“Modeling the world as it is, is one thing. But as soon as you being using that model, you are changing the world, in ways large and small. There is a broad assumption underlying many machine-learning models that the model itself will not change the reality its modeling. In almost all cases, this is false.”

Brian Christian


“The proper method for hastening the decay of error, is not, by brute force, or by regulation which is one of the classes of force, to endeavor to reduce men to intellectual uniformity; but on the contrary, by teaching every man to think for himself.”

William Godwin


Back in the 1970’s (maybe 80’s) Arie de Geus suggested “the ability to learn faster than competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage” and the idea of a business in perpetual motion was solidified. Well. That is assuming you were paying attention to Arie and agreed with him.

Business has, since then, gussied up constant learning with scale, velocity, and a variety of other nifty terms to communicate ‘business being in perpetual motion.’ At the core of all of this is that systems (business) are internal models of their environment which progressively and iteratively improve as systems accumulate knowledge and experience. In other words, systems learn. I share that because effective motion is a derivative of understanding systems and people and decision-making.

Which leads me to Motion (in general).

To do lists are endless with lots checked-off but never get shorter. People are working long hours but what is done never seems to create any meaningful progress. This is motion while being stagnant. It’s like a hamster in a wheel. It’s not only unsatisfying for the people in the wheel, but the business itself doesn’t gain any satisfying results (although managers are usually quite creative in result presentations to make it seem like shit is moving everyone forward).

What I am suggesting is motion is always about decisions. What I mean by that is there is never any lacks of things to do in a business but some just aren’t worth doing.

Meaningful motion projects fall into 2 slots:

  • value creation initiatives which increase motion of value offered
  • motion initiatives which increase the motion of the organization itself & indirectly enhances value

Choose your projects wisely. Meaningful motion is all that matters. That said. Motion will always inherently contain some ambiguity. What I mean by that is even with the existence of the best information available <and learning> it will be simultaneously true that (a) people will not agree what that information says and (b) people will not agree what the future will bring. This means goal commitment may be necessary, but not sufficient in accomplishing goals.

“Don’t confuse a flurry of activity for progress. That’s a magician’s trick.”

One of my past Bosses

What do I mean?

How often do we see a company doing lots and lots of shit yet we don’t really see any progress? That’s a business in love with motion in and of itself. That’s a business which justifies return off of doing and not progress. In the end. Motion has a direct relationship to ‘doing shit’ (progress type projects, not speed or stagnant projects) and “doing shit with utility”.

Which leads me to decision utility.

Motion, at its core, is about decision utility, i.e., which decision will create the greatest return. I call it Return on Choice (ROC).  In business you face a relentless onslaught of decisions to be made. Success is often dictated by how well you choose what is important versus what is not as important versus what is not important at all.

Let’s face it. No matter how good you are you will not always get this right.

Let’s face it. We could all become more adept at making choices because, let’s face it, if anything, we seem to have become worse at making thoughtful choices.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out there is a direct relationship between ROC and impatience, i.e., too impatient poorer ROC and just enough patience higher ROC.

Now. I am all for, and a huge proponent of not dicking around <the technical term for ‘wasting time overthinking’> when a choice needs to be made. But there is a difference between making speedy decisions and making a decision because speed is the main criteria. The latter encourages impatient decision making which lessens decision utility.

This happens for two reasons:

  • Impatience exacerbates our typically poor prioritization skills
  • Impatience emphasizes Personal bias

That said.

A key part of decision utility and motion is prioritization skills

Since we live in a world of infinite possibilities, it’s so hard to figure out what to do, when, and where.

If you start thinking this way … well … you begin living in a world strewn with hypotheticals.

If I do A, then this will happen. But what if I do B?  Will it be better?  Will I get back more? Will everyone around me be more satisfied? Or what about C? That looks good. Oh. But someone suggested D.

You get it. There are 26 letters in the alphabet and while most of us stop way before Z, even getting to D can be maddening. It seems like the world is your oyster, everything is possible, but you don’t take advantage of any opportunities because you’re not sure of what’s best.

This is where I remind everyone what US President Dwight D. Eisenhower supposedly said: ‘The most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones’. Misreading the urgent from the non-urgent and the important from the unimportant may create impatience at the wrong time and waste energy & focus. Smart business patience, and motion, at its simplest is grounded in the The Eisenhower Matrix. While Stephen Covey is often credited with the decision-making matrix it was actually Dwight Eisenhower, considered a master of time management, who developed the matrix.

