Sunday, 4 October 2009

'Fusion Officers' knowledge saved lives

Having recently written about the wartime knowledge saboteur’s handbook, I heard another fascinating WW2 knowledge-sharing story this week. You are probably familiar with the incredible tale of how Alan Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park, building on work by Polish cryptanalysts, decoded the hugely complex German Enigma codes. Less well known is how the codebreakers themselves were organised and how they shared their knowledge.

For security reasons, the various intelligence gathering teams were physically separated in huts, known only by their numbers. For example, the codebreakers concentrating on the Army and Air Force cyphers were based in Hut 6, Hut 8 decoded messages from the German Navy and Hut 4 German naval intelligence. Others included Log-Reading, Direction-Finding, Wireless Telegraphy, and the Technical Section. In order to overcome these necessary boundaries and make sense of the whole, ‘Fusion Officers’ moved between the paired huts, looking for trends, sense-making, connecting loose ends and preparing reports.It occurred to me that the huts are analogous of Business Unit silos and 'Fusion Officers' of network or community facilitators or organizational knowledge-brokers.

Allied military intelligence was acutely aware that if information from Bletchley Park analysis were to be intercepted by the Germans, the entire Enigma operation would be compromised. For this reason, agents sent to brief front-line command were only allowed to give verbal briefings; they were not allowed to carry documents, encoded or not. In modern jargon, tacit knowledge transfer.

Graham Robertson of Bracken Associates was kind enough to tell me about this story and point me to the archive of Tony Sale, http://www.codesandciphers.org.uk/ . Tony was founder and first curator of the Bletchley Park Museum

I am looking into a KIN Members' site visit to Bletchley Park in the new year, possibly in conjunction with an event looking at the importance of physical space on knowledge-sharing.

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