Category Archives: Uncategorized

Outsourcing NASA could be, you know, dangerous

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Useful recommendations for NASA:

An aerospace panel is warning NASA that relying on private companies to send astronauts into space would raise serious safety issues.

The federal watchdog Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel said that outsourcing would be “unwise and probably not cost-effective” because private space companies are not yet technically advanced enough to safely put astronauts into orbit, The Wall Street Journal reported.

When has it ever raised safety issues before?

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Positive psychology and adoption without coercion

Auguste Rodin's The Thinker.

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Although positive psychology and its bastard child Appreciative Inquiry have a cadre of Mafia-esque adherents, there’s no need to throw out the baby with the bathwaterc:

In 1998, Dr. Martin Seligman became President of the American Psychological Association (APA) and publicly promoted an entirely new field of study–known today as Positive Psychology. Dr. Seligman argued that for far too long psychological investigation was based on a disease model of human behavior. Essentially, psychology was focused on how to make people less miserable. So, Seligman challenged his fellow psychologists to develop something new – a science which instead placed emphasis on healthy human behavior, how to improve normal lives, and ultimately, how to make life more fulfilling.

The consequences of this emerging field are intriguing, but it hasn’t met with widespread adoption when it comes to corporate employee engagement practices. I’d argue that far too many of today’s corporations operate under a model that is centered on how to make work life “less miserable.” And despite all the money that companies pour into employee engagement tools and surveys, companies are still bad at making work more meaningful, more fulfilling, and more engaging. What if anything can be done? And what can corporations learn–if anything–from the field of positive psychology and other scholars in this area?

If adoption can be promoted without the oppressive, “my way is best and everything in organization development that came before is worthless” mentality, there are benefits to be realized.  I haven’t seen these ideas taken forward that way, and their adherents–who putatively value inclusion–are notoriously dismissive of that significant portion of the human experience that is not sunshine and puppies.  It’s time to view positive psychology in context.

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Should spies emulate journalists?

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Interesting, especially the advice to think like journalists:

American intelligence in Afghanistan is broken, says the top U.S. intelligence officer there. That’s because it focuses too much on whacking Taliban, and not enough on figuring out Afghanistan’s social and cultural landscapes. But the report from Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, the top intelligence aide to International Security Assistance Force Commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, raises lots of other issues, too. Like, what happened to the military’s “human terrain” programs to map those landscapes? Can spies really perform better if they think and work like journalists? And why is this report being publicly distributed through a think tank?

Flynn’s report — which was prepared for public release by the Center for a New American Security – begins with a stunning admission. “Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy,” the report states. “Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade.”

I have some opinions on OSINT that generally center on organizations’ ability to absorb it in useful, credulous ways.  OSINT is essentially old-school journalism, the difference being that news organizations value it.

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NCTC likely focus of terror report

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It appears the forthcoming terror report will implicate the young National Counterterrorism Center:

Without naming the agency, he put the National Counterterrorism Center, the new entity formed after 9/11 to do precisely this function, squarely in his crosshairs.

Until the report (to be released today) has been fully dissected and cross-examined, it is impossible to say whether President Obama is pointing his finger at the right culprit. Of all the parts of the complex system and of all of the post-9/11 reforms, I would have considered the NCTC to be one of the better functioning.

I wouldn’t, but Dr. Feaver (great name) will likely know more than I on the matter.  The reasons I wouldn’t expect it to be one of the better functioning organizations in the IC are

  1. The organization is new, and was created in a relative panic;
  2. Its function is merely coordination–admittedly a tough job–without authority; and
  3. The turf-protectiveness of the IC almost guarantees that the NCTC’s analysis would be incomplete.

I harbor a great deal of respect for the many talented individuals who labor within dysfunctional, unnecessarily competitive intel organizations.  Intel reform has clearly not worked–in fact, there really hasn’t been reform.  Adding layers of bureaucracy, especially without real power, is not reform at all.  Pointing fingers and sacking people is often the politically astute path, but it almost guarantees that we’ll have this discussion again.

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New round of intel reform posturing begins

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Just a quick break from vacation to observe the friction between the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of Central Intelligence:

The White House this month issued a classified order to resolve mounting frictions between the nation’s intelligence director and the CIA over issues including how the agency conducts covert operations, U.S. officials said.

The intervention reflects simmering tension between the two most powerful players in the U.S. intelligence community: Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair and CIA Director Leon E. Panetta.

The memo maintains the CIA’s status as the nation’s lead spy service on covert missions, rejecting an attempt by Blair to assert more control. But the document also includes language detailing the agency’s obligation to work closely with Blair on sensitive operations.

The White House memo, signed by National Security Advisor James L. Jones, was an attempt to settle a collection of disputes that have plagued the relationship between the director of national intelligence and the CIA director for years.

