"The problem ... is that organisations are instruments of conformity. No one likes being told their view of the world is flawed or out of date, least of all those at the top. Speaking out rarely does anyone any good. Organisations expect people to muck in, show willing, be team players. Bosses who ask you to think outside the box want you to elaborate on their ideas, not tell them they ought to tear everything up and start again."
"[W]e have to a the way "routinising, even bureaucratising, the exercising of imagination".
We need outsiders to imagine
By Michael Skapinker
FT.com site; Jul 27, 2004
We learn more about organisations when they fail catastrophically than when they succeed. The reason is that tales of triumph - and the "business" shelves of bookshops are full of them - are partial narratives fashioned by the triumphant.
A chief executive, often assisted by a ghost writer, explains how he took a failing company and turned it around. Typically, the organisation was lost until the chief executive arrived. He formulated a strategy, devised a slogan, imbued the company with a vision and, well, the rest is history.
These stories are often only dimly recognisable to employees and customers, who are more familiar with the tawdry reality of unanswered calls, overworked staff and mishandled orders.
Inquiries into disasters delve deeper, often yielding a truer picture of organisational life. The 9/11 Commission Report, published last week, is a superb example of the genre: wise, dispassionate and practical. Its authors appear to be humble enough to realise that, given the same circumstances, they might have done no better than those whose actions they dissect.
The authors of the report into the September 11 attacks understand that they have one enormous advantage over the participants at the time: they know how the story ended. They quote Roberta Wohlstetter, a writer on Pearl Harbour, who said that it was "much easier after the event to sort the relevant from the irrelevant signals. After the event, of course, a signal is always crystal clear; we can see now what disaster it was signalling since the disaster has occurred. But before the event it is obscure and pregnant with conflicting meanings."
The September 11 report details endless bungling: the White House, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, between them, knew more than enough about the perpetrators to disrupt the attacks before they happened.
What they didn't know was how much they knew - or what it meant. A few FBI agents attempted to warn their superiors about known extremists who were taking flying lessons. An agent in Phoenix noted the "inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest" attending flying school in Arizona and suggested this might be part of a "co-ordinated effort" by Osama bin Laden.
But the agent said that not even he imagined that the trainee pilots were planning to crash into buildings. His worry was a repeat of Lockerbie, when the attackers smuggled explosives onto an aircraft. The failures of September 11 were above all, the report says, failures of imagination.
But why did the security and intelligence services' imaginations fail? In 1994, a private aircraft crashed into the south lawn of the White House. In 1995, a plotter implicated in a plan to place bombs on flights told Philippine authorities that he had thought about flying an aircraft into the CIA headquarters. In 1998, US officials discussed a scenario in which terrorists commandeered a Learjet in Atlanta and flew it towards a target in Washington.
The most chilling line in the report comes when an FBI supervisor in Minneapolis, also worried about known extremists taking flying lessons, was accused by someone at headquarters of trying to get everyone "spun up". That, the supervisor replied, was exactly what he was attempting to do. He was "trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center".
What was significant was what happened next. The person at FBI headquarters assured him this was not going to happen. This is the point about those who come up with scenarios beyond what we are used to thinking about: it takes more than them telling us for us to hear.
The report makes several recommendations, including the appointment of a National Intelligence Director, to pull all agencies' efforts together. But even more important, the report says, is to find a way of "routinising, even bureaucratising, the exercising of imagination".
Many companies with far less pressing tasks than preventing mass murder will recognise this challenge. They call it "thinking outside the box". They want innovation to come from inside the organisation, so that they are not ambushed by forces they have failed to recognise.
The problem, as much for the CIA as for Arthur's Autos, is that organisations are instruments of conformity. No one likes being told their view of the world is flawed or out of date, least of all those at the top. Speaking out rarely does anyone any good. Organisations expect people to muck in, show willing, be team players. Bosses who ask you to think outside the box want you to elaborate on their ideas, not tell them they ought to tear everything up and start again.
It is no accident that so many of those who changed the way we see the world were social misfits. Take Johannes Kepler, who worked out that the planets traced an elliptical rather than a circular path around the sun. Kepler, who for a time taught mathematics and astronomy to schoolchildren, found himself, after a year, talking to an empty classroom. This was either because he was incomprehensible or because, in his whole life, he took only one bath. (He didn't like it.) Kepler was not the only genius who found himself talking to the four walls: Isaac Newton had the same experience at Cambridge.
You often have to go outside the usual milieu to find people capable of imagining something different. Few organisations can accommodate them.
We now know that those who threaten our safety have no limits. Nothing they could do is unimaginable. That knowledge alone provides us with greater protection. But, years from now, there will be other threats that we will fail to foresee. Our sociability, the way we imitate our peers, our desire to fit in - all those things that make us successful during normal times - blind us to what is beyond our experience. Those who can see further are exceptional, and they will always struggle to be heard.
ничего не могу сказать про цру или фбр, но то, что автор подмечает сходные симптомы "недостатка воображения" и у крупных компаний тоже - вот где чистая правда! с совершенно благими и "правильными" намерениями создаётся культура, парализующая любое нормальное думание. в ответ на что время от времени делаются разнообразные телодвижения по "институционализации инновационных инициатив". ага.