Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 16: considering first steps toward developing a general theory of business 8

This is my 16th 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 1-15.)

I began this series with a discussion of general theories and what they consist of, as a matter of general organizing principle (see Parts 1-8.) And after laying a foundation in that, for focusing in on a general theory of business as a special case, I began addressing the more specific intended topic of this series as laid out in its title. And I have focused essentially entirely since then on the organizational level of the business as a whole, first treating these entities as if they were essentially monolithic in nature, and then opening the box a little to consider their functional and organizational structure too – at least at the level of granularity that would appear on a standard table of organization. But even there, my focus was on how they fit together and functioned together in collectively comprising the business organization as a whole.

As a matter of organizing this series and its narrative if nothing else, I have chosen to address this fundamentally single business level of conceptual organization as a baseline that I would organize the series as a whole around. And then in the course of writing Part 15, I stated that I would turn from that to:

1. Consider the basic issues raised and considered in this series, from the perspective of the individual business stakeholders.
2. And then I will expand the scale of consideration outward from that of the single complete business enterprise to consider supply chain and related value chain systems and I add, business and marketplace ecosystems.

I will, of course recurringly return to reconsider the baseline middle ground organizational level of the individual business organization, and both when focusing in on the individual and when telescoping out to consider the larger business and economic contexts, that businesses reside in and function in. But I offer this as a brief anticipatory outline of what is to follow.

I begin all of this with Point 1, as restated and reorganized from Part 15, above. And I begin that by at least briefly connecting what I will offer here, to a progression of series and individual postings that I have been offering in this blog as my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development (see its Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 listings.)

My goal for that Guide is to offer what experience and insight that I can, on finding and securing jobs and working successfully in them, and both at the individual job and career step level and in an explicit career and overall career development context. I have worked with a fairly wide range of businesses and in a variety of industries and in a fairly wide range of types of positions, and I have actively sought out opportunity to learn from others in this. As such, I probably have seen first-hand and directly experienced a wider range of job and career possibilities than most. But I am still just a single individual and offer what I can there, as filtered through the biases and assumptions of my own experience. As such, I still offer a limited perspective there, and even if a relatively comprehensive one with over 550 short essays included in it as of this writing. But there are a few fundamental points of observation and experience that underlie all of that, that I would start from here as essentially axiomatic assumptions, going into this general theory discussion:

• Even when we work for a single employer as an in-house employee and throughout our work life, we should still think of ourselves as if we were consultants, who might find ourselves having to work with a next employer and a next consulting client as developing and emerging circumstances dictate. No job or job opportunity can safely be presumed to last forever, as a tacit and unconsidered assumption.
• An employing business and its underlying assumptions and sense of self-interest are separate and distinct from those of our own. And while our employment with such an enterprise might seem long-term and even open-ended, we can never assume that as an absolute given. Business employer, and personal employee needs and interests can come to differ and diverge and change, and even disruptive change in employment options and possibilities can arise.
• So always think of yourself at least in part as an independent consultant, even if you are working in-house and long-term with one “client” employer. And always think of yourself at least in part as an independent small business, and with your own needs: short-term and immediate, and long-term firmly and clearly in mind.

This is important, and I add this is a point of observation and of conclusion that underlies how I address Point 1 of the above list. Any general theory of business that seeks to address the organizational level of the individual needs to address this type of consideration, and both for those who are entrepreneurial (i.e. who take this approach) and for those who simply see themselves as someone else’s employee.

And with this in place, I offer here, an at least preliminary to-address list of Point 1 oriented issues and perspectives that I will delve into in this series as I consider its level of organization:

• From the perspective of the individual employee, whether hands-on and non-managerial or managerial, or executive or owner, and with consideration of a still wider range of stakeholder types as well.
• From the perspective of how each of these groups of stakeholders see themselves and other stakeholder types, and in both risk and benefits, risk management terms and in game theory terms,
• And according to how the members of these groups see themselves as strictly in-house employees with their leaving their longer-term planning in the hands of their employers, or as more independent entrepreneurs and consultants who take direct ownership over and responsibility for their own work and career planning and its execution.

