What Did I Say I Did?

Biz Card

You Read it on the Internet, so it Must be True!

Anyone who knows me, knows I am quite the stickler for clarity and correctness in communication. I have proudly held myself out as a Senior Inspector in the U.S. Grammar Police, as evidenced by this card I created only halfway in jest. Actually, the card’s creation (I shared the process publicly) led to a couple of paid editing gigs. I’ve also been called a Grammar Nazi, which has caused me to momentarily flash a slightly sheepish smile, accompanied by a sparklingly demure blush.

Recently, I began a new engagement with a company I’ve wanted to work with for some time, Quantellia, LLC. As of the beginning of the year, I am what they call a referral partner. As such, I am contracted to Quantellia to sell their product, World Modeler™, and their services, which include training, workshops, etc. designed to help organizations make better decisions. In learning about my new venture, I have come across a few phrases that are similar, yet different enough to cause me to dig a little deeper in search of clarity as to their meaning. I want to very briefly share my understanding of the meaning of four separate phrases, each of which begins with the word “decision”.

At first, I thought one of the terms was kind of a catch-all; an umbrella term that encompassed the others. However, I no longer believe that to be the case, at least not fully. Keep in mind, all four of these phrases are relevant to what it is Quantellia and I are doing. At the same time, my understanding is quite likely imperfect and incomplete. As I gain a foothold in the discipline, and become more proficient, I have no doubt my definitions and my understanding will need refinement. 

Decision Science – at first I thought this term was one into which the others neatly folded. However, having done a bit of research, I can no longer say that’s the case. As I currently understand it, Decision Science concerns itself not so much with the process of making business decisions, but with the psychology of making any kind of decision. In other words, why do people make the decisions they do; what are the factors they take into consideration; how do they weigh them; how emotional are people in reaching decisions, etc.

Originally constituted in late 1968 as the American Institute for Decision Sciences, and later named the Decision Sciences Institute, this organization had its first annual meeting on October 30 – 31, 1969 in New Orleans. If interested, here’s a history of the organization written in July of 1989 by the then President, Bernard W. Taylor III. According to Wikipedia, the Institute is a “professional association of university professors, graduate students, and practitioners whose interest lies in the application of quantitative and qualitative research to the decision problems of individuals, organizations, and society. Many of the members of this academic organization are faculty members in business schools.”

It seems that Decision Science is a relatively new discipline. This conclusion is backed up by the history of its presence in some of the Universities and Colleges in the United States. For instance, Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Social and Decision Sciences finds its roots in 1976, as part of what is now the Marianna Brown Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.” The Harvard Decision Science Laboratory opened its doors much more recently. According to their website, they’ve only been around since January of 2009. I couldn’t find the date George Washington University’s Business School’s Department of Decision Sciences opened its doors, but my hunch is it was sometime in the last decade, at most. The Columbia Business School’s Center for Decision Sciences, formerly part of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, appears to be fairly young as a separate discipline as well.

Decision Modeling – Although at best an inexact science, decision modeling can be a highly effective tool in helping an organization better predict the outcomes of its decisions. This is made more likely if the model is comprehensive, based on not merely data and analytics but also the knowledge of the people involved in the organization for which the decision is being made, and if the model is iterative and capable of incorporating newly discovered information and relationships. Furthermore, the structure of the model becomes more and more effective as it accurately models the complex relationships it seeks to help understand. World Modeler™ is capable, despite it’s seemingly simple interface, of modeling highly complex relationships. I’ll post more in the future about its capabilities, including embedding some excellent videos showing what it can do.

Decision Engineering – This is a term I don’t believe we are using any longer to explain what Quantellia does. Frankly, as someone who spent over two decades working with aerospace engineers and rocket scientists (quite literally, on the Space Shuttle Main Engine, Delta, and Atlas engine programs), I’m kind of partial to engineering. I can, however, understand how it may sound a bit intimidating or dweeby to people without my background, so I won’t dwell on it here.

Decision IntelligenceDecision Intelligence – This is the term Quantellia now uses to describe what it is we do. NB – The term is not “Decision Analytics”; there’s a reason for this. Perhaps it is best understood when one looks at a part of how decision modeling is accomplished. Part of the raw material available today for making decisions is what we call “big data”. There’s an awful lot of attention being paid to the field of predictive analytics, which uses big data as its raw material. We at Quantellia prefer the term predictive intelligence. This is because predictive analytics uses past performance (data) to project trends into the future. We like to think we take the concept a bit further.

