What do the Smithsonian Institute, The National Intelligence Community and You have in common?

What do the Smithsonian Institute and the National Intelligence Community have in common?

(warning – i had too much caffeine with michael edson this morning – so this may head into some geeky ground)

The Smithsonian Institute is a federation of 19 museums and other research centers, founded 150 years ago, and dedicated to the “increase and diffusion” of knowledge. The Intelligence community is a federation of 17 Agencies, dedicated to understanding existing and developing threats to national security (The former Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell summarized their mission: “To create decision advantage”.  The new Director, Dennis Blair, is less pithy, but no less focused in his pursuit.)

The Smithsonian has a collection of artifacts and insights that is vast in both its depth and its breadth. No individual has the complete picture of its holdings. The intelligence community has something rather similar – a staggering amount of data to which no individual has full view.

Both institutions are looking at the world ahead, and the staggering, “wicked problems” that it is their priviledge on the one hand and their burden on the other, to solve.

Both institutions have leading edge initiatives to enable their unimaginably vast collections of knowledge, information and experts to come together, so that others can gain new and important insights to further their missions. In the Intelligence community case – it is a life and death race to evolve information availability and analysis such that unpredictable threats are reliably identified and thwarted. In the Smithsonian’s case, it is a heartfelt obligation to connect the curious and expert minds of the world to assets, information, knowledge and experts so that they may cherish and expand the treasure and capabilities of society.

These Institutions have some common obstacles to their goals. They are 3 – vision, technology and culture.

Vision – in order to ignite the energy required to get past the obstacles, each institution must articulate a vision of the future that will engage and direct its human resources.

Technology – both institutions must adopt technology that will unlock data silos,  connect people, expertise and information, and rapidly diffuse knowledge through the system, so that minds can find, identify and develop important issues.

Culture – both institutions have proud histories and legions of dedicated professionals. But their culture, their dedication and their current technologies have created both technical and cultural silos, making the diffusion and recognition of important information nearly impossible. (both are working on it, the intel crowd rather more urgently, and rightly so).

Critical insight into insight – now here the two institutions begin to diverge. The intel community is now working at a feverish pace on a problem which it has long been trying to work on. That is a fundamental understanding of insight. This is a long and exciting (if you’re into that kind of thing) of the nature of insight and whether it can be made more reliable or repeatable. The smithsonian wants to provide it for all – Intel needs it for themselves, and fast.

OK – so who cares, and how does this relate to you? (I may someday write something without the “so – “, but it hasn’t happened yet)

You have “Wicked Problems” – the problems you need to solve today are qualitatively different from a generation before. You are dealing with a rapidly evolving world, and issues that are entangled. Your perspective of these problems is more wholistic because you are more worldly – and that is both an advantage and a disadvantage. You need to identify and overcome the entangled challenges of vision, technology and culture that swirl around the inner knot of insight,  problem solving and most importantly, generating productive action from this insight.

We (that is the generational “we”, rather than the corporate or royal “we”) are inventing a new  generation of work tools, methods and processes that focus on the integration and “cross-contamination” of people, expertise and information and our goal is to get as close to the inner problem of insight and action as possible. Social media may be (at least part of) the “Alexandrian Solution” to the “Gordian Knot” (for those less caffinated and edson-inspired than i – this means taking an entirely different tack on a problem that makes its solution simple or moot).

And in conclusion – I don’t have one – just an exciting journey for us to go on. As we strip mine the problems of collaboration, analysis and insight, we’ll be enabling next generation solutions to next generation problems – in business, culture and security.

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