From: Eric Armstrong <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In this post, I'm going to strongly take issue with one of Doug's
basic operating assumptions. The investigation, I think, explains
why Doug's vitally important ideas have been languishing for so
long. It also suggests why that situation is about to change
drastically, although not for the reasons that Doug thinks.
To anticipate the conclusion, the reason is the Internet. But
understanding how and why the paradigm shift will actually
occur is pivotal to knowing how to proceed -- to proceed in any
other way is, in essence, to throw yourself at a brick wall and
hope that it falls down. If we want to bring that wall down, and
we must, then we must use the appropriate tools and target
them in the right way...
[This is another "can't help myself" post. I'm too busy to
write it, but it's too important to put off.]
In session 8, Doug made two points that are central to his
1) We need to improve an organization's capability for
improving their capabilities
2) This can happen with good show-screen technology,
so that others can "look over your shoulder" and see
how you do things.
I'm going to pick up on an argument I started a while back,
and argue even more strenuously that this approach is simply
not going to work. Before proceeding to a counter proposal,
let's see "what's wrong with this picture".
There are several reasons that prevent this approach from
being viable. Chief among them are:
1) Organizations simply do not work that way.
While some seriously desire to improve their productive
capacities, virtually none want to "improve their
capability to improve".
2) If that is the case, then only by completely reinventing
the organizational concept can any headway be achieved.
That paradigm shift cannot gradually evolve. It requires
an abrupt transition such as only occurs in the wake of
3) Even if it were a viable approach for an existing
organization, it would require a "top down" commitment
from management. As I'll argue later on, paradigm shifts
simply do not occur that way. Rather, they come from the
4) To understand why such a project is anathema to management,
it must be understood that the risks are huge. First, the
cost of failure is high. And, to succeed, it will likely
require change to the organizational model. Such change is
always risky, and usually resisted by lower echelons who
perceive it as "interference". That makes the rewards highly
uncertain. And even if the rewards accrue, the payback
period is so long, and the results so far removed from the
source, that there is a serious danger that the
contributions will not even be recognized.
In other words, any manager interested in his career, from the
CEO down, is going to have to think 20 or 30 times before even
attempting to work on setting up an infrastructure that aims to
improve the organizations ability to improve.
There is another way, however. I suspect it is the *only* way
for the desired result to be achieved -- not because that is the
way I wish things to be, but because that is how, observation
suggests to me, they are.
A Counter Proposal
The bottom line in organizational penetration is that no one is
going to care *how* I do what I do until they see spectacular
results. Even then, management is likely to be unconcerned about
the process -- it is only the results that count. And coworkers,
who can be expected to be interested in the process, will only
typically be motivated only to the extent that proven success
derives from it.
The point then, is that DKR penetration will occur not by
showing the process, but by showing results. How can those
results be achieved?
Those results will be achieved first by *individuals* in an
organization who are connected to a DKR that makes them more
productive. The internet will make that scenario possible,
because it will allow multiple professionals in a given
discipline to share the knowledge they need to succeed.
Imagine for a moment that you are participating in the design
of an information system, and you have a DKR at your disposal
that combines the expertise of professionals all over the
world. Imagine in addition that the authoring environment
is so superb that you can construct designs in minutes, cite
references to the underlying papers, and be educated in new
design patterns, all in real time.
How big a role do think you would play in that project? What
is the likelihood that you would be credited with much of its
The odds are good that you would be perceived as one of the
leading designers. Promotion to project lead status would
Now, you are in charge of your own project. By now one or two
others have inquired as to how you do what you do, and you
have shown them. Word is spreading.
More importantly, though, you are now in a position to move
your whole team onto the DKR. Where before you used the DKR
for general design information, now you begin using it for
collaborating on the project at hand.
Use of the DKR for a company project requires a "firewall"
of sorts -- the information on your project must not leak out
to competitors until the project has borne fruit. But on the
day you are free to publish the design concepts, it should only
require pushing a button to do so.]
Let's say your project succeeds wildly. Odds are good that it
will. More promotions follow. As you and your team members
disperse throughout this and other organizations, success and
interest in the technology follows. At this point, widespread
penetration of the DKR concept is being achieved, not from the
top down, but from the bottom up.
It is worth noting here that we are talking about something
beyond an Open HyperDocument System. We are talking about
a truly dynamic knowledge repository -- something that
records principles and case studies, which provides
"education on demand" to its users. In short, we are talking
about something which produces "collective IQ" by making
available to all what is known to each.
As Jim Spohrer pointed out in his Education Object Economy,
it is attribution that motivates individual contributions to
the DKR. Attribution is the "coin of the realm" here, as it
is in academic societies. With a DKR that preserves attributions,
therefore, one can expect the volume of contributions to be
Interestingly, even businesses have information they like to
share. Although there is also information they don't can't afford
to share. For example, they may need to safeguard the knowledge
of the blind alleys they investigated, because the cost of
discovering that information may have a been a significant cost
of development. Sharing that information gives their competitors
big advantages that they themselves did not have.
Even so, there is much information that an organization feels
compelled to share. To win customers, they frequently want to
publish "how it works" design articles. They also tend to be
proud of their practices. Often, they will willing publish
information about the technologies or methodologies they used,
even if they are loathe to share the details of what they
discovered using those processes.
