Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Platt Perspective at ten years

Posted in blogs and marketing by Timothy Platt on September 14, 2019

This posting, as its title indicates, is a marker that makes note of what has now become ten years of my writing to this blog. This is also posting number 2689 to go live in this still ongoing effort. And I offer it with no specific ending to this in sight, or under consideration. And to complete my putting this into some sort of numerical perspective, I add that if you count postings that I have finished writing and editing for publication, as of this morning, that have not gone live yet but that I have uploaded and that are on the server queue and waiting to go live, I have accumulated 2705 postings in total here so far. And the vast majority of those postings: those essays and notes are organized into longer and even book length series.

Why do I start this update to this blog, and this note on what I am doing here with that opening? I am trying to put what I offer here into an at least briefly stated overall perspective for what for me, has become an ongoing imperative in all of this. I write; I have been doing that and both in general, more “executive summary” terms and in more analytical detail, for a long time and certainly as part of my ongoing work and professional life. And I have variously addressed separate parts in all of that, of what I have come to see as a single larger interconnected puzzle. My writing effort here has taken on extra meaning for me from my effort at developing and assembling all of this as an organized, overall effort, and with a goal of outlining and discussing more of that comprehensively organized puzzle as a whole. And my developing and offering this blog and its ongoing flow of postings has become a part of me and of who I am. And right now I am making note of that and more openly acknowledging it because of the perhaps accident, or at least coincidence that a tenth anniversary happens to present itself as a type of round number that would make it notable. I come from a culture that uses a decimal based counting system so ten and tenth stand out.

I have offered what would probably present themselves as similar types of update assessments in earlier anniversary and related updates, as I have looked back at what I have offered here and as I look forward to what I intend to offer. And as a part of that collective if only occasionally augmented narrative, I have generally at least attempted to figure out how much of my “core” material that I would share here, I had already completed and posted. I have decided that is a less than productive approach to take as I do not have any meaningfully valid answer to that type of question – as my earlier predictions and then retractions of what I have offered on that would probably indicate. So I simply note here, that there is more that I would write about that I find to be important enough to organize and include in this effort, and that hopefully at least some others might come to value too. And yes, that includes my still actively unfolding series on general theories of business, as well as at least some of my still actively developing series that I do in fact see as being more core than peripheral, or supplementary to my thinking and to my hands-on practice from my own direct experience. (You can find my series on general theories of business at Reexamining the Fundamentals, Section VI and its Page 2 continuation, Section IX.)

So what should I focus on here, as I look back to what I have offered in this blog, and as I look forward with thoughts of what is to come in it? I already knew when I wrote my ninth anniversary posting that I would start writing more material here that is more explicitly grounded in history and historical narrative. I knew that I would do that as I seek to put more of what I write about of the here-and-now and more of what I write about that I see coming, into a longer-term and contextually richer perspective. And I have been doing that; I have offered historical narratives that connect into specific posting and series contexts on an ongoing basis and for a much longer period of time than that one year observation might suggest, but I have more consistently followed that approach in the last year. And I anticipate continuing that trend in my ongoing writing to this blog too. And at the rate that I am going, I do expect to reach the triple Scheherazade number of 3003 postings and in just a few more years. What can I say? Scheherazade was a lot more succinct in her story telling than I am. And she almost certainly edited better than I do too. (See Platt Perspective at 1001 Postings, and the Scheherazade Number and Some Thoughts Concerning a General Theory of Business 1: a series offered to mark Platt Perspective reaching 2002 postings.)

I still see this endeavor as being open ended, and with no specific goal or end point in mind that once reached would mark and end to it. I still enjoy writing it and at least some people seem to enjoy reading it too, which I find very gratifying. And with that, I continue on here into what will now be year 11.

Timothy Platt, Ph.D.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 30: a second round discussion of general theories as such, 5

Posted in blogs and marketing, book recommendations, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on August 16, 2019

This is my 30th 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 for Parts 1-25 and its Page 2 continuation, Section IX for Parts 26-29.)

I began this series in its Parts 1-8 with an initial orienting discussion of general theories per se, with an initial analysis of compendium model theories and of axiomatically grounded general theories as a conceptual starting point for what would follow. And I then turned from that, in Parts 9-25 to at least begin to outline a lower-level, more reductionistic approach to businesses and to thinking about them, that is based on interpersonal interactions. Then I began a second round, next step discussion of general theories per se in Parts 26-29 of this, building upon my initial discussion of general theories per se, this time focusing on axiomatic systems and on axioms per se and the presumptions that they are built upon. As a key part of that continued narrative, I offered a point of theory defining distinction in Part 28, that I began using there in this discussion, and that I continued using in Part 29 as well, and that I will continue using and developing here too, drawing a distinction between:

• Entirely abstract axiomatic bodies of theory that are grounded entirely upon sets of a priori presumed and selected axioms. These theories are entirely encompassed by sets of presumed fundamental truths: sets of axiomatic assumptions, as combined with complex assemblies of theorems and related consequential statements (lemmas, etc) that can be derived from them, as based upon their own collective internal logic. Think of these as axiomatically closed bodies of theory.
• And theory specifying systems that are axiomatically grounded as above, with at least some a priori assumptions built into them, but that are also at least as significantly grounded in outside-sourced information too, such as empirically measured findings as would be brought in as observational or experimental data. Think of these as axiomatically open bodies of theory.

And I have, and will continue to refer to them as axiomatically closed and open bodies of theory, as convenient terms for denoting them. And that brings me up to the point in this developing narrative that I would begin this installment to it at, with two topics points that I would discuss in terms of how they arise in closed and open bodies of theory respectively:

• How would new axioms be added into an already developing body of theory, and how and when would old ones be reframed, generalized, limited for their expected validity and made into special case rules as a result, or be entirely discarded as organizing principles there per se.
• Then after addressing that set of issues I said that I will turn to consider issues of scope expansion for the set of axioms assumed in a given theory-based system, and with a goal of more fully analytically discussing optimization for the set of axioms presumed, and what that even means.

I began discussing the first of these topics points in Part 29 and will continue doing so here. And after completing that discussion thread, at least for purposes of this digression into the epistemology of general theories per se, I will turn to and discuss the second of those points too. And I begin addressing all of this at the very beginning, with what was arguably the first, at least still-existing effort to create a fully complete and consistent axiomatically closed body of theory that would address what was expected at least, to encompass and resolve all possible problems and circumstances where it might conceivably be applied: Euclid’s geometry as developed from the set of axiomatically presumed truths that he built his system upon.

More specifically, I begin this narrative thread with Euclid’s famous, or if you prefer infamous Fifth postulate: his fifth axiom, and how that defines and constrains the concept of parallelism. And I begin here by noting that mathematicians and geometers began struggling with it more than two thousand years ago, and quite possibly from when Euclid himself was still alive.

Unlike the other axioms that Euclid offered, this one did not appear to be self-evident. So a seemingly endless progression of scholars sought to find a way to prove it from the first four of Euclid’s axioms. And baring that possibility, scholars sought to develop alternative bodies of geometric theory that either offered alternative axioms to replace Euclid’s fifth, or that did without parallelism as an axiomatic principle at all, or that explicitly focused on it and even if that meant dispensing with the metric concepts of angle and distance (where parallelism can be defined independently of them), with affine geometries.

In an axiomatically closed body of theory context, this can all be thought of as offering what amounts to alternative realities, and certainly insofar as geometry is applied for its provable findings, to the empirically observable real world. The existence of a formally, axiomatically specified non-Euclidean geometry such as a an elliptic or hyperbolic geometry that explicitly diverge from the Euclidean on the issue of parallelism, does not disprove Euclidean geometry, or even necessarily refute it except insofar as their existence shows that other equally solidly grounded, axiomatically-based geometries are possible too. So as long as a set of axioms that underlie a body of theory such as one of these geometries can be assumed to be internally consistent, the issues of reframing, generalizing, limiting or otherwise changing axioms in place, within a closed body of theory is effectively moot.

As soon as outside-sourced empirical or other information is brought in that arises separately from and independently from the set, a priori axioms in place in a body of theory, all of that changes. And that certainly holds if such information (e.g. replicably observed empirical observations and the data derived from them) is held to be more reliably grounded and “truer” than data arrived at entirely as a consequence of logical evaluation of the consequences of the a priori axioms in place. (Nota bene: Keep in mind that I am still referring here to initial presumed axioms that are not in and of themselves directly empirically validated, and that might never have even been in any way tested against outside-sourced observations and certainly for the range of observation types that that perhaps new forms of empirical data and its observed patterns might offer. Such new data might in effect force change in previously assumed axiomatically framed truth.)