I am going to begin addressing these points and their issues in my next installment to this series, with a discussion grounding scenario that begins with the individual career developer and the hiring and promotion-directed strategies that they follow, and ends with the approaches that those same individuals follow when actually working at a business. And as part of that, I will also consider the strategies and the tactics of others who work with them or who otherwise become stakeholders to these transaction flows (games.) My goal there will be to ground a perhaps more abstract line of discussion in more real world jobs and careers terms, and with a more familiar experience-based foundation point that I will be able to refer back to while discussing Point 1 issues in general.

And I will discuss all of this from the perspective of:

• The individual as they work and plan and carry out their careers, and
• From the business process and execution side as individuals work to achieve goals and priorities and stretch goals and their priorities, in meeting business needs.

And as my goal here is to offer a general theory of business that would offer value in an emerging 21st century, and not just serve as a retrospective on the 20th century, I will of necessity also address:

• The issues of globalization here, where outsourcing is just one piece to that puzzle,
• And workplace automation, where a combination of artificial intelligence and robotization are reshaping what employment and even employability mean.

I am going to begin all of this in my next series installment, with the above-cited grounding scenario and will proceed from there to address in turn the rest of the issues noted here. 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.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 15: considering first steps toward developing a general theory of business 7

Posted in blogs and marketing, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on June 13, 2017

This is my 15th 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 1-14.)

I began addressing business strategy and operations from a game theory perspective in Part 12 and Part 13 and continued that in Part 14, successively examining win-win, win-lose and mixed strategies and how they arise as best perceived approaches in business contexts. And my primary focus there was at the level of the complete business enterprise, as a more monolithic entity that would follow a single, if mutable strategy and game theory approach. I have at least touched on how different areas of a single business can pursue differing game theory-based approaches to meet their specific needs, and in support of a single overarching business strategy. But I have mostly focused on businesses as a whole there.

1. I am going to more explicitly consider how different areas of a single business can pursue differing game theory approaches, and even in support of a single shared business mission and vision and a single overarching strategy and business plan. And I will at least begin doing so here in this installment.
2. After that I will consider the basic issues raised and considered in this series, from the perspective of the individual employee, whether hands-on and non-managerial or managerial, or executive or owner. I add here that a still wider range of stakeholders has to be considered here so I will throw a wider net when delving into this set of issues, than would be included within the boundaries of any one organization.
3. And then I will expand the scale of consideration outward from that of the single complete business enterprise to consider supply chain and related value chain systems and I add, business and marketplace ecosystems. If Point 1 here addresses a baseline middle ground level of consideration, Point 2 focuses in to a deeper, finer grained level that underlies it and this Point 3 telescopes outward to consider the wider context that Point 2 issues take place in.

But I begin this at the organizational level of functional areas and separate offices and related facilities within a single business entity as they might pursue different mixes in an overall mixed game strategy approach.

I begin this with the fundamentals, as initially laid out in a complete business-as-single-unit context in Part 14, where I repeated how and why a business would pursue a win-win approach, and why it would preferentially find greater value and reduced risk from pursuing a win-lose approach:

• Win-win makes the most sense, offering higher overall value and reduced risk, long term when a business, or in the context of this posting, a unit or functionally distinct element of that business, faces long-term stability, and with reciprocity for value offered where it is shared. I couched this in supply chain and similar business-to-business collaborative contexts in earlier series installments as listed above, and in terms of business-to-market and business-to-customer dealings where positive value shared and offered lead to increased business and increased revenue and profits generated.
• This same basic paradigmatic model applies essentially entirely as-is, within businesses too and certainly when a functional unit or area under consideration is viewed as working with other areas of their own overall business as if in a supply chain system with them, and when they are viewed as serving the needs of a marketplace, and even if that means in-house clients and customers.
• Win-lose on the other hand, applies and both for entire businesses and for functionally separable units of them, when they enter into value creating transactional processes with other areas of a business that would only be expected to continue for a limited duration,
• Or that would be carried out under conditions of greater perceived risk and uncertainty as to how value would be exchanged (where that, for example can mean either uncertainty as to payout, or limitations to the overall pool of value that could be paid out that would not necessarily cover all value owed),
• Or for some combination of these win-lose oriented strategy-shaping constraints.

