random bits of leftover 2021 business thinking


I am a scraps thinker. I have scraps of ideas; I write them down and keep them in a folder. As I just discussed with someone, I have tried Roam twice and found the learning curve pretty steep (for me). So, for now I have scraps, rummage around on occasion and see what coalesces into something worthy to share. These are my random bits of leftover thoughts from 2021.

  • Learning organizations need systems

I watched a nerdy discussion on the OODA Loop (a twitter acquaintance Ben Ford was in it).

While there was some interesting thinking what I, personally, found most interesting was that every one of the participants embraced complexity, did consulting on decision making with complexity, and had their own way of talking about it. There was no real consistency (but coherence of thought). This was interesting to me mostly because the entire premise behind the discussion was centered on the Cynefin framework, yet, most participants discarded the framework for their own (but referring to Cynefin as a common ground). Beyond that, my belief is that OODA, whether implemented as OODA or some derivative, is at the core of an iterative decision-making organization and an agreed upon thinking framework creating the foundation for any learning organization. Which leads me to the belief there is an unsaid belief among most organizational thinkers that some version of a Learning Organization <iteratively progressing through constant learning> is the future. So, mostly, we end up haggling over how to best do it. Which leads me back to OODA. While some people may speak of it as a tool, I speak of it as a system, or way, of doing. Some version of OODA fits into anyone who has the objective of creating a Learning  . I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Ralph Stacey actually suggested exactly this, without referring to OODA, in his 1992 book, Managing the Unknowable <see chart>.

  • We should be paying attention to teachers

Teachers could be teaching a business a lot about resilience, “distant” working, routine management <creating new ‘routines’ as a construct> and online social consequences.

  • Words matter

Apophenia: In psychology, the perception of connections and meaningfulness in unrelated things. Apophenia can be a normal phenomenon or an abnormal one, as in paranoid schizophrenia when the patient sees ominous patterns where there are none. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the reason I brought this word up is because it summaries most businesses which are complex and dynamic.

  • VUCA volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity.

These are features of a dynamic system (or a complex system if you want to call it that). I tend to tell business people that business is complex which means you can cause a lot of things to happen and yet it is difficult to identify what specifically was a cause of something. This means dynamic systems are managed, not controlled. Same with complexity.  I admit I spend less time on ‘VUCA’ and more time on understanding how to optimize complexity as it exists. I also admit I don’t find VUCA useful. I think it is more useful to create some education on how to accept some uncertainty, not lose your mind over some volatility or get frozen by ambiguity and manage whatever situation you are in <Law of Situation>. I also admit I dislike most acronyms in business.

  • Destination addiction

The reason why Purpose is topical, and generally speaking a positive thought, is because the alternative we have created – ‘destination addiction’ or ‘performance gamification’ – is a reactively miserable short term driven model. This has long term repercussions because as Zach Mercurio says ”kids don’t wake up dreaming of making quarterly goals.” The truth is you don’t really impact profit by aiming for more profit. The truth is driving all employee behavior by milestone, objectives and goals is a finite plan in which you encourage people to never intrinsically supply energy on their own or pursue things to the benefit of the business unless it will be rewarded as a ‘destination.’

  • Rather than the Cynefin-complexity way of discussing things.

Complex systems, dynamic systems, are expansive therefore your objective (as a leader or group of leaders) is to learn to have business exploit complexity. this means you accept complexity is expansive, not reductive, in its potential and that typically the things that are holding things back are some form of a complication. The more you can surround complexity/complications with situational awareness <assessment of pragmatic possibilities> the more you feel control over the situation <as best as possible>. This does not create certainty, just probabilities to assess.

Complications, processes and situations, reside within all complex systems. While every business in today’s world is complex, and dynamic (it’s all in dimensions and degrees), all businesses have complications within them. Some are productive complications (replicable processes) and some are unproductive complications (the block progress or are ‘reductive’ in nature and stifle complexity’s expansive properties). I would note that any sustainable/scale-able business should always seek replicable parts of a system – the kind of guarantee some aspects of efficiency necessary for traction – but they simultaneously shouldn’t become too independent upon them.

** note: some quasi-productive complications are budgeting, planning, sprints, specific milestones, etc.

On a side note, all complications create fragility, even the productive complicated aspects (not all fragility is created equal).

  • Continuous improvement (learning).