All I have done in the above paragraph is to somewhat awkwardly outline the experimental method, where theory-based hypotheses are tested against carefully developed and analyzed empirical data to see if it supports or refutes them. And in that, I focus in the above paragraph, on experimental testing that would support or refute what have come to be seen as really fundamental, underlying principles and not just detail elaborations as to how the basic assumed principles in place would address very specific, special circumstances.

But this line of discussion overlooks, or at least glosses over a very large gap in the more complete narrative that I would need to address here. And for purposes of filling that gap, I return to reconsider Kurt Gödel and his proofs of the incompleteness of any axiomatic theory of arithmetic, and of the impossibility of proving absolute consistency for such a body of theory too, as touched upon here in Part 28. As a crude representation of a more complex overall concept, mathematical proofs can be roughly divided into two basic types:

Existence proofs, that simply demonstrate that at least one mathematical construct exists within the framework of a set of axioms under consideration that would explicitly sustain or refute that theory, but without in any way indicating its form or details, and
Constructive proofs, that both prove the existence of a theorem-supporting or refuting mathematical construct, and also specifically identify and specify it for at least one realistic example, or at least one realistic category of such examples.

Gödel’s inconsistency theorem is an existence proof insofar as it does not constructively indicate any specific mathematical contexts where inconsistency explicitly arises. And even if it did, that arguably would only indicate where specific changes might be needed in order to seamlessly connect two bodies of mathematical theory: A and B, within a to-them, sufficiently complete and consistent single axiomatic framework so as to be able to treat them as a single combined area of mathematics (e.g. combining algebra and geometry to arrive as a larger and more inclusive body of theory such as algebraic geometry.) And this brings me very specifically and directly to the issues of reverse mathematics, as briefly but very effectively raised in:

• Stillwell, J. (2018) Reverse Mathematics: proofs from the inside out. Princeton University Press.

And I at least begin to bring that approach into this discussion by posing a brief set of very basic questions, that arise of necessity from Gödel’s discoveries and the proof that he offered to validate them:

• What would be the minimum set of axioms, demonstrably consistent within that set, that would be needed in order to prove as valid, some specific mathematical theorem A?
• What would be the minimum set of axioms needed to so prove theorem A and also theorem B (or some other explicitly stated and specified finitely enumerable set of such theorems A, B, C etc.)?

Anything in the way of demonstrable incompleteness of a type required here, for bringing A and B (and C and …, if needed) into a single overarching theory would call for a specific, constructively demonstrable expansion of the set of axioms assumed in order to accomplish the goals implicit in those two bullet pointed questions. And any demonstrable inconsistency that were to emerge when seeking to arrive at such a minimal necessary axiomatic foundation for a combined theory, would of necessity call for a reframing or a replacement at a basic axiomatic level and even in what are overtly closed axiomatic bodies of theory. So Euclidean versus non-Euclidean geometries notwithstanding, even a seemingly completely closed such body of theory might need to be reconsidered and axiomatically re-grounded, or discarded entirely.

I am going to continue this line of discussion in a next series installment, where I will turn to more explicitly consider axiomatically open bodies of theory in this context. And in anticipation of that narrative to come, I will consider:

• The emergence of both disruptively new types of data and of empirical observations that could generate it,
• And shifts in the accuracy resolution, or the range of observations that more accepted and known types of empirical observations might suddenly be offering.

I add here that I have, of necessity, already begun discussing the second to-address topic point that I made note of towards the start of this posting:

• Scope expansion for the set of axioms assumed in a given theory-based system, and with a goal of more fully analytically discussing optimization for the set of axioms presumed, and what that even means.

I will continue on in this overall discussion to more fully consider that set of issues, and certainly where optimization is concerned in this type of context.

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 and its Page 2 continuation, as topics Sections VI and IX there.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 29: a second round discussion of general theories as such, 4

Posted in blogs and marketing, book recommendations, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on June 11, 2019

This is my 29th 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 for Parts 1-25 and its Page 2 continuation, Section IX for Parts 26-28.)

I began this series in its Parts 1-8 with an initial orienting discussion of general theories per se, with an initial analysis of compendium model theories and of axiomatically grounded general theories as a conceptual starting point for what would follow. And I then turned from that, in Parts 9-25 to at least begin to outline a lower-level, more reductionistic approach to businesses and to thinking about them, that is based on interpersonal interactions. Then I began a second round, next step discussion of general theories per se in Parts 26-28 of this, building upon my initial discussion of general theories per se, this time focusing on axiomatic systems and on axioms per se and the presumptions that they are built upon.

More specifically, I have used the last three postings to that progression to at least begin a more detailed analysis of axioms as assumed and assumable statements of underlying fact, and of general bodies of theory that are grounded in them, dividing those theories categorically into two basic types:

• Entirely abstract axiomatic bodies of theory that are grounded entirely upon sets of a priori presumed and selected axioms. These theories are entirely encompassed by sets of presumed fundamental truths: sets of axiomatic assumptions, as combined with complex assemblies of theorems and related consequential statements (lemmas, etc) that can be derived from them, as based upon their own collective internal logic. Think of these as axiomatically closed bodies of theory.
• And theory specifying systems that are axiomatically grounded as above, with at least some a priori assumptions built into them, but that are also at least as significantly grounded in outside-sourced information too, such as empirically measured findings as would be brought in as observational or experimental data. Think of these as axiomatically open bodies of theory.

I focused on issues of completeness and consistency in these types of theory grounding systems in Part 28 and briefly outlined there, how the first of those two categorical types of theory cannot be proven either fully complete or fully consistent, if they can be expressed in enumerable form of a type consistent with, and as such including the axiomatic underpinnings of arithmetic: the most basic of all areas of mathematics, as formally axiomatically laid out by Whitehead and Russell in their seminal work: Principia Mathematica.

I also raised and left open the possibility that the outside validation provided in axiomatically open bodies of theory, as identified above, might afford alternative mechanisms for de facto validation of completeness, or at least consistency in them, where Kurt Gödel’s findings as briefly discussed in Part 28, would preclude such determination of completeness and consistency for any arithmetically enumerable axiomatically closed bodies of theory.

That point of conjecture began a discussion of the first of a set of three basic, and I have to add essential topics points that would have to be addressed in establishing any attempted-comprehensive bodies of theory: the dual challenges of scope and applicability of completeness and consistency per se as organizing goals, and certainly as they might be considered in the contexts of more general theories. And that has left these two here-repeated follow-up points for consideration:

• How would new axioms be added into an already developing body of theory, and how and when would old ones be reframed, generalized, limited for their expected validity and made into special case rules as a result, or be entirely discarded as organizing principles there per se.
• Then after addressing that set of issues I said that I will turn to consider issues of scope expansion for the set of axioms assumed in a given theory-based system, and with a goal of more fully analytically discussing optimization for the set of axioms presumed, and what that even means.

My goal for this series installment is to at least begin to address the first of those two points and its issues, adding to my already ongoing discussion of completeness and consistency in complex axiomatic theories while doing so. And I begin by more directly and explicitly considering the nature of outside-sourced, a priori empirically or otherwise determined observations and the data that they would generate, that would be processed into knowledge through logic-based axiomatic reasoning.

Here, and to explicitly note what might be an obvious point of observation on the part of readers, I would as a matter of consistency represent the proven lemmas and theorems of a closed body of theory such as a body of mathematical theory, as proven and validated knowledge as based on that theory. And I correspondingly represent open question still-unproven or unrefuted theoretical conjectures as they arise and are proposed in those bodies of theory, as potentially validatable knowledge in those systems. And having noted that point of assumption (presumption?), I turn to consider open systems as for example would be found in theories of science or of business, in what follows.

• Assigned values and explicitly defined parameters, as arise in closed systems such as mathematical theories with their defined variables and other constructs, can be assumed to represent absolutely accurate input data. And that, at least as a matter of meta-analysis, even applies when such data is explicitly offered and processed through axiomatic mechanisms as being approximate in nature and variable in range; approximate and variable are themselves explicitly defined, or at least definable in such systems applications, formally and specifically providing precise constraints on the data that they would organize, even then.
• But it can be taken as an essentially immutable axiomatic principle: one that cannot be violated in practice, that outside sourced data that would feed into and support an axiomatically open body of theory, is always going to be approximate for how it is measured and recorded for inclusion and use there, and even when that data can be formally defined and measured without any possible subjective influence – when it can be identified and defined and measured in as completely objective a manner as possible and free of any bias that might arise depending on who observes and measures it.

Can an axiomatically open body of theory somehow be provably complete or even just consistent for that matter, due to the balancing and validating inclusion of outside frame of reference-creating data such as experientially derived empirical observations? That question can be seen as raising an interesting at least-potential conundrum and certainly if a basic axiom of the physical sciences that I cited and made note of in Part 28 is (axiomatically) assumed true:

• Empirically grounded reality is consistent across time and space.

