Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Rethinking national security in a post-2016 US presidential election context: conflict and cyber-conflict in an age of social media 6

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on December 18, 2017

This is my 6th installment to a new series on cyber risk and cyber conflict in a still emerging 21st century interactive online context, and in a ubiquitously social media connected context and when faced with a rapidly interconnecting internet of things among other disruptively new online innovations (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2, postings 354 and loosely following for Parts 1-5.)

I offered Part 5 of this series as a start to what should be considered the most complex and far-reaching online security narrative that has to be addressed and resolved for a still emerging 21st century:

• Unraveling the Gordian knot of finding an effective balance point between legitimate information access and use and with privacy and confidentiality protected there,
• While simultaneously carrying out necessary information security control and oversight in our increasingly interconnected, information sharing-based world and in the face of an ongoing flood in new and disruptive technology that enables and expands what can be done there and with all of the new security vulnerabilities that brings with it.

Collectively, we have not offered a very good track record for safeguarding our computer and network systems already in place, from already known vulnerabilities. And that does not bode well for how we would secure and safeguard use of the flow of new in what we can do and in the tools we have for that, where that brings with it an ongoing flow of new zero-day vulnerabilities too that we have to somehow identify and effectively respond to as well.

I listed a fairly significant number of topic points that I would address in this series, towards the end of Part 5, and suggest you’re reviewing them to put this posting in that larger perspective. The first of those issues that I have not explicitly considered yet that I would at least begin to address here from that list, can be summarized as:

• Discuss threats and attacks themselves in the next installment to this series. And in anticipation of that and as a foretaste of what is to come here, I will discuss trolling behavior and other coercive online approaches, and ransomware. After that I will at least briefly address how automation and artificial intelligence are being leveraged in a still emerging 21st century cyber-threat environment. I have already at least briefly mentioned this source of toxic synergies before in this series, but will examine it in at least some more detail.

Let me clarify that by briefly noting what I have already covered in addressing at least the first part of that in this series. I have already cited three significant news stories of large and significant information security breaches in Part 5, but that primarily meant my noting incidents that have happened and hacker attack results achieved from them. My goal here is to at least in general terms begin a discussion of the attacks themselves that we face. And I begin that with the fundamentals.

As an admittedly cartoonish oversimplification of a more complex and nuanced set of phenomena, all information systems vulnerability exploits can be roughly divided into two broad categories (plus exploits that involve elements of both in a threat vector arena where the two basic forms overlap.) And to be very clear here, I am not referring in this to known threats and their exploitation, versus new and emerging ones that we cannot know to safeguard against until they have been exploited at least once, and even then only if their victims choose to share word of that happening. I take a more timeless approach here in categorizing these vulnerabilities, and that unfortunately makes sense because so many businesses, and so many individuals persist in not addressing even long-term known vulnerabilities that have been exploited repeatedly. And when businesses are successfully victimized here, it is still way too common that they not reveal that fact and even when they have been caught up in a new and previously unknown zero-day exploit. I focus on types of threat and their exploitation in broad categorical terms instead, with:

• Technological vulnerabilities and their exploitation, and
• Human behavioral vulnerabilities and their exploitation,
• Distinguishing between what is exploited and who is. (The distinction there will become moot as artificially intelligent agents more fully participate online as people do, but we are not there yet, as of this writing.)

Let me add in a further perhaps complicating detail here, that does in fact blur the lines between those two categories and right now, and even as I plan on discussing them as if this point of consideration did not apply. I simply raise it here as a point to keep in the back of your mind as you read on, as indication of at least one way up-front, that I offer this as a simplified cartoon-style conceptual model:

• Ultimately all of these vulnerabilities: technological and human behavioral are in fact human behavioral ones. This obviously applies when overtly technological vulnerabilities that arise in hardware and/or software are known, but where system owners and managers to not apply, for example software patches and updated anti-virus and anti-malware to their computers and networks. But is also holds for those zero-day vulnerabilities too, and certainly when their emergence can be traced to overly limited vulnerabilities search and identification alpha and beta software testing that could have prevented them, with this corner cutting allowed in order to get new software out of the door faster and at reduced cost as a marketable product.

But for what follows here, I set that detail aside and simply treat the two vulnerability categories just noted, as if they were separate and fully distinct. Think of them as potential categorically defined sources of vulnerability in larger and more inclusive systems where exploitation and attack can be initiated.

Technological vulnerabilities happen, and particularly in the software that we use. Hardware and its limitations can enable this, and certainly for events such as denial of service attacks. But software offers more and more rapidly changing targets that can be exploited, and demand more rapid ongoing risk management response. So I focus in this series on software vulnerabilities, and as more pervasive and less easily managed overall sources of potential risk.

I would focus here, at least to start on the software side to this and on the services and capabilities that are enabled and even made possible because of its ongoing revolutionary and evolutionary development. Hardware advances enable next step software advances, and both are driven by disruptive reimagining of what can be done with this technology, and by user demand on improvement and continued improvement to what is already available from it. And this, here focusing on the new risk creation side to that flow of change, is where I begin discussing “trolling behavior and other coercive online approaches” as cited above, as negative side implementations of what new technology makes possible.

Let me begin that with the fundamentals too. I just wrote above, if only in passing, of the relationship between hardware and software here. As a starting point for discussing trolling, and I add organized online disinformation campaigns in general, I offer a point of observation regarding software and hardware, and the creation and development of new ways of using all of that:

• Technological advancement, and software development in particular for its faster rate of change, enables an even faster flow of change in what people do with these technologies and with that pace only limited by how quickly the smartest and the earliest adaptor-oriented among us can think through what we would seek to accomplish with these tools. And that applies to malicious users and usage as much as it does to more positively directed ones.

Trolling behavior, and intentional disinformation creation and its online dissemination as a form of disruptive attack, serves as what can perhaps best be considered a quintessential example of how new advances in the technological bases of information and communication systems, allows for new and even disruptive capabilities and for both positive and destructive use.

Originally, intentional online disinformation creation and dissemination as discussed here was essentially entirely carried out by lone individuals who perhaps serially and repeatedly attacked specific single targets with, for example bogus negative reviews and other social media postings. And they did so as separate and essentially entirely disconnected efforts. Social media and the interactive online context have enabled the harnessing of these individuals into what amount to armies of organized disinformation sources that can be aimed and launched against specified targets in large coordinated attacks. The very information sharing frameworks that make this possible at all, have become a framework for weaponizing them and on a large and organized scale. Think of this as organizing what would otherwise be disconnected and disjointed attacks, in a manner similar to the construction of botnet attacks.

And with automation and the addition of artificial intelligence to that mix, it is now possible to replace many if not all of the human troll participants in those systems with artificial constructs that simply appear to be human online participants: fakes that are assembled from a combination of genuine personal photos and other real person-sourced material scraped from real online participants and their online presence, as augmented with made-up names and profile data that is assembled to fit specific targeted demographics in order to make these fake content posters appear to be real.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, where I will add a discussion of ransomware to it (and how that is enabled by currencies such as Bitcoin as an anonymized online currency.) I will also at least briefly discuss denial of service attacks there, as touched upon here, and how new and disruptive technologies (e.g. the internet of things) have transformed that threat source. And then I will continue addressing the to-discuss points of part 5 from there.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation. And you can also find this and related material at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

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Intentional management 45: elaborating on the basic model for adding people and their management into the equation 6

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 16, 2017

This is my 45th installment in a series in which I discuss how management activity and responsibilities can be parsed and distributed through a business organization, so as to better meet operational and strategic goals and as a planned intentional process (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 472 and loosely following for Parts 1-44.)

