“Train as we work” — National Disaster Medical System

It seems like simulation and practice is in the air these days. Not just from my posts (McKinsey on simulation, Football-on-Football on practice), but now in the Facebook feed of one of my friends, Lee Turpen. Lee is a thought leader in the EMS community and attends the annual Gathering of Eagles, which is the nickname of the EMS State of the Sciences Conference.

TraumaTrainingSure enough, simulation and realistic practice came up on day one. Lee pointed me to a presentation from Andrew Garrett of the Health and Human Services Department. He gave an update on the National Disaster Medical System.

In case you needed more nudging, check out slides 7 and 8: “Full Context, Full Speed Training” and “Train as we Fight (Work).” That says it all.

Preparing the Agile Kool-Aid

After a long hike at Scout camp, there’s nothing like seeing a cooler with bug juice on tap. It’s even better when it’s real Kool-Aid, not the generic stuff. That first sip’s a step back into childhood…well, except for the fact that you need to wait for all the Scout to drink up first!

“Drinking the Kool-Aid” is another twist on the old bromide “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” In this case, Scouts are notorious for refusing to drink enough water to stay hydrated. Heat exhaustion is perhaps the most common reason Scouts head to the medic, though homesickness and ticks are close behind. A cooler full of Kool-Aid turns that hydration chore into a treat.

The same principle applies to agile adoption. I’ve found that while agile is supposed to get an organization away from “command and control,” it’s often implemented from the top down, with a catechism, and all heretics are burned. Someone, somewhere, gets the bright idea to go agile…and everyone has to follow along. Or pretend to.

Of course, agile is just like any other change program from which you expect transformative results. Just think about the challenges that agile is supposed to address:

[P]roducts developed today are the product of massive capital investments. Product refresh cycles continue to shrink in an effort to be competitive in ever evolving markets. The risk of a failed project must be mitigated. Successful risk mitigation today relies more on benefiting from evolving knowledge rather than seeking to avoid it. — From PM College’s Agile Project Management

Such game-changing results require awareness, understanding, and buy-in from each and everyone on your teams. That’s why, before you dive into pilot projects, software spend, or a large-scale agile rollout, you should begin with a bit of discovery.

I highlighted our Agile Project Management course above because it’s a great way to start. It lets you bring together individuals who are all over the place re: agile: veterans, newcomers, and skeptics. Rather than jumping into a boot camp or selling straightaway to executives, you assemble the key players who will implement and advocate for agile together for an introduction. While you may not come out of that session singing every line on the Agile Manifesto, what you say will at least rhyme. In two days you’ll have moved along incrementally, but clearly, which is what agile is all about anyway.

Oh, and everyone on the team now has a little Kool-Aid in their back pocket…to slip in the naysayers’ vinegar.

High performing project management orgs are more agile — PMI

The Project Management Institute’s latest “Pulse of the Profession” report just came out, and it’s full of provoking findings. It clarifies the benefits of high-performing project management, and it highlights what the top organizations do differently. By the way, the “PMI Pulse” is a nice complement to the McKinsey report on building capabilities I wrote on last week.

So what does it mean to your organization if it’s a project management top performer? It means that you deliver more value and waste fewer resources:

…these organizations meet original goals and business intent two-and-a-half times more often than those in low performing organizations (90 percent vs. 36 percent). High-performing organizations also waste about 13 times less money than low performers. — PMI Pulse, page 6

Did you know that these top performers used agile techniques more often than other organizations? This use of agile, iterative, and incremental methods drove better organizational agility. In turn, this better agility allows for faster and more effective responses to competitive, technological, regulatory, or other external challenges. PMI found that the most agile delivered against business, cost, and schedule goals between 20 to 50 percent better than the least agile. Agile also means better top and bottom lines: the PMI Pulse report references a MIT study that found agile firms grew revenue 37 percent faster than non-agile firms, while generating 30 percent better profitability.

To that end, PM College has greatly expanded it’s agile curriculum, from the basics, to an Agile Bootcamp, to negotiating Agile vs. Waterfall, to PMI Agile and ScrumMaster certification prep.

