Getting Wiki With It

Someone besides a General in Omaha talking about operating in the 21st Century:

The intelligence community can learn from the behavior of ant colonies to improve information sharing — and it can use wikis and blogs, a CIA official said today.

The intelligence community must respond more quickly to maintain tactical and strategic advantage over adversaries, said Calvin Andrus, chief technology officer at the CIA’s Center for Mission Innovation.

“We’re not in an arms race with our adversaries — it’s a time race,” Andrus said at the E-Gov/FCW Events Knowledge Management 2006 conference in Washington, D.C.

Reorganizing is not the answer because that presumes the past can predict the future, Andrus said. The future is becoming increasingly unpredictable as decisions involve more complex interactions of information and as faster communications technology accelerates the decision-making cycle, he said.

The intelligence community must change quickly in ways that it cannot predict, he added.

BINGO!

That’s where ant colonies can play a role. Complexity theory states that complex, adaptive group behavior can be built by having individuals follow simple behaviors, Andrus said.

In an ant colony, each ant knows a few rules — move dirt, carry a pupa, find food — and uses them to react in various situations, Andrus said. If too many ants are carrying pupae, others will go find food on their own without looking to the queen for direction or permission.

In a similar way, Andrus said, “we need intelligence officers who just go do.” They can’t do that if they have to ask for permission every time they want to share information, he said. “It’s about letting employees be free to share and act” and trusting them to follow simple rules of engagement.

In this area my second to last boss was my best boss. You had a set of givens that needed to be accomplished, but there was no question that whatever time left was your own. He rewarded initiative and self-starters, both when it came time to doll out the pittance that our Uncle allotted, and in the most valuable way of all: he blocked while you carried the ball. We didn’t always make it to the end zone, but we made forward progress.

Blogs can be used to track and share individuals’ intellectual capital, especially their disagreements and mistakes, Andrus said. Wikis can aggregate common knowledge and wisdom, he said, and they don’t require participants to get permission to act or update.

Man, this sounds familiar. It goes on and then, the kicker:

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence must build an incentive and reward structure to change the organization’s business model to incorporate wikis and blogs, Andrus said. Wikis and blogs are as essential as e-mail and word processing for 21st-century organizations, Andrus said. “Gen-Y-ers have it down.”

Nothing is going to change, NOTHING, as long as there is no real incentive to do so. What do I mean by “real?” If it is in your performance evaluation, it is real. If it is in your charter, it is real. If you have to show up once a week with stats on how much of “it” you are doing, it is real. To the best of my knowledge none of this is “real” yet, though it has to be if we are to succeed from an intelligence perspective.

The biggest roadblock to success in this area is the fact that it breaks the pyramid, or rather; it connects the series of pyramids that we label “community”, rendering the masters of the pyramid useless. When you no longer need gatekeepers (insert your own press-editor-blogger example here) to “coordinate” and when things are essentially self-organizing, you start to see just how much bloat you as an institution are carrying around. The elimination of inefficiencies becomes dramatic and you can put people back into productive work again or you can cut them loose. That’s more time that can be spent doing meaningful work and more money that can be spent on practical issues (or to get really radical: that’s extra money we could say we don’t need).

Some have lambasted open source efforts along these lines, but I can’t recall ever having seen a response to any issue on the “inside” that took place as quickly or was as comprehensive as any blogswarm on the outside. Group efforts traditionally have required physical presence, hours of discussion, and weeks of back office work. End results might see daylight months down the road. A fine process in Kent’s day, but ill-suited for this age.

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