I focused in Part 44 of this on the issues of authority and responsibility in management, and for lower and middle management and the people who hold those positions, and for senior managers and executives. And I did so with particular attention paid to how these professionals have to coordinately address and support the members of their own teams in their areas of the overall table of organization, while simultaneously supporting the business as a whole, and even when that means giving other functional areas and other areas of the business priority access to resources that their own people would need too.

I wrote this for the most part in terms of managers supporting specific functional areas that they are responsible for, and the tasks and processes that fall into their areas of direct concern there, or supporting what might be viewed as competing groups in their business: others competing with them for access to any limited, bottleneck resources that both sides of that might need and at the same time that they do. But while this vision of how a business works is basically valid, it is also limited. And it is also a bit misleading and certainly if it is not fit into a larger and more nuanced context. My goal for this posting is to at least begin to put that narrative into this larger perspective, beginning in-house and then moving outward from there. And that is where consideration of a wider range of stakeholders enters into this.

I begin addressing this set of issues by highlighting a point of fact that is both obvious when explicitly stated, and easy to overlook – and precisely because it can so easily be taken for granted:

• A great deal of, and even the majority of the work that is carried out in essentially any business with a large enough headcount so as to be divided into distinct functional areas, consists of task performance that is carried out in one functional area there that serves the needs of other parts of that same business.
• And most of the rest of it is organized and carried out in support of stakeholders who can be found outside of the business itself, in its marketplace and customer base, and in any supply chain or other business-to-business collaborations that it enters into.

Yes, every functional area of a business also performs at least a measure of work that is directed essentially entirely in terms of supporting its own systems, processes and staff, and internal to itself. But ultimately, the defining value creating measure of such a group within a business is in how it can and does create value outside of itself and for others, both within and outside of the business.

Focusing on inside of a business per se, and outside of that business as a whole for the moment:

• When value created by a team or other-organized goals-directed group within a business exceeds, at least on average, the value provided to it for its support, that part of the organization is usually deemed to be a cost center.
• And when that part of the business is seen as offering greater value and particularly outside of the business itself, than it does strictly within itself and for what might be considered its more self-maintenance purposes, then it is considered to be a profit center.
• There, effective value created that reaches outside of the business, drives the revenue flow back into it and creates overall profitability and competitive success for it.

This is, or at least should be obvious to any reader; embedded in it is acknowledgement of what can in fact be a vast and varied network of stakeholders who would be found outside of any given functional area, team or group of any sort that might work together, serving wider ranging needs than just their own. And any business that seeks to function effectively, strives to organize itself so that every such grouping within it does that: provide real and defining value outside of itself and regardless of whether it would conventionally be viewed as a profit or cost center there.

Let’s consider these more abstract points in the context of some real world examples. And I at least somewhat arbitrarily chose two functional areas that can be found in essentially any business of any significant size and scale of complexity here for this purpose: Information Technology, and Finance. Both of these functional arms of a business offer services that reach out in essentially all directions: simultaneously supporting their own teams and their own needs, and all other areas within their own business, and external stakeholders to that business too. And I picked these functional areas of a business and the large and diverse teams that carry out their work as my initial examples here because they so clearly fit the picture offered here.

An Information Technology department help desk, or its server computer and network technology team provide supporting services throughout their business, and both within their own department and beyond. And they at the very least directly support and facilitate processes that connect with and support business transactions that reach outside of the business and to outside stakeholders too. To highlight that, IT help desks might be thought of as only offering support within a business and to its own staff. But they have to be able to help resolve questions, issues and problems that arise in outwardly facing contexts too. Consider all of the information sharing processes that collectively enable business-to-business collaborations between supply chain partners, which for their volume and complexity need to be automated through computer and network based systems and certainly for basic data sharing and related tasks. The people who work in an inwardly facing and supporting help desk are also the people who have the expertise and experience needed for resolving questions and issues that might arise in these larger contexts too. And resolving them has to coordinate with in-house activity too: information systems security and due diligence included. So as soon as a business begins to enter into supply chain systems, and certainly under circumstances where significant volumes of information have to be shared between partner businesses in them, pressure begins to mount to develop those businesses help desks into active participants in them, and supporters of these externally connecting relationships too.

For the Finance department, consider Accounting and Bookkeeping. Every area of a business that such a department functions in, has cash flows to manage. Yes, managers within and throughout the organization have and manage their own budgets. And profit center areas of a business may serve to create revenue streams for the business that would among other things pay their personnel expenses and their functional expenses with more left over for the business as a whole. But their business’ Finance department Accounting and Bookkeeping services support and I add monitor all of this, in accordance with outside standardized generally accepted accounting practice (GAAP) with its standardized accounting and auditing, and just as thoroughly as they do for cost centers there. Cash flows with and those going in and out of the business all go through Finance. And Accounting and Bookkeeping also, of course manage client and customer accounts and accounts with wholesales and with retailers and suppliers, and other supply chain partners directly dealt with: all external stakeholders in these systems too.

As a third example that might not be as obvious to some, I would cite the Marketing department, or Marketing and Communications as it is sometimes more broadly labeled. Yes, this type of service reaches out to and seeks to positively connect with the marketplace and its demographics, and increasingly interactively as well as through more traditional central broadcasting means though use of online social media and the interactive online experience. But it is usually one of the core areas of responsibility of this department, to develop a clear and consistent message that all others within their business would use when in any way reaching outside of the business, for that enterprise’s basic branding and related messaging. Marketing manages how all other areas of their business stay on message and consistently so as far as representing that enterprise as a whole. Here, even the most senior executives there tend to follow Marketing lead where their business’ branding is concerned.

So even the services that might not seem at first to follow the pattern laid out here, usually actually do, and certainly in a well run business. When you find a business with functional areas that do not, that indicates severe strategic and operational disconnects and both business inefficiency and vulnerability.

I end this portion of this larger overall line of discussion by noting that it is one of the hallmark shifts of the 21st century business context that more and more of any given enterprise has to be able to more and more effectively connect with and work with a progressively wider and wider range of both internal and external stakeholders and on more and more of a real-time basis and on more and more issues, and with all of this coordinated throughout the business in accordance with what of necessity become more complex and nuanced due diligence and risk remediation standards.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will at least begin delving into how managers at essentially any level or position in an organization can facilitate that for their business. As a part of that I will further to discuss how complexities and constraints can and do arise for managers throughout a business when dealing with these issues. Then after that, I will reconsider, yet again, ad hoc and special exception practices, and the emergence of the “ad hoc standardized” and its consequences.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

On the importance of disintermediating real, 2-way communications in business organizations 6

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 14, 2017

This is my sixth installment to a brief series on coordinating information sharing and communications needs, and information access filtering and gate keeping requirements (see Social Networking and Business 2, postings 275 and loosely following for Parts 1-5.)

And I have been discussing stakeholders and stakeholder groups through most of this series, as a defining and orienting line of discussion, and how differences arise both between and within those groups. This is ultimately a series about communications between and within stakeholder groups. Similarity and alignment of goals and perspectives, and of needs and priorities are always matched at least in part by differences there, and with all of this burdened by at least a measure of miscommunication and incomplete communication, and by the friction that this engenders. It is perhaps the most important defining goal of this series, to discuss and offer remediative approaches for limiting that friction and for more effectively bringing the right people into the necessary conversations, that both those participants and those stakeholder groups that include them, and the business as a whole need to have take place.

To take that out of the abstract, consider my union negotiations example from Part 5, where I have in fact seen union negotiators “throw selected groups of members under the bus” as expendable negotiating chips, disowning what had been union supported work categories and job titles, and all who would be included there in order to gain a margin of benefit for those who would remain in the union and continue to benefit from it. I chose that particular stakeholder category for this type of review precisely because I do value unions – and because I and most anyone else would at least start out presuming that unions, by their very nature seek to protect their own, and with that held as a unifying vision and understanding throughout the entire stakeholder group. But even there, differences, and exclusion of essentially impacted upon participants from crucial conversations, can and does happen.

