Things that prevent learning LO1293

Dickover - Melvin E. (
Thu, 18 May 1995 12:25:30 -0400 (EDT)

I want to tell a story that I think makes a point about learning in
organizations. Years ago, a command and control system was developed to
automate a manual system for tracking objects. In the manual system, a
person would read literally thousands of messages a day, and plot
locations of interesting objects on an enormous map. Commanders could come
in, look at the map, ask questions. Some questions were very difficult to
answer, such as, "Where did that object come from?". A automated system
was built that could read all the messages, update a database
automatically, and answer questions using a large geographic display
terminal. Nearly any question about the data could be answered
immediately, including where objects came from - a track of locations
quickly was displayed.

This system was a disaster. No one new what questions to ask. It turned
out that the act of reading the raw data created a mental model of the
world necessary to have intelligent conversations about the data. The
system was saved by adding filters that users controlled, so they could
select a subset of the incoming traffic to read. Most selected about 10%
of the raw data. This allowed them to build the necessary mental picture
and use the system effectively.

The moral of this story is that managers who read summaries of data
prepared by those below them may need to find a way to read a subset of
the "raw" data in their organization. If they do not, they run the risk of
constructing a ever more abstract, possibly fantasy model of the world in
their mind.

Access to the raw data allows them to manage how their subordinates filter
data (filters amplify, distort, or block data) so their needs are met.
Access to raw data may allow them to recognize patterns in the world that
their filtered, summarized data would not, a cause them to change the
filters their subordinates use for them.

That is one reason I don't want a on-line newspaper tailored to my
interests. I want to see what else is there, and I want to be able to
build a model of what other people are reading so I can understand them.

Mel Dickover  <>