As you understand a system better you shift from uncertainty into probability management (or risk assessment I imagine). The intent of any learning should be to increase probability/risk assessment. At least I think it should be for business. if your increased knowledge converts uncertainty into probabilities, you are increasing your ability to successfully navigate a dynamic business world. Navigating is a combination of thinking conceptually and perceptually. Interestingly (at least to me), where OODA comes into play. If solving complications in a dynamic system is simply creating new unknown complications than a business should implement OODA loop every time they ‘solve’ a complication. And, in fact, the faster you can iteratively implement an OODA loop the more likely you will be successful. It is actually an effective way of creating ongoing progress without having to implement any wacky innovation or improvement initiative. Its kind of like Goldratt’s ‘continuous improvement’, but using OODA.

  • Spatial awareness and spatial development

Contrary to what many other people believe, I actually believe technology is increasing our thinking skills and it is people/humans who are decreasing thinking skills. Watch any younger person playing any game these days and their spatial awareness and critical thinking skills is off the charts good. Especially if you compare it to when the last generation was young. I believe there is an unhealthy fear that technology is undermining learning and critical thinking (which inevitably lowers the intelligence). I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest that a system always has to exert effort on both the giver & the receiver of knowledge to encourage better thinking. I mention that because humans are the ones exerting efforts against the system (and technology) in ways in which it appears we are attempting to divert people away from technology rather than ‘fixing’ technology’s flaws and having people lean into it. we all need to remember.  If it is if your objective to make the smartest organization or the smartest society then the emphasis should be on making the humans in the system smarter (better critical thinkers, ability to think conceptually, assess probabilities, analyze data & disparate seemingly unrelated information) not deprive them of technology which, frankly, is the future.

Spatial development (being able to assess in all dimensions and arcs in a fragmented complex world). almost demands retraining the brain’s coping mechanism. Retraining because the brain tends to arc toward copying and doing things others have done in the past (some aspect of status quo) and, yet, progress is found through navigating what exists and unfolds.

  • Fog

Complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty have a common characteristic – fog. A business leader’s objective should be to limit the fog as much as possible to find some clarity to make better choices & decisions.  Which leads me to Fog’s companion in crime – chaos. I avoid discussing Chaos because I don’t see where it is helpful. I only bring up chaos under the heading of “we often confuse chaos for situational lack of pattern – which can be good or bad”. Business leaders confuse chaos with lack of alignment or focus. Its just dynamics being stretched beyond either current capabilities or current understanding. But I argue, and have, a business (unless you are at the very beginnings of a startup) cannot truly encounter chaos. I argue that because any business inherently has two things – some construct which doesn’t permit true chaos and guiding principles which create some guardrails from true chaos.

  • No one understands complexity (excepting maybe some of the yahoos at Santa Fe Institute).

but you can accept it which is the first step to navigating it. which leads me to one of the characteristics of a complex system, or a dynamic system, is someone might think they understand a system, but they actually don’t. Someone can understand aspects and parts and even the complicated parts (the process & replicable parts), but truly understanding the dynamics of the entire system is pretty much unattainable for 99% of people. I’m fairly sure it was Taleb who suggested people often think they understand systems that they really don’t. And maybe that is hardest part to explain to a leader and maybe is why I offered up the thought that the ‘leader of the future’ is more likely a coherent group of conceptual thinkers.’ Its kind of like taking ‘team of teams’ and applying it to leader.

  • Sensemaking & choice making.

I have always, maybe decades, driven all my business thinking and doing through this filter <albeit I didn’t call it sensemaking until I heard Daniel Schmactenberger use that term>. I cannot make good choices if I cannot make sense of a situation. An organization cannot remain aligned if it doesn’t share some sensemaking because if it doesn’t choice making will become increasingly misaligned with the interests of the business (dynamic systems are relentlessly unforgiving to poor choice making).

  • Complications are actually kind of fun to discuss with business people if you do it right.

I actually focus my discussions on ‘connections’ (or transitional moments between things). Complex systems are always defined by how well connections, or connectivity, maintain effectiveness (which can beget some efficiency). Complicated aspects of a system attempt to systemize connections (sometimes well and sometimes not so well). Regardless. Connections are either expansive or reductive. I have found it helpful to get leaders/people to examine connections and connectivity. That said. Solving complications is, well, complicated. Solving one complication, which theoretically releases additional dynamics even as it releases complexity’s potential, will create additional future complications (consequences or ‘known unknowns’). On the other hand. Hunkering down on systematically ‘solving’ individual system part complications only increases the odds of a future catastrophe – systems design & fragility/brittleness.