Think of the above comments as my effort here to more effectively tie my discussion of stakeholders and the demographically defined groups that they fall into, to the overall discussion flow of this series as a whole. And in anticipation of discussion to come here in this series, I explicitly invoke the term “disintermediation” here. When certain union members with their more limited by numbers representation in that stakeholder group, are both categorically singled out as bargaining chips in this manner and left out of the conversations within that union and at the bargaining table – when they are talked about but not talked with for this, that extra “intermediary” layer added into the conversation, excluding their direct voice and participation, can only sow the seeds of at least concern if not outright distrust and for any who might wonder if their turn for this might come up next with the next round of union/employer negotiations.

Part time, temporary and other employees who are explicitly brought in and retained, for however long that lasts, who are explicitly not hired or treated as in-house employees and as insiders there, never have reason to see their employer as “their” employer; they never take on a sense of pride of ownership that a well run business enables and encourages for its in-house staff, and as one of their defining sources of strength. I intentionally left “consultants” out of that here and for a reason. People who work as outside consultants enter into this more voluntarily and they generally have separate and at least somewhat distinct positions there that set them apart, and even if the intent on the part of a hiring business is to retain them on a same assignment and with that same employer long-term and in an essentially open-ended manner. Part time and temporary employees often find themselves doing essentially the same types of work that their in-house colleagues do, who they often find themselves working side by side with. And it is common for them to seek opportunity to go in-house there and to become regular employees of that business. In that, temp to perm is a common goal with starting as a temporary employee can be seen as a way into a business, and an opportunity to prove oneself as a valuable asset there.

Some businesses, and even some major corporations do or at least have brought in long-term temps and other outsider employees, routinely and at least seasonally for significant numbers of workers. Fed Ex for example, routinely hires expansion-staff temporary employees during peak workload periods such as the year-end holiday season. And they wear ID tags that identify them as such. But for a more extreme example, I would cite Microsoft, for how it at least used to have large numbers of long-term outsider employees who worked as if in-house members of their staff but who did not have, or have opportunity to gain in-house benefits. Their Microsoft ID tags were color coded, making it easy to identify who was who for this and even at a distance, with orange reserved for those brought in from outside agencies or as stand-alone consultants or through other outsider mechanisms, and blue reserves for in-house people. I cite this as a more extreme example because it was common for orange badge people to continue working at Microsoft and at the same positions there for years and a great many of them did.

Temporary employee ID and orange ID people and their counterparts through an increasing number of gig economy hiring businesses, do not receive the benefits that accrue to their in-house counterparts, which can be very substantial as was the case for Microsoft’s orange name-badge employees who did not get the long-term savings and investment options, with stock share options that in-house employees received: a very significant compensation difference for the same work performed by different people. And they have never for the most part seen themselves as having any real stake in any such employer either. For purposes of this series and its discussion, they do not belong to any organized involved stakeholder category within the business per se, even as they work there and directly do. How can you systematically give them more of a direct voice there as a group, and how can you better manage the communications flows in place to include them? At least for here and now, I leave those as open questions that merit thought.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next installment where I will at least begin to tie the narrative and its set of issues as raised in this posting, to the questions and issues of information access and communications and their challenges. And as called for in the title to this series, I will also discuss all of that in terms of communications organization and layers of accessibility, and communications disintermediation as it can simplify them. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. And also see Social Networking and Business 2 and that directory’s Page 1 for related material.

Business planning from the back of a napkin to a formal and detailed presentation 20

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 12, 2017

This is my 20th posting to a series on tactical and strategic planning under real world constraints, and executing in the face of real world challenges that are caused by business systems friction and the systems turbulence that it creates (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 578 and loosely following for Parts 1-19.)

I have been developing this series around two alternative business model case studies since Part 17 that I will continue exploring here, and that I repeat in briefly outlining bullet point format here, for smoother continuity of narrative:

• A hardware store: Alpha Hardware, that went through a more fundamental transitional change as it came to outgrow its original single storefront and its space restrictions there, to become a two storefront business with a more specialized Alpha Hardware and an Alpha Home Goods, and
• A cutting edge technology offering, business-to-business software development company: the e-Maverick Group.

And at the end of Part 19, I stated that I would:

1. More systematically discuss how business operations would differ for businesses that follow one or the other of these two basic patterns, starting in my next series installment, further discussing
2. How the specific product offering decision making processes that I have been making note of here would inform the business models pursued by both of these business types, and their overall strategies and operations and their views and understandings of change: linear and predictable and disruptively transitional in nature.
3. And I added that I would discuss how their market facing requirements and approaches as addressed here, would shape the dynamics of any agreement or disagreement among involved stakeholders as to where their business is and where it is and should be going, and how.

My goal for this posting is to at least begin to address all of these interrelated issues and I begin doing so with the first of those topic points. And I begin addressing that with the fundamentals:

• One of the core, defining goals of any effective business model is to clearly lay out what a business would bring to market as a source of defining, marketable value. And as a part of that, it would specify at least in general terms, what products and/or services it would create and offer and it would explain how these offerings would provide sources of unique value to its specific marketplace and its intended customer base. And it would characterize and map out its intended target markets and their basic demographics as a part of this.
• But at the heart of this, is a detailed outline of what that business would offer that real-world consumers would want to purchase and at prices asked for, and with their purchases creating the revenue streams that make the business work. All strategic planning and operational execution that would be laid out in this business plan, and that would be followed in day-to-day and longer-term planned business practice would support that.

And with that stated, let’s reconsider the business models – and the operational practices of the two Alpha stores and the e-Maverick Group.

Operations for a business include within them, essentially everything that a business does in carrying out its basic maintenance and performance functions, at least as a matter of organized and standard practice. My focus here in this posting is much more constrained then that, to keep this discussion relevant to the specific topic at hand. With that qualifier in mind, let’s consider operational processes and organized systems and subsystems of them that directly act upon and either facilitate or in some manner hinder the basic product acquisition, marketing and sales cycles that they and their business models would require.

• For a manufacturer such as the e-Maverick Group, that would mean their product design and testing, production, marketing and sales cycle that I have primarily written in specific terms of in this series and certainly in its most recent installments.
• For a business such as the Alpha stores that do not design or build their own merchandise themselves as much as acquire it from others: original manufacturers, wholesalers or some combination of them, that would mean sourcing from these providers and marketing and selling what is brought in this way, and using the positive branding and brand recognition of their products’ original manufacturers and any relevant outside reviewers where possible to facilitate their own marketing and sales. And their testing and quality control would involve monitoring for possible defect or spoilage in what is delivered for them to resell and through their own reviews and on the basis of customer feedback, as well as tracking the ongoing effectiveness of their business practices and performance with them.

That highlights the differences between these two business types. But the overall points of similarity between those two approaches are more important here than those differences are. Both business model approaches spell out variations on a more underlying and fundamental product handling cycle that these businesses both go through, leading up to sending their products out the door as new purchases, as a mechanism for generating revenue and profits, and with next cycle stages contingent on their bringing in some combination of repeat business and new customer business to continue that.

• What operational processes are directly involved in carrying out these business cycles step-by-step, and for their overall review and evaluation?

That is in fact perhaps the most pivotally important strategic planning and evaluation question that you could ask. The details of a more complete, and I add functionally helpful answer to that are always business-specific and certainly when an enterprise goes beyond simply following a cookie-cutter pattern as laid down by others as for example when functioning as a highly outside-regimented franchise outlet. But there are a number of basic operational details in this that are more generic. I will at least begin delving into some of them in my next installment to this series. And in anticipation of discussion to come, I will also at least briefly delve into the issues of stability and how the two business models functionally define it, as initially touched upon in this series in Part 19.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory.

Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and lessons from the Whig Party, Part 2

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on December 11, 2017

This is my 28th installment to what has become an ongoing series of postings in which I seek to address politics in the United States as it has become, starting with the nominations process leading up to the 2016 presidential elections. See my series: Donald Trump and the Stress Testing of the American System of Government, as can be found at Social Networking and Business 2, posting 244 and loosely following.

I initially offered a brief early-stage discussion of the issues that I would address here, in Part 4 of this series when watching the Republican Party convulse its way, first through its presidential candidate nominations races and then through its presidential election campaign for 2016. And perhaps the most significant message that I sought to convey there was an assertion that the Republican Party as we have known it, and certainly as a voice of reasoned conservatism is now dead. The name of the party lives on but the substance of what it once stood for is now a largely distorted memory. And Donald Trump and his assent into becoming their party standard bearer simply serves to drive that message home, and in ways that any open acknowledgement of empirically reality would compel.

I wrote that earlier posting and added it to this blog in October, 2016 and I have shared its basic message in other contexts since then. But a part of me has always drawn back from completely, fully believing it even as I wrote and posted it; call that proof of wistful thinking on my part, or even of my being in denial until forced to abandon old hopes of the reasonable and rational. I am not a Republican and certainly not as that political party has become. And I find it impossible to believe that my father or his father or his or his could comfortably wear Republican affiliation or support as part of their identities or their belief systems either, and certainly as I see what was once their political party, for what it has become. But I come from a Republican Party family that goes back that far, and in fact to the very beginning at their founding convention on a farm outside of Ripon, Wisconsin in 1856.

The Republican Party was founded in large part out of the ashes of a then recently dead Whig Party. What will come out of the ashes of the Republican Party of today? I would not assay a guess as to how events to come will answer that. I wrote my similarly named to this, October, 2016 posting wondering if I was calling a time and place of death prematurely. The momentum of national history, and of family history does that; it creates that type of uncertainty. But seemingly every day since then, events have simply served to reinforce that 2016 message for its underlying validity. And I offer this posting as both an update on that, and as an assessment on my part of the Trump presidency as it has unfolded and on what he has done to both his country and to what is at least nominally his political party.

I begin this posting’s update with what I see as the fundamentals, and both for this particular narrative and for at least my understanding what American politics and political parties should be based upon, and certainly insofar as this nation seeks to become a more inclusive democracy as the fulfillment of an ideal. And I begin this by noting a point that should be obvious to anyone who has even briefly studied United States history. Our country has essentially always been divided politically and ideologically into two major competing camps at any given time, as supplemented by an array of changing but always present smaller third party alternatives, and usually several or even many of them at once. The two major parties hold governing influence and control between them and their smaller counterparts serve to widen the range of ideas and the range of issues that are nationally addressed. They in effect serve to keep the major parties honest, or at least more inclusive and broad based in what they address and in what they seek to accomplish.

The issues of the day have changed over the years and so have the names of those leading parties. And the basic tenor of the leading two parties have changed and evolved too. But historically one or the other of the two leading political parties here has always claimed the mantle of what would traditionally be called conservatism and the other, the mantle of what would traditionally be called liberalism. And however much they differed on the details as to their precise goals or priorities or agendas, the underlying intent of both was always basically the same. However they differed as to how to accomplish this, both parties sought to lead the nation as a whole and with all of its diversity, and to offer moral as well as governance leadership in doing so. Both sought in their own way to achieve a vision of the common good. Policy and the details of politics differed but both parties were shaped and guided by moral and ethical principles and sought to be just, and for the nation as a whole. They were grounded in underlying principles and on a vision of political and governmental leaders leading principled lives. This goal has been honored in the breach more than in the promise at times, and certainly for some in their ranks. But ultimately, both of the two leading political parties of any time in American history, have been willing to clean house when needed, and have seen that need when publically confronted by a need to do so.

Donald Trump did not begin the challenge to that ideal that we see so predominating now: a basic and fundamental challenge to civility and integrity and intellectual honesty that we see enacted around us every single day now. The foundational grounding that used to underlie both of the major political parties of the United States, and certainly their more conservative alternative began to unravel and certainly for the Republican Party, beginning at least as far back as the Nixon presidency and its aftermath, as party leaders sought to pick up the pieces of his and vice president Agnew’s being forced from office, with both facing likely impeachment trials and convictions. That, as I have noted elsewhere, is when and where the Republican Party and its spokespersons began their first campaigns to attempt to regain power by taking control of the political dialog in this country. And they sought to accomplish that by systematically changing and adulterating the meaning of the very core vocabulary terms that their opponents used to describe themselves and their values, gradually corrupting words like “compromise” as well as words such as “liberal.” It was inevitable that this would lead to the adulteration of meaning in their own core value words too, including but not limited to “conservative” itself.

When Henry Clay, a founder of the Whig Party and in many ways a true conservative in thought and action, was called the “great compromiser” that was deemed an all but supreme complement as he brought people together in working agreement despite significant and even fundamental differences of opinion. Clay was awarded that title by politicians on both sides for his ability and willingness to find workable middle grounds that they could all agree upon: workable compromises that would meet their core priorities and needs and serve the needs of the nation in doing so. With the way that words such as “compromise” have been compromised from anything like their original, traditional meanings, that label has became a pejorative and to the belittlement and loss of all of us. And with that I return to the first posting that I offered in this series too: Thinking Through the Words We Use in Our Political Monologs. And I cite how the more recent ratcheting up of the rhetoric that we all face as current political-speak, challenges all meaning and all evidence of any sort and in any context and regardless of source, in favor of ideological purity and opportunism. I cite here the emergence of alternative facts and of fake news as a thought and evidentiary proof-denying substitute for what should be thought and reason, political dialog and consensus building.

But my goal here in this posting is not to recapitulate the narrative of how we have arrived as a nation, where we are now. My goal here is to discuss how the leadership of the Republican Party has lost its bearings, and its moral and ethical compass, and certainly as we have all lost our tools and resources for speaking with each other across our differences, with short term expediency and ideological sloganeering allowed to replace all else. To be fair, I have to add here that this is not entirely and uniquely a Republican Party problem either. Donald Trump is rightly excoriated for his sexual predatory boasts and actions as women have stepped forward to claim that he had assaulted them; he even bragged that he acts this way, in his on-air interview with Billy Bush. Bill Clinton should have been, and should now be held to that same standard for his “escapades,” and certainly for when he acted out his disregard for women while actively serving in office as the president of the United States. My goal here, I add, is not to broaden this discussion and see how widely the mud of this can and does stick, either. It is to address the ills of what was once the Party of Lincoln, and the political party of a great many other men and women of principle too.

I will return to this complex of issues in future postings to this blog, and to this series. But to ground what I add to this narrative here, in a news and views context larger than my own individual understanding and perspective, I end this by offering some recent news and news analysis references. And I begin that by noting an in the news scandal that is playing forth before the world, as I write this, with what is arguably a serial sexual predator pedophile, Roy Moore, running for election to the United States Senate in a special election to fill a vacancy – and with the support of both president Trump and the Republican Party leadership in general. This man has all but publically admitted in detail to what he has done, even as he has renounced all claims against himself in general. And he has a publically visible record of having for example, been barred from entering at least one shopping mall for stalking high school girls as a man in this thirties. But as long as he claims to agree with the right ideological talking points, nothing can or will be done to in any way thwart his political ambitions from his Republican Party and its leadership.