While we believe analytics are useful and important, they lack the dimensions of human knowledge and understanding that can more completely predict how the past will play out in the future. A subtle distinction? Perhaps, but I find it a valuable one. Unless we’re talking about the future activity of a machine designed to perform a very limited set of instructions or actions, our activities involve human understanding, emotion, and interpretation. There are times when these attributes can dramatically change the course of an organizational effort, rendering previous decisions moot or, at best, only partially useful or correct.

By providing a method whereby human understanding, intuition, and wisdom can be incorporated into the decision model itself, we believe we can more intelligently predict the future. We are well aware there is no such thing as infallibility. However, we also know the more useful and actionable information and knowledge we have available to understand what has happened − and is likely to happen − the better our decisions will be.


 

Mild Disclaimer – I hope I didn’t rattle anyone’s cages too much with these definitions/explanations. They represent my current thinking and, being somewhat of a newbie to the science/craft of decision making as a discipline, my understanding is necessarily incomplete and in a state of flux. Nonetheless, this is a first attempt at explaining some of the concepts that are informing my work with Quantellia and World Modeler™. Consider it an ongoing process.

At the same time, I would like to make it clear that Quantellia has been doing this for approximately eight years and has a track record of helping organizations both large and small to make decisions and manage programs successfully. Dr. Lorien Pratt, co-founder and Chief Scientist, as well as her team, know their stuff and are the biggest part of my team. We are looking for people who have “wicked problems” they need to solve; people who are facing highly complex decisions involving lots of time and money, and for whom the wrong decision could be very costly. If you fit that description, or know of someone who does, you could do a lot worse than contact us for an initial discussion of your needs. We begin with the end in mind and believe we can help. Only by understanding what it is you face can we determine whether or not that’s possible.


Changing My Game

While I have written a little bit about one of the new endeavors I have set out to pursue (here and here), I haven’t really done much to explain what it is I’m doing with decision modeling and my work with Quantellia LLC. I am in the process of writing a post about some of the concepts I’ve been looking into and learning about, but it won’t be ready for a while, as I have more studying and research to do.

I do, however, have the ability to share some of the material I’m learning from, as Quantellia has produced a significant number of videos and recorded webinars. This one is the one I usually send to prospects. While it is the oldest, it’s also one of the shortest and still conveys the essence of what Quantellia, and it’s product World Modeler, can do for a business or organization facing complex decision-making.

So . . . I’m not sure if I actually announced it here on my blog, but as of the beginning of this year I have become a referral partner for Quantellia. In my opinion they have not only a superior product, but a superior mindset regarding how decisions are made. As a systems thinker I am keenly aware of the value in a long-range, strategic, informed approach to deciding how to proceed and to keeping track of what’s happening, always being prepared to take a different path if circumstances warrant it. I believe the people of Quantellia do exactly that and that World Modeler is a tool that makes it much easier to accomplish.

If you have an important, complex decision to make you need to understand how decision modeling works. As Dr. Pratt says on the video, you can model many decisions using paper and pencil, but you can’t do a good job of it without understanding how to “engineer” the decision using more than just analytics and predictions based on them. You need to use “Decision Intelligence”. Quantellia can help, which means so can I. Please let me know if you’re interested in discussing your specific needs. I’d be happy to set up a teleconference to see if we can help. Thanks.

PS – I’m going to share more of these videos here, but you can see them all for  yourself at Quantellia’s YouTube channel, located here.


Do We Fully Understand Diversity?

Dimensions of Diversity

This graphic does a decent job of showing the different dimensions in which we find diversity

What do we mean when we talk about diversity? Merriam-Webster online’s first definition is “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.” Not bad. Not bad at all. How about the second definition? It’s presented as “the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization.”

I find this second definition somewhat troublesome and simplistic, in large part because I think a large percentage, if not an overwhelming majority, of people think of diversity in a very limited form. In my experience, within organizations — i.e. enterprise-size businesses — race, ethnicity, physical ability, and gender are about the only classifications in which “diversity” is interpreted to matter. This in spite of definitions that suggest far more inclusiveness, like this one from the University of Oregon’s website:

The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.1

Getting back to M-W’s first definition. Although it only mentions different forms, types, and ideas, it does manage to throw in an “etc.”, thereby inviting us to expand on the inclusiveness of its meaning. Here’s where I’d like to see a little more creative (and empathetic) thinking about diversity.

Diversity Wheel

This graphic shows similar information regarding diversity, but only breaks it out into two dimensions

For instance, a few simple areas in which we find diversity that aren’t usually thought of as important are: handedness, learning style, personal style, interests and hobbies, hair length and type, gregariousness, public speaking ability, etc. Without belaboring the subject, I’m sure I could come up with dozens of other ways in which we find “diversity”. As the University of Oregon’s definition states, “. . . each individual is unique . . .”.

