“We have to invent boundaries for clarity and sanity; and boundaries can produce problems when we forget that we’ve artificially created them.”

Donella Meadows


“Nobody’s lives just fit together. Fitting together is something you work at. It’s something you make happen – because you love each other.”

Rainbow Rowell



It is popular ‘wisdom’ to suggest “context matters.” Heck. I say it all the time. In retrospect I wish I discussed some nuance a bit more in my rush to get people to pay more attention to the uniqueness of one moment versus another.

Now. The problem we try and solve when stating context matters is to push back on simplistic replication. We use it against best practices and anything that could be construed as ‘using what has been successful in the past.” In doing that the other end of the pendulum swung around and, all of a sudden, we began suggesting doing everything new in every moment is the most effective thing to do. That is absurd. Variations, are specific variants, between contexts is more important than simply suggesting context matters.

This is important because systems with similar feedback structures produce similar dynamic behaviors. And this is important because while we speak of context mattering, it does and it doesn’t. Completely different contexts can generate the same, or similar, dynamics, therefore, simply because a context is different does not mean something done in the past – or something very similar to what has been done in the past – will not work within this context. In fact, it just may well work.

And this becomes important for a number of reasons, but let me begin with sanity. I believe we make something like 30,000 decisions a day. Asking everyone to assess the context so all 30000 decisions can be customized is absurd. The truth is that within the 30000 there are ‘our rituals’, our heuristics, our defaults and, well, our certainty and stability. Everyone’s are a bit different <albeit there will be general commonalities> so the trick is to match up the best replicable aspects to the individual, the business itself, the customer and ultimately, the world/society AND provide the space for emergent/contextual change and adaptation, big or small, to sync up to shift things slightly into the ‘better’ category.

That’s kind of the holy grail of impact as well as ‘best practice’ as well as value creation.

What that means is there is no plug ‘n play best practice, however, it is a mistake to not assess practices and borrow what is applicable, and replicable, to you.

Which brings me back to context. Your context will demand some variations to create your own replicable aspects. Assessing someone else’s best practices is not a bad thing, but blindly applying someone else’s best practice is stupid. That said. I applaud the intent. I do so because the intent is to find the replicable things which create a foundation for value (quality and efficiency). And, lets be clear, all viable successful businesses have a solid foundation of replicable activity.

Which leads me to “and.”

Let me explain. “Ands” are the connections within a system. In order to understand <as well as one can> a system one has to explore the mechanisms/things/connections that makes things happen – the “ands.”.  This begins by simply watching how the system behaves. And, yet, even this is tricky. “You think that because you understand ‘one’ that you must therefore understand ‘two’ because one and one make two. But you forget you must also understand ‘and’” (Meadows Thinking in Systems). It is in interconnection <the ‘ands’> which may actually make one and one equal something other than two. That makes most people’s heads explode, yet, it shouldn’t because it explains velocity, scale and a variety of other exponential growth/progress ideas. Similarly, if you grasp the concept, now you must also accept that, in this case, one and one maybe actually equate to something less than two.

Which leads me to resilience.

If you seek to understand a business’s resilience you have to understand the connections <complexity science suggests ‘fractals’>. I say that because resilience is a measure of a system’s ability to survive and persist within a dynamic environment. It has elasticity embedded within in, not constancy. Resilience is restorative from conditions encountered. Its stability, not just static. All that said. Obviously, there are always limits to resilience but elasticity is found in the conversations, the connections, the “ands” and the ability to juggle, and find the appropriate equilibrium, of replicable and emergent. All that to say, all situations demand some level of replicable aspects to have some value creation resilience.


Here are some truths about context.

Most of your business, over time, will find many situations/contexts will have similar characteristics, common challenges and repetitive resource needs. There will always be similarities just as there will be variations. Situational effectiveness will be defined just as much on how you assess similarities as you do variances. Ponder.

Many of your defaults, over time, offer some useful boundaries, often subconscious boundaries, with a downside creating some bounded rationality. Overall, these defaults serve to formalize the world as it is engaged, even formalizing complexity in some ways, with the intent to effectively navigate and release the positive aspects of complexity. Defaults have incredible power over people and systems <they actually control many connections>. In fact, I would guess 80%+ of our daily decisions ease into our default mode. This is not necessarily bad, but it certainly has consequences. Ponder.

Majority of your strategies, and strategic thinking, will become dependent upon constantly applying ongoing learning. In the past context was defined and strategies developed against that context assessment. In other words, strategies used and applied strategy against that learning. In the future (and hopefully in the present), strategies will constantly incorporate learning. In other words, organizations will need constant learning and have the ability to use that information to constantly reframe perspectives in which strategies exist. Ponder.

What this means is that the majority of context management is actually quest management.


“Quests are anti-default.”

Dr. Jason Fox


How to Lead a Quest, Dr. Jason Fox

Quests are journeys and they demand looking at a system in its entirety, and understand it well enough to dance with it. This is not easy. It’s hard because many of the interactions are unseen or buried within a complex weave of connections and conversations. This difficulty gets compounded by time and space. What I mean by that is most systems don’t create immediate consequences <sometimes months and years away>. That’s why cooperation matters. Everyone needs to be focused on working together to optimize the system as a whole and minimize the random interactions which can create unsolvable – within acceptable timeframes – variations. Quests cannot be completed by optimizing individual pieces and parts of the system. Successful quests demand maximizing the replicable aspects as well as the agility aspects. in other words, business people will need to optimize both replicable aspects and emergent aspects by effective assessments of contexts. Ponder.


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Written by Bruce