And with that noted as background, I cite this David Brooks op-ed piece and two differently sourced but similarly concerning news pieces:

The G.O.P. Is Rotting.
Trump’s Endorsement of Roy Moore Points Up a G.O.P. Problem: Chaos and
Trump Throws GOP into Chaos.

I have increasingly found myself hearing similar sentiments from people who would associate themselves with conservatism as well as with a more liberal and progressive position in recent months, and with varying mixtures of contempt and concern tingeing their basic opinion as coming from both camps. But even so, there is and will remain a hard core seeming third of the country that comprises a faction what would, as then-candidate Trump proclaimed forgive and forget if he were to walk out in the middle of Fifth Avenue in the heart of New York City and shoot someone.

The Republican Party that we have before us now, is their party and it represents their values. And those values have taken over that political party, and the nation and for all of us. And even if the name still lives on, the moral and ethical core and the intellectual core of that party is gone.

Meanwhile, you can find this posting and related material at Social Networking and Business 2, posting 244 and loosely following.

Addendum, added soon after this piece first went live: I focused in this posting on just one of many disruptive and disturbing ways in which Donald Trump and Roy Moore are similar: their propensity toward being sexual predators. I did not forget as I wrote of that, of how both are also xenophobic, religiously intolerant bigots and I did not forget their grandiosity or their propensities to lie and often by all appearance, of their not knowing where fact gives way to hyperbole or when that gives way to complete fabrication and falsehood. None of these additional points, however, add to or detract from the basic message offered here, except insofar as they supplementally reconfirm the basis of my overriding concerns here. I add this closing note as an afterthought, in case a reader might wonder why I did not even mention any of these other shared traits in the body of this posting itself. I come back to acknowledge them now.

Rethinking exit and entrance strategies 23: keeping an effective innovative focus while approaching and going through significant business transitions 13

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 10, 2017

This is my 23rd installment to a series that offers a general discussion of business transitions, where an organization exits one developmental stage or period of relative strategic and operational stability, to enter a fundamentally different next one (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 559 and loosely following for Parts 1-22.)

I have been discussing a set of closely related to-address points in this since Part 20, which I repeat here for smoother continuity of narrative:

1. It can be vitally important to make explicit strategic effort to more deeply understand where your business is now and where that business is headed if it seeks to simply follow a straight-forward more predictively linear path, rather than making a more profound shift and going through a genuine transition such as an exit or entrance strategy.
2. And it is equally important to be aware of the possibilities, at the very least of what types of transitions could be possible, and their implications and consequences.
3. This leads me to the question of what would be planned for in a strategically considered, intentionally entered into business transition, and how such a transition plays out.

And as a part of my overall response to them, I focused in Part 22 on priorities and timing:

• And both for how priorities themselves are organized according to their urgency and their timing requirements,
• And for how changes in business process timing as actually achieved, can help identify when issues are emerging that will require prioritized change or correction.

Then at the end of Part 22, I stated that I would continue its line of discussion here, by more directly consider breakdowns and their indicators. I will address that set of issues, but to set the stage for doing so, I am going to complete my discussion of timing issues here, at least as required for purposes of this series. And I begin that by picking up on a point of detail that I only noted in passing in Part 22: urgency and timeframe compression and extension.

Managers, and I add hands-on employees who report to them are almost always balancing multiple ongoing tasks and their completion at any given time. And breakdowns in their being able to satisfactorily fulfill them: for their here-and-now iteration for recurring tasks, or to reach a more definitive resolution for one-off tasks, have ripple effects. This obviously holds true when for example, carrying out a task B is contingent on a task A having been completed, and either for the resulting output of A or from its completion freeing up a limited availability, bottleneck resource that will be tied up until A is completed. But it is not just critical needs equipment that enters in there: the availability of key personnel does too, and in ways that are not always obvious and certainly if you focus on work done and to be done, and not as much on the human resources who would do this.

As noted above, I wrote in Part 22 of how timing changes in task commencement and completion can and do serve as warning signs that problems are developing in business systems, and that is a valid point. But I want to at least reconsider the above paragraph in what might be a more nuanced light by making explicit note of an at least tacit assumption built into it.

In the real world, there is and has to be at least a measure of flexibility in essentially any business process timetable. If everything required for a task or project is suddenly available earlier than expected, and resources that need to be brought in for specific stages of it are all there at least on time if not earlier, and no complications arise when carrying any of this work out, or at least none do that would slow things down for it, then it is likely this work will be completed ahead of schedule. Now the question is one of whether the people and the systems in that business that require this work’s output are ready for it, or if this in-effect gift of time is going to be lost because next steps cannot start early too, to take advantage of any timing gain offered here. And collateral to that are questions as to whether any bottleneck resources that had been tied up in this work but that are not free for alternative use early, are going to sit idle through this “bonus availability” period too.

Late completion with the delays and other overt challenges that brings with it, have obvious possible downsides and particularly where contingency plan work-arounds have not been at least thought through and in advance to more effectively dealing with and resolving delays. Early completion can and does create at least potential challenges too, and these are also ones that can have wider-spreading ripple effects.

• Few tasks or processes, projects or programs are so tightly choreographed that only one possible completion date and time can be contemplated. The cost of attempting that type of rigidity is an increased overall level of risk to the business and probably to that business as a whole from loss of flexibility and overall adaptability in the face of change and the unexpected.
• So even when a specific completion date is stated, that is or at least should represent more of a tentative, on-paper normative goal and not an absolute, and with capacity build in to accommodate at least a measure of flexibility around that point in time.

Now let’s reconsider my above assertions regarding schedule changes as indicators of potential new or worsening problems. Yes, that assertion is valid and so is my just argued point regarding schedule flexibility as just offered here. How can we reconcile them? That is a question that can be parsed into a set of related questions that would have to be addressed in order to answer it, some of the more generic of which I offer here:

• I write of a timing of completion window, when I write of timing flexibility here. What should this be, as a matter of more normative planning? How wide should it be and where should its start and end points be set?
• Normative here, indicates when genuine problems are arising do to scheduling shifts, from actual work performance drifting outside of that timing of completion window. And once again, this can mean early completion that has not been prepared for and even in principle, if critical bottleneck resources that a business really cannot afford to keep idle, are left that way because no one who should be using them are ready to do so, due to their own current task responsibilities and schedules. There, “… that a business really cannot afford to keep idle” becomes overlty real when schedules tighten up again and those too-long idle resources are now being all but fought over again by competing stakeholders and their competing perhaps all-high priority tasks. Who decides what “normative” means in the context of the above bullet point? And who at least enters into the conversation that sets it and particularly where slippage from planned for normative might have wide-spread ripple effect consequences?

Think of the issues just raised here as representing sources of impact on both direct and indirect costs accrued and on overall value and benefits created. And think of all of this in risk management terms. And yes, this is also all about “breakdowns and their indicators” and making sure that all necessity and required stakeholders in this work are in agreement as to what would constitute red flag warnings of problems arising here, and that they have and use clear communications channels for discussing and resolving them. And with that I explicitly at least begin discussing the issues that I stated I would turn to next in this series, at the end of Part 22.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will continue discussion of breakdowns and their indicators as they arise in the types of work timing planning and execution under consideration here. Then I will consider working capital and cash flow, and reserves in this context, as well as goal planning and goal change and reprioritization. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory.

Career planning 21: career planning while navigating change and uncertainty 3

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on December 8, 2017

This is my 21st installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-20.)

I selectively wrote in Part 20 about how innovations, and perhaps disruptively novel ones in particular begin small for their reach of impact, and expand out from there. And I began, in that context, a discussion of how this progressively impacts upon skills and experience that would offer particular value for advancing this New, and for how it impacts upon skills and experience that would come to seem more dated and even obsolete as a result too.