Isn’t it time we started treating people in terms of the larger context of their lives and experiences, rather than categorizing them — somewhat restrictively — in just a few, largely useless boxes? I’m not suggesting the categories we’ve been using are completely useless, merely that they’re terribly restrictive and overly broad. What’s your opinion? There should be quite a few out there. ;)


Is Meeting F2F All That Important?

Virtual Handshake

Nice to Meet You!

This morning I had a wonderful Skype conversation with my reasonably long-time “friend”, Euan Semple. I use “friend” because we’ve never met in person. We have, however, been connected through various social channels (including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn) for something like six or seven years.

Euan had contacted me and suggested, since we were likely never to meet IRL (in real life), a Skype chat might be in order and asked if I was interested. I was. Actually, I was thrilled as I have enormous respect for Euan and the things he has accomplished. I urge you to check him out, especially his blog “The Obvious?“, to which he has been posting since February of 2001 (that’s 13 years!).

As the time for our conversation was approaching, I found myself wondering whether or not we should have a video chat, as opposed to merely audio. That got me thinking about the value of F2F (face-to-face or IRL) meetings, which then drew me into the value of virtual teams and meetings and, finally, all the possibilities and ramifications in between.

I have written previously about virtual teams and the value of in-person contact, but I took things in a slightly different direction this time (at least I think I did) and Euan added an important piece as well, later on in our conversation. So here are some of the things I was wondering:

  • How important is breaking bread together for team/group cohesion?
  • Assuming it can prove valuable, can you “share” a meal virtually? In other words, is there value to meeting at a time where all those involved (especially if it’s only two or three people) can spend part of the time — perhaps all of it — just eating and shooting the shit?
  • Assuming “water cooler” conversations can be quite valuable, is there a virtual analog, e.g. chat, IM?
  • Is there value in being able to pick up body language and, if so, how much?
  • How likely is it that a person can disguise their true feelings and “fool” their colleagues/fellow attendees when they’re meeting face-to-face? Euan had suggested it would be easier for some to do this in person precisely because of body language and eye contact.
  • What about when they’re meeting virtually? Can’t a video chat accomplish almost the same thing?
  • Can a virtual team work without ever meeting in person?
  • If not, how long should the intervals be between f2f meetings and what can be done in between to build cohesiveness and get things done?

This is just a placeholder and starter list. There are likely many issues I’ve missed and that others have thought of. I’d love to hear what you think.


Why crowdsourcing works

Rick Ladd:

“Love the metaphor of creativity as an import-export business. Cognitive diversity, FTW. The value found in crowdsourcing – as well as the reason it is so valuable – seems to me to argue for the value we have long sought through knowledge management, made more powerful through the use of the connective power of social media harnessed for use by the enterprise . . . meaning, fundamentally, its people.”

Originally posted on I'm Not Actually a Geek:

CrowdCrowdsourcing is a method of solving problems through the distributed contributions of multiple people. It’s used to address tough problems that happen everyday. Ideas for new opportunities. Ways to solve problems. Uncovering an existing approach that addresses your need.

Time and again, crowdsourcing has been used successfully to solve challenges. But…why does it work? What’s the magic? What gives it an advantage over talking with your pals at work, or doing some brainstorming on your own? In a word: diversity. Cognitive diversity. Specifically these two principles:

  • Diverse inputs drive superior solutions
  • Cognitive diversity requires spanning gaps in social networks

These two principles work in tandem to deliver results.

Diverse inputs drive superior solutions

When trying to solve a challenge, what is the probability that any one person will have the best solution for it? It’s a simple mathematical reality: the odds of any single person providing the top answer are low.

View original 1,005 more words


Helping to Create a Virtuous Cycle

CJAs in Liberia

Community Justice Associates Working in Liberia

In a previous post I mentioned some work I had done for Quantellia involving the Carter Center’s efforts in Liberia to strengthen the country’s legal system. I have not been at liberty to discuss the effort until a couple of weeks ago, when Quantellia announced the work and their findings. Of their work, the Carter Center says:

Since 2006, building on its long history of engagement in Liberia, The Carter Center has been implementing an access to justice project in Liberia in response to these critical needs and invitations by the government.  Governed by a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Justice, and in partnership with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the National Traditional Council, and other stakeholders, the Center works in four areas with the aim of helping to create a working and responsive justice system consistent with local needs and human rights, paying special attention to rural areas and the needs of marginalized populations. ¹

One of those four areas mentioned is “Improving Access to Justice”, and Quantellia was tasked with building a decision model showing the efficacy of sending Community Legal Advisers (CLA), now called Community Justice Advisers (CJA) out into remote, underserved communities by providing them training, support, and motorscooters. These CJA are paralegals and they are tasked with helping both plaintiffs and defendants gain access to the formal justice system which, in many locales, lags behind the people’s use of customary justice.

