Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 48 – bridging the individual to organizational gap 1

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 18, 2020

This is my 48th installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-47.)

I have been focusing on issues of business process, and of personnel policy and practice as a basic underlying source of consideration of that, throughout this series. And a great deal of that unfolding narrative has been risk and benefits management oriented, as I have argued a case for bringing in, supporting and encouraging, and retaining people for their creative drive and potential. Ultimately, this can become a business’ best long-term strategic and operational approach and certainly when it faces the challenges of change with its uncertainties.

• And while that might seem fairly obvious for businesses that seek to function and thrive in overtly competitive, fast paced industries and business sectors, and when facing change and New-demanding markets,
• It is just as true for businesses that at least ostensibly function in more mature production and sales backwaters too – where they face the dual risks of the competitive novel and new that could render them unwanted and obsolete and in a short timeframe,
• Or where time alone might lead to that happening.

Businesses that simply drift along, pursuing what they see as their already known and secure, should expect to see only one possible outcome from that: the inevitability of some new and unknown arriving anyway and in ways that can only prove their presumed safe and secure to be anything but that.

I have quite arguably left gaps in this evolving narrative as I have developed and offered this series, and I have also at least somewhat intentionally gone over same sets of issues several times in it. As a mea culpa there, or rather as a somewhat defense thereof, I would point out that this blog as a whole does fit together, so at least some of those gaps in this series are explicitly addressed elsewhere in it; my overall intention is that this blog actually connect together as an at least somewhat organize whole. And as for my repeating myself in this series, or at least covering the same basic ground in it more than once – that can serve a purpose too, and particularly for linchpin concepts and their analysis and presentation.

That said, I turn back to a set of issues that I initially addressed much earlier in this series but that might arguably merit further consideration here, in light of subsequent discussion.

Businesses are endeavors that by their very nature are larger and more far-reaching in their scale and complexity than can be sustained by any one individual and certainly effectively. This principle might break down where a business is simply a legally protective face of a lone professional who, for example incorporates as a limited liability corporation. But it holds as soon as employees are brought in and headcount takes on a nontrivial meaning there. It certainly holds true when the people behind that headcount collectively hold a wider range of expertise and professional experience than any one of them could hold in themselves – and even if they had the time and energy to actually carry out all of the work that is necessary to make that business function. And the only way that this can work, and cost-effectively and in a reasonably risk-managed manner, and certainly long-term, is if it is all organized according to predictable standards and processes, so everyone there can do their work knowing how it can and will productively fit into the systems that they support there.

True innovators are mavericks. They see what could be and what can and should be, where most of their colleagues around them, mostly focus on what is in their here-and-now and in their more readily anticipatable near future. Essentially everything that I have delved into and offered here, and certainly in this series, has been developed and directed towards reconciling and aligning those two visions. And that definitely applies to the risk management scale approaches that I have been offering here, and very explicitly so, since Part 39.

My goal for this installment is to in effect, think out loud about some of the implications of that, and at an individual level as well as at larger team and overall organizational levels. On an individual-by-individual level, this means rethinking and reframing annual performance reviews among other personnel and direct-management issues, and the importance of looking at and seeing who you already have on your overall team with fresh eyes – exactly as you should do when hiring from the outside. On a team and larger, organizational level this means shifting orientation and thinking and developing the business and its functional areas in new ways, with that including a reframing of risk and benefits and how they would best be thought of and managed, as well as including goals-oriented performance considerations. I have pursued both of these tracks here in this series: that of the individual and that of the group and organization. So my goal here is to at least offer a few ideas as to how those differently framed and understood perspectives fit together, as they must if either of them is to actually offer any real value.

This fitting together has, in fact been foundational to essentially everything that I have written in this blog concerning innovation, and both as that would arise in a market-facing product and service context and as it would inform and improve a business and its in-house operations. I cite here, with that fact in mind and as a particularly pertinent example, a series that I first offered in this blog in 2012, that has if anything become more timely since then: Keeping Innovation Fresh (as can be found at Business Strategy and Operations – 2 as postings 241 and following, for its parts 1-16.) I cite here in particular, its transition committee approach for supporting innovation and bringing its fruits into a business with its more standardized systems, and in ways that are designed to protect and support both that basic business and its innovators.

I wrote that series in structural, organizational terms. In keeping with this series and its narrative, I turn here to reconsider this same set of issues but from a goals-oriented, work process-oriented perspective. And I will at least begin to delve into some of the complexities of that in my next series installment to this. And in anticipation of that narrative to come, this will mean reconsidering what a business does and what it would need to do if it is to stay competitively relevant and effective, and in the face of ongoing change and its possibilities. Change, in that, is the one and only constant that we can always rely upon as being there for us.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

Dissent, disagreement, compromise and consensus 45 – the jobs and careers context 44

This is my 45th installment to a series on negotiating in a professional context, starting with the more individually focused side of that as found in jobs and careers, and going from there to consider the workplace and its business-supportive negotiations (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 484 and following for Parts 1-44.)

I have been successively raising and discussing a series of workplace situations and contexts in this series that all call for effective communications and negotiating skills, ending that phase of this overall narrative with a progression of postings that all deal with the issues and challenges of downsizings (see Parts 32 through 44 for that.) And to repeat and at least briefly expand upon a set of points that I have variously made note of leading up to here:

• Many if not most circumstances that would call for jobs and careers oriented negotiating at least carry a potential for leaving you in need to find further employment elsewhere.
• So these negotiations, of necessity, have to be able to serve at least two diverging goals-oriented paths:
• You’re retaining a job with a current employer where that might or might not involve significant change for you,
• And you’re setting yourself up for taking as positive and constructive a next step forward elsewhere, as might be made possible.
• Downsizings, as discussed in some detail in this series, clearly fall into that dual (at least) goals pattern. And to repeat a crucially important point that I made in that context here, that will prove to be foundational to what is to follow too, negotiating in a jobs and careers context and negotiating per se too, is all about developing new possibilities that would benefit you, reframing possibilities that would not, and improving your odds of success – where absolute certainty going into that process is never going to be possible.

This is a posting about the other next step forward path that I have mostly just set aside from consideration, at least until now: negotiating the end of employment with a business, and terms therein. This means addressing the issues of severance agreements as mutually agreed-to contracts. But for purposes of this series and its narrative flow, and I add for purposes of effective jobs and careers planning in general, those contractual agreements should only be seen as representing one part of a larger crucially important puzzle that might have to be completed.

My goal here is to begin this discussion with severance agreements per se. And I will move on from there to put them into a larger communicating and negotiating, and business-oriented social networking context and with a goal of laying out a fuller range of options and resources that you can have at your disposal – if, that is, you know to cultivate and develop them so they can be available to you when needed.

Let’s begin addressing all of this with some background information – with you’re doing your due diligence in better understanding your workplace and the types of options that might be possible. And I couch this line of discussion to come by noting a point of detail that can almost be taken to be an immutable truth. Legally binding nondisclosure agreements are essentially always included in any severance package agreements, with signing them and agreeing to be bound by them essentially always included as an absolute requirement for you to be eligible for any benefits offered, except where automatic coverage would be mandated by law.

So if, for example, you work in a legal jurisdiction that requires employers to continue to offer employee-based healthcare insurance coverage for some minimum statutorily specified period of weeks or months, failure to fully honor a nondisclosure agreement signed there cannot eliminate that benefit. But if this soon to be former employer offers to add an additional period of such coverage in exchange for continued confidentiality and silence, and you break the terms of that nondisclosure agreement, then that additional coverage can and probably will evaporate with it.

I have seen business owners draft their own disclosure agreements on their own, modifying for example, standard boilerplate agreements that they find online or that they obtain from friends or colleagues. Smart business owners and executives bring in expert legal counsel for this and both to make sure that any severance agreement that would be used, is free of gaps and inconsistencies – and both within that document itself for how it is written, and for how it would be consistent with pertinent laws in place.

• I will assume at least for now that any severance agreement that you might face, is at least effectively legally framed and drafted, and according to the laws applicable where you face it. (I will at least briefly consider the alternative of that, later in this discussion.)
• I will also assume that unless you are a senior executive or otherwise positioned at a business so as to be deemed eligible for a golden parachute of some sort, any severance agreement that you see placed before you, at least initially, is going to be generic to that business and a standard vetted form as used there.
• And the primary goal of whoever you are meeting with, who has just handed this to you, is going to be to get you to sign it as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.

