I’ve managed to pass the half way point in this series and I’m feeling confident about completion. But I’m heading up to North Wales today for a pre-dawn ascent of something (will check weather forecast) on New Years Day and then a week of walking and writing so time may be tight, but the reflective quality of mountain walking should improve the content! Today I want to pick up on the question of choice and also look at that in the context of obligation and need. Today’s Gaping Void illustration links need to bravery and I think that is valuable. Anyone can be a friend and support in good times, but the real measure is what happens when things go wrong.
I was remembering an example of this the other day. During my time in IBM I gained a reputation in the field of Knowledge Management that didn’t go down well with those in the consultancy group who thought it was their bailiwick. I fondly remember on occasion when a senior IBM executive was told by the British Cabinet Office that I had been invited to speak despite the fact I worked for IBM which caused some issues. We then had a period of a year in which John arrived in theory to take charge of the field. At our first meeting he told me that from now on any paper I wrote would have his name a lead author and I should hand over my speaking slots; you can imagine the response. A year later what became known as the knowledge wars came to and at a negotiated peace settlement in Nice, I withdrew my resignation got promoted and John was finally told to leave. It was one of the bad times in IBM but patience and the support of friends was key. I had two academic associations at the time one with the University of Surrey, the other Warwick. In the former case the Professor rushed work with John she he saw as the new source of power and pointedly refused contact. At Warwick Yasmin continued to work with me and we enjoyed a decade there before she moved to Hull where I now hold a visiting Chair. Given the proximity of her University to IBM and the linked research funding this was brave; I had pariah status at the time. I’ve tried to reciprocate and also practice the same thing. Yesterday we had the annual gathering at my house for what has become known as Gin Day in Cognitive Edge, as a team we have been through good and bad times together but we’ve stayed loyal; no one at the event had sacrificed integrity for personal status of gain. It is no secret that this has been a difficult year (with a happy ending) for both Cognitive Edge and for me but hard times provide good teaching; you learn who your friends are and also it flags up who take the position of the Stanleys at the Battle of Bosworth!
Now at an organisational design level building for long term trust rather than short term game seems to be an issue for many. The assumption is that because you are allocated to a business area or a team then trust will follow. There is also the assumption that if a few executives gather together with some expensive consultants and produce a mission statement or two along with some values that somehow or other these will mysteriously translate into an immediate cultural change. The reality is that properties such trust are deeply contextual and don’t happen by accident. You can however design for them. Many years ago I created a method, Social Network Stimulation which represents a form of managed self-organisation with (although I didn’t have the language at the time) enabling constraints. More recently I created a lite form of this in the Trio method, which was a modification of pair programming. Here, over several months you put three people together from diverse backgrounds to work on intractable problems, critically you deploy multiple such trios in parallel. In effect you are changing social interactions in the network to increase interdependency by working together. Not only does it help solve problems but it also creates a decision support ecology built on trust. In effect both techniques compress what would otherwise take years into months be increasing interaction intensity.
So what has all of this got to do with ethics? Well its builds an ecology of trusted interaction in which ethical questions or dilemmas are less likely to surface. Betrayal, lack of integrity, self-deception are unlikely to survive small group scrutiny but they can easily hide away in a formal system of rules and trite sayings such as it was only a business decision, or I had little choice. Small groups talk before irritations became major issues, but you have to mix the groups to prevent entrained patterns creating false beliefs. So it’s not a panacea for managing ethical behaviour but it is a key constraint. I’ll move on to a wider consideration of how to create an ethical eco-system in tomorrow’s post on New Years Day, assuming the head torch holds up for the ascent, and the knees for the descent!
Banner picture is looking west approaching the summit of Cadair Idris on a winter’s day and running late and a great walk with daughter, the final descent involved head torches!