Irrecoverable Knowledge within Irrecoverable Social Networks?

Ok, so being a novice, I am unsure whether I should repost a post from my original blog . . . or just transpose it here. I'm a newbie with this, so please forgive my stumblings before I figure it out :)

A good friend and National Defense recruiting guru, Christopher Young (@chrismarkyoung), forwarded me an NYT article today, "Suicide Bombing Puts Rare Face on CIA's Work", that has really gotten me thinking about what "irrecoverable" means.

"There are not people who wrote things down in the computer or in notebooks. It was all in their heads," he said. The CIA is "pulling in new people from all over the world, but how long will it take to rebuild the networks, to get up to speed? Lots of it is irrecoverable. Lots of it."

What exactly does it mean if we say knowledge is irrecoverable? Well, to put it simply, it's saying that the knowledge is irrecoverable because it was only in someone's head . . . and if they're no longer here with us (and they didn't store that knowledge anywhere for others to access it), it's gone. Evaporated instantly. From an organizational perspective, it's critical that this not be allowed to happen, but I digress for the moment.


The above network map, or sociogram, is a subset of a much larger map. For the sake of this post, let's assume that the top right cluster (at approximately the 2pm position) represents the CIA's structure (or social network) in Afghanistan. This may, for all intent and purpose, be a prescribed cluster. Prescribed meaning that we want it that way - for obvious reasons, we don't want that cluster closely linked with the remainder of the network. Put simply, it's insular by design.

The benefit for this type of insularity is that information and knowledge flows well within it, but ends there. For a clandestine operation, this may be desirable (to a degree). The risk, however, is that if any of the broker nodes (in this case, the single node connecting the cluster to the outside) are lost, the cluster is cut off from the outside. The CIA, in this case, didn't just lose incredible people . . . they also lost all the knowledge within the minds of those people . . . and perhaps most disconcerting, they lost all the indirect connections of those people. The NYT article quote illustrates to us that not only is the knowledge irrecoverable, but so is the social capital established by those who were killed.

The bigger question, however, is whether our influence is irrecoverable. Being a half-glass-full thinker, I believe our influence can be recovered, but the human capital and social capital need to be replaced first. This is no short order. Then, and only then, we can begin rebuilding our influence.

In closing, I ask you to consider your own organization. Do you have clusters that have formed that are not necessarily prescribed? If so, you're at the same "irrecoverable" risk of the CIA. You can see where these clusters may have formed (or may be forming) through a Network Analysis.

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