Last year I abstained
this year I devour

without guilt
which is also an art

Margaret Atwood, in Circe/Mud Poems


“When all the world’s a lock, you don’t find a key, you become the key.”

Rachel Caine


As we wander into 2022, lets take a moment and think about what we learned from 2021 and some things that maybe business should be thinking about for 2022. As everyone knows, I dislike predictions, so this is more reflective and applied reflective thinking.

Which leads me to disruption.

Disruption, inevitably, is about the rhythm of a business. If something changes the rhythm, its disruptive. If it doesn’t, its not. Maybe that’s too simplistic, but it surely does feel valid.

** note: self inflicted discordance, i.e., poorly implemented change, protocols or products, is not disruption, it is simply self imposed dysfunction which ‘wobbles’ the rhythm of the business.

2021 should have made everyone rethink what they think disruption is. Ok. Maybe they should be thinking about the difference between false disruption and real disruption. For years pundits have been plastering “disruption’ and ‘disruptive’ in PowerPoint mastheads, headlines and speaker presentation titles. The pandemic was real disruption, 99% of everything prior was not. This matters because false disruption, mis-viewed, leads to methods of analysis, planning and speculation that will open the doors for even the most farfetched ideas and an ocean of possibilities any business can drown in. It also cloaks the fact most businesses will, well, “être à armes égales” or ‘to fight with the same weapons’ because it isn’t true disruption and doing the same shit with similar tools, just a bit differently, makes everyone feel good.

But. Where all this false disruption has to led to is a business employee world cloaked in anxiety and fatigue, simultaneously amused and intimidated, and plagued by a general sense of impotence. People have been existing under a state of such interminable disruption warfare that it seems normative and dysfunctional. So, while people hope for better things and a better business, they have been bludgeoned so many times with false disruption, and servitude to all that is technology, that hope for better is being annihilated. This is a semi-important thought because regardless of real disruption or false disruption, the main principle that governs any business is its own survival. Since ultimately an institution, regardless of its claims of goodwill, must perpetuate its own survival, everyone who lives within the organization must commit themselves to the survival of the institution in some form or fashion. Therefore, if the institution has stripped hope from the people within then it simply becomes an ‘outcome objective’ entity <with, of course, some trappings of empathy and culture>. This should make everyone think about the uncomfortable thought that each person with a relationship to an institution is expected to some degree to sacrifice himself or herself to the perpetuation of that institution and the systems that create the output which sustains its survival. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this is actually the opposite of what is needed for real business progress as well as human progress (in that rather than have the business benefit people the people find themselves enslaved/ensnared by the systems that enable the business). False disruption simply amplifies that belief system in that if you are impotent to make things better you simply make better what is <the existing system and outcomes – regardless of the means>. Ponder that.

But let me get back to business rhythm with regard to disruption.

All businesses have ‘pace layers’ as well as ‘paced nested systems’ all of which, working in some sense of coherence, generates an overall rhythm for a business. The rhythms are asynchronous yet create arrays of symmetrical patterned behaviors/efforts to the benefit of the business.

What that means is most of what is falsely called ‘disruption’ simply gets absorbed and assimilated within parts of the nested systems<existing rhythms keeping pace>, and the system, as a whole, isn’t really disrupted. It chugs along and the economic objectives are still met (as they are the overriding drivers of what will change and what will not) and because it is simply so-called disruption the slower, foundational, parts ignore it and remain steady because the true nature of things hasn’t really been affected. The internal dynamics of the business may <maybe> shift a bit but the external dynamics, the dynamics WITH the external context when implemented, don’t change in any meaningful way because the market dynamics haven’t really changed. Let me be clear. This mainly translates into a belief that most companies do things that make them feel like they are better <internal dynamics>, but don’t really significantly positively affect what matters – the dynamics WITH the market. I would suggest a shitload of business leaders came to this realization in 2021 and, yet, will continue to do so in 2022.

This is where false disruption can actually do its most damage. Absorption of false disruption is done not through learning, but by economic success. The business simply accommodates the ‘new’ shifting a bit to maintain its economic objectives. What this means is that the organization doesn’t really improve, doesn’t really learn anything truly useful for the future, simply learns the bare minimum to maintain the course. Its an economic company, and model of which outcomes and output are all that matters. False disruption gets devoured by the existing conserving aspects of an institution. That is what we should have learned in 2021.

