Extending Capability

I had dinner with a friend last night, a climber, who described how her group would use a drone to scout out new climbing routes. They would use the drone to extend their capability: after trekking through snow, through undergrowth, off the well worn tracks, the drone allows them to reach further, to see the landscape through a different perspective.

I find this interesting as the people who built the drone would not have had this specific usage in mind when they built it: instead, they created a platform, with robust sensing capability, that can easily be repurposed to need.

You could use it to take video of your garden party, to film your new car, volleyball on the beach, or to inspect the storm damage on your roof.

The drone extends our reach.

It reminded me about the difference between generic and specific capability, and the ways that we seek to gain or develop these within Organisations, as well as the relative risks of each.

Specific capability relates to known challenges and existing needs: it allows us to be efficient, to optimise, to drive consistency and conformity. Generic capability is part of a platform that can be repurposed. We may not know how. And we may need both.

It’s reasonably easy to understand how we build specific capability, and perhaps more importantly it’s easy to measure it. Generic capability is harder to conceptualise (although easy to talk about).

For starters: what ingredients do we need within that generic pool? 

For me, this question reflects a background challenge for Organisations: to what extent do they seek to control?

A legacy of the Industrial Organisation is an innate sense that ‘we’ need to control ‘them’. That the Organisation owns the knowledge, the ingredients and the recipe.

And anyway: how would you build Generic capability?

I see this playing out this week at the ATD conference, as i walk through the sessions, and through the Expo: partly a space of consistency and control, partly a conversation focussed on creating space and unlocking potential. A Dynamic Tension.

But it’s worth thinking back to the climbers: a community using tools to serve purpose. Nobody told them what to do, and yet they did it, and perform better as a result.

Consider how that operates within your own Organisation: to what extent can people claim resource, tools, space, power, opportunity. And to what extent are they controlled?

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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