I want to share the results of that work here. I’m very pleased and proud with the role I was able to play in the final document. The agreement was that I would do research and write a first and second draft, at the least. Also part of the agreement was that I would not receive credit, which I was quite happy to accept. I am, therefore, grateful the authors saw fit to acknowledge my efforts in a footnote. It’s far more than I expected; a lagniappe.

Here’s a link to the World Modeler Blog, where you can read Quantellia’s announcement regarding the project. Although both the paper and the video are available there, I’m also including a link directly to the paper (here) and embedding the video below.

I have often said I thought I would find it hard to find something to do that would be as exciting and fulfilling as working on the manned spaceflight program — specifically the Space Shuttle Main Engine — which I did for over two decades before my (somewhat early) retirement. After all, working with many of the world’s best rocket scientists does have its perks (or perqs), especially intellectually, and being a part of humanity’s effort to venture out into space is something I feel borders on the sacred. Working on this project provided me with those feelings as well and was both challenging and fulfilling. The video and the paper are, in my opinion, very well done and beautifully presented. I am proud to have been a small part of it.


I am, of course, very supportive of Quantellia’s vision and the products and services they have to offer. In fact, in case I haven’t mentioned it elsewhere, I began an association with them as a referral partner at the beginning of this year. If you’re dealing with complexity and would like to hear how we can help you realize your goals more effectively, drop me a line. I’m easy to find.


World Modeler Has Me Rethinking Trade Studies

Although I am not trained as a scientist or an engineer, I did spend over 20 years working with engineers and (yes, Virginia) rocket scientists. I also may not be a professional scientist, but I’m a pretty good amateur one, and I like to think that being around all that knowledge and brain power bestowed on me at least a patina of engineer/scientist. I do know I am loathe to make decisions without a great deal of information and as much knowledge as I can locate about the consequences of my decisions.

One of the methods we used to make engineering design decisions is called a trade study, which is  short for trade-off study. It’s essentially a very simple concept, whereby you develop the desired outcomes, e.g. features and capabilities of a system,  schedules and cost structures, break them down into measurable parts, and compare various ways to achieve those outcomes. The process itself is reasonably simple, but the details can become staggeringly complex and frequently overwhelming.

Selection Criteria

Expertise System Trade Study Selection Criteria

As I learn more and more about Decision Science and its derivatives, I look for examples and analogies from previous experience that I can revisit with newfound knowledge and capability and, perhaps, understand a little more clearly or completely than I did back then. I am convinced Decision Science, which embraces the concepts of Decision Engineering and Decision Intelligence, as well as the use of Decision Modeling to pull it all together, is a powerful tool that too few people know about.

One of the things that occurs to me, and I want to throw this out for your consideration, has to do with the remarkable software tool Quantellia has created, called World Modeler. It seems to  me it is to trade studies what AutoCAD is to hand-drawn blueprints. It is so rich in modeling functionality, it just makes every other tool I’ve worked with seem flat, unimaginative, and terribly cumbersome in terms of what we know we’re facing and how we see problems in today’s environment.

Just after the turn of the century (that would be 2001) I conducted a trade study for a software tool, some of the requirements of which were that it would run on our intranet and  was designed to both locate expertise and facilitate the exchange, use, and capture of knowledge in a form that would remain useable for some time to come. In short, one kind of knowledge management system that was being sought after back then.

The trade study I conducted looked at three products and rated them over about a dozen criteria we were interested in. There was no formal weighting and it was a fairly simple, straight-forward comparison of capabilities. A simple effort based on what we knew at the time and the very palty list of vendors who were providing the kind of service we wanted. In fact, as you can see in the accompanying graphic, there were only three . . . and one of them (Primus) was actually — if memory serves — an internal service of Boeing’s developed specifically for airplane mechanics to share information on their service and repair activities worldwide.

With World Modeler, we would have been able to model so much more than just these paltry selection criteria. We could have included in our decision the aggregate likely impact of things we assumed would happen, thereby surfacing possible misconceptions that some had. We could have included connections to IT, HR, and Communications, thereby giving us a clearer picture of the likely impact on the enterprise of implementing the system.

Frankly, in retrospect — and based on the fact that its use steadily declined after my retirement — I’m still not certain it was a good decision, though I had lots of reasons to believe so back then. So, getting back to my point, I think World Modeler is an incredibly powerful tool for an organization to measure the value of many of its decisions before making them. It’s also useful, in my opinion, in a wide array of situations and scenarios. I intend on addressing many of them as time goes by and I become more versed in its capabilities and more comfortable with my understanding of its value to various organizations and situations. You should check it out.


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