business is in the replication business



“… ignorance will persist in the face of masses of information however complete and correct.

It persists even in the face of the meritorious efforts that are being made to go beyond presenting information and to teach the use of it by means of lectures, classes, discussion groups. Results are not zero. But they are small. People cannot be carried up the ladder.

Thus, the typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance.”

Joseph Schumpeter on Democracy


I talk about emergence and agility a lot. In fact, I sometimes believe I talk about it so much people think I don’t believe in any replication and standardization. Today I’d like to resolve any misunderstandings. If we are honest, all of us, successful business is in the replicating business. Replication is the foundation upon which all profitability and execution effectiveness resides upon and it isn’t the place where the typical employee drops down to a lower level of mental performance.

That said. Let me begin with what I believe is obvious. I think we often forget to acknowledge much of what business experiences happen serendipitously <or as a consequence of some unseen action in the past> and temporarily <albeit that temporariness could span just a moment or some longer finite timeframe>.

Sometimes these timeframes don’t have clear-cut beginnings and endings.

Sometimes they run parallel.

Sometimes they overlap.

Sometimes they randomly interconnect.

Sometimes we plan for them, sometimes we develop plans to address them and sometimes they develop sight unseen by factors outside our control <and we have no plan>.

I often believe it is useful to think of a business, and its systems, as an accumulation of different timeframe events/happenings. I believe if we did so we would be a little less rigid, a little less linear in thinking <about execution and alignment>, a bit less certain of system resilience and, consequently, have a bit more agility.

That may sound like an odd way to discussing replication, but this is the context in which replication thrives.

Replication often gets spoken of as ‘standardization’ or some version of rote behavior or even best practice, solid immoveable things, instead I believe we should speak of replication as coherent activity continuously in use. Kind of the steady pulse of organizational productivity showing up not just in repeatable actions, but seen in repeatable patterns of system usage of resources <often driven by consistent execution>.

Which leads me to replication of data.

While some gurus would suggest data is the oil that makes this non-machine work, I will not. I will broaden data to information and I will also suggest replicating information is the key to not only ongoing success, productivity, improvement as well as agility.

But let me talk about data for a minute.

Big data, small data, right sized data, we have always had more information than we have known what to do with in business. That’s I find most ‘big data’ discussions annoying.

Yes. I buy the fact that with today’s technology I can get better, more granular information <and sweeping trend like information at the same time> than ever before.

No. I don’t think we are significantly better at using whatever data, and information, than we were in the past.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know there are TedTalks and presentations from very articulate dynamic speakers espousing the coming generation of ‘big data.’ I would ask everyone to note a couple of things when these people stand up and pontificate about the potential of ‘big data’ and showcase how it has actually been used:

Their examples are often <most often> anomalies to everyday business.

The information is brilliant, the usefulness is less than pragmatic

Don’t get me wrong, data used well is valuable. I am simply suggesting we love the concept of data so much we are bedazzled with gathering it, but more often have no clue what to do with the data <or misuse it>.

This is where replication comes in. I encourage everyone to think about data a little differently. Think of the fact that Data is actually the result of someone doing things over and over again through connections with other people. Maybe think of it as a massive research program of ‘one-on-one interviews’ <not just of people but with resources, machines, etc., i.e., the system itself can be interviewed> that provides some quantitative and qualitative pattern/coherence information to think about. And, as with any research, when you compile the interviews, you can very easily lose sight of the fact that each data point represents real people who dedicated their real attention at some particular identifiable moment. But if you look at data that way, well, you realize that opportunities can be seen as clusters of people acting in a coherent/connected fashion over a period of time. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out everything I just said is replication.

That said. Most importantly <and possibly what all those ‘big data experts’ fail to see> is that all these data points reflect WHAT SOMEONE HAS CHOSEN TO PAY ATTENTION TO.


“Attention is the most important currency that anybody can give you, it’s worth more than money, possessions or things.”

Steve Rubel


Replicated information describes the ability to see what people pay attention to on an ongoing basis.

** note: this can be both good and bad, but what it does suggest is if you want to understand why something happens, you seek where people pay attention. Conversely, if you want to change behavior, or effect it, find out how to have attention <not mandated> directed toward something.

Yeah. My point is do not disregard data as a means to examine connections and what people pay attention to. I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that the ‘data’ I just highlighted is simply one part of ‘information’ that decisions makers and business has access to.

Which leads me to information.

Information is the lifeblood of business. Possibly the most infamous legend supporting this is Rothschild and Waterloo and a carrier pigeon. Basically, Rothschild knew Wellington won at Waterloo faster than competition and took advantage in the market. The details of the legend are clearly not true, but the lesson is certainly true. Information used wisely benefits the user of that information. There is another part of this lesson – patterns. The entire Rothschild family, as they traveled, took meticulous notes with regard to what they observed and shared – persistently and consistently. I bring that latter point up to note ‘dimensionality’ <situational awareness spans entire compass> matters.

So let me talk about information, not data, and ‘replicating information.’

Let me explain. Business are persistent patterns of things – behavior, attitude and creation. all of which are undergirded by information. In order to maintain its ‘persistency’ it must maintain a steady flow of information, i.e., replicate flows of information. Now. This does not mean ‘the same information’, it simply means replicating whatever information is necessary, within the given time horizon and context, to enable the persistent pattern of things. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this information enables people to make decisions and do things in the service, or in relationship to, other groups of people. Information elevates the value of interactions and connectivity. In a nutshell that’s the business of replicating business and that’s the value of replicating information.

