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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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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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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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Positive psychology and adoption without coercion

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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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Terror plot a “cascade of failures”

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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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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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