That at least in principle, after all, raises what amounts to an immovable object versus an unyieldable force type of challenge. But as soon as the data that is actually measured, as based on this empirically grounded reality, takes on what amounts to a built in and unavoidable error factor, I would argue that any possible outside-validated completeness or consistency becomes moot at the very least and certainly for any axiomatically open system of theory that might be contemplated or pursued here.

• This means that when I write of selecting, framing and characterizing and using axioms and potential axioms in such a system, I write of bodies of theory that are of necessity always going to be works in progress: incomplete and potentially inconsistent and certainly as new types of incoming data are discovered and brought into them, and as better and more accurate ways to measure the data that is included are used.

Let me take that point of conjecture out of the abstract by citing a specific source of examples that are literally as solidly established as our more inclusive and more fully tested general physical theories of today. And I begin this with Newtonian physics as it was developed at a time when experimental observation was limited for the range of phenomena observed and in the levels of experimental accuracy attainable for what was observed and measured, so as to make it impossible to empirically record the types of deviation from expected sightings that would call for new and more inclusive theories, with new and altered underlying axiomatic assumptions, as subsequently called for in the special theory of relativity as found and developed by Einstein and others. Newtonian physics neither calls for nor accommodates anything like the axiomatic assumptions of the special theory of relativity, holding for example that the speed of light is constant in all frames of reference. More accurate measurements as taken over wider ranges of experimental examination of observable phenomena forced change to the basic underlying axiomatic assumptions of Newton (e.g. his laws of motion.) And further expansion of the range of phenomena studied and the level of accuracy in which data is collected from all of this, might very well lead to the validation and acceptance of still more widely inclusive basic physical theories, and with any changes in what they would axiomatically presume in their foundations included there. (Discussion of alternative string theory models of reality among other possibilities, come to mind here, where experimental observational limitations of the types that I write of here, are such as to preclude any real culling and validating there, to arrive at a best possible descriptive and predictive model theory.)

At this point I would note that I tossed a very important set of issues into the above text in passing, and without further comment, leaving it hanging over all that has followed it up to here: the issues of subjectivity.

Data that is developed and tested for how it might validate or disprove proposed physical theory might be presumed to be objective, as a matter of principle. Or alternatively and as a matter of practice, it might be presumed possible to obtain such data that is arbitrarily close to being fully free from systematic bias, as based on who is observing and what they think about the meaning of the data collected. And the requirement that experimental findings be independently replicated by different researchers in different labs and with different equipment, and certainly where findings are groundbreaking and unexpected, serves to support that axiomatic assumption as being basically reliable. But it is not as easy or as conclusively presumable to assume that type of objectivity for general theories that of necessity have to include within them, individual human understand and reasoning with all of the additional and largely unstated axiomatic presumptions that this brings with it, as exemplified by a general theory of business.

That simply adds whole new layers of reason to any argument against presumable completeness or consistency in such a theory and its axiomatic foundations. And once again, this leaves us with the issues of such theories always being works in progress, subject to expansion and to change in general.

And this brings me specifically and directly to the above-stated topics point that I would address here in this brief note of a posting: the determination of which possible axioms to include and build from in these systems. And that, finally, brings me to the issues and approaches that are raised in a reference work that I have been citing in anticipation of this discussion thread for a while now in this series, and an approach to the foundation of mathematics and its metamathematical theories that this and similar works seek to clarify if not codify:

• Stillwell, J. (2018) Reverse Mathematics: proofs from the inside out. Princeton University Press.)

I am going to more fully and specifically address that reference and its basic underlying conceptual principles in a next series installment. But in anticipation of doing so, I end this posting with a basic organizing point of reference that I will build from there:

• The more traditional approach to the development and elaboration of mathematical theory, and going back at least as far as the birth of Euclidean geometry, was one of developing a set of axioms that would be presumed as if absolute truths, and then developing emergent lemmas and theories from them.
• Reverse mathematics is so named because it literally reverses that, starting with theories to be proven and then asking what are the minimal sets of axioms that would be needed in order to prove them.

My goal for the next installment to this series is to at least begin to consider both axiomatically closed and axiomatically open theory systems in light of these two alternative metatheory approaches. And in anticipation of that narrative line to come, this will mean reconsidering compendium models and how they might arise as need for new axiomatic frameworks of understanding arise, and as established ones become challenged.

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 and its Page 2 continuation, as topics Sections VI and IX there.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 28: a second round discussion of general theories as such, 3

Posted in blogs and marketing, book recommendations, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on April 6, 2019

This is my 28th 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 for Parts 1-25 and its Page 2 continuation, Section IX for Parts 26 and 27.)

I began this series in its Parts 1-8 with an initial orienting discussion of general theories per se, with an initial analysis of compendium model theories and of axiomatically grounded general theories as a conceptual starting point for what would follow. And I then turned from that, in Parts 9-25 to at least begin to outline a lower-level, more reductionistic approach to businesses and to thinking about them, that is based on interpersonal interactions.

Then I began a second round, next step discussion of general theories per se in Part 26 and Part 27, to add to the foundation that I have been discussing theories of business in terms of, and as a continuation of the Parts 1-8 narrative that I began all of this with. More specifically, I used those two postings to begin a more detailed analysis of axioms per se, and of general bodies of theory that are grounded in them, dividing those theories categorically into two basic types:

• Entirely abstract axiomatic bodies of theory that are grounded entirely upon sets of a priori presumed and selected axioms. These theories are entirely comprised of their particular sets of those axiomatic assumptions as combined with complex assemblies of theorems and related consequential statements (lemmas, etc) that can be derived from them, as based upon their own collective internal logic. Think of these as axiomatically enclosed bodies of theory.
• And theory specifying systems that are axiomatically grounded as above, with at least some a priori assumptions built into them, but that are also at least as significantly grounded in outside-sourced information too, such as empirically measured findings as would be brought in as observational or experimental data. Think of these as axiomatically open bodies of theory.

Any general theory of business, like any organized body of scientific theory would fit the second of those basic patterns as discussed here and particularly in Part 27. My goal for this posting is to continue that line of discussion, and with an increasing focus on the also-empirically grounded theories of the second type as just noted, and with an ultimate goal of applying the principles that I discuss here to an explicit theory of business context. That noted, I concluded Part 27 stating that I would turn here to at least begin to examine:

• The issues of completeness and consistency, as those terms are defined and used in a purely mathematical logic context and as they would be used in any theory that is grounded in descriptive and predictive enumerable form. And I will used that more familiar starting point as a basis for more explicitly discussing these same issues as they arise in an empirically grounded body of theory too.
• How new axioms would be added into an already developing body of theory, and how old ones might be reframed, generalized, limited for their expected validity and made into special case rules as a result, or be entirely discarded as organizing principles per se.
• Then after addressing that set of issues I said that I will turn to consider issues of scope expansion for the set of axioms assumed in a given theory-based system, and with a goal of more fully analytically discussing optimization for the set of axioms presumed, and what that even means.

And I begin addressing the first of those points by citing two landmark works on the foundations of mathematics:

• Whitehead, A.N. and B. Russell. (1910) Principia Mathematica (in 3 volumes). Cambridge University Press.
• And Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems.

Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell set out to develop and offer a complete axiomatically grounded foundation for all of arithmetic, as the most basic of all branches of mathematics in their above-cited magnum opus. And this was in fact viewed as a key step realized, in fulfilling the promise of David Hilbert: a renowned early 20th century mathematician who sought to develop a comprehensive and all-inclusive single theory of mathematics as what became known as Hilbert’s Program. All of this was predicated on the validity of an essentially unchallenged metamathematical axiomatic assumption, to the effect that it is in fact possible to encompass arbitrarily large areas of mathematics, and even all of validly provable mathematics as a whole, into a single finite scaled, completely consistent and completely decidable set of specific axiomatic assumptions. Then Kurt Gödel proved that even just the arithmetical system offered by Whitehead and Russell can never be complete in this sense, from how it would of necessity carry in it an ongoing requirement for adding in more new axioms to what is supportively presumed for it, and unending and unendingly so if any real comprehensive completeness was to be pursued. And on top if that, Gödel proved that it can never be possible to prove with comprehensive certainty that such an axiomatic system can be completely and fully consistent either! And this would apply to any abstractly, enclosed axiomatic system that can in any way be represented arithmetically: as being calculably enumerable. But setting aside the issues of a body of theory facing this type of limitation simply because it can be represented in correctly formulated mathematical form, for the findings developed out of its founding assumptions (where that might easily just mean larger and more inclusive axiomatically enclosed bodies of theory that do not depend on outside non-axiomatic assumptions for their completeness or validity – e.g. empirically grounded theories), what does this mean for explicitly empirically grounded bodies of theory, such as larger and more inclusive theories of science, or for purposes of this posting, of business?

