A useful diagram with quite a good article wrapped round it. If there is strategic value in organisational alignment, whose responsibility is it for ensuring that that alignment is achieved? Everybody, nobody and the chief executive are all unsatisfactory answers – and the article raises, but doesn’t really attempt to answer, some important questions about how to achieve alignment in a complex organisation under constant pressure to focus on short term issues.
A long and thoughtful essay challenging the idea that artificial intelligence will take over everything and displace humans. This isn’t the argument that as machines do more things, humans will move on to do other things, it’s a more a fundamental assertion that intelligence simply doesn’t work like that, and that ultimately reproducing the set of things humans do well is most easily done by reproducing humans – which we already have a rather effective way of doing. That’s not to say that some machines won’t be better at solving particular sorts of problems than humans are – self-evidently, that is already the case and has been for a very long time – but that won’t make them ‘superintelligent’, any more than my calculator is superintelligent because it does arithmetic better than I do.
It’s tempting to think that artificial intelligence is on a trajectory to becoming like human intelligence except, well, artificial. But just as vacuum cleaners aren’t motorised brooms, as the futurists of 1900 imagined, AI isn’t about automated humans; Self-driving cars don’t have a robot sitting behind the steering wheel, they solve the driving problem very differently. So we need to make sure that we find better questions before we can assume we are finding better answers – and this post argues that we will be better off doing that by avoiding misleading analogies with brains and robots – and indeed artificial intelligence as a label.
Most writing about algorithmic decision making is at a very high level, and often implies that a very wide range of decisions and processes will be affected in very similar ways. This article – originally a submission to a select committee inquiry on the subject – take a more granular approach, looking at how different approaches might be appropriate for different aspects of a hypothetical National Benefits Service, with an emphasis on ensuring that it is always clear how a decision has been reached, as well as what that decision is.
It’s hard enough to use the power of digital to make a service – particularly a well-established service – work better. It’s even harder to go all the way back to asking what the real underlying purpose is and whether that might be achieved in a beatter way. So it’s essential to to design the service, not just the system. And as the post ends by hinting, sometimes the best service is no service.
The transition from systems based on explicit rules to systems based on emergent algorithms is much more than a new generation of technology. It raises questions about what it is for humans to know things and about how we decide whether the output of a system is right or wrong (and whether that is even a meaningful question). That may sound esoteric and abstract, but it is vitally important to any organisation which operates rules based processes and to any person who may be the subject of such processes – which is pretty much everybody. David Weinberger has been writing clearly and thoughtfully about knowledge and technology for a long time, this article ranges from Galileo to Heidegger and from flood control to credit scores, to get to some important issues about how we understand and use the technology of the future.
Echoing some of the same themes as Simon Wardley’s approach, this post argues the need for strategies to be developed with an understanding of movement and direction, rather than position – and to forge strong connection between the long term question, ‘where do we want to be?’ and the short term question, ‘what are the key choices we face now which will determine whether we are on the trajectory to get there?’
Strategy is often seen as being about objectives and destinations. But there is no point in wanting to get across an ocean if you don’t have any means of getting there. Disruptive external change demands a response – but the nature of that response depends on where you start from and what means of transport are available, as much as it does on where you think you are trying to get to. Though the advice to set up a pirate camp within sight of the far shore depends on there being usefully positioned islands – and on being able to distinguish the Indies from America.
The efficiency and effectiveness of government is often compared – usually unfavourably – to that of business. From time to time business leaders are brought into government to show how it’s done, usually to withdraw some time later without seeming to have had much impact. One reason for that is that leadership in government and in business make different demands – this post does a good (and non-judgemental) job of explaining some of the reasons why.
Politics, society and government are not separate systems, they are all deeply interconnected. Seeking to change one part without attempting to understand the wider system is unlikely to have the expected outcome. This article argues that social media and emergent organisation have moved on from being adjuncts to traditional political campaigning to supplanting them, resulting in a crisis of legitimacy for traditional politics, with inevitable consequences for traditional government.
