In a world of increasing complexities, principles of all kinds help, but a truly responsive system requires not just good principles but even a taste for artistic creativity. No matter whether one lives by 10 or by 100 ideals, the challenges within a networked environment can be immense with a vast and evolving array of conditions that will someday be too big to comprehend. Taking the first step in a journey of thousands needs good planning principles, but a truly net-centric approach requires a foundation that can support a larger army of creative inspirations.
I think the Robertson’s principles are a good start for a net influenced environment (which is what most businesses really have), but they fall short of being as perfect as they could be for the net-centric world that many companies are now facing. What is really needed is more of a balance between Organizational Design and Organizational Art, which seems to be exactly where the U.S. military has arrived after struggling with net-centric challenges.
In reviewing background information on the Department of Defense’s net-centric standards, I came upon other articles that broadened the picture. In an article called Systematic Operational Design: Learning and Adapting in Complex Missions, for example, Brigadier General Huba Wass de Czege (2009, pg. 8) made the case that the decision-making structures and expectations of the military were too confining. They were built on top-down, predictable flows of information that could be easily assessed and planned for. But in reality they could not adequately adapt to the true challenges of a large world of decision-making possibilities. There were simply too many variables that are highly dependent on the relationships, motivations, potentials and propensities of the players.
Instead, what he thinks is needed is what the military establishment is doing using a two-pronged approach that builds a framework (to make sure everyone knows where the mission is heading) and then adds a complimentary system of “recursive” learning and adaptation strategies. Recursive actions go back and forth between experience and understanding, providing the hands-on people nearly instant reassessments of the circumstances and the decision-making options they require. For an organization like the military, this is a critical way to encourage the creative use of knowledge and experience without giving up prized design structures. It also allows for the full integration of artistic flexibility, which can be a powerful motivator for people to want to offer their talents in finding solutions without undercutting lines of authority.
In this model, adaptability and creativity are built in over the top of the design structure, which seems very much like what Robertson’s principles are all about. Only in adding this level, some other creative controls are provided. As Wass de Czege (2009, pg. 2) put it, “Military leaders may value individual creativity, critical thinking, continuous learning, and adaptability in their staffs and subordinate commanders, but individual traits do not necessarily add up to collective abilities needed for the best outcomes.” The concept of Organizational Art provides these extra protections.
From a different perspective, it can also be seen that even the DoD’s net-centric approach is broader and more inviting to the levels of information may confront users (DoD, 2004). A look at their net-centric “checklist” showcases how their thinking is more expansive to the “meta” data and concepts that users may require as they seek to get access to the information they need for instant decision-making. Their “service-oriented architecture” is fundamentally more robust than what others offer.
Robertson’s principles seem very appropriate for a net-influenced situation more than for a net-centric environment. To be fair, his first principle states the importance of recognizing and managing complexities. But then he goes on to emphasize how many small activities need to be planned and addressed in parallel at the same time that management provides clear leadership and a full assessment of all the risks. Robertson wants to make sure that “organizational complexities do not prevent the delivery of effective solutions.”
The military, on the other hand, knows the complexities cannot be so easily understood and boxed in. In reaching for full net centric capabilities, they want their entire interactive reality to be guided by a larger appreciation of the fact that complexities never fail to appear and reappeal. Their design and artistic combination of models takes this into consideration.
But Robertson is right to in that most people do not turn to the kinds of traditional business environments he is discussing (such as those with sales forces) for complete solutions to life’s problems. Consumers want to complete a transaction and get on with their business. As such, Robertson’s principles seem well balanced to allow average people a good user experience.
Still, the world of users is demanding more and more of their network of business exposures. This requires that organizations be prepared to advance one level at a time, but that they also see the next level as being even more rewarding. Robertson sets the stage for this and most businesses will like what he has to offer even though the ideas seem repetitive. His perspective suggests that if done correctly, the users of his systems will be comfortable with what they see even without knowing all the artistry behind the scenes. Surprisingly, however, the DoD got there first on the creativity front, which seems appropriate for any net-centric future.
DoD (2004). Net-Centric Checklist. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration/Department of Defense Chief Information Officer. Version 2.1.3. Downloadable from http://dodcio.defense.gov/docs/NetCentric_Checklist_v2-1-3_.pdf.
Wass de Czege, H. (2009). Systematic Operational Design: Learning and Adapting in Complex Missions. Military Review. January-February. Viewable at http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/MilitaryReview/Archives/English/MilitaryReview_20090228_art004.pdf.
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