I begin addressing that question, by explicitly noting what has to be considered the single most fundamental a priori axiom that underlies all scientific theory, and certainly for all bodies of theory such as physics and chemistry that seek to comprehensively descriptively and predictively describe what in total, would include the entire observable universe, and from its big bang origins to now and into the distant future as well:

• Empirically grounded reality is consistent. Systems under consideration, as based at least in principle on specific, direct observation might undergo phase shifts where system-dominating properties take on more secondary roles and new ones gain such prominence. But that only reflects a need for more explicitly comprehensive theory that would account for, explain and explicitly describe all of this predictively describable structure and activity. But underlying that and similar at-least seeming complexity, the same basic principles and the same conceptual rules that encode them for descriptive and predictive purposes, hold true everywhere and throughout time.
• To take that out of the abstract, the same basic types of patterns of empirically observable reality that could be representationally modeled by descriptive and predictive rules such as Charles’ law, or Boyle’s law, would be expected to arise wherever such thermodynamically definable systems do. And the equations they specify would hold true and with precisely the same levels and types of accuracy wherever so applied.

So if an axiomatically closed, in-principle complete in and of itself axiomatic system, and an enclosed body of theory that would be derived from it (e.g. Whitehead’s and Russell’s theory of arithmetic) cannot be made fully complete and consistent, as noted above:

• Could grounding a body of theory that could be represented in what amounts to its form and as if a case in point application of it, in what amounts to a reality check framework of empirical observation allow for or even actively support a second possible path to establishing full completeness and consistency there? Rephrasing that, could the addition of theory framing and shaping outside sourced information evidence, or formally developed experimental or observational data, allow for what amounts to an epistemologically meaningful grounding to a body of theory through inclusion of an outside-validated framework of presumable consistency?
• Let’s stretch the point made by Gödel, or at least risk doing so where I still at least tacitly assume bodies of theory that can in some meaningful sense be mapped to a Whitehead and Russell type of formulation of arithmetic, through theory-defined and included descriptive and predictive mathematical models and the equations they contain. Would the same limiting restrictions as found in axiomatically enclosed theory systems as discussed here, also arise in open theory systems so linked to them? And if so, where, how and with what consequence?

As something of an aside perhaps, this somewhat convoluted question does raise an interesting possibility as to the meaning and interpretation of quantum theory, and of quantum indeterminacy in particular, with resolution to a single “realized” solution only arrived at when observation causes a set of alternative possibilities to collapse down to one. But setting that aside, and the issue of how this would please anyone who still adheres to the precept of number: of mathematics representing the true prima materia of the universe (as did Pythagoras and his followers), what would this do to anything like an at least strongly empirically grounded, logically elaborated and developed theory such as a general theory of business?

I begin to address that challenge by offering a counterpart to the basic and even primal axiom that I just made note of above, and certainly for the physical sciences:

• Assume that a sufficiently large and complete body of theory can be arrived at,
• That would have a manageable finite set of underlying axiomatic assumptions that would be required by and sufficient to address any given empirically testable contexts that might arise in its practical application,
• And in a manner that at least for those test case purposes would amount to that theory functioning as if it were complete and consistent as an overall conceptual system.
• And assume that this reframing process could be repeated as necessary, when for example disruptively new and unexpected types of empirical observation arise.

And according to this, new underlying axioms would be added as needed, when specifically faced and once again particularly when an observer is faced with truly novel, disruptively unexpected findings or occurrences – of a type that I have at least categorically raised and addressed throughout this blog up to here, in business systems and related contexts. And with that, I have begun addressing the second of the three to-address topics points that I listed at the top of this posting:

• How would new axioms be added into an already developing body of theory, and how and when would old ones be reframed, generalized, limited for their expected validity or discarded as axioms per se?

I am going to continue this line of discussion in a next series installment, beginning with that topics point as here-reworded. And I will turn to and address the third and last point of that list after that, turning back to issues coming from the foundations of mathematics in doing so too. (And I will finally turn to and more explicitly discuss issues raised in a book that I have been citing here, but that I have not more formally gotten to in this discussion up to here, that has been weighing on my thinking of the issues that I address here:

• Stillwell, J. (2018) Reverse Mathematics: proofs from the inside out. Princeton University Press.)

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 and its Page 2 continuation, as topics Sections VI and IX there.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 27: a second round discussion of general theories as such, 2

Posted in blogs and marketing, book recommendations, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on January 30, 2019

This is my 27th 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 for Parts 1-25 and Reexamining the Fundamentals 2, Section IX for Part 26.) I began this series in its Parts 1-8 with an initial orienting discussion of general theories per se. And I then turned from that, in Parts 9-25 to at least begin to outline a lower-level, more reductionistic approach to businesses and to thinking about them, that is based on interpersonal interactions. And then I began a second round, further discussion of general theories per se in Part 26 to add to the foundation I have been discussing theories of business in terms of, and as a continuation of the Parts 1-8 narrative that I began all of this with.

More specifically and focusing here on my Section IX continuation of this overall series, my primary focus of attention in Part 26 was on the nature of axioms and of systems of them, as would form the basis for developing a more comprehensive body of theory. And I continue that discussion thread here too, beginning by explicitly noting and discussing a point of distinction that I just made of in passing in Part 26 but that merits more explicit discussion here: the distinction between abstractly grounded theories and empirically grounded, evidence-based theories.

• Much of mathematics could arguably be offered as being abstract in its fundamental nature, and separate and distinct from any possible physical sciences or other empirically grounded applications as currently conceived, even if some fairly large areas of math that were initially viewed in that way have found their way into mathematical physics and related empirically grounded fields too.
• See Hardy, D.H. (1940) A Mathematician’s Apology for a telling discussion of how areas of mathematics that have traditionally been considered devoid of “practical” application can become anything but that. Note: the link offered here is to a full text electronic file version of the original print edition of this book, as so republished by the University of Alberta Mathematical Sciences Society.
• But I would hold up abstract mathematics as a source of axiom-based theory that is developed and elaborated free of outside constraints, at least as a matter of expectation: free for example from intrinsically having to be consistent with the patterns of behavior observed in empirically based systems of any sort, and certainly in its axiomatic assumptions.
• General theories of business, fit into a special category of general theories per se, as they would be logically developed in accordance with deductive reasoning, as abstract theories are. But such theories are also bound by empirically observable data: real-world observably validated fact and the inductive reasoning that its inclusion would bring with it too.

I posit empirically grounded bodies of theory such as general theories of business this way, for a very specific reason. And my goal in this series, here, is to elaborate on that point of observation as a next step in this developing narrative. I begin addressing that here by more fully considering empirical data per se.

• Empirically derived data of the type that would enter into and inform a body of theory such as a general theory of business, is never going to be perfect.
• There is always going to be at least some measurement error in it, even when it is entered into theory-based calculations and related analyses as-is, as for example the way a temperature reading might be entered into a thermodynamics calculation, free of any preparatory calculations as might be made upon it.
• But the term “empirical data” is also more loosely interpreted at times, to include more pre-processed findings as well, that happen to have been initially based on observation.
• And observed data per se is not all the same as far as replicability and freedom from possible bias are concerned, for how it is arrived at. If you identify data such as the above-cited temperature readings as hard data, a body of theory such as a theory of business relies upon and is grounded in significant amounts of softer data too.

But even if all data entering into a theory of business and its application could be considered hard data, as loosely noted above, actually developing and using such a theory would still always involve the dynamic interplay of two sometimes opposing approaches and visions.

• On the one hand you have the axioms and theorem-based elaborations of them that have already been established to at least a workable level of certainty of reliability for predictively describing at least aspects of the real, observable world: here business systems and aspects of them.
• And these theory-based systems would be developed according to the internal logic of their structure and content, in developing deductively derived testable predictions: hypotheses (as well as less directly testable thought experiments: Gedanken experiments (thought experiments).) This half of what amounts to a larger, dual-sided process follows the pattern of abstractly-based theories as noted above when I cited mathematical systems.
• And on the other hand, you have empirically based reality-check tests of those predictions and the inevitable likelihood that such outside-sourced data and insight will with time come to force a reconsideration, and of both what is concluded from the axioms in play and even reconsideration of those fundamental axioms themselves. Experiments set up to test those deductively derived testable predictions, do not always yield predictable results, and either in detail or even just in general form. Unexpected phenomena do arise and are found and observed and measured, that would have to be included in an already ongoing body of theory that cannot as-is, account for them.

I just made an assumption there that can also be considered axiomatic in nature, but that I would immediately challenge: my distinction between hard data that might be considered more empirically certain, consistent and reliable, and soft data that might require more rigorous validation and from several sources for it to be considered as reliable – assuming such validation is even possible.

