Last week Ralph Ohr left me with a challenge to think about how to use experts to get the best outcomes on making decisions under conditions of uncertainty. We constantly miss disruptive changes in the operating environment and I suppose if I really knew the answer, I wouldn’t be posting it on a blog.
Sometimes predictions are genuinely impossible because of true uncertainty. The future is the future and nothing in the past can help us predict some events. Rather than making predicitons, operational flexibility is probably the best response to this type of uncertaintly.
On the other hand, sometimes the emerging disruptions are right under our noses and the problem is getting over myopia. Experts can suffer from myopia as well as the rest of us so perhaps the issue is finding the right expert with the right interpretation of what is happening.
This means that an organization’s networks can be crucial in determining the successful search for the right person with the required knowledge. Tim and I have been doing some work for a large organization that is trialling new ways of doing business. It seems that one of the issues that is faced by this organization is building the expertise networks acrosss the business to find the right person to give their opinion and expertise at critical decision making points. However, in large organizations, this is difficult. A colleague from a large multinational mining company sums up the issue in the following diagram.
As you can see, effectively using the knowledge of the business means trying to get better connections to reduce the size of the “I don’t know who to ask” space.
So how can we do this? One possibility is that we direct our questions to people in the organization that we know are very highly connected. However, one simulaiton study of search in a real organizational network has found that this might result in more steps needed to find the right person. In this simulation, a slightly more efficient search could be conducted by going to the manager who is responsible for the subject area that is being investigated or by starting the search in the right department.
The simulation study needs more investigation and we have a PhD student looking at the problems of search in large organizations. However, if formal lines of enquiry can be shown to be associated with efficient search networks then this suggests that organizations may be able to connect pockets of knowledge by identifiying subject matter experts and linking them to critical projects.