Organizational failure as a meso cause


Daniel Little examines Organizational failure as a meso cause based on Eliot Cohen and John Gooch’s Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War.

Little writes why warfare is of interest ot Social Scientists because:

Warfare proceeds through complex interlocking social organizations; it depends on information collection and interpretation; it requires the coordination of sometimes independent decision-makers; it involves deliberate antagonists striving deliberately to interfere with the strategies of the other; and it often leads to striking and almost incomprehensible failures.

Emphasis Mine

The importance of data model is implied. The data model defines what data is important and how it is related to other data. And the data model allows for the interpretation of data. In my view, data models are how organisations filter and organise facts about the world.

Instead of taking the normal way of blaming military failures on leadership, …Cohen and Gooch are setting their focus on a meso-level factor — features of organizations and their interrelations within a complex temporally extended period of activity. People within organisations are constrained by the organisational norms. Competent people can do stupid things because the organisation will not allow them to do otherwise.

Little writes that:

And here is the crucial point: organizations and complexes of organizations (systems) have characteristics that sometimes produce features of coordinated action that are both unexpected and undesired. A certain way of training officers may have been created in order to facilitate unity in combat; but it may also create a mentality of subordinacy that makes it difficult for officers to take appropriate independent action.

Failures are classified as follows:

Eliot and Gooch place organizational learning and information processing at the core of their theories of military failure. They identify three kinds of failure: “failure to learn, failure to anticipate, and failure to adapt” (26). As a failure to learn, they cite the US Army’s failure to learn from the French experience in Vietnam before designing its own strategies in the Vietnam War. And they emphasize the unexpected interactions that can occur between different components of a complex organization like the military.

Little observes that Eliot and Gooch’s thesis is that organizational failures are at the heart of many or most large military failures.

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