What is a C-Suite?
It's the place senior managers gather to deliberate.
It's the place where the most pressing decisions are made.
What's the metaphor that best captures the C-suite? Is it the bridge of the ship where pilots and "captains" gather intelligence and issue orders. Is it a conning tower, the place from which the corporation can examine the horizon, looking for opportunity and danger? Is it a kind of court room, where grave men and women gather to deliberate. Is it a citadel, the place where beleagured managers retreat for refuge from all those "stake holders," people not just holding stakes but brandishing them?
All of these metaphors are apt. But how's this for perfection?
All of the data from all the different sensors in the aircraft are fused. The F-22 has one big display in the middle of the cockpit, so you are kind of sitting in the middle of that display, and all of the sensors run on their own. And tracks show up all around you, 360 degrees, and all of it in color. So the red guys are bad, the green guys are good, and the yellow guys–we don't know who the yellow guys are yet. So without the pilot doing anything, you have this 360-degree picture of the battle space around you. With the F-15, you might be able to achieve this level of awareness. (Corcoran as quoted in Bowden)
Bowden offers a wonderful review of the F-22 in the March Atlantic. This is a plane surrounded by controversy, and there are those who wonder whether the F-15 isn't plenty. Bowmen begs to differ. The difference between the F-15 and the F-22, he says, is the difference between the earliest personal computers, the ones you controlled with written commands, and the new ones, the ones that respond to "point and click."
This too is metaphorically useful. The current C-Suite is cumbersome in just the manner of these early computers. What is called for are streams of information that are so beautifully organized that their significance is visible at a glimpse. What we want is a visual array identifing opportunities and threats in real time, where to see the data is to know how to act upon the data. What we have instead is a place where the data is flawed, too often forced through the sieve called a spreadsheet, and the levers of action are limited and flawed.
So a thoroughgoing retrofit is called for. The C-Suite can not serve the corporation in its present condition. It is yesterday's technology. I wonder if someone somewhere is working on this. It is a daunting challenge. Indeed, it's a much larger intellectual and technical challenge than anything mastered by the F-22. The data streams that we must feed into the 360 C-suite are many and various. Much of what we need to know, especially the cultural matters, don't have metrics representing them. And the decisions we must make are not so straightforward as chasing down the enemy.
[Mixed metaphor advisory!]
The good manager is a little like LeBron James, keeping several possible outcomes in his or her head at once. Indeed, the American corporation is so fantastically complicated and it must be primed for so many, radically different outcomes, that the good manager must keep several models of the same corporation in mind. This model must be fitted with a variety of opposing assumptions and the ability to leap between alternatives. (It's enough to make an airman's head spin.)
Good luck, then, getting everything on a single screen. Good luck finding all but only the right data streams. Good luck finding the levers that will operate on the world with exactly the right interventions in exactly the right moment and exactly the right place.
In my dream world, this is a job for the Santa Fe Institute. Smart people in the desert. Don't we know that this is a very good way to solve big problems?
Bowden, Mark. 2009. The Last Ace. The Atlantic. March. p. 67.