Feb 222014
how business managers drive strategies by asking basic questions

Developing counter terrorism strategies is an unlikely path to founding a business that deals in organisational change, the latest Decoding The New Economy video covers exactly this in an interview with David Snowden.

Snowden is the Chief Scientific Officer and founder of UK based consulting network Cognitive Edge that assists organisations with change and solving ‘intractable problems’.

A failing Snowden sees with the way most businesses approach organisational change and problem solving is “the case based approach that dominates most of society.”

“The idea is you find what other companies have done and you imitate it.” Snowden explains; “apart from the fact you can’t imitate the context, no company has succeeded other by imitating other people – they succeed by doing things differently.

“We take what we know about how the human brain works and we help people work those problems out.”

Safe to fail experiments

In approaching ‘intractable problems’, Snowden believes there are two ways to approach them; one is to set up ‘safe to fail’ experiments where smaller experiments are run in parallel within the organisation to see what innovative solutions arise.

The other approach involves using Snowden’s software based approach where staff or customers’ views are captured in real time to create a crowdsourced view of problems and their possible solutions.

“You can’t afford, for example, in market research to spend three months commissioning something, two months gathering the data and one month interpreting it.”

“If we create a sensor network of your customer we can give you data in real time.”

Consumers and terrorists

Dealing with real time data in public security are the origins of Cognitive Edge; “we started in counter terrorism where you have to deal with weak signal detection, you need fast real time feedback loops and you need to intervene very quickly.”

“There’s no difference between a terrorist, a customer, a citizen and an employee,” says Snowden. “They all represent the same problem which is how the hell does a large authority make sense of fragmented data.”

Developing human sensor networks

Snowden sees ‘human sensor networks’ where groups contribute their stories to create a narrative around a topic, as being one of the strongest intelligence and communications channels.

“Big data can tell us where you travelled, a narrative approach can tell why you travelled. If something goes wrong, I can also use that network to communicate.”

One project Snowden is looking at brings these concepts together to create new communication channels at airports, an idea that came to him after being stuck for two days at Toronto airport in a snowstorm, “frequent fliers have smartphones, they can be activated by the airlines and used as a communication mechanism.”

The interview with David Snowden is one of the most information and concept dense videos that I’ve done to date. It’s worthwhile listening this a few times to understand some of the fascinating fields he and Cognitive Edge are working in.

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