Let’s consider two working examples of those proposed data types here:

• Temperature readings as here identified as being emblematic of hard data as a general categorical form, and
• Wealth and income data as assembled demographically, but as developed from numerous individual sources that would among other things seek to maintain confidentiality over their personal finances and any data that would reveal them, and who would follow different investment and income patterns for different individuals. This, I offer here as a soft data example.

Let’s start by considering my hard data example. When you really begin considering what goes into those temperature readings, their apparent hardness here starts to become more illusory than real. How do you measure the precise temperature of a system at one of its more directly observed and measured nodes? More specifically, what physical systems do you precisely measure those temperature values from, and how do you determine and know precisely how to calibrate your physical measuring systems for this so as to arrive at specific reliable temperature values? Where can you assume linearities in what you measure where increasing some value measured, corresponds directly with a same scale shift in actual temperature? And how would you best deal with nonlinearities in measuring equipment response too, where that becomes necessary? Let me take that out of the abstract by citing thermistors that measure temperature indirectly by measuring changes in electrical resistance in sensors, and bimetallic thermometers that measure changes in the curvature of fused bimetallic strips as a surrogate for measuring temperature per se. Or I could have cited standard tinted alcohol or mercury thermometers that actually measure changes in volume of specific sensor materials in use.

Actually calibrating this equipment and making necessary measurements from it, rests on the absolute presumption of reliability and accuracy of large amounts of underlying physical theory – and even when these measurements are going to be used in testing and validating (in my above example thermodynamic) theory that might be based on essentially the same set of underlying axiomatic assumptions. In this case, overall consistency throughout the entire conceptual system in play here, becomes the crucial defining criterion for accuracy and reliability in this “hard data” example.

Now let’s consider my soft data example, and the demographically aggregated but ultimately individually sourced financial information as would be used in testing out the predictive value of an economic measure such as the Gini coefficient. I picked this example for several reasons, one of the more important of which is that as with many grandly conclusive business systems and economic modeling endeavors, calculating this value almost always involves at least some aggregation of diversely sourced raw, original data.

• How consistently are the specific data types that are gathered, functionally defined and actually measured?
• And how best should perhaps differing value scales be reconciled, when that proves necessary?
• How current is all of this data and for each of the basic data sources that would be aggregated for overall analysis here?
• And how has this data been “cleansed” if it has been to weed out anomalies that fall too far from some mean or median value observed, raising questions as to fringe value accuracy among other issues?
• And cutting to the core of the issues that I raise here regarding the hardness/softness of this data, precisely what demographics were queried for it and how, and is the entire data set consistent for all of this too?

Note: I more fully examined some of the details that might be hidden behind the seemingly clear-cut data measurements for my second, admittedly soft data example than I did for the first, but ultimately they both share the same basic limitations. As such, I rephrase my hard and soft data distinction as being only somewhat useful, and there only when speaking and thinking in very general terms, free of specific analytical precision on any particular theory-based description or prediction.

• And with this, I suggest that while more strictly abstractly framed theories, such as for example an approach to algebraic topology that would address spaces with fractional dimensions, might only involve or require one basic within-theory type of axiomatic support,
• An empirically grounded body of theory such as a general theory of business is going to in fact rest on two categorically distinct types of axiom:
• A deductively grounded set of axioms that would describe and predict on the basic of data already in hand and the basic axioms and proven theorems that have been derived from that
• And a set of axioms that might in detail overlap with the first, that would underlie any new empirically developed data that might be brought into this – and particularly importantly where that would include divergently novel, new types of data.

I am going to continue this line of discussion in a next series installment where I will consider how new axioms would be added into an already developing body of theory, and how old ones might be reframed, generalized, limited for their validly expected or discarded as axioms per se. Then after addressing that set of issues I will turn to consider the issues of completeness and consistency, as those terms are defined and used in a mathematical logic context and as they would be used in any theory that is grounded in descriptive and predictive enumerable form. That line of discussion will be used to address issues of scope expansion for the set of axioms assumed in a given theory-based system.

I will also more fully consider issues raised in

• Stillwell, J. (2018) Reverse Mathematics: proofs from the inside out. Princeton University Press.

as initially cited in Part 26 in this series, with a goal of more fully analytically discussing optimization for the set of axioms presumed, and what that even means.

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 and its Page 2 continuation, as topics Sections VI and IX there.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 26: a second round discussion of general theories as such, 1

Posted in blogs and marketing, book recommendations, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on November 19, 2018

This is my 26th 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 for Parts 1-25.) I began this series with its Parts 1-8 with an initial orienting discussion of general theories per se, and then turned from there in Parts 9-25 to at least begin to outline a lower-level interpersonal interaction approach to businesses and to thinking about them.

My goal here is to step back to reconsider general theories per se, adding to the conceptual framework initially offered in Parts 1-8 as a basis for continuing my discussion of theories of business as special cases. And I begin this with a quote that is generally attributed to Bertrand Russell:

• “Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize until you have tried to make it precise”

My goal here is to shed light on at least some of the underlying assumptions that we all tend to make when thinking about businesses and how they do and do not function, and to do so with a measure of precision in analytical characterization and understanding. That approach applies, at least as a matter of intent in how I discuss both theories of business here, and general theories as a whole too.

I repeatedly make assumptions in what I write in this blog, just to step back and highlight them for explicit consideration. And I often and even usually do that in order to challenge those usually axiomatically presumed assumptions in order to expand the applicability of what I seek to offer here (and at least hopefully while at least marginally increasing its value and utility too.) So the first set of issues that I would address in this posting and in the progression of them that I begin here, is to reconsider axiomatic assumptions per se. And I begin doing so with the perhaps tritely obvious fundamentals:

• True axioms are underlying assumptions that are simply presumed to hold true as exception-free givens.

To cite an ancient historical source of examples for that, consider Euclidean geometry and its axiomatically presumed postulates. And consider Euclid’s famous (infamous?) fifth postulate in particular: often referred to as his parallel postulate. At least when considered within the dictates of Euclid’s system of geometric reasoning, this is presumed to hold true as an absolute given, but scholars began questioning its more general validity from very early on.

• Axiomatically based systems such as Euclidean geometry can be thought of as analytically reasoned presentations of specifically stated automatically presumed assumptions and their logical consequences.

That does not mean that axioms presumed in such a systematic analysis cannot be questioned or challenged at all. It just means that they remain unchallenged within the scope of the logically framed analytical reasoning that would explore their consequences, within the systems in which they are perhaps at least somewhat arbitrarily assumed to hold axiomatic value.

• What statements, realistically, should be considered as axiomatic and serve as such as a starting point for carrying out logical analyses that would not be burdened by what could become infinite regressions in background reasoning, foreclosing any more definitive attempted analysis going forward? What should simply be assumed as a collective starting point that all relevant logical deductive reasoning would be built from, in fleshing out an axiomatic theory?
• And how many such axioms should be presumed in any given logically developed axiomatic system?

A theory of business seeks to model and descriptively and predictively represent a very particular aspect of empirically grounded reality. So the What of that as touched upon in the first of those bullet points is empirically constrained in such theory systems, in ways that it might not be in more entirely abstract non-empirical systems. More specifically, axioms or rather proposed axioms that might be presume to be true and valid but that would posit as real, potentially observable states that differ from observable reality, would of necessity fall into question if used in a general theory such as a theory of business. They would not adequately, accurately serve to model empirically observable reality as presumably would be addressed in such a body of theory. And that certainly holds true if and when the observations themselves that would test and challenge those axiomatic assertions seem to be validly accurate and reliable. But what of the second of the above two bullet points? How many axioms should be included in any given system to adequately cover it for its intended scope of generality and inclusiveness?

This leads me to William of Occam and his meta-theory postulate: his axiomatic presumption as to how axiomatic systems should be framed and in this case constrained: Occam’s razor:

• The simplest resolution to any logically framed problem: the simplest solution to it, should be presumed to be true.

And when considering axiomatic systems and their best formulations as logically framed problems, this directly leads to an injunction dictating that these theories hew to a minimum possible set of axiomatic assumptions that can adequately meet their needs in supporting arguably valid conclusions (provable theorems) while invalidating arguably false ones.

Let’s consider my purposefully challenging wording there: “an injunction dictating.” One way that Occam’s razor can be, and has been pushed for its underlying logic to a reductio ad absurdum degree can be found in what is sometimes called Occam’s Procrustean bed. First some background: Procrustes (Προκρούστης) or the stretcher if you will, was a mythological Greek character, said to have come from Attica who was less than favorably known for his hospitality. It seems that he had a guest bed of his own construction that he reserved for visiting travelers, that was made of iron. And if a guest who fell into his hands was too short to perfectly fit his bed he had them stretched until they did fit it; if they were too tall to fit he had them cut down to size until they did too. Occam’s Procrustean bed arises when the same brute force approach is taken to enforce a specific set of axioms, with no additions, subtractions or reconciliations or adjustments between them possible, and exactly as arose in the “logic” of Procrustes’ iron bed and in how his guests were “adjusted” to fit its dictates.