To be explicitly clear, you do have a right to read these often lengthy and legal jargon filled documents before you sign them. You do have a right to have legal counsel – your legal counsel read and review any such contractual agreement before you decide whether you would sign it or not. And it is as close to universally valid as those assertions, that it is illegal for an employer to put coercive pressure on a departing employee to sign and immediately. You have to be given a reasonable period of time to review any such documents and to get legal advice on whether it is the right document for you to agree to.

This is a posting about conversations that might start with you expressing appreciation for your now soon to be former employer, and active interest in finding mutual agreeable severance terms with them. But that voice of positive good feeling, of necessity should be accompanied by a very significant caveat to the effect that you will need time to read and think through the documents in front of you and that you would like to have someone you trust, review it with you too for their insight and expertise in such matters. These are legal documents that of necessity have long-term impact. You need legal expertise and advice to fully understand them, and with that coming from a third party source who would focus on your interests and needs in this – and not just from a manager or Human Resources agent who is in the employment of the business that you are now leaving and who would have to be considered as having employer-favoring biases.

You’re stating that and reaching out to pick up those papers to take with you, is a powerful first negotiating move in and of itself for securing better terms of separation as judged from your perspective. Actually following through on your asserted needs there, and the give and take conversations that would all but automatically follow, is the topic that I am leading into here with these opening more general thoughts.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, and will continue on as outlined above in discussing this general job-ending negotiating path. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Page 4 to my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, and also see its Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3. You can also find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 3, and also see that directory’s Page 1 and Page 2.

Leveraging social media in gorilla and viral marketing as great business equalizers: a reconsideration of business disintermediation and from multiple perspectives 19

Posted in social networking and business, startups, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 12, 2020

This is my 19th posting to a series on disintermediation, focusing on how this enables marketing options such as gorilla and viral marketing, but also considering how it shapes and influences businesses as a whole. My focus here may be marketing oriented, but marketing per se only makes sense when considered in the larger context of the business carrying it out and the marketplace it is directed towards (see Social Networking and Business 2 and its Page 3 continuation, postings 278 and loosely following for Parts 1-18.)

More specifically, I have been discussing business intelligence, and marketing-oriented business intelligence in particular since Part 17 – as it would be used in, and as it might be derived and developed from marketing campaigns. And my primary point of focus there has been on disruptive marketing and on gorilla and viral marketing in particular, and even when approaching this area of business activity in more general overall terms.

Business is data driven and increasingly so, and as an absolute prerequisite to any meaningful market-facing campaigns that might be entered into, and certainly where a goal of a consumer-facing business is to become and remain competitive there. And that basic fact has to be assumed to be true for essentially any business or industry now. Marketing and sales have in fact been forerunners for that, and for most businesses too, and certainly in any business-to-consumer contexts.

I began this discussion thread in those and similar more-general terms. Then I shifted directions in what was arguably developing into a standard, basic narrative concerning the obvious, to offer what at first glance might seem to be a fundamental, first principles-based challenge to big data as a solution to those marketing and sales challenges. I led with some all-but-universally held assumptions in place and then turned to challenge them. And I said that I would continue developing and elaborating on that next-step line of reasoning here.

• Put simply, BIG per se in big data does not necessarily offer any real added value in and of itself, and certainly when it would be applied to the specific challenges of making meaningful and usable predictive analyses that can be built from, in converting demographics-targeting marketing into completed sales.

But big data obviously can and does work, and certainly if it is developed and utilized effectively. I cite by way of example, two working examples that would support this contention:

• Facebook and its effective use of big data, and
Cambridge Analytica with its use of it with some 5000 data points collected or at least sought out, on essentially everyone targeted for data mining.

Facebook has built its entire business model and all of its revenue generating efforts around the accumulation, processing, marketing and sale of its data. And this has included both the sale of direct access to member-sourced data and in seemingly open ended quantities, and the sale of demographics targeting insight as developed from their big data stores that would permit other, client businesses to position their ads on precisely those Facebook member pages where, according to their marketing input, that would most likely include the people who they are trying to reach.

Cambridge Analytica, as one of those Facebook client businesses, gathered in vast quantities of sensitive, personally identifying data and more, from close to 100 million Facebook users (with the “official” count there of some 87 million almost certainly an underestimation in fact), for use by others to skew and suborn public elections and referenda, and in many countries globally.

Big data did work for them, and for Facebook at least it still does and very profitably so, and regardless of the societal costs paid for their success there. But how did, and for one of them how does this work, given my mathematically grounded reasoning of Part 18?

An obvious at least initial answer to that can be found in the scale of data accumulated and used, and in the number of individual member sources that it comes from. Even if two thirds of all apparent Facebook members are actual people and all of the rest are robo-artifacts and artificial intelligence constructs, that would still leave something over 700 million member accounts and just for their at least relatively active membership – making it possible to meet sample requirements for incredibly complex and nuanced statistically based analyses.

But I would argue that the key to their success with big data, and for both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica has been in how they (and others like them) use accessible data in order to construct finely nuanced market demographics models per se, which they then monetize and profit from. They do make use of individually sourced data and directly so, but they also feed endless flows of data as obtained at that level of database development, into data processing systems that spit out precise descriptions of demographic groups – and yes, with lists of people as individuals who most likely belong to them.

Then it is their customers who would ask their statistical analytically framed questions concerning the select pools of identified members of those demographics that they have purchased access to, as they develop and carry out their own marketing campaigns, and whether they are sales-oriented, or voter influencing-oriented, or oriented towards some none of the above.

This line of discussion addresses one of the two major sources of challenge that I wrote of in Part 18 – the scale of complexity of statistical analytical modeling that can be carried out depending on sample size limitations. It still leaves the correlations challenge that I wrote of there. I will turn to and address that too. And with that to-address note explicitly offered, I begin the main line of discussion that I would turn to next with this posting, by acknowledging what should be considered an obvious reality. Big data can and does work, as stated above. But as Part 18 argues as an unavoidable side to that … not when you just try to “throw stuff at a wall and see what sticks.” And with that, I turn to and repeat the anticipatory note that I ended Part 18 with, in anticipation of this:

• “My goal for the next installment to this series (n.b. this one) is to begin with an orienting discussion of these points, and how they arise as valid sources of concern. And then I will discuss data evaluation at the trade-off levels of knowing what of a set of possible information held, holds the most value and would offer the most actionable insight in a given situation: in the course of developing, running and evaluating the outcomes of specific marketing campaigns. And I will also discuss how this opens doors for third party data providers to enter this narrative and very profitably for themselves.”

I have already delved into and discussed several of the issues that arise in that bullet-pointed text (e.g. the first and last of them.) And I continue on from here to more fully consider the more centrally positioned of them and the question of data specificity and relevance, where that is context and need-driven.

And I begin addressing that by more fully considering the glue that connects obtained raw data into meaningful predictive models: causality. Think of what is to follow here as a first step discussion of how to assemble operationally and strategically valuable predictive models out of arguably non-trivially (non-randomly) correlatable data, where I offer functionally descriptive notes at a categorical level, for thinking about and understanding the basic pieces of that big data puzzle. And I begin with the most automatically assumed puzzle piece types and move on from there:

Direct causation arises when an event or circumstance A directly leads to some B happening, and with that B reliably occurring with a statistically higher incidence than would arise through chance alone when A has happened, or is still taking place. A, I add, will have at least started before B can, given the timing requirements of cause and effect relationships.
Indirect causation arises when some A causes B, but not C and certainly not through anything identifiable as a direct cause and effect relationship. But B does directly cause C, or at least influence its happening and at a higher incidence rate than chance alone would predict.
• These first two terms both have within them the possibility that a potentially causally related next step or outcome might not actually happen. Causality links can be weaker and only more modestly increase the likelihood of a subsequent event or circumstance actually taking place. They only have to increases its odds to the point where it is more likely to happen and with statistically explicable likelihood, than could be accounted for by chance alone – given that the identified causal condition cited has happened. But stronger cause and effect relationships can make B, as abstractly noted in my first two causation bullet points, essentially 100% certain to take place too. Think of this as representing weak causation and strong causation respectively. And this brings me to the last of four terms that I cited in passing before offering these bullet points:
Absolute causation is in fact strong causation where that appears from available data to represent the 100% likelihood of the above bullet point.
Situational causation represents a level of likelihood of some specific next step occurrence taking place, that is statistically significantly higher than just random chance would lead to, and at the same time being statistically significantly less than absolute certainty, 100%.
• And crucially importantly here, situational causation is an emergent property as cause and effect chains arise and elaborate, step by step and with all of the probabilistically definable occurrence or non-occurrence branching that it implies.

