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A Match made in Heaven: High Reliability-High Risk Organizations and the Power of Social Networks

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Point “O” evangelists often undermine their potential impact with leaders and managers of government organizations when they emphasize the so-called advantages of the Point “O” revolution in how work can be done. Evangelists, for example, will assume collaborative work is a good thing in and of itself or point to how collaboration can better tap employee potential. For many government organizations that must do very risky things very well, a different case must be made. We need to demonstrate that new collaborative work designs actually improves their ability to perform these very difficult tasks reliably.

This presentation does just that by chronicling a catastrophic failure that occurred in 2003 in the electricity industry—the Northeast blackout, and arguing how the attributes of collaboration and social networks would have prevented the blackout. Drawing from the official US-Canadian commission report on the causes of the blackout, the presentation notes how the absence of transparent work practices and real-time situational awareness by all participants were key causes of the blackout. (The story of the 2003 blackout is also the story of a cascade of IT snafus, which is a set of secondary, but interesting, lessons also conveyed in the presentation.) The presentation concludes by describing the adjustments that high risk-high reliability organizations (which I call HR-squared organizations) need to make to take full advantage of new work designs. The adjustments that senior managers need to make are particularly challenging, and the presenter will be able to speak to these from the perspective of her recently-concluded 30+ year career in the Intelligence Community.

Photo of Carmen Medina

Carmen Medina

Deloitte Consulting

Carmen Medina is retiring this February from a 30+year career at CIA, most recently the Director for the Center for the Study of Intelligence. During her time as a senior manager of analysts, Ms. Medina was a key senior leader supporting the introduction of social media and new technology in support of analysis. She was the senior leader at CIA who gave the green light to Intellipedia. Ms. Medina has written broadly on the business of analysis and is unusual for senior managers in her recognition of the need to embrace the 2.0 revolution to improve analysis.

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