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Published: August 29, 2007

 
 

The Science of Subtle Signals

Pentland, Mortensen, and their colleagues refer to the future organization that knows itself through sensing technology and manages itself accordingly as the “sensible organization.” It will monitor the flow of information between its departments and between facilities, and make accurate maps of where its key knowledge resides so that employees can easily tap into the resources they need. On the basis of knowledge, the sensible organization will promote the kind of communications that can build trust and move quickly to defuse emerging problems, even before the people in the organization know a problem exists. It will monitor team dynamics through time, catching patterns of stress or stagnation, and intervening to keep people working together creatively. And it will uncover social patterns that today we cannot even recognize or talk about, but which can explain, more definitively than ever before, the shining success of one company and the dismal failure of another.

Reprint No. 07307

Author Profile:


Mark Buchanan (mark.buchanan@wanadoo.fr) is the author of The Social Atom: Why the Rich Get Richer, Cheaters Get Caught, and Your Neighbor Usually Looks Like You (Bloomsbury USA, 2007). Formerly an editor with Nature and New Scientist, he was a guest columnist for the New York Times in 2007 and holds a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Virginia. Visit his Weblog.
 
 
 
 
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Resources

  1. Edward Baker, “When Teams Fail: The Virtual Distance Challenge,” s+b Leading Idea, 5/22/07: An intriguing example of organizational sensibility: Far-flung teams are more effective when members feel operational or cultural affinity. Click here.
  2. Mark Buchanan, The Social Atom: Why the Rich Get Richer, Cheaters Get Caught, and Your Neighbor Usually Looks Like You (Bloomsbury USA, 2007): The author of this article lays out the knowledge of patterns of behavior in social systems, based on models, observation, and quantum physics. Updated on Buchanan’s Weblog. Click here.
  3. Tanzeem Choudhury, Matthai Philipose, Danny Wyatt, and Jonathan Lester, “Towards Activity Databases: Using Sensors and Statistical Models to Summarize People’s Lives,” Data Engineering Bulletin, March 2006: Summary of Intel research on “smart environments.” Click here.
  4. Malcolm Gladwell, Blink! The Power of Thinking without Thinking (Little, Brown, 2005): On the human propensity for snap judgments, which sensors may enhance — or degrade. Click here.
  5. Art Kleiner, “Elliott Jaques Levels with You,” s+b, First Quarter 2001: Source of the quote about 17th-century science and modern management. Click here.
  6. Karen Otazo, “On Trust and Culture,” s+b, Autumn 2006: Overview of the literature on social network analysis, studying organizations by tracking “who you know.” Click here.
  7. Alex Pentland’s MIT Media Lab home page: Source on the Human Dynamics Group and relevant papers. Click here.
  8. Connectedness Weblog: Definitive blog on social network analysis trends by researcher Bruce Hoppe. Click here.
  9. Managerial Network Analysis: Steve Borgatti’s Web site, with links to his research. Click here.
  10. “Remembering Mark Weiser,” 1999: Memorial site for the pioneer of ubiquitous computing contains a biography and links to sources of research and commentary. Click here.
  11. For more articles on organizations and people, sign up for s+b’s RSS feed. Click here.
 
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