Jeff Bezos has a recipe for success. And since it is a recipe which has brought Amazon to a position of dominance, it is one to be taken seriously. His basic message is to avoid ever reaching day 2 – for him a company is either innovating or dying, and even if the death is long drawn out, the process is close to irreversible. Government organisations tend not to feel the same existential threat (which is not to say they are immune to it, or indeed necessarily less vulnerable to it than Amazon realistically is). But his basic principles – resist proxies, embrace external trends and high-velocity decision making – all seem very relevant.
Working out the implications of technological change is hard. It’s hard because guessing which technologies will mature when is not straightforward more than a short time ahead; it’s even harder because the real impact comes from second and third order effects which may not be immediately (or at all) obvious just from understanding the technology itself. This post explores the implications of autonomous vehicles for the design of the vehicles themselves and the roads they run on, as well as for land use, employment, in-car entertainment and murder investigations – interesting not just as a case study, but as a way of thinking about these kinds of uncertainties.
Networks are a critical element of an effective civic society, at every scale from local communities to international relations. Like so much else, they are both challenged by wider social and economic change (some of the key traditional roles in holding communities together fade away) and given fresh impetus by it (in an ever more connected world). This interview introduces a book which sets out to reset the balance between getting things done through making strategic moves and getting them done by supporting, sustaining and using networks. Though as a couple of critical reviews on Amazon bring out, the book is inevitably as much a product of a network as the phenomena it describes.
A clear expression of the counter-argument to Brad De Long’s peak horse analogy – the current round of technology-driven innovation, like every round before it will generate new jobs to meet the new demand for the new products and services which the new technology enables and which were previously unimaginable. If human needs are unlimited and unforseeable, there is no reason to think that the model as a whole is under threat (though that, of course, says nothing about the individuals caught in the transition, or about the distribution of gains and losses more generally).
There’s more to innovation than having ideas. The innovation has to solve a problem (albeit sometimes made harder by the owners of the problem not knowing they have it). This article is written very much in a private sector context, where the test of successful innovation is sustainable profits, but it’s well worth thinking about how parallel issues play out in other kinds of organisations.
The question of whether new technology is a threat or an opportunity never goes away, because it can never definitively be answered. Despite contemporary fears, past new technologies have resulted in more – albeit often different – jobs, rather than fewer, so why should this time be different? One answer might be that past changes have left ‘cybernetic control’ of work firmly in the human sphere, and that current and prospective challenges are shrinking that area of advantage. The era of peak horse labour passed a century ago – for a long time they were irreplaceable, despite changes in some of the surrounding technology, until suddenly they weren’t. Are we approaching a similar position for peak human labour?
Strategy can be an elusive concept, and it’s tempting to some to conclude that it doesn’t really exist. This post, written firmly from the perspective of a an agile product owner, takes a simple but quite useful approach of positioning strategy as the layer between the vision or mission, at a greater level of abstraction, and the plan and delivery, at a lower level of abstraction. Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s a strong resonance with some of Simon Wardley’s approach too.
Strategy is not the production of documents (still less the document produced). It is an evolving response to the situation an entity finds itself in. Delivery is not a strategy, or at least not unless it is based on a high level of situational awareness. Doing what everybody else is doing, or latching on to trends or buzzwords is also not a strategy, since it is necessarily not distinctive to the entity concerned. Simon Wardley has long challenged – or rather scorned – conventional approaches to business strategy development, this video is a good introduction to his way of thinking.
Some organisations manage to stimulate and thrive on innovation, others struggle to break out of their current world. Ideo, the design consultancy which knows a thing or two about this has identified six factors which drive organisations’ innovation capability (and has created a tool they call Creative Difference based on them). At one level there is nothing surprising about those six capabilities (perhaps it would be more surprising if there were), but they combine to make a good challenge to organisations on whether they are capable of being – or even really want to be – innovative.
The future is mostly just what happens. But it’s also partly what is imagined and encouraged to happen. This article is about companies in the business of telling stories about the future. Whether they are predicting a future, telling stories about a future, or making a future happen is the central question, which is touched on but never answered. And unsurprisingly, but equally unspoken, the imagined future meets the very present needs of those who commission it.