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Decentralized Intelligence: What Toyota can teach the 9/11

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2004

Decentralized Intelligence: What Toyota can teach the 9/11 commission about intelligence gathering. Duncan Watts on the wisdom of crowds in disaster recovery scenarios.

Reader comments

MattAug 06, 2004 at 2:55PM

There’s a balance to be struck between effective group wisdom and ineffective, counterproductive “groupthink” which clearly was in full effect in the US intelligence body leading up to the Iraq invasion.

The main difference between the “Toyota scenario” and what happens in the intelligence community is that often different intelligence agencies - CIA, FBI, DoD, etc. - actually actively shield information from other agencies. There is no true incentive to work together other than some nebulous idea about protecting the US, but on an individual level, Mr. Analyst 1 & 2 are thinking about how to do their jobs, make their agency look good, and make themselves look good. Toyota, on the other hand, and all of its vendors/suppliers have a highly tangible mutually-dependant self interest.

Jerry KindallAug 06, 2004 at 5:37PM

People can work miracles in the face of overwhelming, urgent need, when people are strongly motivated to drop everything else they’re doing and focus on the problem at hand. I am not sure this kind of decentralized response is sustainable, though — eventually, people will tire of the ad hoc system held together with spit and baling wire and a lot of attention and effort, and will want to pick up the things they dropped. The article doesn’t say whether Toyota (or any of the other organizations they mentioned) are still using the systems they cobbled together as a result of the factory fire, or whether they were later replaced with a more formal system.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.