Predictive models essentially of necessity become more and more complex and nuanced and the cause and effect relationships that would statistically define them become more and more complex, as the questions that they would seek to realistically address become more complex. Single binary occur-or-not and cause-or-not relationships between a single A and B here, can in general only predictively address some single, often just yes or no question; complex question resolutions arise from multiple factors and their considerations.

That noted, and to round out this preliminary discussion:

• I wrote the above in terms of positive occurrences only. But to cite direct causation here as a source of case in point examples, A happening can also make some B statistically more likely not to happen, than chance alone would predict. And that likelihood can be situational or it can approach and effectively reach 100% too. Think of this point of distinction as a matter of best phrasing what B is, where it would be presented as a positive or a negative (however they are defined) in terms that are easiest to unequivocally formulate and analyze, given the nature and details of the data available and the business question at hand.
• And random and seemingly random do enter into this too; random and low probability but still causally connected occurrences – both of which can trigger subsequent directly analyzable cause and effect consequences, represent wild card events and outlier events here. In anticipation of discussion to come, these possibilities might blend into the background under a wide range of circumstances, but they can become important in specific high consequence-if-realized ones too.

I am going to turn back to my Part 18 discussion of correlations and correlational analyses in the next posting to this series, to complete that phase of this overall series narrative. I wrote there of correlations and causation as fundamental to developing actionable, proactively predictive findings out of data and out of big data in particular – where that can devolve into a collection of anything and everything that can be measured and recorded when big is being developed simply for the benefit of BIG. The key to this is in how causation is analytically defined and in how a set of concepts that revolve around it is used. Application of that is where value arises from data and from big data as an extreme.

I will at least briefly delve into this set of issues in my next series installment here. And in the process I will at least briefly consider and discuss needle in a haystack problems and the possibilities of facing combinatorial explosions when confronted by what can become an essentially open ended array of data variables. And this means my discussing metadata and processed knowledge that is derived from all of that raw data too. And looking further ahead here, that will bring me back to the issues and questions of intermediation and of disintermediation again, and both as they arise entirely within a business and as they arise through its dealings with its surrounding contexts.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. You can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 3, and also see that directory’s Page 1 and Page 2. And I also include this posting and other startup-related continuations to it, in Startups and Early Stage Businesses – 2.

Pure research, applied research and development, and business models 22

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 9, 2020

This is my 22nd installment to a series in which I discuss contexts and circumstances – and business models and their execution, where it would be cost-effective and prudent for a business to actively participate in applied and even pure research as a means of creating its own next-step future (see Business Strategy and Operations – 4 and its Page 5 continuation, postings 664 and loosely following for Parts 1-21.)

I have been discussing a specific business model here, and in detail since Part 15 that specifically seeks to realize the types of goals that this series addresses: businesses that would develop and sell research and its findings as marketable, value creating offerings in a business-to-business context and marketplace. And as a part of that narrative, I have been addressing the issues raised in two due diligence oriented questions that I repeat here for smoother continuity of narrative:

1. What specifically are the work process systems that define this enterprise as a research-as-product enterprise?
2. And what resources: specialized skills personnel definitely included, would be needed to carry this out with whatever necessary levels of what might at times be resource over-capacity allowed for, in order to accommodate at least more readily predictable fluctuations in resource requirement levels needed?

To complete my preliminary connecting text here as offered to facilitate smoother continuity of ongoing narrative, I continued addressing both of those questions in Part 21, by noting, analyzing and challenging a basic simplifying assumption that I began this discussion with, where it would make more sense to move beyond it now. And I did so by noting and at least beginning to address two areas of wider context where my initial simplifications would not prove adequate and either as a basis for reactive explanation and response based upon that, or proactive anticipation and response that might be based on that:

• Overall contexts that a potential overall costs (or positive cash flow returns) should be considered in terms of, with relevant financial analyses carried out on a line item by line item basis, and
• Timeframes.

Then I ended Part 21 with this anticipatory note as to what I would address here, as a continuation of that narrative:

• “This brings me to what I see as the key phrase included in the above Question 2, where I raise the specter of maintaining “necessary levels of what might at times be resource over-capacity” and as a very consciously and intentionally arrived at strategic decision. I am going to continue this discussion in the next installment to this series, by discussing and analyzing that complex of issues.”

I went on in that endnote to propose next steps to this overall series-long discussion, that I would turn to after addressing that area of consideration. But I will focus on the above start to it for here and now. And I begin doing so by raising a few of the more generally applicable Hobson’s Choice issues that every business faces, and certainly if it seeks to reach and maintain that sweet spot of more optimal efficiency that would fall between too resource-lean and weakened from that, and resource-burdened with excess, and weakened from that.

Traditionally, a Hobson’s Choice is thought of as a take it or leave it decision with only one real choice offered. In a competitive business environment, there is in fact only one viable choice that can be worked towards here in this context: optimal efficiency for resource development, maintenance and support, where simply allowing anything else can only create and maintain avoidable risk and loss – and whether that oversight and inaction takes an overly-lean and gaunt, or an overly-bloated form.

I write a lot in this blog about lean and agile businesses and business systems, and all of that discussion is about functionally defining this optimal and both strategically and operationally, and where more one-off projects or other exceptions to a business’ standard activities would be planned out and executed upon too. Think of this posting as fitting into that actively ongoing pattern here.

And I begin this line of discussion with risk, and with the uncertainty and the lack of effectively complete knowledge that can and all too often does drive it:

• Every business faces uncertainty and even when it is maintained and run at what might be considered to be a realistically most optimally efficiently possible manner, and with careful attention to efficient but secure communications and information sharing included and for any and all sensitive information held, so as to minimize business systems friction.
• But I am specifically writing in this blog, and certainly since its Part 15, about risk management outlier businesses here: enterprises that are business model-defined in terms of the disruptively new and novel and both at a general overall business model and business plan level, and when considering specific revenue generating assignments taken on in fulfillment of those business models and business plans. I write here very explicitly of high risk accepting and embracing businesses. And to be explicitly clear as to that, this is a series about innovation and its role in businesses, and its potentially centrally defining role there. But it is also a series about business risk and how that can be defined and acted upon in extreme businesses for it, where all possible risk considerations and their possibilities are more likely to become day-to-day realities than they would for any more normatively organized and run venture.
• When a business operates in a competitive business environment, or in any marketplace context where it has to be particularly efficient if it is to succeed let alone thrive, it faces extra risk from any activity that would lead to miss-allocation of resources and loss of available liquidity that would be additionally expended for that. And to be explicitly clear, too-lean and the resource gaps that that leads to, costs and in largely the same way that too-bloated does there.
• Too-lean means either lost or hindered opportunities, or taking on additional expenses from having to acquire additional needed resources on the fly, but without the planning and preparation that would go into a contrived and intentional just in time approach to inventory and resource acquisition.
• Too-bloated means excessive levels of liquidity and I have to add, reserves potentially being tied up in non-liquid forms that are not going to be needed in any operationally efficient timeframe and that might very well not be convertible back to cash without loss at best.
• I wrote of the two sides to this, more towards the start of this posting, as representing a Hobson’s Choice decision, and for a reason – with an effectively lean-and-agile the only viable choice offered or even possible. (And as a spoiler alert, there are assumptions in this that merit further consideration.)

I have been writing here in general terms as preparatory background to what is to follow. And I will bring this discussion into a sharper and more specific focus in my next series installment where I will address issues raised in Part 21 and in this posting, in an explicitly research as product, business model context. Then after completing that line of discussion, I will continue on to the remaining issues that I noted as upcoming in my close to Part 21 and as promised at the end of Part 20 too:

• I will turn back to the to-address topics list that I initially offered in Part 17, to delve into the issues that I made note of there, that I have not already sufficiently covered since then. And in anticipation of all of this discussion to come, I will explicitly do so in terms of the type of research as product, businesses of the type that I have been discussing here since Part 15. And I will, of course, delve more fully and specifically into the issues of economics and scalability in all of this too.