Geometers who questioned the empirical validity of Euclid’s fifth postulate as an absolute, universally valid given, avoided or transcended if you prefer, the restrictions of Occam’s Procrustean bed by positing a geometry that held to all of Euclid’s other, unquestioned axioms as valid, but that left out the fifth, devising what is referred to as absolute geometry, or neutral geometry as it is also called. And going beyond that, geometers who questioned that fifth postulate also created non-Euclidean geometries that held as axiomatic, alternative postulates that explicitly deviated from and violated Euclid’s fifth, and in very specific and precise ways. They developed alternative geometries that simply set aside the issues of Euclid’s fifth postulate, or that explored alternatives to it and in precise analytical detail.

And this brings me to the issues of empirically grounded theories and the models of understanding that can be developed from them, as their axiomatic starting points are selected and logically explored for their consequences. I am going to continue this narrative in a next series installment where I will consider an empirically based approach to arriving at a meaningfully valid set of axioms for a specific general theory such as a theory of business. And I will base that conceptually on a set of approaches that have come to be known as reverse mathematics. For a reference on that field of study, which I will cite in that posting, see:

• Stillwell, J. (2018) Reverse Mathematics: proofs from the inside out. Princeton University Press.

I highly recommend that book as a fascinating read. I will also at least begin a discussion of the number of axioms that would best be pursued and included in any given general theory, where the reasoning behind Occam’s razor can only provide a lower limit to that. This will mean adding consideration of completeness and consistency to this narrative, and certainly for any significantly scaled body of theory that can be enumerably represented, as applies for essentially any theory of or modeling of business systems.

I conclude this posting by pointing out the specific title to this series and a phrase in it, that appears in each of its installments: “some thoughts concerning a general theory of business.” I approach and label this at least series-long endeavor that way, precisely because I do not start out presuming a finalized, absolutely valid, completely inclusively adequate set of foundational axioms in what I offer. So what I offer here is of necessity a step in what can only be considered a larger and more ongoing work in progress that neither I nor any other individual can be expected to fully conclude. I began this series with a discussion of compendium and axiom-based theories in its Parts 1-8. Those two conceptual approaches are of necessity related, where every basic compendium model element: every specific phenomenon that would be offered in it that could be descriptively and predictively represented through a body of potentially observable findings, carries with it its own axiomatic assumptions. There, developing a more inclusive and ideally more universal single rules based theory, means arriving at a single overarching set of axiomatic starting point assumptions and understandings that would apply to all compendium approach puzzle pieces that would be included and covered within it. And with this, I explicitly link this posting and what will immediately follow it regarding general theories per se, to Parts 1-8 of this series, as a single framework for developing and exploring general theories of business as a special case.

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 and its Page 2 continuation, as topics Sections VI and IX there.

Platt Perspective at nine years

Posted in blogs and marketing by Timothy Platt on September 14, 2018

This posting is, as its title indicates, a marker that makes note of what has become nine years of writing to this blog. This is also posting number 2538 in that still ongoing effort, and with no specific end to that in sight. I have, as noted in May of this year, reduced my online publication rate here to one posting every third day now (see Rethinking Platt Perspective at 2501 Postings – an update on how this enterprise is to continue from here.) And my intent is to continue posting at that rate moving forward. I have been doing so for a long enough period of time now, so I know how that is working out for me.

One of my goals for this “about the blog” update is to share that information with any interested readers. Another is to offer a retraction for a point of information that I offered one year ago in my posting: Platt Perspective at Eight Years. I stated then, that:

• “I finally feel a measure of confidence in being able to state that I have completed at least most of the foundation for what I would write of here.”

I think that I can state with confidence that the year’s worth of postings and series that I have added here since then, belies that claim. I would cite in that context, my still ongoing series: Some Thoughts Concerning a General Theory of Business (as can be found at Reexamining the Fundamentals as its Section VI), as a case in point example there. And to cite one more area of active development that I have been adding to this blog, that would fit more of a “foundation” status for what I am doing here, I cite the conceptual work that I have been offering in recent months, concerning artificial intelligence agents and the effort to develop a true artificial general intelligence agent in particular. That narrative and a parallel narrative that I have also been developing here on the emerging and anticipatable impact of AI societally, run through multiple series in this blog, and are organized and included in several of my general topics directories here. And I have only begun developing the overall narrative on that large and complex set of issues that I will eventually come to include here.

Those comments only make note of two areas where I have in fact continued to develop and offer foundational material for this blog as a whole. So I retract my earlier, September 2017 claim of having effectively completed the core foundation of what I am to offer here. And I acknowledge that I still have an at least relatively open-ended way to go before I can legitimately make that claim – offering this counter-assertion here in September, 2018.

Those more-housekeeping notes aside, I would write here about what this blog has come to mean to me over the past nine years. I began writing to this blog in the by-now seemingly distant past of 2009, as a way to market myself as an active business and technology consultant among other goals. That noted, I have to admit that I also began this endeavor because I wanted to at least make an attempt towards developing and offering a more general theory of business and the business context as a whole, as that would collectively play out across a wide sweep of organizational levels. I have in fact been offering that distant and far-reaching goal as a key reason for my writing this blog, since its beginning. And that has always been a significant element that would lead me to write here and to continue to do so. Now it is my primary goal here.

As just noted above, I have not even completed the core foundation for such a body of organizing theory here yet. But at over 2500 postings and over three million words, I think that I can at least say that I am significantly working in the direction of accomplishing that.

I am mostly retired from active consulting now, even if I still get offers and interesting ones. So this ongoing effort has moved, perhaps, from being more of a work-supportive vocational effort to being a more avocational one – and even if I still seek to write to as high a level of professional standards as I can in all that I offer here.

I still keep what I write here, firmly grounded in my own hands-on professional experience, and with a goal of keeping this blog as hands-on, practically oriented as possible – and even when I delve into more abstractly stated business theory issues. Ultimately, business theory only holds meaningful value from when and how it can be applied in real world settings, and in addressing real world issues and challenges.

I just offered a retraction for a point of detail that I shared a year earlier in 2017. I end this posting: this next step in my meta-blog notes about this ongoing effort and why I write it, by sharing another more general and far-ranging point of observation. I have come to see this blog and my ongoing effort at developing it as a part of whatever legacy that I will leave behind. I have offered this ongoing effort as a matter of paying back for help shared with me through the kindness and generosity of others. And I have written and publically shared all of this as a matter of playing it forward too, and open-endly for that and to any and all who might find value in at least something of what I can offer here. When I write here of offering this blog and its contents as legacy, I write more explicitly of offering it forward, though I will still write here with both of those bidirectionally facing goals in mind.

Next year at this time, I expect to see a tenth anniversary posting to go live here, with that much more content added to this growing construct. I expect the coming year leading up to that, to be interesting and yes: rewarding for me. Hopefully others will find some value in this too.

Timothy Platt, Ph.D.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 25: considering first steps toward developing a general theory of business 17

This is my 25th 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 for Parts 1-24.)

I have been discussing a series of hiring process exceptions in this series since Part 20: personnel policy and process exceptions of types that can and do arise in businesses, and for reasons that I have at least been briefly noting as I have successively explored those exception case possibilities. And one key detail that they have had in common with each other, and with the more normative processes that they serve as exceptions to, is that they each present themselves as special case exceptions, and in ways that hold up a business’ more normative, official and expected hiring, onboarding and employee retention processes as the appropriate basic standard in place.

I turn here to consider one final hiring exception scenario, or rather category of them, that at the very least holds potential for challenging that last point of assumption: nepotism. And I include that possibility here, for how explicit rule breaking, and rule breaking that can challenge the basic legitimacy of a business’ basic processes and systems in place, can shed light on how a business is more normatively run, and on why it is run that way too.

I begin with what might be considered two of the more acceptable and business systems accommodating scenarios of this set of exceptions possibilities:

• The owners of a family run business that make no claims that they in any way seek to shift this enterprise from being family owned and run, bring in a son or daughter with a goal of training them and grooming them for eventual leadership there. But at the same time, they seek to maintain their business as a viable and even a competitively strong enterprise. So their next generation potential leader of this business is going to have to learn and grow into that position of responsibility. And I assume for purposes of this case in point example, that it is not a foregone conclusion that this heir to be will end up as CEO and Board Chair there and even if they stay with the company and long-term. That, at least in principle will depend on how their training and advancement through the ranks at this business works out. So yes, if they do succeed there, they will end up inheriting a leadership role there. But at the same time the current generation family-sourced leadership of this business is not willing to allow or support that move if it would put their family business that they have worked so hard to build, in jeopardy.
• And alternatively, the son or daughter of a long-term and valued employee or manager at a business, is offered a foot in the door as a new hire and at least to a significant degree because of their family connection to that business. But for purposes of this scenario, I only assume that meaning their being given an opportunity to prove themselves there. They still have to go through the same new hire orientation and new hire probationary period that anyone else entering that business as an employee would face. And their staying on and advancing there would depend on their performance there, exactly as it would for any other new hire or employee.

