Category Archives: Current Events

Captures thoughts on current events with organizational implications outside of the book’s remit.

Prez talks org structure

A beach after an oil spill.
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On the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (now the largest in history):

Obama says, “This is a big mess coming to shore,” and even with a perfect organizational structure, “spots are going to be missed.”

A president who discusses organizational structure?  Cool.

By the way, I haven’t had much to say about this or anything else lately.  It’s mostly because of work and a sense that others are doing a fine job with it.  That said, I owe the Minerals Management Service a spanking.  Shame that they’ll probably enjoy it.

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Panetta promotes precision

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One of the few things I have agreed with Dick Cheney about is the wisdom of using a scalpel rather than a truncheon:

The stepped-up drone strikes, Panetta’s opposition to the release of information about CIA interrogation practices, and his resistance to greater oversight of the agency by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have prompted criticism that he is a thrall of the agency’s old guard. In the meantime, the strikes have begun to draw greater scrutiny, with watchdog groups demanding to know more about how they are carried out and the legal reasoning behind the killings.

In an interview Wednesday at CIA headquarters, Panetta refused to directly address the matter of Predator strikes, in keeping with the agency’s long-standing practice of shielding its actions in Pakistan from public view. But he said that U.S. counterterrorism policies in the country are legal and highly effective, and that he is acutely aware of the gravity of some of the decisions thrust upon him.

Panetta may resemble the Company’s old guard, but it’s hard to argue that the organization isn’t stronger under his leadership.  Were I to have one wish, it would be that the tension between the DCI and the DNI come to a head and be resolved once and for all.

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Cowen calls for evidence in health care options

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Yes, it’s been a little quiet here lately (other than comments about 9/11 being an inside job, and who knows what kind of traffic mentioning that will bring?).  The reasons are twofold:  first, I have been building a new business I started early last year; and second, I just launched a blog that describes my thinking about that business.  I’m very excited about both.

That said, PublicOrgTheory has been my first love for over five years, and I always come back to it.  This meditation by Tyler Cowen on health care caught my attention this morning:

Over at Twitter, Matt Yglesias asks:

Do rightwingers really believe that US health insurance has no mortality-curbing impact?

I don’t speak for “right-wingers,” but I’ll say this:

1. I genuinely don’t know what to believe.  And I often toy with the idea of an “innovation-maximizing” health care policy, so that future coverage is more effective.

2. I am commonly excoriated by people (not Matt) for not supporting government-subsidized universal health insurance, yet few if any of these people grapple seriously with the best evidence.

3. I live in a country where the extension of health insurance is a major issue, and a major budgetary issue, yet much of the discussion is in an evidence-free zone.

There’s more, but it was the evidence-based points that I found most compelling.  While I think coverage for all Americans should make for a healthier nation, an economically stronger nation, and a nation better prepared for its own defense, I have to agree with Cowen that no one–including myself–is offering up evidence that would support the plans being discussed.  There’s an opportunity to be seized here.

National debate seems to be one of the few areas left in American society–management and medicine being two notable others–in which evidence need not be the basis of an argument or action.  “Proving it” is a big deal among people whose lives and livelihoods hang in the balance.  It would be an excellent change to see that kind of urgency to “prove it” in all matters of national interest.

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On the relationship between orgs and crowdsourcing

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Good post at Warren Ng’s blog:

Corporations exist for a reason. That reason most likely is attributed to the power of many, yet corporations break down when executives make bad decisions and the remainder of the company suffers. Promotions and bonuses are put on hold or worse jobs are lost. Seems that corporations haven’t figured out how to utilize the man power effectively.

My reply:

You’re making some important points here (and adding some much-needed balance to the breathless claims that crowdsourcing will replace the corporation). The reason for traditional organizations to exist is largely based in Coase’s theory of the firm: the transaction costs of using a market are minimized or eliminated when performed internally by a firm. Crowdsourcing shifts some of those activities out of the firm by providing lower transaction costs than the firm, something difficult or impossible prior to social media technology.

Savvy entrepreneurs in the crowdsourcing space are beginning at the point of determining which organizational processes lend themselves to being performed outside of the firm, whether they are viewing their value proposition that broadly or not (incidentally, outsourcing and offshoring were both precursors in the attempt to seek lower transaction costs). There are some processes that will probably always stay within the firm–primarily those administrative activities that cause a firm to cohere. This is currently exemplified by the tendency of most new commercially-focused crowdsourcing ventures to form a company first, then sell the results to another company. At present it is more efficient for a company to seek funding, hire staff, and build platforms within a traditional company structure. That may not always be the case.

It’s interesting to contemplate the evolution of organizational forms as technology enables new arrangements. It challenges a great many of our assumptions. That said, I should probably leave it there lest this comment become a post of its own.

Too late.

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Social network analysis exposes Panty Bomber’s habits

This post describes the methodology used to map Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s online communications:

Given our specific interest in the online behavior of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, we were most interested in analyzing the direct and indirect communication network associated with the handle “Farouk1986” (aka Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab).  Therefore, it was necessary to filter the broader universe of communication on Gawaher.com to the relevant subset.

A portion of this information is contained in publically available NEFA dataset.  While useful, we determined that this dataset alone did not include the information necessary for us to construct the Farouk1986 secondary/indirect communications network. In order to obtain a better understanding of this communication network, we retrieved every “topic” in which Farouk1986 participated at least once.  Each “topic” is comprised of one or more “posts” from one or more users.  Each “post” may be in response to another user’s “post.”  The NEFA data contains only posts made by Farouk1986 – our data contains the entire context within which his posts existed.

The table of the ten most frequent participants in his network is interesting; I suspect I would be soiling myself if my handle were “Crystal Eyes” or “property_of_allah”.

Terror plot a “cascade of failures”

Washington Capitol, DC

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A New York Times editorial today reviews what happened in the terror incident two weeks ago on Northwest Airlines Flight 253:

The report implicitly acknowledges all of this, saying that the system failed “to identify, correlate, and fuse into a coherent story all of the discrete pieces of intelligence held by the U.S. government” about both the Al Qaeda group and Mr. Abdulmutallab. It also makes clear that this was not a single failure by one agency but was a cascade of failures across agencies and departments and the bureaucracies that are supposed to coordinate them.

It says that once the government learned of a possible plot in Yemen, the intelligence community failed to devote more analytic resources, and it failed to put one agency or official in charge. John Brennan, the senior official responsible for figuring out what went wrong, said on Thursday that only after the failed plot did the intelligence community recognize that the group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, actually posed a direct threat to the United States. [emphasis added]

This is a fairly straightforward explanation of the problem.  The problem is not individual, but rather systemic.  There are never enough analytic resources to adequately process the overwhelming volume of data collected by the IC, but that is not the primary problem.  The overarching challenge to the IC is that authority, budget, and power are spread across its agencies with no clear leadership or accountability.  Every 8-year-old kid knows what happens when one kid is in charge of building the treehouse and another kid has all the lumber and nails.  If there is to be reform–and it has yet to happen in the past eight years–consolidating budget and accountability is the most powerful lever.

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Best sentence on intel in 8 years

Perspicacity points to Doyle McManus:

“By shining light on organizational dysfunction that’s hard to dramatize, the attempted bombing has highlighted a problem that desperately needs to be solved.”

Finally.