Which leads me to justification by economics.

Economic justification devours everything. It swallows up change, transformation and even real disruption. Just watch. Economic growth will be fantastic in 2022 and 84% of businesses <you will see why I offered that number in a second> will simply surf the overall growth with basically the old way of doing things and claim success, i.e., economic justification. So why 84%? A Deloitte study released in May 2020 <during lockdown, peak pandemic, and high uncertainty over what the future would consist of> stated just 16% of business leaders expected to invest in the reinvention of their workforce. Yeah. 16%. Status quo devours anything new as long as it can be economically justified.

As we move into 2022 the gap between those who understand what needs to be done and are willing to do it and those who simply hope for a return to “business as usual” is frightening. And while a large number of employees may have a niggling sense this isn’t the optimal path an even larger number of employees, and far too many business people in general, have been constantly and incessantly assailed with the belief that the ultimate moral significance of their individual lives is embodied in and depends upon the mere survival – this includes survival of economic objectives – of the business and its ‘way of doing things’. This means as the systems assimilate most ‘disruption’ they do so not to improve, but in justification of service to the (a) productivity objectives, (2) reward incentives and (c) outcomes which keep attention off of them – economic justification.

** note: I worry about 2022. A lot. The combination of “getting back what was lost” economically and economic justification doesn’t bode well for ethics, values and, in general, better business behavior. In a tragedy of commons business worldview every business will be fighting for their ‘fair share’ in a zero-sum worldview. My only true prediction for 2022 is we will look back and find ‘ethical fading’ was more the norm then the exception. It will be a bad year for ethics and those of us fighting for a better way of doing business.

What this means is that most ‘disruption’ doesn’t disrupt, it gets assimilated or dissipates within existing systems focused on meeting specific objectives and outcomes – not improvement. I will end this section with where I began: economic justification – economics of a business can devour everything.

“There is no ‘complete recipe” for avoiding human extinction by technological means. We can specify only the human qualities required: patience, flexibility, intelligence.”

John von Neumann

Which leads me to framing.

In this case, for today, framing has to do with how one thinks about their business – systems and how systems work against market dynamics (and to fend off economic justification). Far too often we permit framing to be defined as some nebulous idea. And in doing so we talk about framing a shitload, but never really seem to get around to doing everything that needs to be done <implementing it in an effective way>. This doesn’t mean that leaders are not truly trying hard to bring about framing. It’s just that their attempts get trapped in the wretched hollow between ‘ideology’ <conceptual shit> and the practical <which is by no means easy or simple>.

And it gets even more complicated if the leader can only envision what is <the current system> which leads only to tweaks & improvements. The best framing leaders not only see the system that exists, but also envisions a system that does not exist.

** note: “a system that does not exist” is a fairly important thought in that one of the most used conceptual thinking tools is “where are we and where do we want to be”. Envisioning systems, within the present and not in planning, is actually an acceptance – to some degree – that you will never truly clearly see where you want to be. Ponder.

For it is within that understanding in which a good framing leader can break what needs to be broken, keep what needs to be kept and tweak what needs to be tweaked. Inevitably successful framing is a reflection of several things all embodied in a process of information, education, dialogue, and ultimately, the insights generated from the process which will drive the choices. Framing is, in its art form, the law of the situation combining informal and formal organizational systems as the situation dictates <not as management mandates>. What I mean by that is I believe it was in Blind Spots in which the authors state: “formal systems are the weakest link in an organization’s ethical structure.” I believe this is also of any system. Formal systems, for the most part, are not natural, but artificial. Over time the consequences of this artificiality comes to life in terms of laziness, complacency, rote behavior and non-thinking.

2022 is going to run face first into this.

On the other hand, a business’s informal systems have evolved tracing their roots back to the needed mechanisms, and accepted behaviors, of what a system needs to do to guide transactions and efforts to successful (economic) outcomes. I say this because when a formal system is decoupled from, well, reality, say, like with a pandemic, the systems begin to fail. Formal systems are not built to anticipate how people will respond to true disruption, only to accepted market behavior dynamics (within a range). In Nassim Taleb terms, formal systems are fragile and informal systems are antifragile.

This fragility is actually created by what I believe is called ‘bounded awareness’, i.e., the formal system encourages one to only know what one needs to know. This gets exacerbated by pockets of power. As a corollary, these informal pockets of power may also actually be the key to an organization’s survival when true disruption occurs. And this permits me to circle back to framing. Framing ‘unbounds’ existing awareness.