Win-win would probably seem fairly obvious as an approach within a business, and certainly when the success of any given unit or functional element in an enterprise is tightly linked to the success of the business it is part of as a whole, and to the success of all other areas of that larger entity. Where would you expect to see a more win-lose game strategy apply here? I have in fact discussed businesses and business contexts where win-lose is the only approach that would make sense within a business, on a number of occasions in assembling this blog. And I begin addressing this general area of consideration by citing a few of those relevant contexts here, at least in general terms:

• Consider the perhaps all too familiar situation in which a business has at most a limited level of some critical resource that would have to be shared by multiple employees and even by multiple here-competing teams or other units within a business (e.g. a single very expensive and costly to maintain piece of equipment that has become a functional bottleneck for the business as a whole, but that it cannot readily afford to buy more copies of.) Now consider what happens when the various business units and their managers and staffs compete for access to this one crucial resource and with all involved facing very tight completion deadlines for their work that calls for it, and with intense pressures from higher up on the table of organization for everyone to meet their performance goals and on time if not before then.
• Even if the business as a whole seeks to pursue a more purely win-win approach with other collaborating businesses, circumstances that would be difficult to fully control can bring units within it into more win-lose competition. And there, one of the goals of the leadership of such an enterprise would be to limit this, and to find a way to resolve the resource bottlenecks in place in their systems that engender it.
• As a second, in effect intentionally staged example of within-business win-lose competition, I cite an approach to business leadership that I have seen play out. Some business owners and executive leaders intentionally create competitive conflict between the people and the teams of employees and managers that work for them. And this can literally take the form of assigning the same exact goals to more than one individual or team and under terms where everyone involved knows that the winner of these races will be rewarded and the losers punished. Yes, this is toxic; some managers are toxic in how they lead and manage and through setting up win-lose conflicts that are at best only mildly damaging and certainly to morale and to achieving employee buy-in.

I offer that last example for a variety of reasons. First of all, I do so because it does in fact represent a real world within-business win-lose scenario that I have seen play out and even in businesses that by all outward appearance seem to be quite successful. And when other workplace factors are added in that would influence stay or go decision making on the part of employees caught up in these conflicts, this type of competition might not in and of itself lead to a real increase in key employee turnover either. So I am not necessarily citing this as a reason for change management becoming necessary: I am simply citing it as a challenging workplace environment where win-lose competition can become relatively commonplace and certainly on high priority projects.

Beyond that, I also cite this to note a point that should be obvious but that is often overlooked in discussion of business and management practices and processes: a truly general theory of business should address bad and questionable processes and practices and as thoroughly as good and best ones, and how they related to each other and how they would be distinguished from each other.

I am going to continue this discussion and addressing those issues in a next series installment, where I will turn to consider the second numbered point of my above repeated to-address list, and the individual employee, manager, executive or owner and their issues.

In anticipation of that and as a closing comment to my perhaps toxic seeming second win-lose competition example from above, I briefly recount an in-house competition that I have seen and participated in, in a differently run business, which for purposes of this narrative, I identify as an up and coming high tech firm: Alweron Inc.

• Alweron took on a major project as the successful bidder in a competition held by a national government agency. And the initial project proposal that they offered did in fact fit entirely within their current technology and technical solutions comfort zone, which is why they were able to bid to complete at the cost and within the timeframe that they offered.
• Then, as sometimes happens and certainly in a cutting edge technology context, the lead project manager and their team assigned to this work, ran into a roadblock, where they came to realize that a key element of their solution could not be made to work, at least with what for them was their currently available off the shelf technology.
• They got creative and in effect held an in-house stretch-goals contest, coming out of a company-wide brainstorming session that all employees and managers could participate in, as they sought to arrive at a best approach for resolving this impasse. And three teams came together, each attempting to solve this problem with a different, novel innovative solution that they had initially sketched out in principle in that brainstorming session. The winner of this contest would be rewarded with extra vacation days that year and with a cash bonus, upon delivery of their working solution, and with the first to cross this finish line with a cost-effective problem resolution declared to be the winner. Early delivery, ahead of the designated and agreed to deadline for completion, would mean a larger bonus too, as this would help the business as a whole to complete the overall project ahead of schedule and achieve an early completion bonus from the agency that was paying for this project to be done in the first place.

