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Jeff Jockisch

[Reshare] You can't know everything. Even if you clone yourself, you can't contain...

April 11, 2012 15 comments 3 shares 0 plus ones
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You can't know everything. Even if you clone yourself, you can't contain and process all the relevant information needed to impact the present and see the future.

So how can your organization, your company? It can't.

But, you might process a lot more information effectively if the boundaries of your organization were permeable...

via +Gregory Esau and +Leland LeCuyer

Original post by +Amira notes

MIT Media Lab: The Cognitive Limit of Organizations

This is a slide that I got from Cesar Hidalgo. He used this slide to explain a concept that I think is key to the way we think about how the Media Lab is evolving. The vertical axis of this slide repr...


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Anne-Marie Clark April 12, 2012

That's why skills in 1) finding/search and 2) determining relevance are more valuable than possession of knowledge. I disagree with +Peter Strempel on the trend re specialization. For example, in law and medicine, the pendulum has swung the other way (job losses are a hard to deny sign that got people moving instead of just talking) and everyone's trying to find ways to fill the huge demand for skilled generalists.

Jeff Jockisch April 12, 2012

Linking is a great barrier breaker, +Meg Tufano very nice connection!

Checking out the MIT / Dartmouth research.

Meg Tufano April 12, 2012

+Jeff Jockisch +Leland LeCuyer +Peter Strempel I was really struck by the MIT/Dartmouth group working on fMRI's and all sorts of what I call "Look! We've got a brain!" stuff, that the leaders were cognizant that they were not going to learn anything without inter-disciplinary fertilization. They made sure there were people who were not stovepiped but who were either generalists, multi-disciplinary or interdisciplinary. The insights they are getting are very rich (too rich to discuss this time of day), but just thought you might like to know that cognitive scientists are becoming more aware that "our need mocks our gear."

Also wanted to add that "permeable" is also a good way to describing that idea of +Jeff Jarvis : "Do your best and link to the rest." I don't know math well enough to do the neural network analyses, but I think that making those kind of connections multiplies the "dendrites" (if you will) at the edges of the organization and makes it so knowledge does NOT have the kind of limit one used to think it did not that long ago. I've got a lot of hope.

Jeff Jockisch April 12, 2012

So, cells and people both specialize and group together to reach new goals... +Gideon Rosenblatt. Like it.

But, do organizations then need to group together to accomplish more? Is this just about merging companies? Or can permeable boundaries work? I think that they can, but I wonder if our capitalist mindset (and crazy IP laws) means that they will fail unless our motives are aligned?

Jeff Jockisch April 12, 2012

I can agree with this as broadly true, +Peter Strempel : without this multi-disciplinary knowledge ... people function much less efficiently in organisational endeavours.

But I while I do think critical thinking skills are paramount, I'm not sure that one needs to to be multi-disciplinary right out of Higher Education, assuming that learning behavior continues in and around the workplace.

I think we are stuck with the dichotomy of Specialization Work vs Cross-pollination Ideas. Yet not sure that this is as much of a problem as it was historically, since improvements in the dissemination of knowledge can make learning a new discipline much easier.

Peter Strempel April 12, 2012

Thanks for the pointer, +Gideon Rosenblatt, I'll look into it.

Gideon Rosenblatt April 11, 2012

+Peter Strempel - I just received a book by Jonah Lehrer, that I think you might really like. It's called Imagine and I heard an interview with the author on the radio last night, and he was noting some of the same problems you mention. You have a different slant on it than he does, but he talks about the importance of helping to bridge disciplines as a critical element of creativity.

Gideon Rosenblatt April 11, 2012

Great stuff. I'm a big fan of permeability and believe it's one of the key attributes of organizations of the future. This post does an excellent job of framing this evolution in terms of previous historical limits.

To take it further, and this is the basis of a yet-to-be-written blog post, this kind of organizational emergence isn't just a sociological phenomenon, it's biological too. Cellular networks could be said to be the resolution of similar limitation in the amount of processing individual cells were able to do via their individual membranes. By learning to communicate with other cells, they transcended this limitation in information processing, ultimately creating organs, organisms and organizations.

Jeff Jockisch April 11, 2012

thanks, +Leland LeCuyer and +Gregory Esau and +Peter Strempel ! Lots to cover here, including more on that cloning idea :)

Leland LeCuyer April 11, 2012

We work with what exists, even while we struggle to bring into existence what ought to be, +Peter Strempel. G+ as it exists today does needlessly fragment conversations. The best way to limit the fragmentation is by commenting on the original post, as you have done.

I have requested that Google re-engineer how shares are done, changing them into pointers back to the original post. This, combined with the ability to reply directly to a comment, and having the ability to elevate a comment with it's replies to the status of a separate post, would mitigate much of the fragmentation while helping keep threads from becoming too large.

Peter Strempel April 11, 2012

Thanks for the kind remarks. I have copied the post to Amira as you suggested (and seen the first of the new G+ layout in the process).

A question to you, +Leland LeCuyer, how will a discussion about this not become fragmented if I post to multiple threads?

Leland LeCuyer April 11, 2012

+Peter Strempel, you give us so many things to think about in your comment. I hope you copy it and make it the body of your own share of +Amira notes post, so that it can generate the discussion it deserves. As you hint, the issue isn't merely quantitative but qualitative, cutting across disciplines and specialties, addressing not only our professions but also how they are educated! Very thoughtful and thought-provoking!

Peter Strempel April 11, 2012

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.

Leland LeCuyer April 11, 2012

Permeable boundaries... You expressed what I was fumbling to say so much more eloquently and accurately! Thanks, +Jeff Jockisch.

Gregory Esau April 11, 2012

I really like your take on this, +Jeff Jockisch !