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[2b2k] Decisions, decisions

About two minutes ago I discovered that I was at the end of an EXTREMELY rough first draft of the chapter on decisions. If forced to lay odds, I’d say it’s about 12:1 that I will be doing a major rewrite of it, since I went through it with only a provisional idea of what I was going to say and how I was going to structure it. For example, I believe I may have the structure exactly backwards, and that the long first sections should be dropped or turned into a paragraph or maybe into a cute line drawing of a kitten.

This is the last chapter before the Grand Summation, of which we shall not speak, mainly because it causes formication over all areas of my exposed skin. In the current chapter I am writing about decision making because it is one of two proof points. The previous chapter is about science. Both that one and this one are intended to see if all the jibber jabber about networked knowledge that the reader has slogged through so far actually holds up in areas where we really really have to know what’s right and wrong. So, when we make a decision, does networked knowledge help? What happens when the rubber hits the node, so to speak?

The chapter as it stands begins by spending way too much time on the nature of distributed leadership. I spend page after page talking about Jack Welch as a counterexample (this will almost surely be cut drastically) to make the argument that modern business leaders take integrity as the chief attribute of leaders because organizations are Too Big to Be Led. Since you can’t be sufficiently competent in everything you would need to be, you claim that simply being a truthful, authentic person is enough. Yeah, sure. The fact that the memoirs of successful business leaders are often among the most inauthentic, squirmtastic writings around is just icing on the cake.

Anyway, I then argue that leadership, too, is becoming a property of networks, albeit it unevenly and certainly not in every case. I have a brief case study of the Army’s leadership center at West Point, based mainly on an interview with Lt. Col. Anthony Burgess. (The link is to a piece he wrote up after the interview.) I just don’t know if I’ve successfully sold the reader that an extended discussion of leadership is directly relevant to the topic of networked decision making.

I then make the point that I think I should begin the section with: If you look at decision-making as the isolated moment in which the bit is flipped, then you miss the networking of decision-making that goes on before and after that, even if the organization has no networked decision-making structures in place. Even when the decisions are made by the person at the top, they are made within a network that takes on many of the tasks and properties decision makers shouldered alone. So, the decision may still be a flicking of an leader’s thumb up or down, but that gesture may now occur within a network that has helped inform it, will carry it out, and will support it.

The final section takes a surprising turn for the practical. I was not expecting to end up there, but, when I checked my original outline, sure enough, that was exactly where I thought I’d be. I suppose that’s a good sign. Anyway, this final section’s premise is that to make smart decisions, we need smart networks (not in David Isenberg’s sense!). So, I quickly look at a bunch of properties of networks and loosely tie them to practices that will help make the network smarter than the smartest individuals in them. Nothing you haven’t heard before, which is, of course, a problem.

So, a very very very rough first draft that I may throw out tomorrow. Yay?

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2 Responses to “[2b2k] Decisions, decisions”

  1. A reference that might prove interesting to you (it did to me) with respect to the change in decision-making when considering the change from a highly hierarchical organization to one that is more “networked” is “Power to the Edge,” which examines the issue in the context of the U.S. Military. ( ) Along similar lines is a case study on FEMA: Ward, R., Wamsley, G., Schroeder, A., & Robins, D. B. (2000). Network Organizational Development in the Public Sector: A case study of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 51(11), 1018-1032.

    As you might imagine, I have a bunch to say on issue of changing leadership in general, but a brief summary based on my research is posted here: . I’m not sure it will be of much value to you at this point in your process, but if there’s an inspiration for you located somewhere among this mess of suggestions, consider it my gift. :)

  2. Thanks, Mark. I actually already use FEMA and Katrina for one quick example, with this as my primary reference: Denning, Peter J and Hayes-Roth, Rick. “Decision Making in Very Large Networks”. Communications of the ACM. Vol 49, No 11. Nov. 2006. 19-23.

    So I’ll definitely take a look at the article your suggest. Thanks!

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