This was as much a win-lose scenario situation, as is presented in the above outlined more toxically presented in-house competition scenario. But rather than being set up to pit employees and teams against each other, to keep everyone a bit scared of possible failure to perform and succeed, this win-lose contest was organized and run to encourage out of the box creativity, and with bonus and longer-term career enhancement potential. The overall orientation of this was positive, rather than negative and affirming rather than threatening.

I am going to discuss business processes and practices from the perspective of the individuals involved, with a focus on assumptions made and the contexts that decisions and their follow-through are made in. Here, to note a point of difference between these two in-house competitions, both of them were set up as competitions between employees and groups of them that would see themselves as opponents to each other. But the second of them was not set up in such a way as to make this a basic workplace norm. And it was not set up with a goal of bringing employees and managers there to see each other as opponents, and even at least potentially as enemies in a drive to meet senior executive and owner expectations. A general theory of business has to include and both descriptively and predictively explain that too.

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.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 14: considering first steps toward developing a general theory of business 6

Posted in blogs and marketing, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on April 22, 2017

This is my 14th 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 1-13.)

I began to explicitly discuss business transaction flows and the overall business strategy and planning that informs them, in game theory terms in Part 12 and Part 13, focusing on win-win game strategy approaches in Part 12, and offering an at least initial discussion of a wider range of game strategy options in Part 13.

And as a baseline starting point for that, I focused on win-win game strategy approaches as they would apply to ongoing long-term stable businesses that operate in stable ongoing markets and in stable long-term supply chain or similar business-to-business collaborations, insofar as they enter into them at all. I offered this as a baseline business model approach for addressing a game theory approach to thinking about and understanding business strategy and operations. And with that baseline starting point at least briefly discussed, I began an at least initial consideration of other game and business strategy alternatives that would be arise from this more stable scenario as complicating factors are added in. More specifically, I widened the scope of this discussion to consider win-lose scenarios, noting how that type of approach might circumstantially offer greater perceived value, in games (business transaction flows):

• That would only be expected to continue for a limited duration of play (as for example when developing and capitalizing upon short term and even explicitly time-limited seasonal business opportunities),
• Or that would be carried out under conditions of greater perceived risk and uncertainty as to how value would be exchanged (where that, for example can mean either uncertainty as to payout, or limitations to the overall pool of value that could be paid out that would not necessarily cover all value owed),
• Or for some combination of these two strategy-shaping constraints.

More explicitly considering the first of those bullet points for its relevance to what is to follow in this posting, I explicitly note anticipated end-game strategies as they enter into this discussion here. When a player: a participating business faces an end point in what has at least become a time-limited business opportunity, would be more likely to benefit from pursuing a strategy and a game approach here, that would limit the likelihood and scale of what could become a deficit in the receipt of value obtained, as that business opportunity time limit is approached and reached. This certainly applies when considered at the level of the business as a whole, but it can also apply in functionally separate areas of a business that might individually face explicitly time-limited opportunity and even when the business as a whole is an ongoing long-term-stable enterprise that at a higher overall level pursues more win-win strategies and certainly with its long-term ongoing business-to-business and market-facing contexts.

Strategic decisions and their corresponding underlying game strategies would be selected so as to maximize opportunity and gain, and minimize likely risk and cost, and with that determined at whatever the organizational level was most pressingly in need for such consideration. And large, complex enterprises often pursue several such approaches at once.

