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Harnessing The Power of Groups (12 weeks)

Solving the grand challenges that face humanity in the 21st century is likely to require bringing together extraordinary people to solve “wicked problems”. But while extreme talent is often associated with extreme achievement, it’s easy for organisations to be less than the sum of their parts.

This group looks at the problem of “organising genius” through the lens of organisations and networks across a wide range of domains who have succeeded in aggregating the efforts of exceptional individuals to achieve remarkable collective output. These organisations are responsible for some of humanity’s most striking achievements, from the moon landings to the establishment of the US constitution.

Questions we'll explore together:

* What can we learn from these organisations?

* What are their origins?

* How did they attract and organise talent?

* What do they have in common?

* How do they vary across time and domains?

* What causes these organisations to fail or decline in prominence?


The case studies introduced to members prior to each event will be primarily focused on groups with a common goal or purpose over a single period of extreme achievement, rather than looking at longevity itself as an achievement (e.g. They do not look at universities or elite military units that have remained pre-eminent for decades or centuries).


* The group will meet six times over the course of 3 months.

* Your facilitator and organizer, Billy Bicket will convene the group and ensure members have access to some reading materials prior to each event.

* Each event will be a mix of focused discussion on the case study with time for beverages and socializing.

Sessions (Draft)

Session 1 - Introduction: The challenge of organising genius (February, 2020)

Warren Bennis and Patricia Biederman, Organizing Genius (https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0201339897/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=mattclifforde-21&creative=6738&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=0201339897&linkId=dd0e295751f4143ffacbeb6d600d2af4), “Introduction” and “The End of the Great Man”

Michael Farrell, Collaborative Circles (https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0226238679/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=mattclifforde-21&creative=6738&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=0226238679&linkId=3a59840e2a1e7955ef366d05c4851552), “Introduction” and “Collaborative Circles and Creative Work”

Roderick Swaab et al., “The Too Much Talent Effect (https://www8.gsb.columbia.edu/cbs-directory/sites/cbs-directory/files/publications/Too%20much%20talent%20PS.pdf?utm_campaign=Matt%27s%20Thoughts%20In%20Between&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter)”

Stefan Torges, “Ingredients for creating disruptive research teams (https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/dCjz5mgQdiv57wWGz/ingredients-for-creating-disruptive-research-teams)”

Session 2: Case study: The Manhattan Project (March, 2020)

Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1471111237/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=mattclifforde-21&creative=6738&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=1471111237&linkId=2a6d221a42ce26a387f474599cc36b4f), Ch 4, 14-17

Organizing Genius, ‘The Manhattan Project’

The Manhattan Project (https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/publications/Manhattan_Project_2010.pdf), US Department of Energy, Parts III and IV

Atomic Energy for Military Purposes: The Official Report on the Development of the Atomic Bomb under the Auspices of the United States Government, 1940-1945 (https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/publications/smyth_report.pdf), Henry DeWolf Smyth, Ch 12

Session 3: Case study: The Apollo Mission (April, 2020)

Charles Fishman, One Giant Leap (https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1982130156/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=mattclifforde-21&creative=6738&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=1982130156&linkId=95d537d43d849aa0ea1df03a1df56cdf)

Arthur Slotkin, Doing the Impossible (https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00AT9ZFRK/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=mattclifforde-21&creative=6738&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B00AT9ZFRK&linkId=b0bf9a2d7d4f64004e3e81ad2dc38497)

Dominic Cummings, “Unrecognised simplicities of effective action #2: ‘Systems’ thinking — ideas from the Apollo programme for a ‘systems politics’” (https://dominiccummings.com/2017/02/14/unrecognised-simplicities-of-effective-action-2-systems-thinking-ideas-from-the-apollo-programme-for-a-systems-politics/)

Session 4 Case Study: Great technology labs

ARPA: “Funding Breakthrough Research: Promises and Challenges of the "ARPA Model" (https://www.nber.org/papers/w24674)

Xerox PARC: Michael Hiltzik, Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age (https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0887309895/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=mattclifforde-21&creative=6738&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=0887309895&linkId=17490886e09af61afb687da0ee39b8d9)

“Inside the Parc (https://spectrum.ieee.org/ns/pdfs/inside-the-parc.pdf)”

“Oral History of Robert W Taylor (http://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/text/Oral_History/Taylor_Robert/102702015.05.01.acc.pdf)”

Bell Labs

John Gertner, The Idea Factory (https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0143122797/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=mattclifforde-21&creative=6738&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=0143122797&linkId=8a14dfad1511355af5194908e398165d), Ch 3, 8, 9, 20

Lockheed Martin Skunkworks

Skunkworks 14 Rules (https://www.lockheedmartin.com/en-us/who-we-are/business-areas/aeronautics/skunkworks/kelly-14-rules.html)

Organizing Genius, “The Skunk Works”


A sub-set of reading materials for each event will be distributed prior to the event.

We welcome volunteers who want to help with developing and distributing reading materials and related group activities.

Upcoming events

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