Yeah. Decision utility is often driven by effective prioritization, i.e., what to do and what not to do.

“Mental clarity ain’t for the faint of heart.”

Katerina Stoykova Klemer

Which leads me to the battle between Motion and Personal bias.

Decision utility has to navigate the ‘personal bias’ maze.

“Being aware of our own biases doesn’t mean we aren’t still susceptible to them.”

Faris Yakob

When impatient we get, well, lazy. We lean in on our bias which is unfortunate because thinking takes hard work and every choice has opportunity costs. Unfortunately, most of us are not good at assessing ROC <return on choice> when viewing things thru a bias.

People need to invest in working to eliminate bias.

Invest in developing the choices <and however many we need to feel like we have enough to assess assuming that is a finite number>.

Invest in actually assessing the choices <better, betterest & best assuming a best can be actually identified>.

Invest in the actual choice.

Invest in learning so the choices make more and more sense.

I imagine we are talking about the proper investment in time because organizational impatience leads to the permitting of poor choices <and a quicker death of a thousand cuts>.

Let me be clear. Dealing with impatience and balancing impatience & patience ain’t for the faint of heart. Managing decisions is all about a thorough understanding of the decision’s hierarchy of needs, navigating bias & understanding the attributes in a span of time that generates the most rewarding outcome. Being impatient doesn’t mean you ignore this thinking but rather you incorporate it into your impatience <and it can dictate how patient you are in your impatience>.

Successful impatient decision making is about having, well, a rigid policy of flexibility.


Translation. Effective impatient patience is all about mental clarity. Creating mental space to see things, feel things, absorb things and make those things into a decision or choice <that is learning by the way>.

Which leads me back to decision utility.

When you are facing a choice, making that decision <yes or no, do it or don’t do it>, you go through a cost-benefit check that may last anywhere from a split second to days, weeks, or even months <and yes even months can be an impatient patient choice>.

Such choices come up many times a day and time is a factor in virtually all of them.

It is easy to see how impatience can be abused if we regard life in today’s world as an almost unbroken fast-moving river of choices/decisions. In that world, utility becomes blurry and learning is a luxury.

Anyway. It is easy to see how with everything moving so fast all the time you can actually feel like you are speeding along even without making any good ROC choices. But 99 times out of a 100 there is little meaningful motion, just motion. I imagine my large point is that to ensure learning is useful and sustainable, you should probably iterate (OODA-ize) your motion. OODA makes tangible decision utility and learning value.

Which leads me to reductionism (which, OODA, used poorly, can lead to).

Reductionism never works because, well, it kills motion. Ok. It reduces larger motion of the whole system. It ‘right sizes’ motion under rationalizing energy use and thereby not only restricts expansiveness of motion but also the expansiveness offered by the larger system.

That said, to protect the ‘effective doers’ a bit, deliverers of effective consistency <let’s call us ‘the everyday working schmucks’> are kind of screwed in today’s business world in that you can clearly have focus and your consistency may be less clear to those around you.

If I have two major gripes in today’s business world, it is that we, leaders & managers, need to:

–      Better recognize the unseen portions of consistency <the focus within the inconsistency>

–      Better accept the unseen portions of consistency <the focus within the inconsistency>

Inconsistency and consistency <embracing both> is a skill & an art. I would note embracing some inconsistency and yet maintaining some consistency is kind of the key to successful perpetual motion in business.

Which leads me to motion in a complex, dynamic, environment.

Learning should seek to harness aspects of the system and complexity to enable perpetual motion. Yeah. Complexity is not an issue. The world is complex, an industry is complex, a business is complex, people are complex, heck, even learning is complex. We deal with complexity every day. To enable motion, we need to ‘de-confuse’ complexity. this does not mean dumbing it down or stripping it of important detail, it means making it understandable . The more things are understandable, the simpler they appear. When things appear simple, they become useful. On the other hand. Too simple is not useful. In addition, contrary to popular belief, complexity is actually interesting and people engage in complex environments BECAUSE they are dynamic. It has an inherent feel of motion (versus stagnancy) which people find appealing. Now. Too much ‘motion’ (or too fast), or being confused, kills the appeal. Therein lies the challenge with complex systems and business in general. Once again, I would argue information, well delivered, addresses everything I just noted and creates the sustainable advantage.

Written by Bruce