I posed a set of questions and issues at the end of Part 20 that I said I would address next in this series, and repeat them here for smoother continuity of narrative, and as a starting point for further discussing them:

• Where and how is innovation in its perhaps still beginning stage already impacting on businesses and the markets that they serve?
• What areas of work and what skills and experience sets are now coming into demand because of this for those businesses, and what ones might be losing their perceived value and significance to those employers as they retool and reorganize towards this New?
• What directions if any, do these dislocations seem to be moving in as the impact and reach of this innovation begins to spread out and expand and both within its initial industry and sector and to others that would pick up on it?
• You can safely assume that any skill or experience set that an innovation has already made more vulnerable in one industry or sector, will become at least as vulnerable and career limiting in others too, as a once new and still forming innovation really takes hold and across wider and wider business and marketplace communities.
• And the questions and issues of workplace and skills set dependencies enter into this here too.

My goal for this series installment is to at least begin to address these questions from a more focused career development perspective. And I do so by offering a point of overriding strategic consideration when career planning in the face of change, and by raising some general orienting background questions that would help to take any answers to the above bullet pointed questions and comments at least somewhat out of the abstract, by making them more relevant to the specific reader. First the more general point:

• It is easy to get caught up in the generalities when facing broad-based disruptive change as it impacts on work and employment and on society as a whole. All you need for that, is to keep up with the news and with news stories that announce lay-offs and businesses bringing in automation and similar job-ending (and job-creating) change. But you have to think all of this through in terms of your own life experience and your own skills and work experience that you can build from, if you are going to make this type of knowledge and insight a valuable resource for your own planning.

Impact on larger and more diffused and varied demographics might help put matters into a broader perspective. But you need to consider your own specific circumstances and your own potential, to make individually meaningful use of this type of knowledge. And with that, I pose my first two more individualized questions, that would help bring the generalities of the above questions into more useful focus for you:

• Where do you excel and offer real defining value?
• And what of that would you find most rewarding and satisfying for you as a source of next career path steps?

Let’s begin with the second of those questions and by addressing your workplace and career path comfort zone, at least as it is currently shaped by you. And I begin clarifying what that of necessity involves, by stating that comfort zones are always multilayered: built in the form of onions with inner cores and outermost layers and more in between.

• In the middle is your here and now workplace and job description – and even if you are not actually happy or satisfied with it. You have that job and its salary and benefits and your employer has been willing and perhaps even happy to have you there, so you have at least a perceived measure of job security there. And it is familiar. You know what you have to do and how, and who you work with and who you can and cannot rely upon there. Unless you have been laid off and are out of work now, this is generally the center of that onion.
• What if you do have to move on, or alternatively find a new position with your current employer? That, I add can even mean a promotion (and either with a current employer or from taking a higher level position on a table of organization elsewhere.) Change always brings at least some uncertainty to our lives and even for full time consultants who go through that as a basic element of their career path per se. You have your demonstrable skills and work history and experience that you can build from, and the second layer out would involve work and efforts to secure it that would simply build from and use the skills and experience that you have now. The more novelty you would face in this, the farther out from the core of this comfort zone construct you would move.
• Let’s arbitrarily put a new job that has a larger amount of novelty – to you, but with that coming in the form of standard and routine for a hiring business, as the third layer building out from the core. Consider as an example of that, you’re taking on a first for you, lower level management position in a functional area and type of work context that you are already familiar with from your hands-on non-managerial work experience.
• Basically, I am adding in larger amounts of novelty with every incremental step out from that starting core here, and more and more significant types of new to you novelty as well as larger quantities of it – as perceived by you.
• What if you have to change industries, but with your taking a job in essentially the same basic functional area, whether sales or marketing, bookkeeping and accounting, computer network management in an Information Technology department, or whatever? You have to learn new in-house and in-industry jargon and a lot of new expectations, and you will probably find yourself having to learn and fit into a whole new type of corporate culture than you have seen before.
• Now let’s consider more fundamental career changes. Here, you are going to find yourself developing new skills and experience in new types of work to be carried out. And this means thinking through what it genuinely transferable and even very broadly so from your prior, perhaps largely more specialized work experience. Communications and negotiating skills and interpersonal skills enter in here as obvious examples, but most of us can find ways to both transfer other skills, and ways to effectively argue their value in that too. Thinking though your own skills and experience sets and what you could generalize and transfer of that into what new settings, is a big part of individualizing all of this for yourself and making it work for you.
• This type of skills generalization, I add, is an important consideration when moving out of that innermost core layer and into any layer beyond it, through skills and experience transferability and from really cultivating what you can do and offer with them. This, I have to note, becomes more and more important the further out from that comfort zone center that you move, or might have to move.
• Up to here, everything faced would at least be relatively standard for the businesses you work for or might work for. Let’s begin adding more fundamental change into this narrative now. And with that we face more outer layers to this complexly structured comfort zone, and areas of it where uncertainty almost certainly exceeds comfort per se at least at times for you. But even there, it can still be possible to find an accommodating balance between uncertainty and comfort for yourself in all of this.
• In these layers, both you and any business you do or might realistically work with are facing the New and unknown. And accommodating the demands of this position, so outwardly placed relative to that starting, tried and true core of your overall comfort zone depends on how steep a learning curve you would have to face to adapt to it and in ways that would satisfy an employer’s due diligence as well as your own. And this position outward relative to that starting, tried and true core depend on how thoroughly in advance you can even know what type of learning curve you have to go through and succeed at, and how many unknowns and uncertainties you would at least start out with for that, limiting your understanding of what you would even have to learn in order to succeed.
• The outmost layer and outmost edge of that, for your comfort zone is where uncertainty and the concerns that creates effectively overwhelm any sense of stability and certainty that you might realistically achieve, and any level of apparent risk from change that you would personally see as being viable for yourself and your work life and career path. Within that outermost for you, layer and its outer edge, you can at least in principle find an acceptable to you path forward through change faced. At and beyond that outer boundary, you cannot.

Those of us who are more comfortable with change and uncertainty can in fact have, and cultivate developing, a larger and more layered overall comfort zone here. Those who are more risk and change aversive and who see risk and change as if interchangeable concepts, might reach their outermost boundary in all of this, very close to the outer edge of their comfort zone core and in effect find themselves unable to contemplate let along adapt to any real change at all.

One of the most important skills that I would propose you’re developing here in this series is a greater and more flexible capacity to look at and face change, and even disruptive change, so you can find paths forward through it that would work for you, and bring you back into what for you would be a meaningful, comfort zone core again – even if a very different one than you have created for yourself in your past.

I have been addressing the two more individualized career planning questions in this posting, that I proffered right before delving into comfort zones above. But I have only started my overall discussion of them. Consider the above stated comfort zone organizing model as laid out here, a framework for further discussion. I am going to further address those questions in my next series installment, and after that I am going to reconsider the more general bullet pointed questions and comments that I repeated towards the start of this posting.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

Meshing innovation, product development and production, marketing and sales as a virtuous cycle 9

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 6, 2017

This is my 9th installment to a series in which I reconsider cosmetic and innovative change as they impact upon and even fundamentally shape the product design and development, manufacturing, marketing, distribution and sales cycle, and from both the producer and consumer perspectives (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2, postings 342 and loosely following for Parts 1-8.)

One of my core goals for Part 8 was to in effect force a reconsideration of what “business cycle” means, expanding it out to include impact and influence from a wider range of actively involved stakeholders, within the specific business and its marketplace, and as found throughout the supply chains and other larger value chain systems that it of necessity operates in.

• Quite simply, no business operates in a vacuum. Businesses work with and depend upon other businesses, as well as increasingly complex business-to-consumer systems with increasingly complex and important feedback and two-way communications governing all of this.