Think of these scenarios as rule bending, without necessarily being system breaking. For more extreme system challenging examples, consider the implications and the complications of breaking any of the basic constraints that I built into those two scenarios, that if adhered to would led this business back to normal, official and long-term effective, as its basic functioning norm.

I freely admit that I once took a consulting assignment as an interim C level officer, with a business that I came to learn was owned and run by a mob family. This was in fact one of their legitimate business endeavors and a key part of an effort on their part to break away from their past and entirely into legitimate business ventures. But this business was still plagued by nepotism, and by a form of it that held family, and mob family connections as being much more important than anything else going on there. As a result, it was impossible to even acknowledge that at least one such individual in a key position, was both incompetent and venal about it from how they sought out personal advantage and prerogatives at the expense of that business and its suppliers and customers. This business was in fact riven with nepotism sourced incompetence, even if most of the people so involved there were not in a position to create the levels of challenge that that one family favored individual did.

I did not stay there very long, but I did learn a great deal about nepotism and its more toxic forms from observing that approach to hiring and retention in action there. And I include this life experience story here for the lessons that I learned from it regarding business resiliency and flexibility, and how ongoing knowing violation of both normal business practice, and trust can create challenges throughout an organization.

I have been writing in the progression of series installments that lead up to here, of business as a system of interpersonal relationships and interactions. And I in effect conclude this phase of this series as I have been developing it up to here, by stressing a key word and a key issue that underlies whether and how that business might work: trust. Nepotism always at least raises low level questions as to trust and even when it fits a less damaging pattern of the type offered in my two above-offered bullet pointed examples. Where does the first of those scenarios leave lifelong employees who have moved up through the ranks of that business, but who can never hope for advancement to a next higher position there because a family member is being groomed for that next job up – and ultimately just because they have the right family connections? That type of complication can play out through the entire multi-year process that an inheriting son or daughter goes through, as they rise through the ranks in a business, and with the possibility of their pushing others aside as they are advanced to higher positions: as their family guided advancement stymies the professional futures of others there who are at least as fully invested in that business and its success and who are worthy of advancement if considered on a merit-alone basis. I specifically note here, that the non-family employees and managers so affected in this, are essentially always going to be among the very best people there that that business should most want to retain. They are usually among the highest performing, valuable people there who this business would, at least absent nepotism, be the most eager to retain and advance though their system.

I add that I have posited this scenario strictly in terms of some single heir to this business receiving special preferential attention. But it is not all that uncommon for this type of preferential treatment, and its appearance to be offered towards more than just some single next generation family member. The first nepotism scenario that I offered above can be applied to several or even many family members and certainly for a larger business, who would with time come to assume a wide range of positions there, and as much because of blood and family connections as for any other reasons.

And where does the second of the above two basic scenarios leave current employees who see someone who otherwise might not be hired at all, taking a job opening that others who might be more qualified have applied for too? For that, consider current employee stakeholders who meet with job hire candidates, including ones who they see as having tremendous value and potential. And then the person who is hired for that job, comes in as a “legacy” hire to use the family connections term used when a college or university accepts an incoming student candidate at least in part because their father or mother is a well heeled alumnus or alumna there. People talk. What impact will that have on employee morale, and certainly if this type of non-merit based hiring becomes something of a practice there? And add to that the opinions arrived at and shared in office cafeteria and break room conversations, if such a new hire finds themselves going through a more stressful and steeper learning curve than another less-connected new hire would be expected to have to deal with. And consider that in light of the ongoing impact that this family connection new hire has on everyone they now find themselves working with, who have to find ways to accommodate the consequences of those extra learning curve hurdles in their own work.

But as my above-noted more toxic nepotism example illustrates, the types of problems that can arise from its scenario, can and do get a lot worse than anything found in the first two as just discussed here.

• Ultimately, businesses, and organizations in general have to be built on a foundation of trust and of trustworthiness. And any real challenge to that can quickly become a challenge to the business as a whole and a challenge to all that that enterprise stands for and seeks to accomplish.

I am going to return to this narrative and to a discussion of business processes and business theory, in subsequent installments to this series. But as already promised, I am going to step back to reconsider and build upon the more general principles of general theories that I started this series with. And I will do that beginning in my next series installment. Then, when I have concluded that digression, I will turn back to explicitly considering theories of business per se, in light of the conceptual structures and approaches that I will develop and offer starting in the next installment. And I will begin to formally discuss emergent properties when I do that, and where and how they arise in a business as it develops in scale and complexity.

In anticipation of that, I note here that I have been discussing business theory as such in this series, since Part 9, in terms of individual to individual, interpersonal interactions and relationships. And I have cited higher organizational levels in this, primarily as context for clarifying points made there. I have noted and on a number of occasions that I have been planning on discussing emerging properties in this series too, as they arise in larger and more organizationally complex business systems and contexts. But I have not addressed that up to here.

I will offer more general theory of general theories context, at least beginning in the next installment to this series, building onto the organizing framework that I began laying out in Parts 1-8 of this series. Then I will turn to consider the lowest level of organization and structure in a business where overtly emergent behavior and its consequences begins to emerge, and essentially of necessity: at the organizational level of the intra-communicating tile, to cite the term that I have been offering and developing theory around in Building a Business for Resilience, Part 28 and following. As noted there, what I refer to as “tiles” in that discussion, holds a number of key points of similarity with “cliques” as that term is used in social networking theory, though tile has additional defining properties that hold particular importance there in that series and here too.

I will discuss feedback and peer pressure as shaping factors in within-tile dynamics, and in the interactions between separate tiles in an organization, as representing the lowest level of organization there where true emergent properties first begin to arise in overall business systems. And then going beyond that, I will discuss how headcount expansion in an organization, approaching and then surpassing Dunbar’s number in scale, leads to further next step up emergent properties too, with among other things the emergence of an absolute need for formalized business processes that would shape and determine allowed interpersonal interactions, and through them essentially all business activity.

That outlines some of what is to come in this series, moving forward from here and through the next two major transitions that this overall narrative with go through. 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. And I also include this individual participant oriented subseries of this overall theory of business series in Page 3 of my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, as a sequence of supplemental postings there.

My primary listing for this series is in the Reexamining the Fundamentals directory as listed above, and I offer the first 25 installments to it as what amounts to a first volume of a longer work. I will begin Volume 2 of that with Part 26, and will organize the series continuation that begins with it as a progression of postings that focus on general theories per se, followed by one on theories of business – exactly as offered in Volume 1.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 24: considering first steps toward developing a general theory of business 16

This is my 24th 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 for Parts 1-23.)

I have been discussing a brief set of what can be seen as hiring process exceptions that can categorically arise in businesses, and that impact upon employees and potential employees as well as upon management and the business as a whole, when they arise (see Part 20.) And my goal in that developing narrative has been to use these real-world business process-based, interpersonal interactions as grounding points for discussing more general issues that would help illuminate and develop a more general theory of business as a whole.

I began discussing two such hiring situations in Part 23 that I repeat here as I continue to address them, as renumbered here from the original, more complete list. Please note that both of these exception scenarios are offered in contrast to a more normative hiring context scenario that they would prove to be an explicit exception to, with their normative counterparts offered first:

1. More routine positions, managerial or not – versus – special skills and experience new hires, hands-on or managerial. (Here, the emphasis in this second possibility is in finding and bringing in people with rare and unusual skills and experience sets that are in high demand among competing businesses, and at levels of need that exceed any realistic pool of available candidates holding them.)
2. And job candidates and new hires and employees who reached out to the business, applying for work there as discussed up to here in this narrative, doing so on their own initiative – versus – professionals who might not even be explicitly looking for new job opportunities, who the business itself has reached out to, to at least attempt to bring them in-house as special hires and as special for all that would follow.