But even if we discount *all* the late-breaking information
discovered by business, there is the matter of the huge volume
of information published in books, magazines, journals, papers,
and Web articles. If the DKR *only* improved the ability to
organize, evaluate, access, and understand that information, it
would *still* promote the kind of success that will lead to
its eventual supremacy in a "survival of the fittest" business
The foregoing has been a picture of what, I suggest, is likely
to happen. As Rob Swigart so aptly pointed out in his wonderful
presentation on "Future Scenarios" at the beginning of session 8,
the scenario above results from "assessing the implications". In
this case, we're looking at the implication of DKR availability,
and the implications of the technology, given the world as we
know it to operate.
The section that follows deals with the subject in a more
abstract way, making the case for why that is the way it has
Why It's Going to Work that Way
It has been accepted that new ideas don't win out over old ones,
but rather they ascend to prominence as the old guard dies off.
That was true once, at least in the halls of academia.
But now there is another way. Today, perpetuators of old ideas
are frequently blindsided by crowds of young anarchists who
muscle them aside and shove them into obsolescence.
The difference is the Internet.
It is the Internet that has given me my voice. It has enabled me
to reach out to a large number of people, with many ideas on a
variety of topics. In this medium, no asks "What are your
credentials?" There are no reviewers to please, no peers to
appease. The only questions anyone asks are "How good are
the ideas?", "Do they make sense?", "Can they work?".
The Internet represents a powerful, far reaching change in our
Guilds were slow to evolve. Changes in technology only occurred
when those in charge approved, which often required the literal
dying off of the old guard. Academia, in many ways, functions as
a "guild" system. For all the invaluable, incalculable benefit it
has brought to humanity, it can still be remarkably slow to embrace
new truths. The cause is the same: The months and years it takes to
put together a concept presentation that is sure to satisfy every
reviewer, the need to appease those who head the guild, and the
natural resistance to new ideas that results from having neither
time nor energy to fully understand and embrace them.
Granted, that system has performed the laudable goal of preventing
trickery from masquerading as science. Snake oil salesmen have
by and large been kept out of the club. And obviously inaccurate
thinking has been kept at bay -- not always, but much of the time.
That has all been to the good.
But in a time of radically accelerating change, that system really
has no hope of keeping up. Fortunately, the Internet is providing
a "marketplace" of ideas and educational opportunities that may
well provide the solution.
Just as the emergence of free markets spelled the end of
technology guilds -- not all at once, but in time, the emergence of
the idea-exchange Internet may signal the end of the academic guild
In a free market, those who produce more, better, faster, or cheaper
became the winners. Newer technologies proved their worth, and
older technologies were obsoleted. The process began a century
or two ago, and has been accelerating every day up to the crazy
pace we see today.
Meanwhile, individual organizations have been largely "guild systems"
in nature. That was especially true early in the 20th century, when
lifetime employment was the rule.
However, "lifetime employment" was put to an end by the simultaneous
growth of a communications medium which presented job offers and a
transportation medium that made it possible to take advantage of them.
The result has been more free-flowing changing of old ideas for new
ones in companies, as "new blood" was piped in.
Still, even though the pace of change has improved, organizations still
function very much as individual "guilds". Norman McEachron pointed out
the organizational mantra, spoken or unspoken, that is repeated in
every organization across the globe: "We do it that way because we
have always done it that way."
The Internet is starting to change that, and we can be instrumental in
accelerating that process.
In point of fact, EVERY PARADIGM SHIFT IS A GUERILLA WAR. That's
a tautology, in fact. It's true by definition. The words "paradigm
shift" imply a widely-held model of things are or should be, that is
being held in place by large, collective forces. How does one overthrow
such a monster? Well, it doesn't happen "from the top down".
Most organizations that try to change their corporate culture fail
It is not an impossible task, but it is a daunting one that takes
perseverance, creativity, and time to carry out. And that process only
starts when the people "at the top" are persuaded it's a good idea. In
words, when they have seen it in operation elsewhere, know that it is
and are motivated to put it into practice themselves.
In other words, the "top down" approach, even when it succeeds, is only
good for copying successful paradigms -- not for introducing new ones.
As a result, the introduction of a new paradigm is, of necessity, a
operation. It starts small, winning little victories. It gathers
achieves supporters, and proves it worth. Eventually it obsoletes the
_having successfully out-competed all other candidates for the honor_.
The Internet provides a massive opportunity to accelerate that process.
If you, as a member of a professional NIC, can be remarkably successful
at your job, then you will receive the promotions that put you in charge
projects. If you then introduce that technology to your team, and your
team proves to be remarkably successful, then further promotions follow.
As you and your team members disperse throughout the organization, and
migrate to other organizations, the knowledge of "how to do things
moves with you. When you take that knowledge to startups, or move into
high-level positions in an established organization, the technology
an organization-wide standing. When those organizations are remarkably
successful, the "paradigm copying" begins to take place, completing the
That is how paradigm shifts happen. That is how this shift will occur.
this shift is a change in the "meta-paradigm" -- the model for how
are transmitted and perpetuated. By using the Internet wisely, we will
accelerate the process forever -- or at least until the lights run out.
One counter argument might be the telephone. Initially a very expensive
tool, it was used only be executives. It "worked its way down" through
the organization by virtue of a) The status value of having one,
b) lowered costs, and c) the real gain in productivity it provided. This
"status symbol" approach might be a model for top-down penetration of a
new technology into an organization. However, in the case of the
telephone it seems reasonable to argue that it did not represent a
paradigm shift so much as a faster way to do existing work. Where a
paradigm shift like the computer is concerned, penetration into
executive ranks has been remarkably slow, presumably due to the amount
of training required.]
I think it's worth focusing on business, because that is where guerilla
operations can happen. Government and education are, by and large, guild
systems. That means paradigm changes happen from the top down, and only
when they are "proven" by experience.]
Mountain View CA
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