But up to here, at least in the narrative of this series, I have cited “marketplace” and “consumer” as largely undefined and uncharacterized markers while focusing on the businesses that deal with them and that seek to connect effectively to them. My goal for this next step installment in this narrative progression is to at least begin to open up the black box construct of markets and consumers, in order to more fully understand them and to more fully understand what those businesses need to do regarding them, to endure and as competitively strong enterprises.

I phrase that in perhaps extreme terms, at least in part because I have been focusing on virtuous and vicious cycle decision and action patterns in business strategy and operations in the past few installments to this series, where extremes become relevant. So I approach this topic from the perspective of how strategy and operations can and do have business-effectiveness and even business-viability defining consequences. And with that noted, I turn to consider markets and consumers, and I do so from the fundamentals and with a statement that will bear explanation:

• When businesses operate in interactive networks of the type under consideration here, the distinction between business and consumer, and that between provider and consumer blur and become more matters of perspective and orientation than anything else.

As an obvious starting point for explaining that point, essentially every business in a supply chain system can legitimately be viewed as a customer and a marketplace participant for at least one other business in that interacting system. Often, in fact essentially every business that participates in this type of system, can legitimately be considered a customer, and a loyal repeat customer of several or even many other businesses there. And at least as significantly, when supply chain systems are robust and stable, the businesses participating in them at least ultimately provide value to the businesses that they service and provide for there, by helping them to more effectively and cost-effectively service the needs of their customers and marketplace: other businesses in those same systems included. So these relationships can come to offer success enabling value for all concerned and in a feedback driven and reinforced manner.

With this blurring in mind, let’s at least conceptually parse the concept of market into two basic categorical subtypes:

• A direct market for a business, consists of its own current actively involved customer base, plus whatever larger demographic that they belong to that could realistically be engaged with by that business, into becoming actively engaged customers for it to – when that business follows its current business and marketing plans as already in place.

Obviously, a business can always at least plan for and attempt to change the target market demographic range that it would be able to effectively draw actively involved customers from, and even very significantly so. But for purposes of this discussion at least, that type of shift would require at least a measure of change in its underlying business model insofar as it specifies target markets, and certainly where more than just minor target market adjustments are being considered. So when I write here in terms of a business’ “direct market”, I do so considering it as if viewed from a snapshot-in-time perspective of where it is now and how it functions. And with that perspective in mind, I correspondingly add that:

• An indirect market for a business, in simplest terms consists of the direct market of a second, customer business that that enterprise services in a supply chain or related system as a client business there.

And the positive value that a business offers in that system, can ultimately be seen as a measure of how effectively and fully it offers value to the indirect markets that it is connected to through its supply chain relationships, as it brings value to its supply chain partner/client businesses. And ultimately, businesses create greater levels of value for themselves through really effective business-to-business collaborations than they could through more strictly stand-alone effort. Value creation directed to direct and to indirect markets in this systems are at the very least additive for businesses in them that receive these benefits.

These points of conclusion fall directly out of the presumption that the real sustaining strength of a business is in how competitively effectively it can bring value to its customer base, and in ways that would prompt its members to keep buying from it, providing it with revenue through that transactional activity. Think of this as a brief discussion as to how collaboration can amplify the maximum possible level of such value creation that could be achieved.

The easiest and clearest way to parse these systems is to consider business-to-business dyads – simplest case two-business interaction models. But realistically, impact here spreads out throughout entire supply chain systems. And both direct and indirect markets can and do overlap too. As a simplest case example there, consider delivery businesses that enter into both business-to-business, and direct business-to-consumer transactions, where at least some of their customers might be members of both their own actively involved direct market and the indirect market that they face through one (or more) of their partner businesses.

If this set of distinctions highlights and at least somewhat clarifies how complex business-to-market relationships can become and certainly in more complex systems as found in supply chains, then it serves its purpose. Apparent simplicity can arise from actual underlying simplicity, but it can also arise from lack of attention to the details too and this is a context where that is readily possible; we all tend to take terms like “market” for granted and as if they were somehow axiomatically unexaminable, where detailed examination can be essential.

I am going to turn to in my next installment to this series, to consider the issues of marketing and sales in the types of complex and multi-layered contexts that I have been addressing here. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. And see also Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation.

Finding virtue in simplicity when complexity becomes problematical, and vice versa 7

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on December 4, 2017

This is my seventh installment to a brief series on simplicity and complexity in business communications, and in carrying out and evaluating the results of business processes, tasks and projects (see Social Networking and Business 2), postings 257 and loosely following for Parts 1-6.)

I began an at least brief and selective discussion of Information Technology department help desks in Part 6, as a means for taking discussion of within-house business communications out of the abstract. I chose that approach for a variety of reasons, some of which I would enumerate here, as:

1. Familiarity: most anyone reading this has had to turn to IT help desks for assistance in resolving problems at least occasionally. So essentially all of us have direct experience of and knowledge of their area of involvement in a business and their basic workplace processes and practices. I add that I have familiarity with them from both sides of the client-facing desk, so this is an easy example for me to offer, and from my own direct experience.
2. The simple fact that IT help desks are communications and information sharing-driven, and in the face of possible sources of friction such as differences in functional area jargon in use. The need to be able to translate even complex issues out of the usual specialty-speak that develops within functional areas in a business, is important for in this specific example, and for this series and its narrative as a whole too.
3. And I will come to argue the case that systematic approaches that can facilitate and improve communications and resultant work performance in this example: for help desk systems and their personnel and for their clients, are more generally applicable too. These functional resources in a business might be specialized and have their own sets of issues to resolve for their in-house clients, but most of their information framing and communications issues are generic for basic need and for basic form, across organizations as a whole.

I focused in Part 6 on the absolute fundamentals, and on understanding the nature and the priorities of the problems that employee clients bring to their IT help desk system. And my goal for this posting is to build from there to consider communications itself as would take place in and through such a business resource. More specifically, I stated at the end of part 6, in anticipation of this posting that I would:

• “Address speeding up and disintermediating help desk communications, and particularly when a business and its information systems users confront the disruptively unexpected, with all of the non-standard features and requirements that that brings.”

Then I added that after addressing this, “I will also pick up on and discuss customer service and support desks, as cited in passing above as a source of working examples, in order to more fully discuss this series’ set of issues. I add in anticipation of that, that I will explicitly consider how the issues of this series play out when services such as Information Technology help desks, and Sales and Marketing supportive customer services are maintained and run in-house and when they are outsourced.”

My goal here is to focus on the issues and challenges of that above-repeated to-address bullet point. And once again, I begin with the fundamentals: standard problems and issues of the type discussed in Part 6 do not generally offer much if any surprise and for anyone involved in them – unless that is, they turn out to actually be disruptively novel and only appear to be standard, because the people bringing them to the help desk, and the first people to see this event there, are looking for the familiar and expected and this one seems at first glance to fit such a pattern.

But even then, standard and routine as for example listed in a standard help desk top 10 list of recurring issues, and disruptively new and novel tend to be self-sorting as to basic category and fairly quickly as initial effort to resolve them is attempted. I focus here on those rarer long-tail issues and on the truly disruptive, and regardless of how they initially seem to present themselves. And I begin with the basic assumptions implicit in my above to-address bullet point.

• The truly new and disruptively novel arrives without prior known context or precedent to help understand it. And it usually arrives as a visible consequence, only – which among other details is why an initial viewing of it might lead people to assume at first that it is more familiar than it actually is.
• Resolving symptoms only, which leaves underlying causal mechanism problems might limit or even for the time being stop the problematical symptoms that an underlying problem can bring. But actually resolving a problem requires understanding and addressing underlying causes too.
• And underlying causes are almost never immediately apparent in a newly emergent, first time visible disruptively novel problem.
• The question then can be one of who to bring in with what specific areas of experience and expertise to both fully characterize and then solve such a new problem. Keep in mind that the worst (though not necessarily the rarest) of the disruptively new and novel problems that arise, can be multi-specialty in nature and require at least something of a team effort to fully understand and resolve, and hopefully with what can become a now-standardized approach for dealing with a now-known problem.

