Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 5: the two conceptual approaches 4

Posted in blogs and marketing, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on April 20, 2016

This is my fifth installment to a series on general theories of business, and on what general theory means as a matter of underlying principle and in this specific context (see Reexamining the Fundamentals directory, Section VI: Some Thoughts Concerning a General Theory of Business, for Parts 1-4.)

I have, as indicated in the title of this posting, been developing this narrative in terms of two conceptual approaches to general theories, which I briefly recapitulate here as follows, from earlier series installments:

• Compendium models: models that seek to describe and causally explain as much as possible, even if an overall single unifying theory is not available to tie all of this together (at least yet), and
• Minimalist general rules models: models that seek to comprehensively predictively describe and causally explain such a universe of phenomena through application of a minimal set of general principles, rules or laws.

I have primarily developed and explained these two approaches to general theoretical models in terms of physical science-based working examples. And in the course of that I have focused on two factors that enter into how and when the first of those approaches: compendium model-based theories, can be developed into more organized overarching, minimalist general rules-based ones.

• Focus and usability, where actually applying the larger conceptual understandings of an overarching theory-based explanation in real-world contexts, always means taking recourse to context-specific special-case and organizationally restricted implementations – elements of a more compendium model type, even if we use them knowing they fit into larger conceptual understandings in the back of our minds as we use them (see Part 3.)
• And acceptable levels of explanatory and empirically validatable accuracy, and for both what can be accurately measured, and for what degree of accuracy is in fact required (see Part 4.)

I will turn here to address a third such form-specifying factor in shaping and using general theories:

• Consistency and change in the empirically grounding foundations to a body of explanatory theory.
• And for this factor, I will specifically turn to consider theories of business per se.

But to put that discussion to come into perspective, I began pursuing my ongoing discussion here with physical science-based systems for several compelling reasons. First is that fact that the physical sciences are grounded in immediate physical reality as it exists independently of human decisions or actions (the postulated quantum mechanically grounded precept of the anthropic principle aside.)

And it is both an underlying assumption and a continuously validated observational finding that the apparent laws of nature hold true universally – and essentially everywhere and at all times. The empirical foundations underlying these bodies of theory, to be more precise, do not change except in certain clearly definable specific contexts such as for example would be found at and beyond a black hole event horizon. So I chose to refer to these systems of theory in addressing the first two factors as stated above, at least in part because that meant discussing and analyzing systems that are essentially entirely empirically consistent, even if they are not entirely known. And that way I could address those first two factors separately, without confounding discussion of them with an intrusion of the third factor as will be focused upon here.

And as a second reason for choosing physical science systems there as a source of working example, I note the simple fact that physics and at least the basics of its main bodies of theoretical explanation are so well known and so thoroughly experientially established.

With this stated, I turn to consider that third factor, where it cannot be assumed that the empirically grounding foundations to a body of explanatory theory will remain constant. I stated above that I will discuss this in terms of business models and I begin that here, and with what might be considered a transition issue, moving from my physical model examples to a more entirely business theory context:

• Businesses and the people who own them and work at them and their markets and customers all exist in physical space. From a physical science perspective this means operating in a spatial, or rather a space-time framework that can variously be understood and modeled as following Newtonian or relativistic rules as the relative positions of objects and their motions are mapped out. And until the advent of the internet in general, and the World Wide Web in particular, this was the only space-time framework that was either available or required, and with the Newtonian approximation sufficing in essentially all circumstances.
• Now with the Web and with social networking and social media and so much more, a second, divergent understanding of space and time is needed that would be turned to in coordination with use of conventional space and time reasoning: cyberspatial reasoning and cyberspatial understandings of time and space and of distance and duration.
• The basic underlying presumption there is that distance disappears in cyberspace as it is possible to connect online from essentially anywhere to anywhere through it, and certainly when interactive online and wireless telephonic connectivity are available. And if the speed of connection is high enough for transmissions to appear to be essentially instantaneous and fully real-time in nature for the information that has to be exchanged in these communications systems, then this basic representation holds true. Think of this as the cyberspace analog to a basic model Newtonian space-time representation, and one where space and distance in it per se seem to collapse down as if to a mathematical point.
• But now let’s assume that transmission speed is important, and that it can best be seen as a significant limiting factor for how rapidly information can to be sent and followed through upon, given the scale and complexity of the information flow that has to be so transmitted and shared. Put slightly differently, let’s assume that transmission speed limitations are such as to create systems friction when these available communications channels are used, in meeting even just routine needs.
• Now, a functionally meaningful concept of distance begins to emerge in this cyberspatial context too where as a metric, effective distance can be determined as the inverse of the actual per-packet information speed, and also as an inverse of the bandwidth that is functionally available for information transfer.
• According to this characterization, the slower the overall transmission speed available for connecting online, the further away a site is from you that you would send information to or receive it from. And the larger the overall package of information that you wish to send or receive, at any given finite transmission speed and with any particular overall bandwidth connectivity limitation, the further away that site effectively is from you too.
• Think of this as a perhaps-relativistic counterpart to the baseline cyberspatial model just noted above, that becomes necessary as information usage requirements and expectations expand out into new territory to meet and exceed any essentially frictionless capacity that available communications channels can handle.
• Note what I have just done. I have fundamentally changed the notion of space and time per se, as these concepts apply in a business and commerce context – and most certainly in an e-commerce context, by adding in a fundamentally new conception of distance and duration – even if it is one that has become quite familiar for its impact to most everyone in recent years. From a theory of business perspective, I have changed and expanded the basic underlying empirical foundation that has to be addressed and accounted for, from what prevailed pre-internet.
• That is important; I have directly and specifically noted an emerging business and marketplace context where the empirically observable phenomena that have to be addressed and accounted for change.
• It could be argued that while the underlying physical, empirical reality of the physical sciences remains constant, the range of empirical starting points that inform and shape the underlying reality that a general theory of business would have to address, is subject to change – and from expansion of what is possible and of what is expected of that if nothing else.
• And notable changes of this type mark fundamental transitions, and in both what constitutes our current reality and in what is and can become possible. In a fundamental sense, this entire blog is a narrative centering on the emerging consequences of this type of working example empirical-reality change.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, by picking up on a perhaps unexpected consequence of change as encompassed in this third model category-determining factor. In anticipation of that, I will briefly discuss alternative interpretations of reality as confront us in the physical sciences and particularly in quantum theory. I will then apply some insights developed from that perhaps-digression to a business theory context. And in the course of that I will reconsider the concepts of invention and discovery. And after addressing that I will step back to consider axiomatic assumptions, and both in general terms and as I make such basic assumptions here in this blog and from my own professional and personal experience.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material about what I am attempting to do here at About this Blog and at Blogs and Marketing. And I include this series in my Reexamining the Fundamentals directory, as topics section VI there where I offer related material regarding theory-based systems.

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