I’ve been reading a few things at the same time, one being Systems Thinking and the other being a wired article about an unorthodox approach to improving safety. In a bit of serendipity, Systems Thinking talks about organizations which are paternalistic, or as they put it, uniminded. These organizations rely heavily on communication to direct what is essentially a complex but compliant machine. In the same way that I direct my hands to type this blog entry, it’d be chaos if my hands decided they had a mind of their own and wanted to do something different.
What’s interesting to me is how I observe uniminded organizations manifesting themselves in problem solving. Whenever something goes wrong with a uniminded organization, it’s common to hear someone say “we just need to communicate more” or “we just need to communicate better.” Essentially, if the hands and arms and legs of the organization knew in advance what the mind was thinking they could have executed its will better. Thus, the solution becomes “more communication.”
What’s interesting about the wired article is that what it appears to be advocating for is LESS communication and MORE vagueness, ultimately resulting in perhaps what Systems Thinking might call purposeful organizations. That is, each car/person/bicycle in the system has a purpose and in attempting to achieve that purpose wants to cause no harm to the others in the system. That doesn’t mean its filled with communication and direction on how to behave. Quite the opposite. By taking away the information it forces everyone in the system to think about what they are doing, rather than just boldly assuming that every party in the system is going to behave by some set of rules to achieve a common goal.
Could less communication turn out to be a good thing – forcing every person to think about the job they’re doing and how to do it best without causing harm to everyone else?