Smart People, Stupid Organisation:  Dealing with the Social Production of Ignorance Patrick Lambe
Agenda <ul><li>Collective Ignorance and Collective Stupidity </li></ul><ul><li>Three Mechanisms for Collective Cognition  ...
Ignorance defined <ul><li>“Lack of knowledge, education or awareness” </li></ul><ul><li>Attitude that prevents acting on k...
Collective Ignorance <ul><li>Lack of knowledge, education or awareness </li></ul><ul><li>The inability to act on available...
Ignorance Management <ul><li>Management actions to: </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid under-exploitation of available knowledge </li...
Coordination Learning Remembering Establishing & repairing Common Ground Aligning objectives Maintaining situational aware...
Secrecy Inattention Forgetfulness Misunderstandings, conflicts, disagreements Groups pulling in different directions Mista...
Producing Ignorance <ul><li>Individually Produced </li></ul><ul><li>Secrecy </li></ul><ul><li>Forgetfulness </li></ul><ul>...
Collective Ignorance <ul><li>‘ Disputes are multiplied, as if everything was uncertain, and these disputes are managed wit...
Three Mechanisms for Collective Cognition
Culture <ul><li>“… an institution cannot have purposes…  </li></ul><ul><li>Only individuals can intend, plan consciously, ...
Infrastructure <ul><li>On the development of mathematical notation: </li></ul><ul><li>“ Ci vilization advances by extendin...
Mutual Ignorance <ul><li>The Abilene Paradox: </li></ul><ul><li>“ Here we were, four reasonably sensible people who - of o...
Five Tyrannies of the Collective
Tyrannies of the Collective <ul><li>Tyranny of role - Encyclopedia Britannica </li></ul><ul><li>Tyranny of plan - Afghanis...
Tyranny of Role <ul><li>“ Not less than the physical version”  </li></ul>
Tyranny of the Plan <ul><li>Battle of Shahi Khot, Afghanistan, 2002 </li></ul><ul><li>“ T h e plan was based on the suppos...
Tyranny of Infrastructure <ul><li>1960s-1970s: bias-ply versus radials </li></ul><ul><li>Akron “Big Four”: Goodyear, Fires...
Tyranny of Culture <ul><li>“ With competitors seemingly vanquished, the only way for those inside IBM to measure their suc...
Tyranny of the Feast <ul><li>“ No one was responsible for the great Wall Street crash. No one engineered the speculation t...
Tyrannies of the Collective <ul><li>Tyranny of role - Encyclopedia Britannica </li></ul><ul><li>Tyranny of plan - Afghanis...
Any Questions? [email_address]
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Ignorance management Sydney March 2011

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Ignorance management Sydney March 2011

