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Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…

Leaderhsip: Should I be thinking about acting to prevent?

Is it really worth taking preventative action?

How about learning a lesson from space?

Objective 5 of our 12 ‘must do’ objectives for resilience is ‘develop your sensory system’.  What is going on in our environment that we need to be aware of?  What is happening today, beyond our horizon, that, if left undetected, could become an event horizon tomorrow? Do we remain blind and react or do we act to prevent?

We like to trust in our leaders, to believe, often blindly, that they have the answers.  To ignore their fallibility and trust that they ‘know’ everything that is happening within the organisational sphere.  asteroids_1175461c

We also know that finding a complex system that does not require some sort of feedback system is problematic and people are the best feedback system available.  The challenge becomes one of how to network people to make sure that we ‘sense’ their signals; from there we can probe the signal, building a credible, fact-based, position for reflection and response (see my view of Sense-Probe-Reflect-Respond here).

There was a fantastic article in New Scientist this week (No. 2901), ‘Close Call’ (behind a pay wall, but link is here), where a volunteer Human Sensory Network assists in identifying asteroids on a collision course with Earth.  The article tells the story of a dental surgeon, who, in February 2012, while sailing along the coast of Spain, was monitoring signals from an observatory 600km away (a volunteer operated (all amateurs) observatory, equipped with telescopes that you or I could buy ‘off the shelf’).  He picked up on a signal from one of the images and immediately notified the Minor Planets Centre in Massachusetts.  The dental surgeon had identified an asteroid that, after analysis, was found to be on a collision course with Earth; passing within 25,000km of Earth on Feb 15th this year. The asteroid (2012 DA14) is estimated to be 45 meters across and its trajectory takes it on a record ‘close approach’ for an object of this size.  This, for me, is a superb example of a Human Sensory Network in action.

However, the network is only as good as the connection between the nodes.  For example, the sensory network for asteroid spotting is particularly weak around the area over the south pole.  Signals from this area of the sky, due to funding cuts, are only being picked up by a single observer.  Last year this node shut down for a month, as the solitary astronomer tasked with monitoring this area of the sky was visiting the UK for a month; is that really a problem? Possibly, when considering that only 94% of large near Earth asteroids have been discovered (6% are over our horizon).  Made even more interesting when you consider that there are ‘Potentially Hazardous Asteroids’ (PHAs) (140 meters across) that we need to be aware of, the type that could potentially cause an extinction event, though not necessarily on a collision course with Earth.  Of the estimated 30,ooo PHAs out there, the global astronomy community have only discovered 1350 (although a new facility, based in Chile and opening in “a few years time”, will increase the sensory capability to approximately 75%)…no need to worry about the other 25% then.

We can discuss the merits of global government funding cuts in this field, but how about relating it to your organisation?  What do your risks look like? What is your environmental scanning capability?  Where are the weaknesses in your network?  Are you opening your eyes and acting to prevent, or are you happy being blind with ignorance?

Good leaders are trusted.  Would you trust a leader that suffers form an organisational form of Congenital Analgesia?

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So, what do you think?

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