Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Intentional management 31: contextual management 9 and evolutionary and revolutionary change 4

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on April 30, 2016

This is my 31st installment in a series in which I discuss how management activity and responsibilities can be parsed and distributed through a business organization, so as to better meet operational and strategic goals and as a planned intentional process (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 472 and loosely following for Parts 1-30.) This is also my ninth installment within this series on an approach to business management that I have come to refer to as contextual management.

I began to explicitly discuss business processes in terms of causal linkages and maps of them in Part 30. And in the course of that, I discussed three basic causality elements that would enter into any effective map of operational systems and their process flows, as basic building blocks that those larger models would be assembled from: sequential causation, concurrent causation, and coincidental co-occurrence, which can be seen as representing business systems friction as that term applies in this context.

Then at the end of Part 30, I indicated that I would follow its line of discussion, by explicitly considering change. And I added that this would mean addressing both gradual evolutionary change, and punctuated equilibrium-formatted, discontinuous change. And as set-up for that, I said that I would discuss the issues of what causality is in terms of facilitating or limiting, and directly causing or preventing specific ranges of outcomes and that I would discuss the issues of “necessary” and “sufficient” in that context. In an evolutionary framework, to at least partly clarify that point, the observable effects of specific actions taken, can and do change with time where, for example, an already realized process outcome or externally sourced condition or event: A that used to directly cause B and be sufficient for that to happen, might no longer achieve that end result, at least without the co-occurrence of other now-emergently significant causal cofactors.

I will at least begin to delve into some of those issues here in this posting, but before I do so I want to step back and address the issue of why I am offering this approach to thinking about and understanding operational systems. And I begin that by noting a truly fundamental point that I would construe as an essentially axiomatic principle:

• A new formulation of underlying theory or principle only holds value insofar as it can be applied in ways that lead to some specific new insight or understanding, and in ways that create new value for those who use it.

Does this approach offer some new source of value through increased range of insight into business processes and systems? I would leave the answer to that to you, the reader. But I do offer this approach with a specific type of sought-after insight in mind. And to explain that, I turn back to Part 30 and to the third causal building block element that I offered there: coincidental co-occurrence.

Business systems friction arises as the direct consequence of miscommunication and failed communication, and gaps in available, at least potentially actionable business intelligence, when making decisions and taking action: when traversing causal relationship nodes in process systems and their maps. Coincidental co-occurrence and the emergence of false seeming causality, and the masking of more significant causality behind its clutter represents friction – and friction that arises with fullest force when events that develop are less expected and less planned for and when outcomes and contingencies that might be available are less well understood in advance.

• This scenario is the basic context that sudden change (e.g. a punctuated equilibrium change) takes place in,
• And it is also the expected scenario when more gradual change that has not been recognized or accounted for, reaches a tipping point for its impact and presents itself as if more suddenly emergent too.

Business systems friction peaks in both level of occurrence and level of impact during change, and particularly while that change is presenting itself at the very least as if it were suddenly emerging. And this brings me directly and specifically to the issues of gradual and sudden evolutionary change.

• When you find yourself and your business facing what seems to be sudden change, does this in fact represent genuinely new and sudden change that would more accurately fit a punctuated equilibrium model?
• Or does this represent more of a failure to recognize and accommodate what has been ongoing gradual change, until the flexibility and resilience in your business systems can no longer accommodate it and an apparent tipping point has been reached?
• In the heat of the moment and when taking the initial steps in addressing seemingly sudden change, you have to make decisions and even binding ones, and take actions and even ones that lead to longer-term commitments and all in the absence of complete information, and when you do not necessarily know up-front which of these two scenarios you are facing.
• How can you more rapidly and accurately know what you are facing here, so you can switch more rapidly from responding reactively to becoming proactive in this?
• If you are in fact facing a gradual evolutionary flow of change, how can you better, more reliably see that early and before you hit that sudden change-like tipping point?

I would propose addressing all of these questions at the business process node to node level, and in terms of causal patterns. And I will add here, that the more agile and rapid your business is in both understanding and responding to change and of both basic types, the more competitively effective it can be and certainly in any actively advancing industry, or when addressing the needs of a dynamically changing marketplace.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, and as noted above that means delving into the issues of what causality is in terms of facilitating or limiting, and directly causing or preventing specific ranges of outcomes. And it means discussing the issues of “necessary” and “sufficient” in that context, were an input condition or factor leading into a causal node can be necessary but not sufficient, sufficient but not necessary, or both.

But to fully address these questions, it is also necessary to reconsider business processes themselves, according to whether they are peripheral and supportive, or core requirement in nature. And in anticipation of my next series installment, I will discuss the above questions at least in part in terms of where in a business, change significantly starts and where that change expands into, and how.

As a thought piece ending to this posting, I offer this conjecture:

• Gradual evolutionary change generally begins in more peripheral, supportive business processes and with direct impact upon their performance, reliability and resiliency. And if this change is simply allowed to proceed unexamined and unaccounted for until a tipping point is reached, that event occurs when performance-impacting effect has spread until it reaches one or more core, fundamental business processes too, adversely impacting on them.
• A more punctuated equilibrium change: a disruptively novel change to use the terms for this that I have frequently cited in a business innovation context, generally begins with a fundamental change in the causation requirements of a core business process and with core business process performance per se. And then this change radiates out from there to impact upon more peripheral, supportive processes next.

I will at least begin to address the above set of questions in my next series installment with these points and considerations in mind. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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