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I’m preparing to leave town on another trip and find myself overstretched in terms of time but I have to note that Kent’s Imperative had some intriguing posts up ( hat tip to Michael Tanji) , about which I’d like to offer a few comments:

Life at Google from an outside perspective

Aside from seeing how uber-techies live and making me nostalgic about past years of reading defector-dissident Soviet bloc lit, I’d like to highlight this passage regarding a KI suggestion to the IC for personnel reform:

“A chance for line level workers to do the kind of intel they want to do (versus the latest crisis they have been thrown into), at least part of the time? Or to contribute to the literature of intelligence? (Modeled along Google’s 20% time.)”

My unqualified guess is that this would increase the productivity and prescience of the IC by roughly the same proportion that expanding private farming helped the Chinese economy under Deng Xiaoping. People typically generate their most valuable insights about those subjects which they are both curious as well as passionate – i.e. earlier in the learning curve than the status of graybeard authority ( once you think you know everything, you tend to stop learning).

The bar to doing this is not a manpower shortage but a middle-management fear of subordinate autonomy. Forcing a talented subordinate to do irrelevant busywork confirms a manager’s authority and power. Autonomous subordinates who do self-directed productive work tend to confirm the irrelevance of middle-management. Few managers have the psychological wherewithal to be adept facilitators, mentors or coaches of gifted employees as an efficient “management” outlook is an inimical perspective to generating creativity and sustaining ” unproductive” exploration.

Regional versus functional issue accounts

From a historian’s perspective, a cool post ( perhaps less interesting to others). Some historiography, lots of methodology. Money quote/conclusion:

As for our opinions on the great divide between the two kinds of houses, we find ourselves veterans of uniquely transnational issues, having been subject to every manner of surge and task force and working group and crisis cell, in the most unusual of niches. We prefer to see small, aggressive, ad-hoc structures comprised of both analysts and operators from a wide range of issues and regional desks with interests and equities in the same target which overlaps their accounts. Only then, by throwing everything against the wall in a structure short lived enough to avoid its own bureaucracy, and disconnected enough to be (at least partially) immune from the day to day politics within a given agency or office, have we found the kind of answers we sought regarding the great questions of process.

We strongly believe such radically unstable and short lived environments are most effective because they are the very manifestation of Schumpeter’s process of creative destruction. It is certainly no way to create a sinecure, nor even to build a long term career path – but it is the best way we have found to generate new and innovative approaches and answers to hard target problems, and to the problems others have not yet begun to identify let alone address.”

Hear, Hear! Very strong agreement in a John Arqilla-esque vein.

It will happen but not until after several more disasters force that kind of transformation or an unusually bold and subtle visionary implements it on the quiet. There is far too much bureaucratic inertia because the vested interests prefer paralysis in which they hold the reins to successful action where they become recognized for the marginalized support staff they really are.

In my turn, if any KI gents happen upon this post, I suggest they look here. From this acorn of an idea, an oak will grow. Mark my words.

3 Responses to “”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    “People typically generate their most valuable insights about those subjects which they are both curious as well as passionate – i.e. earlier in the learning curve than the status of graybeard authority ( once you think you know everything, you tend to stop learning).”

    What does this say about blogs and bloggers? Once ‘older’ blogs, like say … Instapundit, start getting old in the tooth, should we abandoned their ability to produce quality and new links? Should we move onto the ‘newer’ bloggers? What of the online 4GW/Modern Warfare community like Barnett and Robb. Once they start getting old in the tooth should we move onto new blogs? I wonder how this creative process accounts to blogging. Is the idea burnout quicker due to the amount of information? Or could you keep going forever because of new information to work on?

  2. mark Says:

    Hi Anon,

    Great question! Here are my answers:

    IMHO, blogs can go “stale”, though most have not been around long enough or are killed off for other reasons before that happens. If the blog continues to evolve because the blogger’s interests shifts, some of the original audience may fall away but intellectually, it can remain lively.

    Regarding megabloggers like Instapundit, I think we need to remember that they enjoy comparative advantage in terms of attention. As new ppl enter the blogosphere as readers, it is these major sites that often become their regular reads. To a new reader, it’s fresh. Small blogs do not enjoy that kind of velocity in traffic to sustain themselves.

    Theorists are in particular danger of walling themselves off and defending their ideas as a closed system. That’s when the rot really sets in. Staying deliberately engaged with other thought leaders and intelligent critics encourages re-examination and renewal.

    I find that new ideas, esp. from out of field, stimulate my creativity. However, there is an opportunity cost in blogging that can’t be ignored.

    The time and effort I have put in here could be channeled to getting a doctorate, writing a book, getting a pilot’s license or some other complex project. Right now, blogging is great but I can forsee cutting back someday to only posting in a group blog or taking a hiatus to accomplish other life goals

  3. Lexington Green Says:

    “…I can forsee cutting back someday …”

    The blogosphere is a community. But, over time, successful blogs that do NOT go stale will be group blogs — i.e. the blogs will be communities. The reasons Mark cites work on everyone, and the pattern seems to be, after about five years of blogs being around, that individual bloggers burn out. I think we will see group blogs as the most long-term viable form.

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