Notes from Team of Teams
Maybe more important than laying out a specific strategy, Nelson took care to emphasize the role of the individual captains. At the very core of his plan was what he later termed “the Nelson touch”: the idea that individual commanders should act on their own initiative once the once the melee started. Noting that plans can be easily foiled, he gave a final, simple piece of advice: “No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.”
Weaver argued that science up through the 1800s had concerned itself with questions of “organized simplicity”: problems involving one or two variables, like the attraction between two magnets or the rotation of the Earth around the sun. But, Weaver observed, this was not the way much of the real world worked. Living organisms, for instance, “are more likely to present situations in which half-dozen, or even several dozen quantities are al varying simultaneously, and in subtly interconnected ways.”
Data-rich records can be wonderful for explaining how complex phenomena happened and how they might happen, but they can’t tell us when and where they will happen.
The insights of resilience thinking are applicable to many domains in which people are searching for a way forward in the fae of uncertainty. The key lies in shifting our focus from predicting to reconfiguring. By embracing humility - recognizing the inevitability of surprises and unknowns - and concentrating on systems that can survive and indeed benefit from such surprises, we can triumph over volatility.
Peter Drucker had a catchy statement: “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right thing.”
F3EA got tighter, faster, and more focused. By August 2004 we were running eighteen raids a month - a higher pace than we had thought possible. … Speeding up the individual elements of the system did nothing to eliminate the blinks between them that most stymied our efforts. There were geographical blinks and technological ones … More often, though, the blinks were social. Cultural differences between the Task Force’s different tribes got in the way of communicating.
What Mueller instituted was known as “systems engineering” or “systems management”, an approach built on the foundation of “systems thinking.” This approach, contrary to reductionism, believes that one cannot understand a part of a system without having at least a rudimentary understanding of the whole. It was the organizational manifestation of this insight that imbued NASA with the adaptive, emergent intelligence it needed to put a man on the moon. … As von Braun put it, “The real mechanism that makes [NASA] ‘tick’ is … a continuous cross-feed between the right and left side of the house.”
“Idea flow” is the ease with which new thoughts can permeate a group. Pentland likens it to the spread of the flu: a function of susceptibility and frequency of interaction. The key to increasing the “contagion” is trust and connectivity between otherwise separate elements of an establishment. The two major determinants of idea flow, Pentland has found, are “engagement” within a small group like a team, a department, or a neighborhood, and “exploration” - frequent contact with other units. In other words: a team of teams.
It is necessary, we found, to forcibly dismantle the old system and replace it with an entirely new managerial architecture. Our new architecture was shared consciousness, and it consisted of two elements. The first was extreme, participatory transparency - the “systems management” of NASA that we mimicked with our O&I forums and our open physical space. This allowed all participants to have a holistic awareness equivalent to the contextual awareness of purpose we already knew at a team level. The second was the creation of strong internal connectivity across teams - something we achieved with our embedding and liaison programs.
This critical caveat to Tocqueville’s predictions of American democratic success cuts to the heart of what makes a democracy tick: a political structure in which the decision-making authority is - in some ways - decentralized to the voters, rather than concentrated in a monarchic or oligarchic core, requires a high level of political awareness among the public in order to function.