  1. 1. Smart People, Stupid Organisation: Dealing with the Social Production of Ignorance Patrick Lambe
  2. 2. Agenda <ul><li>Collective Ignorance and Collective Stupidity </li></ul><ul><li>Three Mechanisms for Collective Cognition </li></ul><ul><li>Five Tyrannies of the Collective </li></ul>
  3. 3. Ignorance defined <ul><li>“Lack of knowledge, education or awareness” </li></ul><ul><li>Attitude that prevents acting on knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>“He’s an ignorant SOB” </li></ul>
  4. 4. Collective Ignorance <ul><li>Lack of knowledge, education or awareness </li></ul><ul><li>The inability to act on available knowledge </li></ul>
  5. 5. Ignorance Management <ul><li>Management actions to: </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid under-exploitation of available knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Acquire requisite knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Reduce uncertainty </li></ul><ul><li>Profit from others’ ignorance </li></ul>
  6. 6. Coordination Learning Remembering Establishing & repairing Common Ground Aligning objectives Maintaining situational awareness Making good decisions Knowledge reuse Maintaining common identity Maintaining continuity & surviving departures Maintaining consistency Bringing people up to speed Acquiring & spreading the right expertise Responding effectively to the environment Improvement
  7. 7. Secrecy Inattention Forgetfulness Misunderstandings, conflicts, disagreements Groups pulling in different directions Mistakes, slow response to mistakes Poor decisions, exposure to risk Cost of reinventing the same wheel, solving the same problems Knowledge secrecy, silos, key info hard to find Key knowledge lost when key people leave or contracts end Not able to recover past decisions, agreements, policies, rationales New hires poorly supported, take a long time to reach effective performance Competencies and skills do not keep up with demands of the job Organisation is seen as reactive, slow to respond to needs or environment Mistakes are repeated, climate discourages improvement or transfer of better practices Giving mixed signals to external parties
  8. 8. Producing Ignorance <ul><li>Individually Produced </li></ul><ul><li>Secrecy </li></ul><ul><li>Forgetfulness </li></ul><ul><li>Inattention </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Denial </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Inexperience </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Uncertainty </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Agnotology </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Deception </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Misprision </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Socially Produced </li></ul><ul><li>Structural Secrecy </li></ul><ul><li>Structural Forgetfulness </li></ul><ul><li>Structural Inattention </li></ul>COLLECTIVE STUPIDITY <ul><ul><li>Autistic vs Emotional </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Non-reasoning </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lacks metacognition </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Unintegrated consciousness </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Diffusion and weakening of control </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Confusion of wills at different scales </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mutual ignorance </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Habit and structure driven </li></ul></ul>“ Social imitation of mental defects” Robert Musil
  9. 9. Collective Ignorance <ul><li>‘ Disputes are multiplied, as if everything was uncertain, and these disputes are managed with the greatest warmth, as if everything was certain. </li></ul><ul><li>Amidst all this bustle, it is not reason which carries the prize, but eloquence; and no man needs ever despair of gaining proselytes to the most extravagant hypothesis, who has art enough to represent it in any favourable colours. </li></ul><ul><li>The victory is not gained by the men at arms, who manage the pike and the sword, but by the trumpeters, drummers, and musicians of the army.’ </li></ul><ul><li>David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature </li></ul>
  10. 10. Three Mechanisms for Collective Cognition
  11. 11. Culture <ul><li>“… an institution cannot have purposes… </li></ul><ul><li>Only individuals can intend, plan consciously, and contrive oblique strategies... </li></ul><ul><li>Institutions systematically direct individual memory and channel our perceptions into forms compatible with the relations they authorize. </li></ul><ul><li>They fix processes that are essentially dynamic, they hide their influence, and they rouse our emotions to a standardized pitch on standardized issues.” </li></ul>Culture is “a machine for thinking and decision-making on their behalf.” Mary Douglas How Institutions Think (1986)
  12. 12. Infrastructure <ul><li>On the development of mathematical notation: </li></ul><ul><li>“ Ci vilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. </li></ul><ul><li>Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle – they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.” </li></ul>Alfred North Whitehead An Introduction to Mathematics (1911)
  13. 13. Mutual Ignorance <ul><li>The Abilene Paradox: </li></ul><ul><li>“ Here we were, four reasonably sensible people who - of our own volition - had just taken a 106-mile trip across a godforsaken desert in furnace-like heat and a dust storm to eat unpalatable food at a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria in Abilene, when none of us had really wanted to go. To be concise, we’d done just the opposite of what we wanted to do.” </li></ul>Jerry B. Harvey The Abilene Paradox (1988)
  14. 14. Five Tyrannies of the Collective
  15. 15. Tyrannies of the Collective <ul><li>Tyranny of role - Encyclopedia Britannica </li></ul><ul><li>Tyranny of plan - Afghanistan </li></ul><ul><li>Tyranny of infrastructure - US Tyre Industry </li></ul><ul><li>Tyranny of culture - IBM </li></ul><ul><li>Tyranny of the feast - Bernard Madoff </li></ul>
  16. 16. Tyranny of Role <ul><li>“ Not less than the physical version” </li></ul>
  17. 17. Tyranny of the Plan <ul><li>Battle of Shahi Khot, Afghanistan, 2002 </li></ul><ul><li>“ T h e plan was based on the supposition that the Afghans and Special Forces would flush the enemy from the villages, directly into the air-assault-enabled blocking positions. </li></ul><ul><li>But the reality in the valley was that the enemy was dug in on the high ground, not the low, and they appeared ready to fight, not to flee . </li></ul><ul><li>So Jimmy gathered up all the pictures and reports and laid them out for General Hagenbeck’s chief of staff (a full colonel). ‘Sir, do not land those helicopters [there],’ Jimmy pleaded while pointing at the valley floor. ‘The current plan is not going to work out for you.’ </li></ul><ul><li>The chief of staff replied apologetically, ‘I know, Jim, but it’s too late to do anything about it.’ </li></ul>Authors of the plan at Bagram would later explain that it was unreasonable to expect wholesale changes because writing the plan had been such a painful process of compromise and negotiation that nobody could face the prospect of tearing it up – or even significantly modifying it at the eleventh hour simply because the enemy might not be where they were supposed to be.” Pete Blaber, The Mission, the Men and Me (2008)
  18. 18. Tyranny of Infrastructure <ul><li>1960s-1970s: bias-ply versus radials </li></ul><ul><li>Akron “Big Four”: Goodyear, Firestone, Goodrich, Uniroyal </li></ul><ul><li>“… it would cost between $600 million and $900 million in new plants and equipment for the domestic industry to convert to radials.” </li></ul>
  19. 19. Tyranny of Culture <ul><li>“ With competitors seemingly vanquished, the only way for those inside IBM to measure their success was to see how high they could rise within the company… </li></ul><ul><li>The best way to get ahead was to make good presentations. People would say of comers: ‘he’s good with foils’ referring to the overhead transparencies that began to dominate IBM meetings.” </li></ul><ul><li>Paul Carroll Big Blues (1993) </li></ul>
  20. 20. Tyranny of the Feast <ul><li>“ No one was responsible for the great Wall Street crash. No one engineered the speculation that preceded it. </li></ul><ul><li>Both were the product of the free choice and decisions of thousands of individuals. The latter were not led to the slaughter. </li></ul><ul><li>They were impelled to it by the seminal lunacy which has always seized people who are seized in turn with the notion that they can become very rich.” </li></ul><ul><li>J.K. Galbraith The Great Crash 1929 (1954) </li></ul>“ One group of senior Chase bankers was pursuing profitable credit and derivatives deals with Mr. Madoff and his big feeder-fund investors, the hedge funds that invested their clients money exclusively with him. Another group was arguing against doing any more big-ticket “ t r ust me” deals with a man whose business was too opaque and whose investment returns were too implausible.” New York Times Feb 3 2011
  21. 21. Tyrannies of the Collective <ul><li>Tyranny of role - Encyclopedia Britannica </li></ul><ul><li>Tyranny of plan - Afghanistan </li></ul><ul><li>Tyranny of infrastructure - US Tyre Industry </li></ul><ul><li>Tyranny of culture - IBM </li></ul><ul><li>Tyranny of the feast - Bernard Madoff </li></ul>
  22. 22. Any Questions? [email_address]

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