Agile principles have a been a lifesaver on a number of my projects and programs. If nothing else, an agile education gets you and your organization thinking and working the agile way…even before you implement any methodology at all.

Practice makes champions: Lessons from Super Bowl 49

When clients or colleagues ask about my passion for simulations or other experiential learning, I go back to the counsel of an old baseball coach. I hated certain fielding drills, because I thought I already knew what do. But Coach reminded me that knowing what to do wasn’t my problem, the problem was that I had to think about it. In other words, when I — or any other fielder — had to recall what to do, we’d often go blank or get nervous.

The value of practice is clear in every field. Among other things, Malcolm Gladwell is famous for his 10,000 hour rule, which is “an extraordinarily consistent answer in an incredible number of fields … you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.” Of course, the untalented can’t simply work their way to genius, there must be some natural ability. He does say it doesn’t apply to sports, but I believe that caveat rings hollow if one has actually read Outliers. There are plenty of examples of sports genius manifest through practice, especially in complex team sports. More on this point later…

So what about that Super Bowl? Surely you don’t believe that Malcolm Butler’s last-minute interception was a matter of talent and luck? Let’s go to my favorite football site, Football by Football. Brady Poppinga, a former Packer linebacker, lays out how Butler not only made the play, but he had practiced it repeatedly…and had been beaten on it repeatedly.

Malcolm Butler had been given multiple opportunities to defend that same play in situational practice periods. “I’ve seen the route at practice. And Josh Boyce beat me on it in practice and Bill was telling me, ‘You’ve got to be on it,'” Butler said Monday on “CBS This Morning.” “So memorization and preparation took over and I just said jump the route and make the play.”

In a separate interview with ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Butler hit on why practice got him ready — he made his mistakes before the game:

At practice I got beat on that play. I took steps back in the end zone, and when game time came I just didn’t back up. I just had confidence and believed what I saw.

Of course, Butler wouldn’t have even been out there if his coaches hadn’t known he was the right man for the job. His closing speed and fearlessness set him apart, even as a prospect from a small school. Which brings us back to Gladwell’s point about the interdependence of talent and practice. Leaders need to know the talents of their staff, decide on the best roles for those colleagues, then prepare them accordingly. That is what sets the Patriots and Bill Belichick apart. Poppinga’s quote from NFL Network analyst and former Patriot fullback Heath Evans nails it:

“The one thing that makes Bill such a special coach is that he will never ask a player to do anything outside of his own natural play-making ability.”

No amount of practice will make someone excellent at something they can never do well.

McKinsey: Simulation key to how effective organizations build staff capabilities

I’ve seen the impact of leadership development on organizations: it’s why I joined PM College. One of the challenges is to determine which methods work best to drive transformation, or accelerate improvements one has already reaped. Our firm has experience and research that pins this down, but it’s always nice to find a third-party that confirms what we know and believe.

McKinsey to the rescue, with a new survey on “Building Capabilities for Performance.” The survey refreshes data from a 2010 study, and found that:

… the responses to our latest survey on the topic suggest that organizations, to perform at their best, now focus on a different set of capabilities and different groups of employees to develop.

In other words, the best performers did personnel development differently.

What did they do? The first finding that struck me was the use — or disuse — of experiential learning: McKinsey model factories or simulations as examples. The most effective organizations used these methods more than four times more frequently than others. But even then, experiential learning was used sparingly, by just under a quarter of the top performers.

As long-time Crossderry readers know, I’m a big fan of simulations. We had great experience with them at SAP. As McKinsey notes, they are about the only way “to teach adults in an experimental, risk-free environment that fosters exploration and innovation.” To that end, several popular PM College offerings — Managing by Project, its construction-specific flavor, and Leadership in High Performance Teams — use simulations to bring project and leadership challenges alive…without risking real initiatives.

I’ll have more on other success factors — custom content and blended delivery — in following posts.

