Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Benefits of Inefficiency

I listened to a profound presentation on the benefits of inefficiency and its implications on enterprise social networks and enterprise 2.0.

One of the many great things at The Firm is the Life Series. The Firm brings in interesting outside speakers to speak about interesting things. A few weeks ago, Devon Harris spoke about his experience as member of the 1988 Olympic Jamaican Bobsled Team and Captain of the 1992 and 1998 Jamaican Olympic teams.

This week Dr. John Lachs, Centennial Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University spoke about how we, as individuals in a complex, modern society, can resist the tendency to allow large institutions to get the better of our human natures.

About 15 minutes into the presentation, I realized the implications of his presentation on justifying knowledge management, enterprise 2.0 and enterprise social networks. I did not have my laptop or even a pad of paper, so I started taking notes of the blackberry. (I think everyone around me thought I was ignoring Dr. Lachs and sending emails.)

Dr. Lachs put forth a proposition about the impotence of large institutions. They break the unity of action. He defined the unity of action as having three parts: (1) intention, (2) execution and (3) the enjoyment or suffering from the action.

People lose interest inside large institutions because they lack control of the three nodes of the unity of action. They are going through the motions because someone else is making them. They are stuck with policies for which they had no input or comment.

The misery of the modern world comes from there being so many of us and our institutions are too big. People do not feel good about it. We can't go back to living in small communities. (Although there are a few left over hippies from the 60s.) But, there are great things about living in the modern world. (You can have grapes in the winter!)

Institutions need to make things more transparent. The CEO needs to spend time with front line workers. People inside institutions need to get to know what others are doing inside the institution.

What are the consequences?

1. Its okay to be a little less efficient if we can be more human. There is no need to keep secrets when making policies. Why are doing this? How could we do it better? How does it impact the enterprise as a whole? All of these questions can be better answered by exposing the policy-making process to a larger audience.

2. We have to lodge responsibility and accept responsibility. We should hold people at the top of ladder as responsible for bad acts of the institution as we do for those people who commit the bad acts.

Institutions, even if built on best intentions, can become inhumane. Sheer size causes institutions to become inhumane. There is a break down in communications. The larger the institution, the bigger the chain of command and the greater the problems.

Using new communication techniques, we may be able to break down some of the barriers and the breakdowns in communications. It is better to be less efficient in order to share information with a larger group.

How do you take the time in our time-sensitive culture? It takes less time then you think. Can you say hello to everyone? (On twitter or yammer you can!) Instead of creating a policy, say "what do you think?" It is actually more efficient because the opening up of the process allows for improvement of the policy. A larger audience will provide greater insight on the impacts of a policy and how it can be improved.

Dr. Lachs wrote the book "Intermediate Man" on this subject.

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