** about 5 years ago one of the smartest, pragmatic, business people I know said to me “all this complexity stuff is interesting, but how is it useful? If you want to work with Santa Fe Institute, your stuff is great. But you need to shift from complexity theory to business pragmatism.” that conversation shifted the way I speak about complexity so that everything explained how they should think about it and why it helps to think that way. I began leaning less on theory and more on understandability and pragmatism.

  • Experts

An unexpected consequence of technology and the internet? It’s interesting to think about how our exposure to professionals, and how that may increase our ability to copy and learn some aspects, may end up flattening out some creativity and limiting the kinds of styles that might emerge. The idea is before the internet more people simply had to make it up as they went but with the internet one had the ability to listen to more experts and learn some aspects of their expertise. It eliminates some of the trail & error aspects in a particular field. On the other hand. While individual creativity may have been flattened out, collectively, the quality of basic thinking has flattened up. I would argue individual creativity doesn’t diminish, just that the impact of individual creativity is lessened. In other words. When everyone is “making it up as they go” some individuals can more easily rise but when, fundamentally, everyone’s skills have strengthened the individual creativity matters a bit less (or when speaking of experts, the truest of original thinking experts will arise from the pack but will have more difficulty doing so). Flattening, in this case, significantly improves the collective (the whole) and individuals, while mattering, either matter a little less (a part having significance) or the individual who does arise truly is deserving. In the end, I will admit, I have always found this discussion fruitful when I say “people know shit, some people know a lot of shit about one thing and some people know a lot of shit about a lot of things. You need a mix and can never become too dependent upon one or the other. It’s the mix of the two that optimizes a dynamic system.” I’m not suggesting there will no longer be experts but I am suggesting the knowledge worker expertise level would flatten upwards, i.e., everyone gets smarter. The byproduct of this is that ‘expert language’ no longer becomes simply in the purview of some ‘expert’ but rather it becomes more of a shared language (or the gaps become smaller). This is good, and bad.

  • I hate biology, car, ecology business references.

I think it’s fair to say an organization, or a business, is not a machine, but I have always hesitated to say a business is organic. Parts of any business demand some machinery like aspects (my best way of discussing this is to lean in on Mintzberg’s types of businesses to point out different industries demand different things despite the fact even it is outdated).

I will say that all industries are dynamic so all business have to have at least some dynamic aspects. But a business has to decide, and maybe learn, their optimal degree of dynamic and it will always, always, contain some aspects of replication and some aspects of emergence. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that replication CAN incorporate constant learning and continuous improvement and emergent CAN incorporate some aspects of replication. But. The reason why I hate biology/ecology/organic metaphors is because just like Santa Fe Institute has suggested “humans are not bees.” Nor are they rainforests, cars or molecules. They are people, human beings, connected in some ways, disconnected in others and, well, they deserve to be discussed as people.


  • Economical with the actualité.

Economical with the truth. The official definition is “to deceive people by deliberately not telling them the whole truth about something. People use this expression when they want to suggest that someone is being dishonest, but do not actually want to accuse them of lying” and it is typically Edmund Burke who gets credited for saying this: “Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatever: But, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an economy of truth. It is a sort of temperance, by which a man speaks truth with measure that he may speak it the longer.” It is irresponsible to speak of absolutes and not probabilities. I also believe business (society in general) has bought into the poisonous well of “say one thing” to the detriment of thinking and humans in general. Truth is multifaceted and we get dumber by the day when truth gets dumbed down into some simplistic soundbite.

  • Knowledge

I’ve said it for years but I am always surprised how little I know about things I have been asked to do for years and how much I know about things I just didn’t think had high value to others. The exploration never ends and answers remain elusive. To know, and accept, you don’t know it all. To listen, reflect. And maybe adjust, maybe not, depending on the evidence presented and the argument made. Knowledge and sensemaking are inextricably linked. All decisions and beliefs, at their core, are grounded in how you make sense of things. Therefore. if you ever want to have a valuable conversation with someone, and maybe even learn something, a discussion should never (rarely) be about the decision or belief, but rather an understanding of how someone makes sense of something.

Want to change someone’s mind? Change the filter from which they view something.

How does your mind change? When someone gives you evidence that how you make sense of something should be altered (little ways or big ways).

Knowledge is good (to quote Faber College) but it also takes work.

Written by Bruce