But to return to a more immediate consideration of the topics that I will focus on in the next installment here, and as I final thought for now, I add that I will address Part 23’s issues at least in part in terms of:

• Risk as both a compelling driver of business efficiency, where in this case that would mean developing the right lean balance and scale of resources held and supported,
• And risk as a driver demanding strategically considered resource and capacity excess as a requirement of overall flexibility:
• Leading to an at-least apparent conundrum where the exact same uncertainties and knowledge limitations faced would arguably create direct but diametrically opposed imperatives. (I expect to cite a series that I wrote to this blog on at least seeming paradoxes as I pursue the issues that this set of bullet points raises.)

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory.

Rethinking national security in a post-2016 US presidential election context: conflict and cyber-conflict in an age of social media 19

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on February 6, 2020

This is my 19th installment to a 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 and its Page 3 continuation, postings 354 and loosely following for Parts 1-18.)

I raised and at least briefly addressed a set of interrelated points in Part 18 of this series that I admit upfront in this next installment to that, should sound depressingly familiar. The basic facts as to the nature of cyber-technology and its weaponization, and its capabilities for being weaponized are widely known and have been for years. And that understanding can be found in both the private and public sectors; I have attended way too many meetings on these issues over the years, involving both of those communities, to be able to pretend otherwise.

• The national defense correlations to those basic truths have been, or at least should have been known for just as long, and when planning and preparation are considered, and for when and how resources are developed and deployed to operationally enable and act upon that planning.

As a case in point example of one consequential side to this and certainly when comparing what should be, with what is, the United States and a wide range of other nations have in fact already deployed and used capabilities that would fit into a general cyber weapons category. And to be specific there and going back a full decade now for an early blatantly public example of that, consider the use of Stuxnet against Iran’s then early nuclear weapons development program (see my series on that event and related issues as offered here when they were still unfolding, as can be found at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation, as postings 58 and loosely following for its Parts 1-24.)

I argued a case at the time for viewing that early implementation example: Stuxnet, as being fundamentally destabilizing and as a precedent-creating mistake that would come back to haunt us: all of us and globally. And I write this posting looking back now as to how that consequential blowback has already begun. I write this in the context of an emerging reality in which cyber-weapons are being actively deployed, and from multiple sources and against a seemingly open ended array of targets, but with the realities of that and the very real world consequences of that going largely unacknowledged and unaddressed. Consider the working title to all of the installments of this series in that regard, and the event that its text refers to: the intentional and carefully executed compromising of the 2016 United States presidential election by Russian agencies through social media-based and other cyber-attacks. And I have to add that I have been writing this series while facing the grim prospects of that type of cyber-hacking being repeated in the upcoming 2020 United States national elections too. I have to add that that interference, and in what is all but certain to become two consecutive presidential elections in a row in the United States, only represents one of many consequential examples of this use that I could cite here now.

• Nuclear weapons are more generally seen as a high risk deterrent to open large-scale conflict as for example took place during World War II, with the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) hypothesis in effect codifying that understanding.
• That understanding became possible because nuclear weapons could only be seen as weapons and as weapons of mass destruction at that. Yes, there were a few voices that spoke out in the early days of the Atoms for Peace movement, as launched by then US president Dwight D. Eisenhower, that suggested that atomic bombs could be peacefully used as large-scale excavation tools, as for example when digging new and better canals to facilitate faster international shipping. But suggestions like that could never be taken seriously by anyone, even as Eisenhower’s call for peaceful development of nuclear technologies did pave the way for nuclear power plants and for nuclear medicine and more.
• Seemingly every smoke detector in use worldwide has a microscopic amount of an entirely manmade element: americium in its detector. We are surrounded by the fruits of that initiative and in ways that we do not even see.
• But the stark, clear-cut boundaries between peaceful and military there have always been present and even fundamentally self-evident. Cyber-technologies are different for that.
• “Dual use”, as defined and discussed in Part 18, is clear-cut and starkly so when it is applied in a nuclear technology setting, and certainly for nuclear weapons per se. And any potential ambiguity that does arise is usually all but automatically viewed as meaning weapon, and by default (e.g. consider fast breeder reactors where the plutonium they produce is all but certain to be seen as fuel for making bombs.)
• But it is much less certain in any realistically considered cyber-context. Stuxnet and its fully weaponized, and even designed-as-weapon relatives would obviously fit into the military side to that; all else cyber floats in gray area uncertainty there and with more of a civilian use presumption attached to it. And this brings me back to the dichotomy that I offered earlier in this posting where cyber-weapons are used and even overtly so, but where at the same time their use and any clear-cut understanding of what that even means, can lead to disorganization and even what amounts to paralysis and both in proactive preparation and in response.
• Dual use and its uncertainties are not the only way to think about the strategic and operational uncertainties and disconnects that I wrote of here. Uncertainty as to who actually launched a given attack, as is inherent to cyber-conflict as a whole, enters into that too (as discussed earlier in this series, among other places.)
• But it is difficult to respond to an attack, or even to effectively plan and prepare for its possibility if you base your assessments on actions as being carried out using what are arguably non-weapons: civilian supportive and enabling technologies and tools that have become crucially important for their ubiquitous availability for entire societies and even globally. This is a context where things might be clear and at least relatively certain in the abstract, but ambiguous in the specific instance, and particularly where the precise level of impact on unfolding events from an attack effort are uncertain. (Did, for example Russia’s hacking of the 2016 US presidential election actually tip the balance and cause Donald Trump’s election? We can never actually know.)

And it is in this context that I finally turn to and consider a basic planning approach that I raised in Part 18 and that I said there, I would delve into here: symmetrical and asymmetrical forces and conflicts and certainly as that dynamic might arise in a cyber contest.

I begin that aspect of this discussion by citing one of my earliest national security related postings as offered here in this blog, dating back to 2010: Stuxnet and the Democratization of Warfare. Yes, it is now publically known and well established that Stuxnet was a product of and a tool of national governments and with both United States and Israeli involvement in its development and use. But that was not established until well after that computer worm was launched and until well after it had caused its damage. In principle, a small private sector group or even a single well connected individual hacker might have carried that out and certainly if they could gain usable knowledge of the four zero-day vulnerabilities that were exploited in Stuxnet (as were discussed in my earlier, above-cited series). That would be very expensive and difficult to achieve but it would have been and still is possible and certainly in principle.

• So let’s reframe and rethink cyber-attacks, and certainly when considering the breakdown of dual use as a putatively useful technology-classifying if not defining concept,
• And reconsider them entirely in terms of what was done and of apparent intention there – and even if that does come at least at first with real uncertainty as to who did it, or of actual consequential results achieved.

Symmetrical conflicts are conflicts between competing powers: usually nation states, that hold at least roughly comparable strengths of position and capability going into them. They can be thought of as conflicts between at least roughly equals. Asymmetrical conflicts as exemplified by guerrilla warfare and partisan resistance movements, are conflicts between grossly unequal combatants and combatant forces with one greatly outmatching the other at least when any possible conflict between them is considered in conventional force availability and deployment terms. Cyber-weapons and their use fit both paradigms: symmetrical and asymmetrical, and particularly as they arise from publically available and even ubiquitously available technologies, and specific tools that are developed from them.

I wrote my above-cited democratization posting in 2010 focusing on the asymmetrical side to this, even as I and a great many others knew that nation states were developing these capabilities too, and that instances had occurred in which they had been live-fire used in actual conflicts. The deployment and use of Stuxnet can be seen and certainly in retrospect, as the fuse that blew up this distinction where cyber-weapons: cyber-weaponized use of what are ostensibly entirely civilian use tools that are for the most part entirely owned by private sector businesses (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others), have blurred all conventionally considered weapons and conflicts defining boundaries.

And with that noted, I will turn to further consider the Putin Defense Policy and its underlying political and military doctrine. And in anticipation of that, this will of necessity mean my addressing the power vacuum that United States president Trump has created, as a path forward for Putin and others to take advantage of, and by cyber as well as more conventional means. I will discuss Russian incursions into the Ukraine and Trump’s effort to extort the government of that nation to help him attack his political enemies in the United States in that context, and Trump’s decision to pull American forces out or Northern Syria, enabling Turkey and Russia to in effect carve up that entire region as their new sphere of influence now. And I will at least begin to address all of this in my next installment to this series.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And you can also find this and related material at Social Networking and Business 3 and also see that directory’s Page 1 and Page 2.

And I finish this posting with a final question that I have been leading up to here:

• How can and should we plan for and prepare for cyber-conflict and its possibilities if the basic paradigmatic approach and the basic vocabulary that it is based upon for understanding risk and conflict (as were developed in a more conventionally framed context) can no longer actually apply?

