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Intelligence from the ground up…

Extending my thinking from my prior post….I think it’s time for enterprises to begin to drive decision-making based on ground-level intelligence – not just a centralized view. I recently finished the fantastic novel “Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes. In this book (which covers many other topics including leadership, diversity, strategy, politics, and military tactics), one of the key insights I took away was the complete lack of ground-up intelligence that took place in the Vietnam war. Indeed, at one point in the book, a grunt cries in desperation when he is told that what he is seeing in front of him on the front lines is incorrect, by a senior officer who is telling him this from a radio that is miles away in a secure zone! I believe the military learned from this experience, and have changed their model to drive decision-making based on what is on the ground. Today’s military relies primarily on situation-specific decision-making, with generals and senior leaders there only to provide support but NOT to call the shots.

I believe the same situation has occurred to some extent in industry. People who are in mid-level operations are being told what to do from a centralized operation, by people who do not understand the local community situation. This is particularly true in places like Nigeria and Indochina and Angola – which is why some of the big companies such as Shell have been kicked out of these communities.

To make matters worse – all the power is in the functions at many global companies and these functions tend to focus on technical issues – and accountability for cost and efficiency doesn’t lie there. So they are loading up projects with too much safety, too many procedures, and events, that don’t matter. So organizationally there is an overlap – the accountability and incentives have to be re-thought.

Now project this to a global economic scale. Decisions are being made by congressmen, senators, and political bureaucrats in DC with no idea what is happening on the ground. Few have any business experience working in a “real job”, and have no idea what drives industrial thinking and management execution. I think it’s time this model was reversed.