The father of computer science and artificial intelligence, Alan Turing, created a theory of computation which describes the limitations and capabilities of any computers we can imagine.
Turing’s theory, dumbed down to a basic of rule of thumb, tells us computing power is limited by only three things. These three things are also, I think, the limitations of human ability.
Consider that humans are essentially extraordinary computers. What we call “computers”, after all, are merely tools we have made to replicate facets of human behavior. Therefore, Turing’s limitations of computers applies to human brain power as well.
As a leader in your organization (or just as a leader in your life), these are the same three limitations you face against any complex problem. Here they are:
1. Size. An easy way to think about this is to compare us to, let’s say, chickens. Why can’t chickens solve problems like transportation, communication, and space travel? Well, one obvious reason is they simply do not have the brain capacity. They are simply maxed out on storage space and memory. If their brains were big enough, though, they would have the capacity to know anything.
As humans, we have an abundance of capacity. Our brains are big enough to understand the mathematics of the universe and still leave room for remembering where our car keys are (most of the time).
Is the size of your team or organization large enough to handle the problem(s) you are facing? Do you have far more capacity than you can use?
2. Speed. Chickens simply can not compute as fast as humans. If they could, they would be able to outsmart us (assuming they had enough capacity for planning), and perhaps even overthrow us as kings of the Animal Kingdom.
The reason a computer can outsmart a person when playing chess, is not a size issue. The human has the storage space in her head to know all possible moves and think through them accordingly. The obstacle is speed. A computer can calculate those possible moves in a fraction of the time a human can. Given enough time, a human can (and does) beat a computer at chess.
Does your team have the resources needed to move fast? How much of your return on investment goes back into improving training and providing better tools? Are you allowing your team the flexibility, trust, and authority to make decisions quickly, without you as the middle man? How can you go faster?
3. Society. Actually, the word I want to use here is “culture”, but “society” keeps the alliteration with the “s” sounds. Nonetheless, think about the society chickens surround each other in. It is not a social norm or cultural expectation for them to develop their brains or think about complex problems. Chickens did not create fire or invent the wheel because chickens have not evolved a culture of learning, of problem solving, tinkering, or exercising creativity.
What is the society or culture of your company or team? Do you have a culture that embraces creativity or stifles it? (If you are stifling it, then you are probably doing so by limiting the Size or Speed of your team.) Do you have a culture of problem-solving, tinkering, and trying new ideas?
Turing came up with his theory of computational scalability in the 1930’s. The concept remains useful and relevant close to a hundred years later and in areas he probably never thought about it.
When facing what seems to be an insurmountable problem, take a step back from the issue itself and look at the three things that are actually limiting you from solving it: Size, Speed, and Society. If you focus on the underlying problems of capacity, timeliness, and culture (size, speed, and society), then you just might be able to solve any problem you come across.
I’d like to share more about this but my tablet’s battery is running low, I’ve got to hurry to another appointment, and my pets are looking at me like I spend too much time writing.
Size, Speed, Society.