“No sort of scientific teaching, no kind of common interest, will ever teach men to share property and privileges with equal consideration for all. Everyone will think his share too small and they will be always envying, complaining, and attacking one another.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Brothers Karamazov

This makes framing complex and simple. Thought leaders from all over the world have created sophisticated frameworks designed to help leaders grapple with strategies at an abstract level. But the reality is that strategy succeeds or fails based on how well leaders at every level of an organization integrate real, useful, insights into day-to-day operations.

It is as complex, and as simple, as that. Framing is, well, as Machiavelli would suggest, power. And there is no school for framing. You either understand the power of framing or you, well, fail. Failure can come in a range of of ways but let’s say, at minimum, it is limiting potential and, at maximum, the business dies. So. Power resides in clear understanding of the moment and the moment that is coming. To be clear. This does not mean you are in control. You are subordinat­ing yourself to the necessary and the situation and power comes from recognizing what is necessary and executing it within the correct context (frame), i.e., the Law of the Situation as it were.

To be clear. Reframing can absolutely be derived from math, data and research, but those tend to be seeking to develop a new formalized system (or tweak an existing one). I delve into the art. The feeling that a business leader has that something could be better. Something you cannot quite put your finger on that no amount of analysis can solve. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out, in my biased view, that more businesses should be delving into the art of business more than the science of business.

Which leads me to thinking about 2022.

Truth be told, the pandemic didn’t really affect me businesswise much. In fact, the market came to me and I was as busy as I have ever been. Let me explain. I, for the most part, am in the ‘framing business.’ Business people who feel like there is something that could be better about their business, even if it is being successful, work with me to try and put their finger on what that could be. Typically, it just means a business needs to view their business from a slightly different point of view <kind of like stepping a bit to the side so they can see some things a bit clearer>. I help frame that view. They see the world as locked and I am a key.

That said. This is more difficult than you may think. While businesses have a rhythm, a cadence, for how they interact with the market, changing a business’s rhythm ain’t easy or for the faint of heart. As noted earlier, a business isn’t one steady rhythm, it’s actually a combination of a number of different beats within the organization working in a coherent fashion to effectively work with a market. As long as the business is effectively effective <in some form or fashion>, well, the beat goes on. The pandemic changed the beat, if not stilled it in some way. The market came to me. The pandemic began reframing the business of doing business to business people. Half my job was done <maybe the most difficult part>.

So, yes, it is my belief that inevitably business is about framing <systems and process and outcomes exist within a frame>.

If you don’t frame what you want to do, hopefully frame the market well <the law of the situation>, and what the market will permit you to pursue effectively, you are screwed. That said. While some people devour technology and other devour ‘humancentric’, I devour the space, the liminal space, in-between. It is in this technology/people inbetween space I devour what Taleb called “half invented ideas.” What I mean by that is I have never really seen the need to create something new when a business seeks to find a new rhythm. The odds are some half-invented ideas laying around in someone’s office or mind having been discarded at some point as ‘not efficient or effective or whatever” or, even easier, the ideas lay in books all of us should have devoured by now from Alvin Toffler, Cluetrain Manifesto, Ralph Stacy, Mary Parker Follett, Drucker and more recently Jaron Lanier, Brian Christian, Bazerman, Flynn Coleman.


2022 is going to look like an awfully good hand to be played for most businesses. This is opposite the larger business truth that business mostly demands doing the best you can with a bad hand. The issue is, and will remain, what will business compromise within the means to the ends in order to attain the ends it desires? To be clear. Compromise is not a dirty word if it means forestalling a situation worse than what non-compromise would create and, frankly, a lot of leadership work in business is involved in simply preparing for the moments when fortune favors you – moments in which you take the win and take everything you can. In other words, you devour an opportunity in totality. And maybe that is my point for 2022. Opportunities will abound for business and businesses in 2022 and it will be easy for a business to be devoured BY these opportunities. I, on the other hand, believe fortune will inevitably favor the businesses who will grow and become better by devouring opportunities through the means which will stand the test of time. And devouring will not demand any false disruption charlatans, just some good old smart, ethical, thinking.

Have a good 2022 and I hope you learned a lot in 2021. Be the key. Devour.

Written by Bruce