This blog is brought to you courtesy of a template. Without a template the time and effort needed to program the presentation would be, at least for me, considerably more than the time and effort involved in writing the blog’s contents.
Yesterday Mark Chubb mentioned the remarkable convergence and effectiveness of fire safety codes. A big part of the success has been the promotion of “model codes” by the International Code Council, National Fire Protection Association, and others. These models have served as templates for hundreds of jurisdictions. Whatever the template, many jurisdictions add their own unique elements. But the existence of models has been crucial to widespread adoption.
A few months ago I was part of a government-to-government process that submitted a seven page concept of operations for an innovative approach to an aspect of homeland security. We struggled and argued over each sentence, trying to communicate clearly, concisely, but also completely. Three weeks after sending off the seven pages a request/instruction came back to reduce it to one paragraph. We sent back the first two paragraphs of the seven pages as a single block. Three weeks later approval was received to proceed. No questions, no comments, nothing more than a single sentence stating a “revised approach” was approved.
Perhaps I should simply give thanks for approval. But I wonder if there is a shared understanding of what was approved.
More recently I filled in a Program Management Plan template for a multi-million dollar homeland security project. The template was organized as a series of entirely reasonably questions for which very little space was allocated for answers. Mostly the PMP was organized around what would be delivered, when it would be delivered, and how much it would cost. The PMP was less a program management plan and much more a financial accounting tool. Such tools are important and helpful. But a financial accounting tool should not be confused with a “program — management — plan.”
Monday this blog gave attention to the regional Oil Spill Recovery Plan (OSRP) that British Petroleum filed for its operations in the Gulf of Mexico. It was clearly the output of a templated process. I bet several answers for the Gulf of Mexico could be duplicated for the Persian Gulf or any other gulf.
Many years ago I was wandering the crowded hallways of the brand spanking new Department of Homeland Security when a template for State disaster planning was being developed. During its first year DHS had received an amazing collection of good, bad, and ugly plans, each as unique as the state (and particular agency) developing the plan.
Over the years as the DHS template was refined the plans became increasingly similar. There were fewer and fewer horrifically bad plans. But the best plans also disappeared (at least in my judgment). Further, the ability to use any “plan” as a way to see inside the head of the planner was essentially eliminated. Many of the best plans had been explicit regarding what was unknown, ambiguous, and the cause of uncertainty. The template discouraged this sort of thinking.
Where there had once been narrative, analysis, and argument (good and bad) the templates generated largely antiseptic and mostly well-organized information. My preferred definitions: information is organized data, knowledge is information placed in context, wisdom is knowledge applied effectively to solve a problem or seize an opportunity.
In the non-templated plans there had been occasional outbursts of imagination. In a few worrisome cases these edged toward the fantastically delusional. But in any case you could see a human brain struggling with a set of problems. The template successfully smoothed these rough edges.
The template I am using to generate this blog has its limitations, but it is tolerant — even encouraging — of multiple points-of-view, various ways of expressing points-of-view, and access and presentation of a depth of data, information, and knowledge. When a template does not allow for this diversity and depth and range it threatens to undermine the potential for wisdom.
Templates should assist, not try to replace thinking.
For further consideration:
Dynamics and Quantitative Studies of Human Behavior (Santa Fe Institute)
Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide by Tracy Bowell and Gary Kemp
Project Zero (Harvard University)
We have met the enemy and he is powerpoint (New York Times)