Cutting the (Complex) Gordian Knot

According to Greek legend, when Alexander the Great was only 23 and not yet well-known, his campaign in Asia Minor brought him to the town of Gordium in 333 BC. Its former king, Gordius, tied an extremely complicated knot in the local temple to Zeus. An oracle foretold that whoever untied the knot would rule all of Asia. Many tried to untie the knot, unsuccessfully. Upon arriving at the temple, Alexander drew his sword and cut the Gordian Knot. Over the next decade, he went on to conquer Asia up to India.

By painter Jean-Simon Berthélemy (1743 - 1811) -from Wikimedia Commons

By painter Jean-Simon Berthélemy (1743 - 1811) -from Wikimedia Commons

An example of professionals faced with the serious responsibility and task of making sense of complexity are intelligence professionals working for national governments. When I took a temporary leave from academic life to accept appointment as Assistant Director-General of the National Security Council (NSC) of the Philippine Government in 1992-1998, I had the rare opportunity and pleasure to meet and participate in warm fraternal intelligence exchanges (=knowledge sharing) with my counterparts in the national security and intelligence establishments of the governments of Singapore, Brunei, United States, Taiwan and South Korea (=CoP or community of practice).

The task of a national intelligence analyst/security adviser is formidable. National interest is at stake. He must assist the President in:

  • Discerning new global and regional patterns and trends
  • Making forecasts or estimates
  • Interpreting the statements and actions of actual/potential hostile groups
  • Estimating next moves of major political and economic actors
  • Assessing a multitude of risks and threats
  • Analyzing the power relations among top government personalities of superpowers
  • Assessing potentials, threats and opportunities arising from new and emerging technologies
    Etc.

Do intelligence professionals use complexity theory? Not to my knowledge.

My former NSC boss, General Jose T. Almonte, the Director-General of the National Security Council and the National Security Adviser to President Fidel V. Ramos in 1992-1998, and who has decades of achievements in intelligence work, gave me a valuable technique that is sheer simplicity itself. It seemed to me like “cutting the Gordian Knot” of complexity facing intelligence analysts. He reminded me that people, groups, corporations, political parties, nations, etc. are essentially purposive actors; and so he advised me to study only two things: CAPABILITIES and INTENTIONS of international and intranational actors.

Through this blog post, I acknowledge him as the source and inspiration of the model I proposed in my paper on “Organizational Energy” — KNOW-HOW X WILLING-TO — that I wrote about two blog posts back, as well as the MOTIVATION factor in the CCLFI expanded KM framework. My previous blog post listed research findings that motivating knowledge workers is a key success factor in KM initiatives.

(Note that there are embedded links in this blog post. They show up as colored text. While pressing “Ctrl” click on any link to create a new tab to reach the websites pointed to.)

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