This is where “speeding up and disintermediating help desk communications” comes in where that means reaching back to the people who first brought this problem to the help desk for further details, and reaching out to the right people with the right technical skills and experience to help address it. The Tower of Babel problem enters this narrative here, where the people who first report a new and disruptively novel problem do not in most cases have the technical skills, or vocabulary to be able to adequately discuss this, at least from a technical perspective, with help desk and related staff. They cannot directly address anything like causality for what has happened. They might, on the other hand be able to offer real insight on what happened functionally, from the perspective of their work and their area of expertise, and precisely where and when this new type of problem happened and what they were doing when it did so.

• Better knowing what happened and when and in what work context, can help pin down where and how to look for more underlying and causal details and mechanisms.
• I am writing here of finding ways to more effectively bring the right people into these conversations, and with all of them at least hopefully communicating with each other with genuine mutual understanding – and not just barrier reinforcing jargon.

I have been setting up a problem here, in better understanding and solving problems: presenting a meta-problem if you will of resolving the new and novel per se. I am going to turn in my next series installment to the issues and challenges of more effectively resolving these and other rare (at least at first) event challenges. And in anticipation of discussion to come, I add that this will mean my reconsidering the issues and opportunities of intranets and of how social networking and interactivity can bring them to life for addressing needs such as this. Then I will turn to and address the follow-up issues noted above in this posting as topics to follow.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its Page 2 continuation. And also see my series: Communicating More Effectively as a Job and Career Skill Set, for its more generally applicable discussion of focused message best practices per se. I offer that with a specific case in point jobs and careers focus, but the approaches raised and discussed there are more generally applicable. You can find that series at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, as its postings 342-358.

The fallacy of the singularity and the fallacy of simple linear progression, reconsidered

I have recently found myself thinking back to a posting that I first added to this blog in February, 2010 – just a few months after starting it:

Assumption 6 – The fallacy of the Singularity and the Fallacy of Simple Linear Progression – finding a middle ground.

I offered that posting in my directory: Reexamining the Fundamentals, as an installment in a series of brief notes in which I posed questions and suggested reconsideration of a succession of issues that we can find ourselves taking for granted.

My basic argument in the sixth installment to that series, as cited here, was that aside from astronomical events such as the emergence of black holes from massive supernova explosions, true singularities do not arise and certainly not on Earth or in our range of direct and immediate ongoing experience. And if they do not actually arise in our direct experience, neither does simple, same evolutionary path forward linear progression, except as it might arise in a very time-limited manner. Long-term and certainly unending linear developmental progression as I write of it here, is just as much a simplification of more complex phenomena and just as much of a mirage as are putative singularities in any directly human or human societal contexts.

I specifically cited the book:

• Kurtzweil, Ray. (2005) The Singularity is Near: when humans transcend biology. Penguin Books.

in that earlier posting, for how Kurtzweil predicted an acceleration in the pace of innovation and change, until a true singularity for it would be reached. For purposes of this posting and its narrative, let’s construe singularity there to mean the pace of change and of disruptively novel change accelerating to a point where essentially no one can keep up and no matter how much of a pioneer and earliest, fastest adaptor they would be when positioned on an innovation diffusion theory-based, adaptation curve.

In 2010, we lived in a context where that type of singularity event was all but certain to never arise, and certainly when innovation was being developed and advanced entirely from direct human initiative and by essentially the same people and types of people who would ultimately have to accept and adapt to any given step in this process of change, and buy into it as a part of that. Think there, in terms of businesses that would bring next step innovations to market, having to be financially successful enough from earlier efforts at that, and from their success in the marketplace from that, to be able to afford to design, prototype test and manufacture a next step innovation too. Innovation developers who function as such in a business or enterprise, have to have the resources and the opportunity to develop their next step innovation and the next after it. And this requires that the business that pays for this, be able to afford it and still keep their doors open. That, and certainly according to the logic of my earlier Assumption 6 posting, of necessity breaks down if innovation arrives so quickly to the marketplace that it cannot achieve buy-in for it, and if it is impossible to achieve the necessary consumer support that would drive this innovation cycle.

But even as I wrote that earlier posting, there was at least in principle, a possible way around that anthropocentric, from human to human restraint mechanism on the maximum possible sustainable pace of change. And we might be on the verge of seeing the emergence of the first simple test case proof of principle examples of how that might happen. And with that noted and as a starting point for reconsidering the line of reasoning offered in my 2010 posting, as repeated and expanded upon here, I cite a brief news story that recently appeared in the New York Times:

Building A.I. that Can Build A.I..

This is a news story about artificially intelligent machines that can build other artificially intelligent machines, and it focuses on a more blue-sky research and development project that is taking place at Google, that they call AutoML (where ML stands for machine learning.) See this Google Research Blog posting:

Using Machine Learning to Explore Neural Network Architecture

The goal of this project is to develop machine learning algorithms that can design and build next generation improved machine learning algorithms, using a neural networks approach as that is so effectively oriented towards supporting iterative step-by-step, experience based development and improvement.

The proximal goal of AutoML is to make it possible for less experienced and less expert artificial intelligence (AI) programmers to make significant advances in developing and refining their own AI software, that can tap into the specific task-level knowledge and insight that they and the organizations that they work for, have particular expertise in. And in fact, the most highly skilled and experienced AI programmers who are out there making necessary advances in their field now, are and will continue to be in very limited supply even as need and demand for them continues to rise. There are way more areas of specialized need for the skills that they have, than there are expert professionals to do all of this possible work. But as this takes off and initiatives such as AutoML really begin to succeed, that goal will be superseded by the larger and more widespread goal of greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness in the innovative effort.

Where is AutoML now in its development? It still represents what will come to be seen as a more embryonic, proof of principle stage for what is to come. As of this writing, the only working examples coming out of this initiative that have come to light, revolve around more effectively solving tasks such as very simple visual pattern recognition tests so a machine can, for example drop a ball into a blue bowl when it is randomly positioned in a grouping of bowls of other colors.

But … the principles involved there have potentially open ended application and for essentially any tasks that could conceivably be captured in an algorithm, fuzzy logic based as well as more deterministic as is being explored up to now.

I find myself writing this posting at a point in time of fundamental, pivotal change. And I write it with an eye towards where the fruits of projects such as AutoML will develop – not “might” but “will.” And when machine learning can effectively supplant the need for human-based expertise and experience in the design and development of AI systems, that will effectively remove one half of the system of breaks that I first wrote of here in my above cited 2010 posting.

That would not make innovation singularities possible as a matter of reaching an infinitely fast pace of development, but it will force a reconsideration of what singularity means as I have tentatively defined it here, earlier on in this posting. And that has the potential at least, for significantly impacting on how people who would variously fit along an innovation adaptation curve approach the change taking place around them, and certainly for those who would naturally find themselves to be later, slower adaptors to change.

I initially planned on offering this as a single, one-off posting but writing it has prompted me to want to write a second, at least somewhat related other new posting too. I am at least tentatively considering as a working title for that: “Reconsidering Information Systems Infrastructure,” and my goal for that is to expand out the scope that is usually included there, beyond information storage and transmission systems per se, to include information and knowledge processing as well, and certainly as that has moved into the cloud and into the information systems backbone per se. The issues that I touch upon here, become important there too.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation. And you can also find a link to this posting, appended to the end of Section I of Reexamining the Fundamentals as a supplemental entry there.

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