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14 May 2007

Incompatibility with the vault

We have written before regarding the challenges the next generation of intelligence professionals will pose to traditional management structures – particularly when those young minds have become accomplished experts in their own right. The following interview with a young technologist, Aaron Swartz, is quite revealing in what it says about those coming management challenges. (He is profiled further here.) For where today goes the hyper-mobile, highly creative innovators of the wired world, tomorrow will be your average everyday sort of knowledge worker.

The money quotes, in our opinion, for understanding the future of the disconnect between talent and management:
“Heh,” I joked. “I bet the first time my boss finds out where I am is when he sees my photo on the front page of his own website.”

But the best punch line was that … he didn’t find out when it was on the front-page of his website – he found out when I posted that fact to my blog!

Organizations cannot afford to continually lose talent through the profound mismatch of employee expectations to organizational norms – which will be an increasing problem as two very divergent cultures collide in the coming years. And while we do not know any specific details regarding the case above, it is not uncommon for many in the community to accrue significant amounts of vacation (and comp time) – only to lose it rapidly due to human resources imposed caps and organizational culture which discourages extended (week or more long) absences. Of course, for overseas travel – especially involving any significant personal interest (or increasingly professional interests simply not funded by the organization) such as a conference or class – a week is hardly any time at all.

In fact, in today’s constantly connected, extreme op-tempo environment, a week is barely enough time to get used to being disconnected enough to relax. And given the increasing prevalence of 14, 18, or even 20 hour days many young community professionals are putting in, five to six days a week, when they are switched on and engaged, it’s hardly much time at all in comparison to the typical range of uncompensated overtime which has been an assumed part of many shop’s baseline activities.

These issues are key elements of the profound shift in the nature of work that are part and parcel of the revolution in intelligence affairs. The managers and seniors that will tomorrow be responsible for running shops composed of people accustomed to this dynamic are going to have to spend serious time, attention, and thought on how to deal with the “incompatibility with an office environment” that many of the best and brightest of the next generation will face – particularly when that environment is the hermetic confines of the vault.

As an interesting aside from the issues of management and talent, the interview also surfaces a fascinating potential thread of dissent regarding the conventional wisdom on how Wikipedia has been assembled. Hopefully, Swartz will soon publish more of his research findings on the more widely based nature of small contributions by a large number of low-volume participants (versus the conventional understanding of a small pool of high-volume contributors which are said to be the backbone of the encyclopedia effort.) This has the potential to have profound implications for how the intelligence community understands the actual performance of Wikipedia (as opposed to the mythos it has built around its activities and philosophy) – with the potential for understanding parallel behaviors in Intellipedia and other new wiki applications in the IC.

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