Opportunity

Tyre tracks on Mars from the Opportunity Rover.

Last week, NASA announced that “One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA’s Opportunity rover mission is at an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet”.

Opportunity landed on Mars on 24 January 2004. It was designed to last 90 Martian days and travel 1,000 metres. It exceeded its life expectancy by 60 times and traveled 45 kilometres. Its resting place on Mars is, by delightful serendipity, Perseverance Valley.

Opportunity’s history is a great metaphor many endeavours. Last week on hearing about the end of NASA’s contact with the rover, I thought about all those who have charted the world of performance in sport. The image of Opportunity’s tracks on Mars provide a great reminder of the tracks each of us follow in our own journeys of discovery.

Our tracks in analysing performance come from some very basic technologies and, in the case of some of the foundational ideas about performance, remain as relevant today as they were when they were first recorded.

Lessons Learned and Collective Knowledge

Tuesday morning brought me a great link from Stephen Downes to Nancy Dixon. Nancy posted about a model lessons learned system – the Unites States Army.

Nancy observes that the “US Army Lessons Learned system has evolved over 40 years to become a model lesson learned system. What began as an AAR process in the 1970s has become a robust system of identifying, collecting, analyzing, transferring, and moving lessons learned at all levels of command.” She identifies three eras in this 40 year period:

  1. Leveraging Explicit Knowledge
  2. Leveraging Experiential Knowledge
  3. Leveraging Collective Knowledge

In a separate post on the Knowledge Eras, Nancy characterises the era of leveraging collective knowledge thus:

Those that are inventing processes for collective knowledge are finding ways to bring the whole organization to bear on strategic issues. Process like Knowledge Cafés, Appreciative Inquiry, and Search Conferences bring together all levels of the organization – the whole system in the room. The processes used to leverage collective knowledge are conversation based, alternating between small group and large group configurations. Even regularly held organizational meetings such as staff meetings, team, and project meetings in these organizations are turning to conversational forms to address their most difficult organizational issues. There is a growing understanding that in an age of increasingly complex organizational issues, leaders cannot be expected to have all the answers; rather the task of leaders becomes convening the conversations that can come up with new answers.

I read Nancy’s post after writing about John Gastil and his approach to deliberation. I think there are some great synergies between John and Nancy’s positions. I am excited by the rediscovery of conviviality through their work. They took me back to thoughts of Ivan Illich in the 1970s when he suggested that conviviality is “autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment”.

As I was mulling over these thoughts some of the many feeds I receive each day created virtual conversations for me. Within a short period of time I was able to access some fascinating visualisations including:

Each of these took me back to Nancy’s characteristics of a a robust and effective lessons learned system:

  • Collection
  • Repository
  • Transfer Process
  • Implementation
  • Analysis and Data Mining

These characteristics were brought into focus by Nancy in her 2010 post about leveraging collective knowledge at NASA. She noted in that post that leveraging collective knowledge involves: joint sensemaking; cognitive diversity, and organizational transparency.

It is fascinating where an early morning link from Moncton, New Brunswick can take you.

Photo Credits

Eerste Wereldoorlog, mobilisatie

Staff officer discussing matters on a pile of bombs