Organizations will only grow, or progress, if information is constantly injected (and learned from) within employees (and, yes, machine learning is not ‘of people’ but conceptually the same idea runs true).

Which leads to what information shows – patterns.

Patterns are a reflection of process or systems or behavior. They are codes for something you need to pay attention to. They sometimes narrow our view, and attention, away from whole systems view which, pragmatically speaking, may often help in decision-making <and often it’s okay because the value of the business is embedded within patterns.

In fact, it’s quite possible a business should manage to the Patterns and not the People

Managers manage what they can see. Connection decision makers make decisions on what they can see.

Better information, and data, certainly gives a business a chance to leverage connections. However, ‘seeing’, in good decision making, needs to expand beyond the moment itself and incorporate some larger patterns and consequence recognition (not just causal).

One of the key challenges to this thought is many managers are hesitant to accept how little information/knowledge is needed before someone can actually make a useful decision in the moment.

** note: this is a reflection that early decision-making experiences errs toward seeking too much certainty but experience drives decisionmakers to lean in on probabilities rather than certainty (I call this optimal certainty).

That said. Pattern recognition offers a couple of key benefits:

  • Faster Reflexes: As a more agile organization culture, the company has an ability to blend into the marketplace (versus rigid institutions unable to flex). Technology has changed the way organizations should act because it has changed how the world interacts – the way we shop and consume. It creates new opportunities and destroys businesses that are unable to adapt to a sudden discontinuity with our past.
  • Decision maker confidence. Face the fact that while everyone says they want to make decisions, a decision, in & of itself, can create some anxiety to a less practiced decision maker. Patterns offer some certainty, more so than a specific data point or ‘rule’, to a connection decision maker.


“The Internet aggregates the actual brand experience, it discloses and amplifies the mismatch between companies and their customers, which can be seriously disrupted.”

Susan Baker, Cranfield School of Management


While everything I have noted is under the meta ‘organizational benefit of pattern recognition’ umbrella, at a mesa level the benefit resides in how quickly a business can apply the appropriate replicable skills against or toward the patterns. The point here is replication, well applied, i.e., right time/right place, increases business velocity of pattern opportunities.

Anyway. We should treat data, and patterns, like mirrors, in which a decision maker gets not just information they need when they need it, but rather the pattern in order to assign the best decision to the connection need.

What this permits is not a causal problem-solution response, but instead a grander future-fit response in which consequences, some foreseen and some unforeseen, cascade away from each decision. This is sometimes called ‘knowledge management.’ Toffler referred to “knowledge management,” as becoming clear that viewing a company’s knowledge as something separate from its employees is impossible. Our growing understanding of social networks and organization network value creation should make us think more about patterns within patterns. What I mean by that is an organization itself has patterns (pacing, teams, informal hierarchies, etc.) which an organization should seek to nest within an external pattern if it would like to sinc up and optimize the opportunities.  I would argue that establishing a pattern recognition system maximizes the information as a living breathing thing altered by its use. In addition, not only does it maximize individual opportunities, but it also helps leverage real employee/people’s interactions to spot larger trends AND also helps identify internal experts throughout an organization so that you can better merge skills/strengths against future needs. All that said, the ability to replicate information and data undergirds not only the usefulness of data/information, but makes it easier to use.

Look. Replication is actually a dance, not marching. And even then, the natural order of replicable things is that it can fit a lot <that’s what makes it useful>, but not perfectly. It’s not optimal, but can be quite useful. It’s the core of organizational efficacy.

To make my point mass production of data, any information in fact, is less than optimal let’s go to mass retail. It’s like buying clothes at a chain retail store versus a tailor. Any large clothing retail chain store will give you something that looks nice, but likely will not fit you perfectly <its crafted for the average> while the tailor will fit you perfectly.

Similarly, data efficacy gets effected by algorithms <in a sneaky way>. Data compilation algorithms are designed inside-out. What I mean by that is they are shaped to scan information, craft that information into useful data and then is told to shape it in ‘useable ways.’ That is mass production of information. It will fit okay, often look good, but its lack of preciseness to the individual ‘buying it’ gives some room for poor buying choices. And maybe that is my big ask to the technology people, the software/AI designers, to start shaping things that work best for us and do not enable the worst of us (worst can simply be ‘default to simplistic’ to make a decision).

** note: I should also point out AI, designed with efficiency as an objective, will naturally skew data shaping away from efficacy, or even effectiveness, and toward efficiency.

All of this to say that consistent, and coherent, information that can be provided in a consistent fashion is the lifeblood of useful replication. Why do I say that? Information is tools. Period. All these tools create a landscape upon which we navigate our decisions, choices, selves and business. and while its easy to say having a hammer when you need a screwdriver is the flaw of replication, I would suggest there is a reason a hammer is in every toolbox.

In the end.

While its easy to suggest innovation is the lifeblood of a business, its really not. innovation, or continuous improvement, certainly enhances the likelihood of future survival, but it is its replication strengths & abilities that makes sure a business survives and is survivable <if not thriveable> through chaotic dynamic situations, and offers the pathway to consistent profitability <which, looping back, funds innovations and people>. In other words, success is often found in the business of replicating business.


“It is the predicament of mankind that man can perceive the problematique, yet, despite his considerable knowledge and skills, he does not understand the origins, significance, and interrelationships of its many components and thus is unable

to devise effective responses. This failure occurs in large part because we continue to examine single items in the problemarique without understanding that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, that change in one element means change in the others.”

Limits of Growth, Meadows

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Written by Bruce