Archive for the ‘Planning ’ Category

What The Map Tells Us

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

The impact of geography is profound, benefitting some countries, handicapping others. To understand global issues, we must first look at a map. That’s the theme of Robert D. Kaplan’s new book, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate.

Kaplan spins the globe explaining how mountains, rivers and coastlines shaped social and political history.  The veteran foreign correspondent knows the terrain well having reported from ramshackle towns and backwater villages in conflict zones for nearly three decades.

His approach to understanding the landscape is based on the premise that “a good place to understand the present, and to ask questions about the future, is on the ground, traveling as slowly as possible”.

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Contingency Thinking

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”                                                                                      ~Dwight Eisenhower

Meta-planning

As information comes to light about the Special Ops mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan, we’re reminded of the value of effective contingency planning. Military analysts will one day reconstruct the planning measures taken by the JSOC team, and we’ll learn how the project specialists succeeded despite the challenges.

For now we can only speculate about the risks and uncertainties facing the planners at key decision points. But we do know that the mission’s tactical planners had to consider two big questions at every juncture: What can go wrong here, and what do we do about it?

These aren’t the only questions the planners had to pursue. They have to question the intelligence they’re using and they have to examine their own assumptions. Guarding against groupthink is a first order consideration. These “meta-planning” aspects of the exercise are as vital as formulating the action plan itself.

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Wicked Problems, A Defining Challenge

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Reverberating events

The uprisings in the Arab world are capturing worldwide attention not only because we’re witnessing history in the making, but because the changes are bound to affect us all. We live in a world that’s interconnected in ways that were hard to fathom only a few years ago. Interconnectedness is creating new challenges with social implications that traditional institutions and leaders aren’t equipped to handle.

The clashes across the Middle East and North Africa are only the latest example of unforeseen events that reverberate across regional boundaries. Before that, the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the U.S. sparked a deep global recession that affected more sectors than anything economists had seen before. As some economies began recovering during the following year, Europe’s mounting debt crisis triggered  a cascade of new problems in distant economies.

Today’s challenges, geopolitical or otherwise, are more difficult to predict, understand and handle than the kinds of problems we’ve seen until recently. As the world grows more interconnected, we become more exposed to what design theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber called “wicked problems” which are substantially harder to define and solve than so-called “tame” problems.

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The Generative Conversation

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

In his insightful book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson tells the story of Kevin Dunbar, a McGill University social psychologist, who sought to figure out in the early ’90s how research scientists generate breakthrough ideas. Dunbar videotaped and interviewed researchers working in a variety of settings.

In tracking the activities and relative successes of his subjects, Dunbar found that the greatest number of breakthroughs occurred not when scientists were peering into their microscopes, as one might suspect, but when they were talking with one another at meetings.

Why? When chatting with their colleagues who worked on other projects, the researchers tended to re-conceptualize their own work to be understood. In doing so, new ideas emerged and, occasionally, some were fruitful.

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