I started out comparing and contrasting the above repeated hiring exception scenarios in business process terms in Part 23, and then began to consider them from a participant-oriented game theory-based strategy perspective there too, building that line of discussion from the points of similarity and of difference that I had just noted for them in the first half of that overall line of discussion. To be more specific, I began to so analyze the first of those two hiring scenarios in Part 23, and my goal for this posting is to take that same approach as a tool for examining and understanding the second of those scenarios too, and with further points of comparison drawn between the two basic scenarios under consideration here as I pursue that. And I begin that by at least briefly repeating, and then expanding on a basic point that I made in Part 23 when considering the above Scenario 1, that applies to both of these exception hire context, and that in fact holds pivotal importance in any theory of business as a whole and across wide ranges of contexts as they would arise in such a theory:

• The phenomenon of competing alternative strategies, and how real world business contexts can come to require reconciling and coordinately following more than one such strategic approach at the same time – or at least finding a workable and mutually acceptable hybrid combination of them.
• It is obvious that different participants: different players, to couch this in game theory terms can and often do hold to differing and even overtly competing strategies and goals as they interact, and seek to influence the interactive processes that arise between them and the goals reached from that.
• When I raise the issues of competing strategies here, I am focusing on competing alternatives that can arise and play out within the individual participants involved there, as for example when they individually have to simultaneously find and promote negotiated approaches that would work for them on both a short term and a long-term basis, or in accordance with essentially any other dichotomous (at least) parameter that would hold importance to them, while pressing them with significantly differing alternative best paths forward.

As noted in Part 23, potential new hires who would fit into a Scenario 1 pattern as offered above, generally have specific currently must-have skills and experience sets that that hiring business feels compelled to add to their staff capabilities and as quickly and early as possible. This type of scenario is most likely going to arise for businesses that operate in very fast paced and rapidly changing, technology-driven business arenas that are continually racing to achieve an ever-changing goal: top position in a very competitive industry. As such, this scenario is usually all about businesses seeking a new and cutting edge technology advantage over their competition, and certainly while a current defining edge sought in winning this race is new and emerging skills-set driven. And that dynamic leads to both short-term and longer-term consequences, and a need for both short term and long term strategy and from both the would-be employee, and from the would-be hiring business perspective, and with game theory-defined strategic understandings to all of this, to match and for both sides of this too. These points as so generally stated, apply with equal force to the second above-repeated hiring scenario too.

A job candidate seeking out this type of hiring opportunity has to be able to leverage any possible advantage that they might be able to offer from their holding a still rare, high demand skills and experience set, while those special capabilities attributes still hold this type of defining value for them. So they need to be able to negotiate towards a hiring decision from their side of the table that would leverage their being able to achieve their goals, and help them gain the best possible terms of employment and compensation levels, commensurate with the current (but perhaps soon to fade) special value of what they have to offer now, and with a short-term strategic approach pursued in doing this. But at the same time, if they want to stay employed at that business longer term instead of only pursuing shorter-term gigs as an ongoing career path, they need to develop a relationship with this hiring manager who will be their supervisor and direct boss there, and with this business, that is not going to chaff and create resentment there too. This, of course holds for terms of employment and the details and levels agreed to in the overall compensation package.

I offer that last point with my own direct experience in mind, where I once found myself taking a consulting assignment that could in principle have lasted longer than it did – but I negotiated terms from too much of a short-term perspective and not from a longer-term one. So that business agreed to bring my in to work with them, but at a pay rate that they came to see as too out of range from what they paid others at the same level in their organization to be long-term sustainable. That realization on the part of this hiring business, I add, colored my entire work experience there, and even as I successively achieved the goals that I was initially brought in to work towards. And that brings me to the hiring manager and business side of this. They seek to meet the short term strategy requirements that they face in being able to bring in necessary and even essential skills and experience, but in ways that are going to be longer-term sustainable too – assuming that is, that they are not simply hiring short-term and intentionally so as their basic strategy.

Now let’s consider these same types of issues from an explicitly Scenario 2 perspective, where a business has decided to seek the services of some specific individual as a new hire, who they reach out to and attempt to convince to work for them, and regardless of their current work and employment status. These efforts are not generally directed towards addressing short-term needs, and the people they would bring in usually have skills and experience sets that they would want to retain longer-term. So their shorter term and here-and-now strategies and tactics for this would revolve around their seeking to catch the interest of such a potential hire, and in ways that would bring them in through their doors. Their longer-term strategy here would align with that, and function as a continuation of it, with a goal of finding a mutually agreeable overall, terms of employment and compensation package that both sides of these negotiations could live with moving forward.

• Both the potential new hire and the potentially hiring business in this, seek to reach an agreement that would best serve their particular needs and for both of these hiring scenarios. Short term, and certainly when only considering that timeframe, this would likely mean both of these two sides pursuing more of a win-lose strategy approach, that could turn out to be at least somewhat close to being diametrically opposed. So negotiations from that timeframe perspective would be oriented towards reconciling at least the make or break disagreement points that could arise.
• But both of the types of scenarios under consideration here, and the above-stated Scenario 2 in particular are essentially never short-term only and for either side of the negotiating table. So it is usually in the best interest of all parties to seek out more of an explicit win-win solution here and certainly where Scenario 2 applies with its more intrinsically long-term strategy focus built into it.

This leads me to the final crucially important point that I would address here in this posting: business systems friction and the fact that neither side to the negotiations that are under consideration here is going to know enough of the information that is held on the other side of the table to be able to make an optimally best-for-them decision when crafting the offers that they would propose. Neither side, for example, is certain to know if their counterparts on the other side of the table are negotiating with others too, and even if they do know that, they are unlikely to know the crucial details that they would have to compete with there. And neither side is going to know the outer parameters as to what the other side would deem acceptable, and either in detail for specific points or in overall balance where significant trade-offs might be possible.

How conservative in their thought and actions are the people involved in these negotiations? And how much would they seek to press the limits of what might be possible and achievable for their side, on the assumption that they could probably concede ground if needed when making adjusted offers and still keep these negotiations in play? Personalities involved, and basic business and negotiating styles pursued here can become very important, and both in shaping any dual or alternative negotiating tactics and approaches pursued, and in identifying and understanding the thinking on the other side of the table. (Look to the corporate culture in place in the hiring business, and the corporate cultures that a potential hire here, have succeeded in and even thrived in, that they might turn to for guidance as they negotiate possible next career moves that they might accept.)

• The points that I have been making here, and certainly in the last several paragraphs, while framed in terms of a hire-or-not negotiations, hold much wider importance in understanding the dynamics of business decision making and the agreements and disagreements that can arise in them, and both when dealing with outside stakeholders and when negotiating strictly in-house and across what can become highly competitive boundaries there.

I am going to more fully explore and discuss that last bullet point in my next series installment. And then I am going to turn to and consider the last hiring scenario from my original list in the next installment to this series, as first offered in Part 20 as noted above: nepotism as a specific case in point example of how hiring process exceptions can take more toxic forms. I will consider intentionally, overtly family owned and run businesses in that context, that simply seek to keep their business in their family, there. And I will also discuss more overtly problematical examples of how this type of scenario can play out too. Then after completing that line of discussion, at least for purposes of this series, I will step back from consideration of theories of business and special case contexts that they apply to, as an overall special categorical form of general theory, to delve into a set of what have become essential foundation elements for that discussion, with further consideration of general theories per se. I began this series in its Parts 1-8 by offering a start to an approach to thinking about and understanding general theories as such. I will add some further basic building blocks to that foundation after completing my business theory discussion here, up through a point where a new hire first successfully joins a business as an in-house employee, hands-on or managerial. Then I will turn back to further consider general theories of business per se, on the basis of that now-enlarged general theory discussion.

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. And I also include this individual participant oriented subseries of this overall theory of business series in Page 3 of my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, as a sequence of supplemental postings there.

Rethinking Platt Perspective at 2501 postings – an update on how this enterprise is to continue from here

Posted in blogs and marketing by Timothy Platt on May 29, 2018

I began writing to this blog at a rate of one posting going live every day, starting September 14, 2009. And I continued at that pace, with a few supplemental postings added in, until February 17, 2014. At that time, I made a fundamental change in my pace of writing for this overall narrative. I switched to writing and uploading new installments to go live on it, with a next posting set to appear every other day. And now it is May 29, 2018 and I have decided to slow my writing and publications pace again: this time to once every three days.

I have thought a great deal about when and how I would make this type of chance, just as I did leading up to my September, 2014 decision to start writing to this at all with the long-term commitment that I assumed with that. And at this time, I feel that I have reached a point in my efforts here, where this is the right decision for now as to how I should proceed moving forward.

That said, I will still offer at least some postings on “off-days” and particularly for series that are not amenable to longer-term scheduling, with the delays that that involves for their next installments to go live. But even then, I will have days off that allow for longer development and writing times.

As stated above, I pursued what was basically a once a day, every day publishing schedule for a number of years. My at least initial goal when switching to a once every other day schedule was to continue at that pace for about the same length of time in which I had posted daily. I did reach that mark. As of now, I expect to continue at this new pace for at least as long as that timeframe unit of measure, which would mean my following this approach until something after posting 2900 and probably closer to posting 3000 for this blog. That said, I might change my mind, in which I will share another schedule-correcting update to this. But I still view this endeavor as being open ended in duration and the total number of postings that I will eventually have written to it.

Timothy Platt

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