I’ve been interested in this for a long time (dates of the links are August 2004, June 2009, December 2008, and April 2009).  Here’s what I wrote this time last year about the conflict:

Why “putative”?  The DNI was created in much the same way as the Director of Central Intelligence was originally intended; that is, to be the point of the intel spear.  “16 other intelligence agencies”, most of them within the Department of Defense, indicates how diffuse the community has become.  Budget authority for most of the intel community lies outside of the DNI’s scope, resulting in a role that is heavy on its need for influence, short on control, and highly susceptible to the caprices of a complex political environment.  Creating new organizational entities to compensate for dysfunction among other organizational entities often brings unintended consequences.  A “joined-up” intel community continues to be no more than a diluted aspiration hovering over a cluster of moribund silos.

The DNI is a position created without the benefit of systemic analysis and diagnosis of the problems it was designed to create.  It is political organizational hackery at its worst.  This is what happens when you move the boxes on the org chart around without understanding what they mean.  This is what happens when you do not strive for a view of organizational and trans-organizational interdependencies.  This is what happens when you fail to acknowledge that budget represents strategy more than does title.  This is what happens when you replace an opportunity for inquiry with an abundance of certainty.

I don’t intend to continue banging the “I told you so” drum on this.  There’s almost six years of analysis on intel reform in the archives of this blog, which in turn build upon a century each of organizational scholarship and solid reporting on the origins and evolution of the intel community.  There are a handful of articles in the last month alone that describe the turf wars between DNI and CIA in Washington and abroad, as well as a pile of archives stretching back to the summer of 2004.  For those who remain unconvinced about the hot mess the new arrangement has created, there’s little more I can offer.

Intelligence reform was taken up in the early part of this benighted decade to address a failure to connect dots and staggering deficiencies in coordination and cooperation, the two fundamental concerns of organization theory.  The urgency of a nation newly returned to war combined with the momentum of aligned political will should have brought forth an intel community with (internally) clear accountability, budget authority, processes, lines of authority, resource availability, methods of cooperation, etc.  The fact that we read about this in major newspapers indicates that that has not happened, and is almost certainly not in the process of happening.

We are at the inception of a fresh new round of political posturing about “connecting dots” and “chatter in the system”.  Another young punk with some shadowy connections tried to bring down a plane, much like the hapless Richard Reid a handful of years before him.  Absent a total ban on luggage of any sort and duct-taping passengers naked to their chairs, this will almost certainly happen again.  This would be a good opportunity to put the nature and extent of the threat in context, perhaps moving from the blunt-force approach of war to the precision approaches of solid international law enforcement.  Alas, the conversation will almost certainly be driven by loud voices spending yet another fortune on yet another doomed run at intel reform–we love our sound and fury, but we seem unable to remember what they signify.

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Evening Standard bows, scrapes

Is contrition the new smug?

The London Evening Standard today launches one of the most daring of publicity campaigns by apologising to Londoners for its previous behaviour.

Buses and tubes will carry a series of messages throughout the week that begin with the word “sorry.” The first says “Sorry for losing touch”. Subsequent slogans say sorry for being negative, for taking you for granted, for being complacent and for being predictable.

The ad posters, some of which will also appear on hoardings, do not mention the Standard by name but carry its Eros logo instead.

As they say, it’s all about sincerity–once you can fake that, you have it made.

VOA’s PNN successful, disgruntled

In a second HT to Nukes & Spooks this week (who appear to have moved into the “job satisfaction” space), the State Department Inspector General has found that VOA’s Persian News Network works well, but not happily:

“Virtually everyone voluntarily brought up the subject of disgruntled employees and destructive rumors. Some said it was the most unpleasant place that they had ever worked, citing raised voices and the lack of civil, professional conduct when disagreements arose,” states the report, based in part on interviews of Persian News Network (PNN) staff and management.

The full report is here.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Bob Sutton found some asshole bosses at PNN.

The interesting question posed by the IG’s report is in the disconnect between job satisfaction and firm performance–why do people do good work if they hate it?  Anecdotally, this reminds me of a USAID contractor R worked for in which consultants promised interview confidentiality to employees, then released the raw data.  The staff had similar results to those at PNN.  The word “toxic” showed up a few times.

A good guess would be dedication to mission.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is a good example of a place with difficult employee conditions but strong commitment to mission.  Upon hearing reports–horror stories, really–from staff misbehavior and asshole-ness in the field, I continue to be surprised that this organization accompishes what it does.

Another hypothesis is that mission-oriented organizations foment dissatisfaction by placing mission concerns over the health, happiness, and general well-being of employees.  Back to R’s former workplace, part of the culture was, “why are you complaining when people in Africa are dying of HIV/AIDS?”  How does an employee reply to that when the person asking feels she is sacrificing herself to the mission?

The obvious answer would be that employees are more effective when they are satisfied with their jobs.  Although research tends to support that view, I am not certain that the research applies in all cases.  I’m also not certain it doesn’t.  It would be interesting to see research on the mission-driven organizations and the relationship between firm performance and job satisfaction.

Again, those are guesses.  I don’t know how the urgency of the PNN commission compares with UN and USAID.  It’s really interesting to find such a sharp disconnect between mission success and workplace failure.

MORE:  By the way, Cynthia Fisher questioned the correlation between job satisfaction and individual performance in the Academy of Management Review.  Individual performance and firm performance are not the same thing, but they obviously should be related.

MORE MORE:  Is there some requirement that IGs release climate surveys this time of year?