Paul Saffo “Best Strategy is Ready, Fire, Steer”

Eight quotes by Paul Saffo on how technology is re-shaping organization design and strategic thinking in both commercial and military realms.

Paul Saffo “Best Strategy is Ready, Fire, Steer”

Paul Saffo had the lead quote in my October 18 post on Quotes on Foresight (Understanding the Future) “Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.” He has so many more trenchant observations on foresight and understanding what has already happened that I am following up with a post devoted to his quotes and observations. Those of you taking part in the “ruthless reinvention” of Silicon Valley may find some food for thought.

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“Best strategy used to be ready, aim, fire. Now the best strategy is ready, fire, steer. Put supplies where you might need them on the journey. Just get into the right neighborhood and you will find the address.”

recounted in How To Mobilize The New Players on the Field by Richard Edelman (note: emphasis added, does not appear in original text).

Never Mistake a Clear View For a Short Distance

The lessons that we constantly forget when it comes to new technologies is: you should never mistake a clear view for a short distance. It’s that sense of standing on a ridge, looking out across a great forest at a distant mountain goal. The peak is so close it seems you could reach out and touch it. That is, until you get in among the trees and start beating your way to the mountain. This is, by the way, the mortal sin of not only entrepreneurs, but people in my profession, forecasting.
Paul Saffo and “The 30 Year Rule” in Design World Number 24 (1992)

Saffo offers an elaboration of this one on his website: technologies take time–as much as twenty years–to move from invention to arrival in our lives. Because we assume the adoption will be more rapid, we inevitably over-estimate the short-term and under-estimate the long-term impact of new technologies.

Organizations Must Be Willing to Push Power To the Edge

In the past, organizations worked from the middle out, but the lesson learned from the Hurricane Katrina response should be that leveraging technology means that organizations must work from the edges in, he adds. “You push your sensing and your collaboration tools out to the edges of the organization. Your organization almost becomes an organic form where everything that’s touching the outside world is collecting and sifting information,” he explains. After empowering the people at the edge, organizations must create safety net systems in case activity spins out of control, he adds.

Saffo uses the games of chess and Go as an analogy to describe how the terrorist threat has transformed the battlespace. In chess, the center of the board is the important real estate to control; in the game of Go, the edges are critical to winning. While chess pieces are hierarchical, each stone in Go is equally powerful. And whereas the goal of chess is to amass forces, the point of Go is fluidity. These same principles need to be applied to the military organization, Saffo maintains. “It really is that simple. We have left the world of chess behind. War is no longer chess; it’s Go,” he states.

Paul Saffo interview with  Maryann Lawlor in “Collaborative Technologies Demand Deep Change” (2006)

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“Cheap sensors are shaping this decade, and the poster child is going to be robots.”
from “The Ten Coolest Technologies You’ve Never Heard of: The Robot Revolution” (July 7, 2006 in PC Magazine).

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Paul Saffo asks 'What If?'

“The secret to Silicon Valley’s success is that it’s constantly reinventing itself. The secret to it continuing to be a high-tech center is that it is a place that continues to ruthlessly reinvent itself, to ruthlessly drive old companies out of business, start new companies. That turnover is, I think, the secret to our success. We always think about being a success, but there are vastly more failures in the valley than there are successes. And the valley is not really built on the spires of earlier companies, but on their rubble.”

From April 1997 interview for the Tech Museum The Revolutionaries: Paul Saffo

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There are no regular people. There are people we tend to remember the names of, and we seem to have this fascination with deifying certain individuals. At some level, how do I say it? Look at any Silicon Valley company, and people instantly say, this company, oh! The head of that company; they are so smart. But the company isn’t one person; the company is a team of people and for everyone who conventional wisdom says a genius business leader or a successful entrepreneur or whatever, there are hundreds of other people who are just as extraordinary whose names we don’t know.

From April 1997 interview for the Tech Museum The Revolutionaries: Paul Saffo

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I don’t think information overload is a function of the volume of information. It’s a derivative of the volume of information plus the sense-making tools you have. Think about the rise of info-graphics in newspapers. Those were sense-making tools to help people (absorb information). You can bookmark your Web pages. Now we have things like (the Web site) that allow you to create tags to share and organize Web pages. In my class, we are using a wiki (a Web page that is like an open bulletin board). The rise of Wikipedia (an online encyclopedia)—that is a sense-making tool. These are tools that help us make sense of information. I think it was Samuel Johnson who said, “There are two kinds of information in this world: that what you know and that what you know where to get.” The tools help the latter, and that is what keeps us from going nuts. The sense of overload comes from the gap between that sudden jump in volume (of information) and the tools we have to make sense of it.

From a 2006 SF Chronicle Interview “Institute for the Future / On the Record

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Graphic by VicForPrez (@VicForPrez)What If

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