Win-win essentially axiomatically assumes that if there is a deficit in the balance of value received on one side at any given time, that imbalance can be and almost always will be addressed and corrected for in later transactions. Win-lose is predicated at least in part in terms of there not always being that next time, value creation and exchange transaction that could accomplish this. This constitutes the basic starting point for understanding where these approaches would respectively apply. But as noted in Part 13, time per se is not always the only, or even necessarily an important determining limiting factor there.

I have been addressing this in relatively abstract terms in Part 13 and again here in the opening of this posting. But at the end of Part 13 I stated that I would address this complex of issues in more concrete terms and by at least briefly and selectively discussing a specific, real world business model example. And the one that I will delve into here does in fact call for what would become an essentially pure win-lose game strategy as participating businesses that pursue it approached the very explicitly time limited end points of their business operations and revenue generating seasons. But in anticipation of discussion to come, even a seemingly win-lose game strategy oriented business can have compelling reasons for selectively pursuing a win-win approach too. That type of strategic and operational distinction is contextually grounded and that fact emerges in the case study that I at least selectively examine here.

The businesses that I refer to are small scale seasonal ventures that seek to generate what amounts to windfall revenue opportunity starting soon after Thanksgiving in the United States and lasting up to the day before Christmas. These are ventures that are set up and run by small operation farmers and other small business owners who either grow appropriate species and varieties of pine trees on otherwise unusable land that they own, or they buy trees grown by others in this manner at local rural wholesale cost. And they then bring these product offerings to densely populated urban settings, and certainly to cities in the Northeast of the United States such as New York City. And they set up short-term retail sales outlets to offer and sell those trees at a significant markup, net of all costs incurred from doing this.

This is a short-lived business opportunity that is driven by a need to minimize waste and loss, and to create value and profit generating opportunity at all possible points. So these entrepreneurs also take the salvageable loose branches that they would have to trim off of the bases of the trees that they would sell, and other waste trimmings – waste from the perspective of selling intact tress, and shape Christmas wreaths and other marketable items out of them. And for value added opportunity they often sell inexpensive bases that a newly purchased Christmas tree could be set up in, in a buyer’s home.

Value added, supplemental sales opportunities do not end there for many of these small time-limited businesses. Maple syrup is in fact harvested in the Spring in places like Upstate New York, Connecticut and Vermont, when the sap in those trees starts flowing back up from the roots again to revive them for the warmer months ahead. But a number of these Christmas tree entrepreneurs save bottles and jugs of their earlier harvested and processed maple syrup – or obtain it at lower wholesale cost from local producers, and offer this and similar add-on items too. Maple syrup may be produced in the Spring, but it is consumed more in the Autumn and Winter, and is popular during the Winter holidays.

The entire season for this type of business venture is very brief, and the end point of Christmas day is completely inflexible and unforgiving as far as any tree or wreath or similar left-over inventory is concerned. If an item is not sold by the day before Christmas, it becomes a complete loss and with all expenses and amortized shares of costs covered by it uncovered by any possible recouping sale and even at a discounted price, and with an additional added cost of it having to be hauled away for disposal too.

How does this play out in a win-win and win-lose game and business strategy defining context? As outlined, this sounds at least at first glance like a business situation that would follow an essentially pure win-lose gaming strategy approach. But let me begin with what longer-term, can even become a legitimate win-win source of opportunity for these businesses, and for partner businesses that they enter into transactional agreements with. And in this, I simply assume that while a given seasonal sales opportunity might begin and end at very set and immutable points on the calendar for any given year, an entrepreneur who succeeds in this type of venture one time might want to come back to it recurringly and even on an ongoing yearly basis.

Even if they grow and harvest their own trees from land parcels that are best suited for that purpose and not for farming, they still might want to supplement the selection of trees that they provide from their own effort with additional trees, that have grown out to the right size and that would be particularly popular by type to the end consumer market. If they do sell add-ons such as that maple syrup too, cultivating mutually agreeable business-to-business relationships with local sources of those items might make sense to, and particularly where they have to maintain wider-ranging relationships with the local-to-them providers that they obtain these offerings from.

