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09 May 2007

Spare cycles and private wars

We are not sure which is worse – the fact that a Sandia National Labs employee, at the height of the Long War, had such poor discretion and ethical baseline as to become a cyber-stalker, or had enough free time to do so without impact to professional performance.

We however generally view the hitherto unexamined excess capacity identified by Mr. Anderson with great interest. It is the primum mobile driving the Imperative to pursue the art and science of intelligence, and to document it in a robust and shared body of literature. Without those “spare cycles”, much of what craft which is currently passed along from master to journeyman would not exist, or be lost with retirement and re-assignment.

We are just as fascinated by the means by which such energies may be focused across the profession, through participatory architectures, new organizational structures, or new processes. Unfortunately, for the most part those that have spare cycles in the Long War are those that have the least to contribute – else they generally would have found themselves another home and a more engaging mission. Those with the best potential for insight and imagination are too heavily tasked already – driven by the relentless demands of current production and of mission critical needs.

We are nonetheless reminded that there are entire classes of individuals whose true contribution potential remains untapped by virtue of failing HR processes, inefficient bureaucratic structures, or the simple lack of the right inspiration and management. These individuals offer the potential to provide the kind of energy envisioned by Mr. Anderson, given the right conditions.

There are also those who have reached temporary professional plateaus, in which the often near vertical learning curve of the craft has given way to the kind of autonomic “servicing” of targets with little demand for innovation or growth. These analysts are often at greatest risk of burnout, but may lack other options for greater engagement on new issues demanding higher levels of intellectual intensity. This also represents untapped sources of potential energy for new cross boundary and cross functional efforts.

The community needs better mechanisms for utilizing these spare cycles. In many ways, this problem is closely linked to the sacrifice of human lifetimes caused by the bureaucratic and technological constraints under which the profession as a whole labors. Solving many of those pointless sacrifices would enable additional spare capacity to feed new functional uses for the right minds, including encouragement of time spent on analysts’ own “private wars” – the accounts of greatest professional interest to them on an individual level, even if those issues may not be the most pressing requirements currently faced by the community (or the target to which they are currently assigned.)

We have seen initial options for this sort of encouragement and channeling of these energies presented in the growth of new collaborative and communication environments, including wikis and blogs, that substantially mirror other mechanisms found in the outside world. But there are a number of other Web 2.0 innovations that could prove of value to the community, and other new tools specific to the profession that have yet to be developed. We would greatly wish to see more efforts directed at establishing the first principals which will enable their creation and adoption in the same manner as Intellipedia and other radical emerging innovations. It is from such striving that we feel the greatest advancements in the field may yet emerge, as the community transforms from the industrial age legacy to its as yet unknown future.

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