(Hint: I tentatively began offering a starting point towards one possibility for addressing that question here, at least for a first step that might be taken.)

Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, and the contrasts of leadership in the 21st century 26: some thoughts concerning how Xi and Trump approach and seek to create lasting legacies to themselves 15

Posted in macroeconomics, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on February 5, 2020

This is my 27th installment in a progression of comparative postings about Donald Trump’s and Xi Jinping’s approaches to leadership, as they have both turned to authoritarianism and its tools in their efforts to succeed there. And the most recent 15 of those postings have focused on legacy building as both Trump and Xi seek to build for that. I continue developing that narrative here, with a goal of more explicitly discussing Trump’s and Xi’s approaches to control, and both as they variously seek to lead and shape their nations, and as they seek to build personal legacies out of that, and fame for themselves in doing so.

I have alternatively focused in this series on Trump and Xi. And as part of that longer effort, I was working my way through a somewhat extended discussion and analysis of the historical basis for Xi’s China Dream: his Zhōngguó Mèng (中国梦) as a road map to his ambitions, leading up to and including Part 23 of this. And then news and events related to Donald Trump brought me to change directions in what I was offering and when. So I focused on him and his presidency in crisis, in Part 24 and Part 25, focusing there on the context in which he would face possible impeachment in the US House of Representatives, and trial on those charges if passed by the House, in the US Senate.

President Trump did everything that he could to block the admission of evidence: direct testimony under oath from key potential witnesses included, in those House impeachment hearings. But enough evidence was presented anyway to tell a damning story. He was impeached, as expected by a Democratic Party controlled House. And the speaker of the House had the two articles of impeachment that were passed, sent on to the Senate for trial.

The Republican Party controlled Senate blocked any and every effort to allow new evidence from being considered in their trial proceedings, as they would be carried out in response to those House findings and their articles of impeachment. And they adamantly pursued that strategy, blocking the admission of any new documentary evidence or first-hand testimony, and even as new potential witnesses stepped forward. They pursued this course, effectively deciding in advance to acquit no matter what, even as at least one potential witness: John R Bolton, Trump’s former national security advisor clamored to be heard there.

So all Senate hearings were held and completed as quickly and as free of consideration of any evidentiary findings as possible and it can only be expected that he will be acquitted when the Senate votes on Wednesday, February 5, 2020 (I actually write this on February 3 and 4.) And with this victory, Donald J. Trump will have taken a giant step forward in his quest for cult-of-personality driven authoritarian power in the United States, through the suborning of the Legislative Branch of the that nation’s government, and the US Constitution, and of all of the basic democratic principles that this country has sought to, and fought to uphold and defend.

And the closing words of T.S. Elliot’s poem, The Hollow Men come strongly to mind for me as I write this and as I mull over a flood of details that I have not added here (such as Trump’s publically bragging that he in fact did everything that he is accused of having done in those articles of impeachment, and that he would and in fact will do those exact same types of things again too):

“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”

This, at least may be how a democracy ends, or at least faces dire risk of that happening through the calculated suborning of its basic institutions.

I write this thinking back to the weak-kneed excuse that one supposedly moderate Republican senator gave for not voting to allow new evidence, witnesses included in their deliberations because … Trump would be acquitted anyway, and besides his arguably more questionable actions were so minor as violations, if that, of the constitution that … (and why would I risk political party wrath and my reelection for something like this? – a disturbingly accurate paraphrase of a public statement) Nota bene: in this context, “moderate Republican” would mean “not entirely owned by Donald Trump.” But in the age of Trump, “not entirely” has its limits and caveats.

I suspect that that entire poem applies here, though the men involved hold no monopoly for hollowness.

Remember, at the start of those Senate trial proceedings, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States administered an oath to all senators who would participate in those deliberations, that consisted of one supposedly simple and direct question that would call for a simple and direct yes or no response:

• “Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you god?”

Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans all solemnly raised their right hands and they all firmly said “yes” to that, even when they had already in many cases publically declared that they would end this matter as quickly as possible, and with a certainty of acquittal on any and all charges.

And with that offered, as a final Trump-related note that I would include here at this time, in this context of this series, I turn back to the issues of Xi Jinping and his China, and his efforts to achieve his vision of authoritarian perfection. I will simply conclude the above by noting that I will all but certainly return to that narrative in future postings – though probably not in the immediate aftermath of the Senate’s so clearly a preordained vote.

From this point on, consider this posting a direct continuation of this series’ Part 23 with its Xi oriented narrative. And I begin addressing that by repeating the to-address note, or at least its key details, as offered at the end of that installment in anticipation of what has turned out to be the second half of this Part 26:

• The issues and questions of stability and of constancy, and both as they have arisen and been challenged throughout China’s history and as Xi understands them and as he seeks to impose them on the China of his day.

And I added in that context that if the Golden Age of the Qing was in fact golden, it was because its rulers of that period could build and develop during a period of at least relative calm, and of at least controllable discord, and with their forces prevailing and under terms that did not significantly challenge the center, as for example when they expanded their empire along its western frontiers. But as I noted in passing in Part 23, the seeds for a downfall of this surety of calm and stability, can be found in the core practices and policies of that same Golden Age and its system of governance, with a potential for systemic failure built into a combination of key decisions and their implementations that crucially include among them:

• How the imperial government communicated with and worked with their provincial government officials but left all direct contact with more local government officials and with the people of China as a whole to them.
• And the consequences of China having and maintaining two monetary systems: one locally used and relied upon that was copper based, and the other nationally required and certainly for tax collection purposes that was based upon silver.
• The dynamics between these basic decisions and their consequences proved to be telling.

My goal for this overall historical narrative has been and remains one of building a foundation for more fully understanding what Xi Jinping is doing now and for more clearly anticipating how and why he would do that and what he would do next, as he deploys modern technologies in an attempt to create a perfect surveillance state out of his China. And I hold out this area of discussion to come, as a point of clarifying focus for what I would offer here first.

Returning in this narrative to the age of the golden age Qing Dynasty, the Imperial Court as located in the Forbidden City and as directly ruled by the emperor, pursued what in modern Western terms would be called a lean management approach with small numbers of highly trained and skilled functionaries who reported to the center of this governmental system, hands-on managing all government and government-dependent functions and activities at the provincial level. And as part of their responsibilities to their government and to their emperor, they would find and bring in the best, most trustworthy and capable possible more-local level functionaries who knew their particular locales, and who were known and respected by the people of their particular local domains too. So the select few who would report to the emperor and his high ranking ministers had their own hierarchically ranked systems of subordinate officials who would all ultimately report to them and with them being held responsible for what their subordinates did, or failed to do. And I stress here: there was no direct contact or connection between local and members of the public, and the emperor’s court.

This system proved to be highly effective and for the entire span of the Qing golden age. Then cracks began to appear in it as a combination of drought and other environmental challenges, and unrest as arising from both within China and at least partly from that, and unrest promulgated by foreign interests seeking to gain footholds in China, made it increasingly difficult to reach mandated goals and for production food and other basic necessities, and for the generation of required tax monies that would ultimately flow back to the center. And that is where the two currencies problem as cited above enters this narrative.

China has traditionally placed a tremendously high value on silver as a basis for its currency, and with that going back centuries. But there was never enough silver available to produce all coin currency that would be in circulation throughout the nation out of this metal without that inflating its apparent value from enforced scarcity. So locally, throughout China during the Qing dynasty, a copper based currency based on a monetary unit: the wen was used, and certainly for all routine commerce. And nationally, the basic silver minted unit of currency was the tael, which was divisible into 10 mace, 100 candareens, or 1000 lí. (As an historical side note here, the rulers of China and their government have always had something of a love-hate relationship with silver as a basis for their monetary system. And in the Yuan dynasty (the 元 of 1271–1368), an attempt was even made to institute a paper currency system, outlawing the private ownership or silver or gold as possible currency alternatives – the world’s first attempted fiat currency – which did in fact ultimately fail.)

