Saturday, August 8, 2009

How to fix information overload from the Manager's Point of View. It's about Jeremy Bentham and Power.

Entrepreneurs and successful investors have no problem with information overload. The more blablabla out there, the easier it is to scan widely and choose judiciously. Can't get any better. Kids don't have a problem with information overload. They have evolved exquisite filtering devices. Signal v noise decisions to find "interesting-to-me" work at nano second speeds, in the background.

The real problem is for managers. It starts at the top. Barack Obama needs to get his message out. Ursuala Burns and every other CEO at a global needs to get everyone in the enterprise on one path. Since only the military has volunteers who are taught the importance of the mission, it's a big problem.

The Jeremy Bentham part from O'Reilly Radar:
In 1785 utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham proposed architectural plans for the Panopticon, a prison Bentham described as "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example." Its method was a circular grid of surveillance; the jailors housed in a central tower being provided a 360-degree view of the imprisoned. Prisoners would not be able to tell when a jailor was actually watching or not.

The premise ran that under the possibility of total surveillance (you could be being observed at any moment of the waking day) the prisoners would self-regulate their behavior to conform to prison norms. The perverse genius of the Panopticon was that even the jailor existed within this grid of surveillance; he could be viewed at any time (without knowing) by a still higher authority within the central tower - so the circle was complete, the surveillance - and thus conformance to authority - total.

In 1811 the King refused to authorize the sale of land for the purpose and Bentham was left frustrated in his vision to build the Panopticon. But the concept endured - not just as a literal architecture for controlling physical subjects (there are many Panopticons that now bear Bentham’s stamp) - but as a metaphor for understanding the function of power in modern times. French philosopher Michel Foucault dedicated a whole section of his book Discipline and Punish to the significance of the Panopticon.

His take was essentially this: The same mechanism at work in the Panopticon - making subjects totally visible to authority - leads to those subjects internalizing the norms of power. In Foucault’s words “…the major effect of the Panopticon; to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary” In short, under the possibility of total surveillance the inmate becomes self regulating.

The social technologies we see in use today are fundamentally panoptical - the architecture of participation is inherently an architecture of surveillance

If people think the boss is watching, they will do what they think they are supposed to do. It's why moms try to convince kids that they have eyes in the back of their heads. Doing what you are supposed to do is the operation definition of "corporate culture" or "organizational dna." There is no doubt that sometimes this culture or dna can be out of sync with what is required to win. But that's why CEO's and top management and generals get the big bucks.

Critical Role of Print
It allows managers and employees to look at the same thing at exactly the same time. It also means they can be put in a performance revue folder so everything is nice and clear. It's the power of the printed record card.

As they say in cog science, "Neurons that fire together, wire together."

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