Signal to noise

Why doesn’t early warning work?  While it’s a good idea in theory, in practice it seldom seems to have its intended effect.  In every major intelligence failure I’ve looked at, there were clear, credible early signals — and even explicit warnings—that tragically remained unheeded.  Why is this, and what can we do about it?

For example, in the recent meltdown of the US real estate market, and much of the world economy with it, there were lots of warning signs.  Some of these were very explicit and very public.  To name a couple:

  • The FBI’s 2006 published report warning of widespread fraud in the US residential mortgage market, which backed the mortgage-back securities market that subsequently collapsed
  • Yale economist Robert Shiller’s testimony before Congress in September 2007 that housing prices were dangerously overinflated, and that their imminent collapse would cause significant damage to the economy.
World Trade Center - September 11, 2001 9:45am

Downtown New York City - September 11, 2001 9:45am

In another example, leading up to the bombing of the World Trade Center towers in New York City in 2001, there were many events that could have been read as “feasibility tests” for 9/11.  There is a chapter (“Foresight — and Hindsight”) in the 9/11 Commission Report that catalogs the missed signals and other structural conditions that might have prevented the attack.  In retrospect, there seems to have been a straight-line connection between:

  • The February 1993 truck bombing of the WTC North Tower
  • The August 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Tanzania
  • The October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Latest Posts

  • Topics

  • Archives

  • About this site

    COMPETING IN THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY is written by Timothy Powell, an independent researcher and consultant in knowledge strategy. Tim is president of The Knowledge Agency® (TKA) and serves on the faculty of Columbia University's Information and Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) graduate program.

    ===================

    "During my more than three decades in business, I have served more than 100 organizations, ranging from Fortune 500s to government agencies to start-ups. I document my observations here with the intention that they may help you achieve your goals, both professional and personal.

    "These are my opinions, offered for your information only. They are not intended to substitute for professional advice."

    ===================

    We typically publish monthly on or about the 15th of each month, subject to our client workload. Use the RSS feed links below to subscribe to posts and/or comments. Better yet, follow us on Twitter @twpowell to be notified of new posts and related developments.

    Thanks for reading! Please mention us to others and add your non-spam comments and suggestions -- we value your input.

    ===================

    COMPETING IN THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY is sponsored by the Knowledge Value Chain® (KVC), a methodology that increases the value and ROI of Data, Information, Knowledge, and Intelligence.

    The contents herein are original, except where otherwise noted. All original contents are Copyright © TW Powell Co. All rights reserved.

    All KVC trademarks, trade names, designs, processes, manuals, and related materials are owned and deployed worldwide exclusively by The Knowledge Agency®. Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.

    ===================

    E SCIENTIA COPIA. Knowledge is the Engine of Value.