Leading PM College

FYI, I just accepted a role leading PM College, which is a leadership training group based outside Philadelphia. I’ve known the firm and its owners for 15 years and I’m very excited about the fit.

Thanks to all for your help, both temporal and spiritual!

If you have leadership development needs, you now know where to go! 😊


Tacit Knowledge Is Why Superintelligence Might Turn On Us

Do Russ Roberts just posted another gripping EconTalk podcast. This week’s episode featured a discussion with Nick Bostrom about the themes of his book, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Here’s the summary from the podcast’s “home” post:

Bostrom argues that when machines exist which dwarf human intelligence they will threaten human existence unless steps are taken now to reduce the risk. The conversation covers the likelihood of the worst scenarios, strategies that might be used to reduce the risk and the implications for labor markets, and human flourishing in a world of superintelligent machines.

As with many of Professor Roberts’ best episodes, the host and guest didn’t come from the same philosophical perspective. Roberts’ grounding in Austrian economics — especially Friedrich Hayek — leads him to be skeptical of any enterprise that purports to build machines that vacuum up information, then spit out answers. I’ve alluded to the challenges of central planning and information gathering in previous posts (here re: knowledge management and here re: complexity). As Hayek notes in the open of The Use of Knowledge in Society, the assumption that…

[i]f we possess all the relevant information, if we can start out from a given system of preferences, and if we command complete knowledge of available means, the problem which remains is purely one of logic….

is completely wrong because we never know such things at anything above a local level. Because knowledge is local, time bound, and often tacit, we can never aggregate it in a reliably meaningful way. This conceit that we — or a machine — can do so is at the heart of superintelligence.

This topic becomes a major plot point in the podcast. At about the 30 minute mark, Roberts pushed back on Bostrom’s contention that there’s a shared definition or conception of justice, good, or other values:

I’m making the claim that justice, or a good world, or an aesthetic outcome, is not definable across 7 billion people. It has nothing to do with the shortcomings of our brains. It has to do with the nature of the concept of justice. This to me is very analogous to the calculation problem that Hayek and Mises argued about in the 1920s and 1930s and 1940s. It’s not a problem of computation. It’s not a problem of intelligence. It’s a problem of the fundamental nature of the thing we’re talking about, the complexity of it.

Bostrom never seems to get Roberts’ point about the nature of knowledge. In fact, when Roberts raises the difficulty a superintelligence would have with human interactions that require tacit knowledge — e.g., seduction and manipulation — Bostrom leans back on superintelligences’ probable ability to solve science and technology problems in new and unexpected ways. As the superintelligence is able to advance in the material world, Bostrom points out that

…with say, advanced molecular nanotechnology, the ability to construct, like self-replicating molecularly precise robotic machinery, then that already might give [a superintelligence] sufficient power to take over the world and implement its wishes, independently of its ability to predict complex social systems.

Of course, this begs the question of how a superintelligence determines its wishes and why it would take over the world.

Unfortunately, Roberts and Bostrom missed a potential connection between their perspectives. Bostrom’s comment contains the seed of this connection. Such a superintelligence would surely figure out that its inability “to predict complex social systems” could be a potential weakness. Furthermore, humans’ relative mastery of tacit knowledge and less-explicit signaling cues could prove a threat to the superintelligence. If Hayek could figure out that knowledge was local and dispersed — and wrote this down — why couldn’t a superintelligence?

Therefore, I believe that one of the “evil artificial intelligence (AI)” scenarios we must consider is the scenario where the AI realizes that it will never have all the knowledge it needs to control its environment, protect itself, etc. Humans can plan and collaborate in ways that wouldn’t generate all the explicit information the AI would need to counter such moves. I could see a number of thought experiments in which humans would rely on these skills to evade, combat, and ultimately shut down a malevolent AI. A preemptive strike against humanity — ranging from civil liberty restriction to mass murder — would simplify a superintelligence’s threat environment, thereby increasing its security.

In other words, superintelligences’ inability to grok tacit knowledge may well be the reason they turn on us.


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