Organizational scouts

Last week was curious in that I stumbled across all sorts of stuff that will be useful in my work with clients. But what I noticed was that the stumbling was entirely random. How would I know, for example, that the BlackBerry polling system that I wrote about was available unless I happened to be sitting in that particular session where it was being used.

How do people get to hear about stuff that is potentially useful? How do they squirrel it away for the time when it might be? I read somewhere (where???) about a pen that when you write in one language speaks in another. OK so I am going to Shanghai next week a pen that does that would be very useful now I come to think about it. How do I find out where I read about it?

Well, in this case, it wasn't too difficult as I remembered reading it in a particular room in a house I was visiting at the time. A quick call to my host and I got the information. It was James Fallows, writing in The Atlantic about the LiveScribe pen It has many features:

"For instance: a translator that lets you write out "One coffee, please" and have the results read out in Mandarin, Spanish, etc. A calculator that lets you write out a math problem and click on it for the answer. And what I think of as a notebook orchestra: you sketch a crude grid representing eight keys on a piano and it becomes a music synthesizer, letting you tap out tunes and hear them "played" by piano, steel drums, or other instruments."

I took at look at the LiveScribe website. It has apps for the pen that translate, but not into Mandarin which is what I want. But I have an ordinary paper phrasebook so maybe a translating pen is not what I want to add to my inventory of two BlackBerries (home and work), two laptops (ditto), one i-pad (work experiment), one Bose Headset, one webcam device (because it's not integral to either laptop), one i-pod (before I got the i-pad), one Kindle (also before I got the i-pad), and one headset for when my laptop is a softphone.

However, I've emailed LiveScribe to see if the Mandarin app is hidden somewhere else on the site, and I'm mulling over whether a talking/recording pen would make all the difference to my life.

But how would I have known about the talking pen unless I happened to chance across The Atlantic? I'm curious because I had a longish discussion in an organization design workshop I was facilitating about how do organizations know what trends are out there that they need to be cognizant about and be flexible and adaptable enough to meet? Or can an organization be designed to be adaptable enough to meet anything? Is that what we mean by 'sustainable'?

Someone suggested the notion of organizational 'scouts' – a different take on 'futurology' which is somehow more purposeful in its searching. Scouts would just be looking out for potentially interesting, useful, or otherwise valuable information from random sources that the scouts just happened upon. So I looked up 'organizational scouts' and got a lovely selection of information related to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America. Clearly the notion of an 'organizational scout' is a new one more closely aligned to the definition of scout as "someone who can find paths through unexplored territory" but in this case the first taks is to look for the unexplored territory.

Pursuing the notion of organizational scout as a real job I looked at an email that I'd just received. "My boss has asked me to write a job description for the … role with a view to establish how much time will be required for each task in the job description and then establish how many people we will need in this role.

Have you come across a formula of some sort that can size a job with a view of how many people will be required to do it?"

If you fitted the words 'organizational scout' in front of the word 'role' would that work to find someone to fit the role? I don't think so. The whole notion of an organizational scout is about innovation, making random connections, and so on. Maybe it's time not only to revisit organizational roles but also organizational processes like job sizing. How else will organizations be able to handle random information that any scouts they have bring back because they think it is worth a second look?

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