A key detail that I would cite and expand upon from the above simplified Qing era two currency outline is that locally, essentially all commerce was carried out using the less nationally valued copper currency of wens. But at tax time, all taxes had to be paid in silver, in taels and its smaller denomination derivatives. This could prove problematical when local people and local government officials had to acquire the taels and other silver currency that they would have to be able to submit as tax payments. But it became challenging to the point of impossibility when actual revenues began to drop, and to become less and less reliably steady at any levels, under the disruptive stresses that I just briefly touched upon above, and more. And all of this was happening at a time in the years and decades of humiliation, as discussed in previous series installments, when China and their emperor were being forced to sign unequal treaties with foreign powers that always included in their terms, that China must pay whatever nations they were signing those treaties with, vast amounts of taels. At one point in the golden age, China was the biggest importer of silver of any nation, worldwide. Now the silver they held was being lost to that outside world again.

Their entire system was breaking down at the periphery and at the local and sub-provincial regional levels, from disruptive change and even outright rebellion, as the Qing Dynasty went into decline. And the citizenry and the officials at those levels had to pay taxes, and in silver that they increasingly could not afford to acquire, to account for revenue that they in fact did not always even have. And this was coming at a time when silver – the life’s blood of this system and certainly for the imperial court and its central government was all but hemorrhaging out of the country.

The imperial court and its senior national government level functionaries and ministers had no direct contact with their own country and its peoples and certainly at organizational levels where their entire system of oversight and of tax generation was unraveling. And the less the overall taxes they would and in fact could bring in through this system, the greater the pressure they sought to apply at the lowest level they could directly communicate with: the provincial. And they passed this increased pressure on towards the local. And functionaries at all levels outside of the Imperial Court itself began hoarding the revenues that they could bring in, in order to meet their own needs, starving the government higher up in that process, and with all of this carried out under the support of lies. Whatever the functionaries at all levels could keep secret and mask with deception, they could not be held responsible for and certainly where anything like direct oversight was becoming all but impossible, and even when it should be possible in principle.

There are lessons learnable from all of this, that I would argue underlie the unspoken, but firmly entrenched true core of Xi’s China Dream:

• A need for direct and immediately active oversight and control and at all levels within the nation, from that of the nation as a whole and that of its individual provinces, all the way down to control and oversight of the smallest villages and of individual citizens as well, and
• As close to absolute control over their currency as possible, and both where internal and foreign-sourced challenges might arise to that.

I am going to turn to these complex issues in my next series installment, as I continue this narrative. And looking further forward, I will discuss the issues and challenges of truth and of propaganda, and from both a Xi and a Trump perspective.

Meanwhile, you can find my Trump-related postings at Social Networking and Business 2 and its Page 3 continuation. And you can find my China writings as appear in this blog at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation, at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time, and at Social Networking and Business 2 and its Page 3 continuation.

Xi Jinping and his China, and their conflicted relationship with Hong Kong – an unfolding Part 2 event: 9

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on February 4, 2020

This is the 9th posting that I have offered here since June 19, 2019, to address significant and even history shaping conflicts taking place in Hong Kong, arising as a response to actions taken by China’s government and by their hand-picked executive leadership that they have installed there, that would fundamentally limit the rights of citizens there (see Macroeconomics and Business 2, postings 343 and loosely following for Parts 1-8.)

And to be more explicitly clear here, this is also the 9th installment to what is in fact a second round of postings about Hong Kong, as the central government of the People’s Republic of China has sought to assert its authoritarian dominance over that territory, and without waiting for the terms of their handover agreement with Great Britain to conclude, as they are scheduled to in 2047. See my earlier first round postings on this source of challenge, dating back to 2014: China and its Transition Imperatives 12.5: an inserted news update re Hong Kong and that series’ Part 12.6 addendum note continuation.

I wrote those two earlier postings and the eight that I have been adding here in this more recent series, as an overall response to what can perhaps best be considered acute challenges to the people of Hong Kong as coming from Beijing and the government of Xi Jinping. Then I set this still unfolding news story aside after offering my most recent addition to this narrative up to now: its Part 8, as first went live to this blog on November 12, 2019.

It is now February 4, 2020. I did not stop writing about this course of events and its significance for close to three months because matters there have settled down, or because the underlying issues driving its unrest have been resolved. Nothing has settled down; nothing has in any real sense been resolved. And the same basic decisions and actions that have been driving this controversy, that so increasingly divide the People’s Republic of China from Hong Kong continue. I simply set this narrative aside for a period of time, as I have watched all of that settle down into a toxic steady state, new-normal there. The anger and resentment behind all of this continue to at least simmer if not boil and on both sides; nothing has been resolved and certainly not in any positive sense. The only real change that can and in fact must be acknowledged here is that all of this has moved from being acute and in some sense new and even novel, to the status of life-as-usual and for all directly afflicted by all of this.

Unrest in Hong Kong and with all of its ripple effects, has become their chronic everyday reality in place now: their new normal there. And in that, Hong Kong and Taiwan have come to hold what can perhaps best be considered to be similar relationships to the government and the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China, and to Xi Jinping’s leadership ambitions there – and at least until 2047 for Hong Kong, as noted above, when that treaty agreement turning that territory back to China concludes for its special status requirements.

• It does not take much of a crystal ball to see that the people of Hong Kong are going to continue to insist on controlling and in fact owning their own fates and that they will want to retain and even expand their autonomy and their separation from Chinese control as that transition period end-point approaches.
• And it does not even take as much of a clairvoyant’s crystal ball as that, to be able to see and predict that the government and Communist Party of China will continue to try to take firmer and firmer control over this once British colony and well before that 2047 date when they would face no treaty-based objections to their taking full control there – even if the people of Hong Kong do continue to object to that and strenuously so. China has been encroaching on Hong Kong and its treaty-defined and supported autonomy in direct defiance of the terms of that agreement, and virtually from its first signing. The Beijing government has always chafed under the restrictions of the one country, two systems approach that they were forced to concede to in 1997.
• And to continue my at least loosely organized comparison between Hong Kong as it is now and Taiwan as it is now, as I just referred to above and as I began discussing in Part 8 to this series, one of the most important differences that I might cite between them here, at least for purposes of this discussion, is that when Taiwan became the Republic of China in 1949, it did so without any pretext of a possible return date, under which it might revert to being controlled by a Beijing government again. Hong Kong is scheduled to face that fate and on a specific date and at a specific time, on July 1, 2047.
• Taiwan’s break-away began as an acute conflict as Mao Zedong’s Communist forces drove their Republican Chinese enemies off the mainland. And that quickly became a chronic source of disagreement and unrest and certainly from the perspective of the People’s Republic of China, and certainly when its leaders found themselves unable to take any direct action against that resistance to their hegemonic control. Taiwan’s continued independence became an at least low-level source of and impetus for ongoing challenge from mainland Communist China, and quickly so. Hong Kong’s conflict with mainland China has now effectively become chronic too, after its more jarring beginning, at that treaty in place still blocks direct forceful action from Beijing there too.

Acute conflict that cannot be resolved and that just continues to fester, quickly becomes chronic and much the way that a bodily injury does when it simply continues on. So China keeps pushing and encroaching and certainly against any claims of autonomy in Hong Kong. And the people of Hong Kong keep resisting and pushing back. And they do so through ongoing and by now seemingly institutionalized unrest as that has become a basic day-to-day given that everyone there has to accommodate – much as they have to accommodate the weather and even when it is at its worst.

Unrest in Hong Kong has become standardized and even color coded. Blue is the color of choice for those who do in fact declare and proclaim their allegiance to the national government of China and the Communist Party that controls it. Yellow is the color of choice for those who would declare and proclaim their resistance to all of that and their demands for independence from it. And the interactions between those factions have become at least somewhat predictable, and certainly for anticipating where protests and attacks upon them will most likely happen, making it that much easier to either join in or avoid that depending on current needs and interests.

• And this is the impossible position that Xi’s government faces and that it has in fact created, as Xi Jinping seeks to advance and realize his China Dream, but through means that ultimately can only thwart him.

And this is the context that a new wildcard arrives in, with the emergence of a new highly contagious coronavirus coming out of the city of Wuhan in Hubei Province that has already sickened thousands and that seems to have an approximately 5% mortality rate – and that is spreading and in spite of China’s quarantine efforts, and that is overwhelming its capacity to launch an effective hospital level or clinic-based public health response. (There, both approaches are essential, if effective triage is to filter out and identify those actually infected with this pathogen from the vastly larger number of others who have the flu or a cold, or who are simply afraid they might have been exposed to it, so they do not thoroughly overwhelm every hospital Emergency Room in the country!) And yes, the people of Hong Kong are afraid of this new disease hitting them too, from the usual and only somewhat lessened flood of mainland Chinese visitors they have always had, with their purchasing power adding so much to the Hong Kong economy. I expect to have more to say on this complex of issues in a next installment to this series, though I fully expect other, as of now unexpected news events to arise that I will also see need to include there too. (Chronic, it should be noted, can be and in fact often is as complicated and subject to sudden unexpected change as overtly acute can be, as chronic problems and challenges still represent fundamental instability and dysfunction, and resulting increased vulnerability too.)

