Connecting the Dots

January 17, 2010

Connecting the Dots

Seems that “connecting the dots” is the new adage for 2010. The reference has become popular since the failed Christmas bomber incident and the recognition that making connections between scattered dots can prevent surprises. I read an article by Stefan Stern in the Financial Times that reminded me of my earlier days as a chief knowledge officer. I was in charge of connecting the dots and encouraging colleagues around the globe to share knowledge and contribute to a database to do just that. Information is not enough however as President Obama pointed out post-Christmas bombing incident, “It was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had.” That was always the challenge for us….getting people to see the patterns in the dots….knowing what you don’t know. Harvard Business School author and professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter was quoted in the article that only “relentless follow-up” helps and that leaders should reward and recognize “pattern recognizers.” Stern rightfully adds that all of this information must be passed on to be of any use. The challenge is to find who in the company has the reputation for being the most “in the know” and likely to spot these patterns and scream HELP. A network map of these “first responders” needs to be developed. Trendspotters fit that description if their skills were only turned inward.
For reputation crises, which I care about a lot, always occurs when the dots are not connected or worse, totally ignored. The dots are always there before a crisis or an issue strikes. Today the media likes to call them “red flags.” Take the financial meltdown. All of the warning signs were there but most financial sector officers, ratings agencies and government officials did not connect the dots and do something about the mounting problems before the economic tsunami hit us. Reputation meltdowns always have early warning signs. The challenge is reading the smoke signals. Stern concludes that we might be in better shape if industry did not retire or fire so many of those people with long corporate memories. Their insights and deep experience might provide the headlights that so many companies and organizations need to avert disaster.

I am starting to think that plain old face-to-face might make do the trick better than any database but that seems to be a lost art.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

  • Deon Binneman
    Posted at 04:00h, 18 January Reply

    Very good observations.It reinforces my belief that managers need training in systemic thinking and linkages.

    Between Chernobyl and Union Carbide’s Bhopal disaster there were 71 confirmed leaks/deviations, yet nothing was done until it was too late.

    The Ford/Bridgestone tire withdrawal was preceded by statistics that was stuck in a functional silo – the Customer Service Department. The spaceship Challenger was brought down by something called the o-ring, where many staff members knew problems existed but there were information hoarding.

    In fact most crises are preceded by something called a smoldering crisis – A smoldering crisis is any serious business problem which is not generally known within or without the organisation, which may generate negative news coverage if or when it goes public and could result in fines, penalties or unbudgeted expenses.

    Much research shows that many problems could have been prevented through forward thinking, information sharing and communication.

    As you state – Connecting the Dots.

    Warmest Regards,

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