct claptrap.

Another part of the solution is intrinsically organisational: an expectation that people working in a group will bring to it an area of specialisation that they will nurture of their own accord, but also that they will acquire at least one new area of specialisation identified as beneficial to the organisation. That might be done via mentoring, cross-skilling, or informal but regular tiger team collaboration. The barrier to this approach is the egocentricity and focus on personal reward that go with perceptions of unique skill sets and the value these represent if they are maintained as unique. To overcome that mind-set requires discipline at the executive level, and appropriate reward structures at other levels, but also some move away from the more deterministic approaches to human resources so that a genuine focus on organisational fit cab take its place in recruitment and promotion decisions.

None of this works without costs and an expectation of social and capital profit. However, I think not trying at all becomes less of a viable option in an increasingly amoral, cut-throat, and anti-social business environment in which new approaches will stand out like a floodlight — for better or worse.
 
Thank you for this interesting and thought provoking comment, Peter!
 
Wow, an excellent graphic and excellent commentary .. I have been mulling similar topics in other spaces. +Amira notes if I could jump in here .. ?

I see several major themes in your comments +Peter Strempel that are worth amplification and reflection. Let me see if I can do justice to your ideas from my own pov .. w/o shifting your semantic intent ..

over-specialization which causes much of the problem in collaboration, in that we can't communicate with other specialists, whether inside or outside our organizations' walls (including firewalls!)
mitigating constraints (especially silo/expert cultures) which I think is a huge set of issues, starting at the systemic cultural level, but trickling all the way down to our own behaviors
return to values which in this context is about replacing the cut throat competitive meme with true empathy, a sense of mutual respect, and desire to help each other; Nonaka called it care ..

Are we on the same page? Thanks for the post .. !!
 
+Chris Jones For some reason I did not see your post here until I was notified of Amira's. My apologies.

Yes, we are on the same page.
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