Meanwhile, you can find this and related China and Xi Jinping-oriented material at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation.

Nonprofits as businesses: more effectively connecting mission and vision, strategy and operations 4

Posted in nonprofits by Timothy Platt on February 3, 2020

This is my 4th installment to a series that I am offering here as a more detailed continuation to a stand-alone posting that I first wrote and posted in 2010 as Nonprofits and Blue Ocean Strategies (see Nonprofits and Social Networking, postings 42 and following for Parts 1-3.)

I began this series with a focus on mission and vision statements in Part 1. And I then began outlining an initial new nonprofit organizational and development plan from that, in Part 2 and Part 3, by outlining two possible early iterations for how such an organization might be brought from intention into at least initial and early action. And my goal here is to continue to outline and analytically discuss that initial business development process for such an enterprise, and with the same ongoing goal of helping nonprofit founders to operationalize their missions and visions, so as to help make their new organizations succeed and thrive.

I said at the end of Part 3 that I would continue this overall discussion here by at least beginning to delve into the issues of how basic business processes and nonprofit-specific ones, can be more effectively planned out and coordinated. And I noted that that of necessity will mean considering the tasks and goals that they would address, and how they would be prioritized and carried out, and performance reviewed as well. And timing, of necessity enters into all of this, as briefly touched upon in the last working example offered in Part 3 of this.

I begin delving into all of these issues here, by reiterating a point of detail that I offered towards the end of Part 3, that in fact imposes what might be the most important source of constraints that essentially any nonprofit would face as it is developed and as it pursues its basic strategies and operations and as it seeks to fulfill its mission and vision:

• Legally mandated and defined incoming revenue allocation and usage requirements that tax systems and their underlying laws require be met in order for an organization to be able to claim nonprofit status.

I wrote in Part 3 of at least roughly dividing all operations and supported functions and activities in place in a nonprofit into two at least broadly conceptually distinct categories:

• Basic and even more fundamentally generic business processes and the tasks that enter into them,
• And nonprofit-specific activities that it would support and carry out and on an ongoing basis, that would actually, explicitly serve to fulfill its particular mission and vision, or at least work towards doing so.

The pressures of meeting legal requirements for gaining and retaining nonprofit status play out as these two sources of strategic and operational demand are planned out and executed and as they are performance reviewed and course corrected too. And they play a key role in setting realistic priorities, and on all fronts for what the organization does and how and when it does that.

• I begin this phase of this discussion, as a perhaps loosely organized step three iteration to the business development process that I have been proposing up to here, with the more basic and fundamental business processes of that organizational dichotomy.
• And I assume here that the founders of this organization, working with functional area experts who they bring into their effort, have arrived at a list of which standardized business functions and services they need, and with at least an initial take on what levels and complexities of such activity would be needed and early on in particular there.
• And looking forward for a moment they would also most probably at least begun to consider what of that they would want to at least eventually keep in-house and what they would at least ideally outsource for better cost-effectiveness. This raises a crucially important point:
• A need to simultaneously begin planning for a beginning here-and-now with all of its uncertainties while also thinking and planning, and preparing for what will come next.
• As a newly forming business, and nonprofits are always businesses, the people who collectively frame these discussions and arrive at agreed to business development plans and benchmarked performance steps, will have to plan and prepare for sufficient levels of capability and performance and in all of the areas of activity that they see as essential and from the beginning, in order for their new enterprise to function.
• The good news is that newly forming businesses with their minimal headcounts and a capacity for everyone there to work together coordinately, can succeed and even thrive on the basis of minimally bare bones operations and therefore at minimal operational costs. And personnel and related costs will be minimal at most too, and certainly this early on.
• The bad news is that when such an organization is just getting started they have to do all of this with very little if anything in the way of reserves and with no already realized incoming revenue – besides whatever initial funding that those founders and any enlisted early donors if any, might provide. And any such initial funding has to be considered as one time only, non-recurring income as a conservative point of consideration.
• And once again, I raise the specter of that nonprofit defining cash flow to mission and vision requirement that I made repeated note of above here. This compels nonprofits to develop and run as lean enterprises with no room for any “excess” beyond the essential for their business operations or their supporting facilities allowed. That, of necessity means lean for everything from physical facilities and their expenses, to equipment and other physical resources, to personnel with a need to maintain as small an employee headcount as possible and at all levels of the table of organization. And as this organization develops and grows and begins to face a need to acquire informational and other nonphysical resources too, and to maintain them, this lean as a necessary requirement will affect them there too. But that last detail would not likely become significant at first and only emerge as a major factor as this nonprofit grows as a working venture.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will turn to and consider nonprofit-specific activities and their functional support and fulfillment in this type of context. And I will of course also at least begin to discuss how these two categories of need and its fulfillment would be coordinated and balanced too, and how that would be benchmarked and performance reviewed. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Nonprofits and Social Networking.

Thinking through how a solution to a problem can create problems (and even that same problem)

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 2, 2020

• X is a professional who works in a field that would call for recurring appointments with a significant proportion of their clients, and on an ongoing basis. And they are overbooked in their appointments schedule and chronically so – so everyone who has to be able to meet with them is told to schedule in advance, in case they need to see them then, and then cancel closer to those appointed dates if they do not have to. So X’s schedule gets filled up with a combination of valid appointments plus “just in case” appointments, that might or might not actually be canceled if not needed, depending on how attentive those schedulers are for actually following through on that, when they are more focused on what they would actually be doing when they have their “just in case” appointments scheduled for.
• So X’s office manager’s work-around solution to their boss’ scheduling limitations, at the very least reinforces and perpetuates that overbooking problem even as it is seeks to case-by-case resolve it.

I find myself writing this posting with a very real, specific professional office and its scheduling issues in mind. And I have to assume that many of my readers, at the very least, could come up with their own parallel narratives here that are centered around similarly confounding solutions to more generally recurring problems, that either create new problems, reinforce old ones, or both.

Here, to perhaps mangle/paraphrase an old adage: “the road to hell is paved with good (appointments scheduling) intentions.”

I am not offering this particular thought piece with an intention of calling out anyone, and I in fact will not even identify what type of office or business practice, the principles of that little scenario work in. I instead, hold this out as an admittedly abstractly framed and presented negative case study example that I would hope to develop some positive general principle alternatives around.

The professional who those appointments would provide access to, is in fact a highly skilled and highly respected expert in their field, with that driving the scenario that I began this thought piece with. If they were not as good at what they do as they are and if they did not have the reputation for excellence that they have, the collision course scheduling problem that I write of here could not arise, and no matter how their office manager set up appointments to come.

What are some of the more general principles and best practices possibilities that that example scenario might suggest? I begin addressing that question by offering a few general principles-oriented thoughts, and with a goal of moving on from there to at least first-step applying them to that case study and its challenges.

What does the office manager of this simplified case study do, operationally and as a matter of ongoing planning and execution? They seek to accommodate their boss’ clients on an essentially entirely individual by individual, case by case basis, where effective scheduling of the type called for here, requires a more globally comprehensive approach that would address overall scheduling challenges, given the overbooking problems that that office has come to routinely face. But at the same time that that office manager schedules individuals to see their boss on a highly individualized basis, they do so as if in a vacuum with regard to the rest of their boss’ professional practice. And they apply a same simple cookie cutter-like solution to scheduling those next appointments, and at least seemingly the same way, every time.

Not all problematical solutions to business challenges literally reinforce or even create those same problems that they would seek to limit if not solve, as highlighted in this very real-world example. But way too many solutions to problems, and certainly standardized ones, create ripple effect next-step problems of one sort or other. And I write and offer this posting with that wider range of poor practices, law of untended consequences solutions in mind.

• Ill-considered and unconsidered ad hoc solutions to systemic problems create problems, or at the very least exacerbate already existing ones.
• And when that means every case in point situation where a better resolution is needed, being addressed without consideration of larger process patterns and their outcomes being considered, and with attempted “one size fits all” solutions, that can lead to disaster.

