The Cognitive Layer

We will be talking about the cognitive layer in a complex organisation, to see how it can be supported and its capability amplified. This isn’t just theoretical, so we will use the example of defence strategy implementation. The point we wish to make is that the cognitive layer is different to the sensing and action layers in an organisation, just as it is in a person, in that the other layers are directed while it needs to be undirected.

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Here is the cognitive layer in action. We look out at the world and do a threat assessment, which leads to a strategy. The threat assessment itself has to look through a lens of what is possible in terms of resources and time. We implement the strategy, leading to projects. Projects interact with the real world, building weapons systems. The existence of weapons systems changes the threat assessment.

Problems with projects are resolved within the project loop, or if severe enough, lead back to implementation, and then to strategy, which if bad enough, makes us redo the threat assessment. Highly simplified, but indicative of the effects at each node. There are very many influences to connect together. Some of these connections currently have automated support, most do not. If we have some connections strong and fast, and others weak and slow, we probably get a disjointed response to change. The world is not particularly stable, so building parts of the linking structure only from papers passed between committees can lead to unacceptable delays or indecision.

Even when we have plan automation, as we have for projects, it is selective and directed automation – we plan the When in great detail, but this plan is poorly connected to another plan responsible for the What, throwing more load on the humans holding all these plans together.

Is there a way we can bring together this jumble of strategy, resources, risks in a form that better supports the overall process? A presentation on Knowledge Management and Activation.

To show that the underlying concept is broad, we will introduce an operational example.

Operational Logistics

The person directing field operations is concerned with strikes, feints, counterattacks, shifting ground. They would like an unrestricted supply of ordnance, delivered when and where they need it.

The person handling logistics would like firm future targets, so the logistics systems can create efficient chains of movement to deliver the goods.

These two areas don’t fit easily together. One area needs to respond to rapidly changing inputs with sometimes radical outputs (getting up and moving somewhere else), the other area wants stable inputs to create efficient outputs. One suggestion is that the two areas talk more. Exactly when everything is shifting operationally is the time when operations can devote no time at all to keeping logistics up to speed. Even when things are not busy, the operations guy doesn’t want to be intimately involved in the myriad decisions that make up the logistics chain, but does want access to crucial points in the logistics decisionmaking process when rapid change needs to occur. Collaboration between the two areas is currently effectively blocked by the opacity of the automated logistics control process, and the difficulty of reconfiguring it or overriding it to suit field exigencies.

What we are suggesting is to increase the visibility of both processes to each other, and the ability to merge two or more different ways of doing things without having to think too much about it beforehand. This says – use active structure rather than instructions, don’t segregate activity and information. The active structure is sufficiently general to handle highly dynamic operational planning and the optimisations required in logistics planning.

A presentation on Operational Logistics.

Active Structure

The active structure paradigm is all about Connectivity, Visibility and Extensibility as a means of supporting the cognitive layer in the organisation. It does this by cutting whatever operations it performs into very small pieces and connecting the pieces in an undirected structure that can be changed by the operations in the structure.

High level planning is supported by first building a structure which connects everything together without considering what influences what – threat assessment is affected by the likely budget, but threat can influence the budget. The undirected structure containing its own activity also provides extensibility – connecting two structures together causes interaction, which changes the behaviour of the assembly. This means you didn’t have to think of everything beforehand – an impossibility in a complex planning, operational and political environment. When new things arrive to influence the overall plan and are connected, the behaviour of the system changes.

This is how something like Operational Logistics is handled – it can appear to be two separate systems until they need to start interchanging information about changing goals. Any part of one system is potentially visible and connectible to any part of the other, and to any third system, such as overarching strategy.

A presentation on Active Structure