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William Dunk on Collaboration

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  Everywhere the infrastructure is in trouble, roads, power, telecoms, schools and hospitals. 
Hoping for the best won't fix that.
 

Management consultant William P. Dunk is the founder of  William Dunk Partners, Inc., strategic and tactical advisors to chief executives.

DUNK: My clients now are about 98 percent chief executives.  They like to talk on the telephone.  We have to talk with them when they are in the thick of battle.

Companies get ideological fixations which they obsess about and have to suicidally pursue.  Only when they sink low enough, after a few failures, can they get themselves on a new path.  Failure will eventually make them shift gear.  Trial and error upon error.

The issue is collaboration, and the ability to apply ideas to different applications.   All the very brightest ideas in the world are coming from smaller nations.  That means that if you are a big economy, you have a need to strike up relationships in the most unlikely places.  You cannot buy up enough things to stay truly current, so you just have to work freely with people all over the globe. 

Finland's ability to tap into foreign ideas probably has something to do with the multilingual make up of the population.  They speak Finnish and Swedish.  Up north we found a lot of German speakers.  There's English as well in Helsinki.  Due to the heavy hand of the Soviets, they can handle Russian too.

Most systems are over-designed and under-built.  A sparkling example would be our national (USA) electric grid.  We know enough about it to know that it's not very robust.  When the grid was patched together we were still in a world where the provider of your electricity was usually next door to you.  The systems are just not built for what's happened to the world over the last 100 years.  It's reasonable to predict another huge blackout.

There's not a piece of infrastructure in the USA that's not in trouble - and maybe not a piece of global infrastructure that's not in trouble.  There's no entity that's big enough and wise enough to solve any of these infrastructure problems.

I always get fresh evidence that we're just not equipped to collaborate.  Chief executives will proclaim, "We're going to do this and we're going to make it work!" and make other kinds of brave promises.  But then if you get down into the ranks, at the moment of truth, the employees get terribly parochial and mindlessly competitive.  For companies to survive in the information age someone has to figure out how we more systematically build personal systems designed for secure collaboration and worker mobility.  Collaboration is crucial.  The corporation is no longer our fundamental economic value creation unit, that power lies with informed workers.

It's important to change from tight coupling to loose coupling. John Hagel and John Seely Brown say: "Loose coupling makes it easier to improvise without worrying about disruptions elsewhere in the system."   Most systems tend to be tightly coupled for cost-savings reasons.  The problem isn't just the systems are hardwired, it's that they are severely flawed: they're weak, fragile, and irrelevant.

Collaboration is about is distributed intelligence, and I think that systems and governments and companies are all in such a degree of gridlock now that we desperately need to have broad-based intelligence coming into play everywhere.

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