Note that I just challenged two approaches and understandings for developing better, or worse business processes that at least initially might seem to be contradictory: carrying out a cause and effect consequential task as if for the first time, every time and as if addressing a unique situation, while also applying some single largely immutable cookie cutter solution.

The glue that toxically blinds there can be found in a failure to look for or accommodate cause and effect repercussions, and both for all of those clients and for that busy professional who they have to be able to meet with.

How would I propose course correcting there? I would do so, at least as the product of a first step review and analysis of how current practices are working, by suggesting that this office manager needs to categorically divide their boss’ clients as to what they individually actually need.

1. Are there clients who genuinely need to see this professional on an ongoing, regularly scheduled basis? The basic scheduling solution deployed there might in fact be a good one for them.
2. But what of clients who only need to see this professional on an occasional and erratic basis, where it is not going to be possible to predict the necessary whens of that all that far in advance? Limiting the number of here-identified group one clients to those who really belong there, would open up schedule spaces for this group.
3. And as a third group here, add in those clients who regardless of their usual group one or two status here, find that they have disruptively unexpected reasons for seeing this professional and on short notice – and where for some of them they might suddenly have to be able to meet with them NOW. This is where creative overbooking, with that professional making a final scheduling decision there, might be a necessity.

Effective appointments scheduling, to continue with this working example, should be routine and standardized where possible, but with exception handling accounted for when needed and with decision making escalation built in too as needed. And the case by case rules applied need to be better fits and for both the clients involved and the professional who they would meet with. And to add in one more source of complexity, this all has to be able to accommodate at least predictable busy seasons, as for example arise for tax accountant professionals approaching key filing dates. And all of this has to be able to accommodate, with a level of stressful adjustment and accommodation allowed for, the possibility of a blizzard keeping the office closed for a few would-be very busy work days while the streets are cleared enough to allow traffic through again!

By now this note should be coming across as something of an “anti-cookie-cutter” essay. And that is for a reason.

Think of the challenges that I write of here as representing at least potential situations where what should be routine, has not been operationalized in a more standardized and predictably controllable manner, creating uncertainties and new sources of potential error from that. And at least as significantly to the point, think of those challenges as representing the consequences that can arise absent reasoned, possible scenario-based flexibility when developing and following those business practices. And that is where ongoing performance and outcomes reviews enter this narrative; I have not stressed this detail yet but one of the defining features of this appointments scheduling example is that the processes that have proven not to work in it have not been effectively reviewed, reconsidered, or changed. So I end this note by acknowledging a need to include office practices of the type discussed here, in ongoing cyclical review to improvement to process utilization and back outcomes reviews again, due diligence cycles.

You can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory.

Business planning from the back of a napkin to a formal and detailed presentation 33

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on January 31, 2020

This is my 33rd 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 and Page 5 continuations, postings 578 and loosely following for Parts 1-32.)

As noted in Part 32 of this series, I have been discussing a set of issues that collectively help shape overall strategy and operations at a business, as they might or might not align when comparing home office and executive perspectives as found there, with local office or satellite facility perspectives – and with consideration taken of perceived needs, priorities and timing addressed in that process.

I focused in Part 32 on the last of those three topics points which I repeat here as I continue addressing it:

• How their (e.g. those two businesses’) 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 now and where it should be going, and how.

And to round out this connecting text, as offered here for smoother continuity of narrative, I add that the two businesses and business models that I have been pursuing here, and that I just made passing note of in that topics point are:

• Alpha Hardware: A hardware store 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
• The e-Maverick Group: A cutting edge technology offering, business-to-business oriented software development company that also faces business transition challenges.

I have primarily focused on Alpha Hardware, or more specifically on the parent company there: Alpha Hardware, Inc. and its two subsidiary storefronts as named in the above bullet point, when addressing that topics point. So I stated at the end of Part 32 that I would complete my discussion of that topics point here, as framed around that business, and I added that I would then turn to and at least begin to more deeply consider the e-Maverick Group in this context too.

I begin all of this by repeating two more discussion topics details that I raised in Part 32 that I would argue merit further consideration here, with at least a selective analysis of:

• Where basic strategic and operational decisions are made, and
• On how essential resources for maintaining and running a business would be sourced and how decisions of that type, and related ones would be arrived at.

I offered two home office versus local storefront examples of how those points might be addressed in that series installment, that were in fact digressions from my Alpha Hardware example per se – doing so, I have to admit, because I saw them as fitting into that narrative so effectively. But I wanted to bring that line of discussion back to this case study example itself here, to round it out.

• As a first step in that, I note the obvious: Alpha Hardware Inc.’s, two storefronts: Alpha Hardware and Alpha Home Goods were set up, at least as going into their new storefront-opening business transition, to be different from each other. They would at least ideally serve the needs of large and overlapping customer bases, and with a goal of meeting a wider range of customer needs for as large a community as possible. But at least ideally, they would each meet different sets of customer needs so as to avoid having their parent company and their overall business from in effect competing against itself.
• They would carry different inventories and different types of them. Their storefront layouts would differ in at least key details where that would make sense in meeting their particular, specific marketing and sales needs and goals.
• And yes, their marketing would differ … but with that noted, there would still be shared features too, and marketing and brand are probably the most publically visible face to that. So yes, their hardware and home goods stores would have to market in detail so as to meet their particular needs. But it is at least as important that the marketplace community that they and their parent company face, know that they are still part of the same overall business and one that has an overarching unifying brand too.
• Alpha Hardware Inc. might still be a small and local enterprise, even if one with big ambitions. But it has the resources needed to meet a wide range of consumer needs and effectively, and if you walk into one of their stores, you get the full support of the entire business as a whole serving you, and trying to give you the best at a good price and with great service.
• Behind the scenes, Alpha Hardware Inc. provides overarching back office, information technology, financial department, human resources and other capabilities so that their storefronts do not have to and will not have to in effect reinvent any of those wheels to have the benefits of them.
• And as a crucially important point here: I am not just writing about a parent company, home office and two satellite storefronts here. As I have written in prior installments to this and certainly in Part 32, Alpha Hardware Inc. and its leadership have bigger and more far-reaching ambitions than that, as their have longer range goals of both diversifying to include other types of specialty storefronts, as well as building new ones for business areas they are already active in. So they have been building for scalability

One of the possible area of discussion that this six point description suggests is that of boundaries. I just made note of areas where the individual storefronts of this business would have a measure of autonomy or at least distinct individuality, and where more senior management would more likely leave decisions relevant to them in local on-the-scene managerial oversight and decision making hands. But I also wrote about conformity and unity of approach and of the underlying business systems that would enable and carry that out. In the real world, you cannot expect clear cut black and white distinctions in that type of situation. I have been citing an old adage here: “the devil is in the details.” When you look at the details, you see what can amount to very large areas of gray too – areas of overlap where both corporate and local managers see a need for them to make guiding, or at least strongly influencing decisions. And one again, I begin with marketing here, and with a simultaneous need to market to the specific storefront and what it offers, while still remaining part of a larger overall business system with its overarching brand name and brand recognition.

And looking at those behind the scenes shared business operations and functional specialties: real world managers seek to control the systems and the facilities that they are responsible for. This means their aligning what they are responsible for, with what they are empowered to actually do. Mismatches there can and do occur and even in the best run organizations; their prevalence in a business certainly, is a strong indicator that that enterprise is in need of change management assistance. But even when this basic principle is understood, there can still be real-world disagreements as to what local managers can and should do and how, and what they are going to be held individually responsible for. And the differences there can and do arise as concerns of local versus centralized control, and over what resources are and are not best managed locally or centrally.

• Think of home office with satellite facility relationships, or home office versus satellite facility relationships if you prefer, as an ongoing search for homeostatic balance in the face of ongoing change, and both from within the overall business and as it arises from outside contexts (e.g. their marketplace and from when facing business competitors.)

And yes, I have been writing specifically about Alpha Hardware Inc. and its storefronts here, and particularly as it prepares to expand and both for numbers and diversity of storefronts included and geographically too, as a necessary concomitant to that.

And this brings me to my second business model case study example, that I named at the start of this posting but without the inclusion of any meaningful details, at least as far as this narrative is concerned: the e-Maverick Group. I will turn to that next, with an initial goal of recapitulating some of the here-relevant details concerning that business that would be pertinent to this line of discussion, that I can work from as I proceed in this series-spanning narrative. And I will begin that phase of this discussion in my next series installment.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory.

%d bloggers like this: