Terrorism As A Design Problem

Stevie Levitt, writer of Freakonomics and kind-of-a-big-deal in the Cool Economics arena, recently did a fairly interesting op-ed with the NYT where he discusses how one goes about designing effective terrorist plots.

His proposal: roving bands of terrorist shooters coordinated to attack at similar times, in true economist fashion, maximizing terror for minimal cost.

If anything, it’s worth reading from the varyingly insightful and/or pompous comments that various readers have posted in response.

What’s morbidly interesting in this respect is that is that the op-ed suggests that acts of terrorism can be approached as a design problem more than a military problem (since the aim isn’t to destroy the opponent’s ability to resist). And, insofar as terrorist cells do their part in innovating in their chosen industry (terror), we can approach terrorism as an organizational design problem as well.

Remember Conway’s Law?a group’s product is inevitably a reflection of the organizational structure that gives rise to it.

I wonder if it’s a useful way to explaining why terrorist cells have in fact NOT done something similar to Levitt’s suggestion. In the very least, you wonder if different kinds of terrorist organizations innovate in unique patterns, and how these innovations are shared across various groups — particularly a group like Al-Qaeda, which functions as a series of independent cells.

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Ben Moskowitz said,

    yikes, mumbai…


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