Plastic tree bases, to cite a different category of add-on product offering, would not in any way be locally produced or wholesale sold. So these entrepreneurs would in most cases obtain them at lowest possible per item cost and through online outlets where transactions tend to be more one-off. Different sources might very well offer the tree bases required at best per unit costs, from year to year and even within a single year if it was necessary to restock during a sales season for them.

And to add one more consideration here that is very relevant to these businesses, consider where they would set up and conduct this business, and the need for their entering into agreements with property owners where they would sell. A smart entrepreneur would seek out a more mutually beneficial agreement there, so as to secure the same location again the next year and at reasonable cost if they chose to enter into this type of business venture again. And they would make the effort to make sure that everything they did in the course of their business there was done in as clean and uncluttered, and as non-disruptive a manner as possible for the owners of that property, and I add to avoid possible complaints that might lead to fines from the city. The difference between success and failure in this type of venture is as much a matter of location as it is of anything, and of being a good neighbor and presenting a good image to prospective customers. So pursuing a more win-win game strategy there can be vital to success for all of these considerations – and even in such a tightly time-limited business venture.

Now let’s consider the more win-lose side to this. All sales are final and while everyone would be polite and friendly, all transactions would be carried off as if entirely one-off and not as a means for developing long-term repeat business opportunity with any given customer. Business-to-business relationships that were entered into that did not explicitly center around building for a next year opportunity or for explicitly protecting that year’s effort would be carried out using a win-lose approach with a focus on revenue and profits received and not on mutual exchange of value in anticipation of ultimate return of value from that. And as the season progresses and the pressures mount to sell off as much as possible of that remaining inventory, this more win-lose approach becomes paramount, to prevent loss of what profitability might have been achieved up to then.

The roughly one month nature of this business opportunity with eleven months intervening helps to drive this too, and even for entrepreneurs who return to the same locations every year to restart their Christmas sales ventures. This scenario is very different from what you would expect or find with a more standard, non-seasonal retail venture such as a bricks and mortar retail store that is built for its strength and profitability around long-term stable supply chain systems, and stable repeat business customer bases.

• Note that as briefly outlined above, even a short term business of the type considered here would use both win-lose and win-win game strategy approaches – at least selectively and even if end-game time constraints would push them to a more win-lose approach and certainly as their season is about to end.
• More stable bricks and mortar retails of the type just noted might primarily employ a more win-win gaming approach. But even they would at least occasionally find more value in pursuing a win-lose approach too. And to highlight that, I note the second bullet point form the top of this posting where I cited reasons for taking a win-lose approach in the first place: uncertainty and risk – and particularly for circumstances such as working with new suppliers and for item types that the business might or might not want to carry for any extended length of time.

In this type of business, and for this type of stable, long-term retail store, it might begin working with a new supplier and might begin test offering a new type of product line that it offers on a more test case and ad hoc basis – and then intentionally and strategically switch to taking a more collaborative, win-win approach with them if their product offerings prove themselves, making a more stable and long-term business-to-business collaboration more feasible and for both parties.

I began this discussion with an expressed focus on win-lose game scenarios but of necessity discussed mixed strategies as well, as real businesses almost always deploy both win-win and win-lose. The defining difference here is in where and how differing businesses would select and follow which of this set of game strategy alternatives, and what proportion of their overall business strategy and underlying business model would best be predicated on which of them. The Christmas sales business is on the whole more win-lose and certainly for large areas of its business operations, while the stable bricks and mortar retail store would be much more win-win oriented. But they would both strategically follow both of those game theory approaches at least where that would make the most sense for them contextually.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will focus on how that balance is arrived at and how it changes with time. So far I have addressed business theory at the complete-business level and at least briefly at the defined functional area/decision making level within single business organizations too. I will continue addressing general theory of business considerations at those organizational levels in my next installment too. But looking further ahead, I am also going to step back from that higher organizational level of consideration and discuss all of this from the individual employee and manager levels, and the business owner level too. And I will do so both from the perspectives of their own work and career planning and from that of how members of these groups each variously work in and support the businesses that they participate in, as they help to meet overall strategic and operational business needs. I will consider a range of possible stakeholders there. And moving outward from the single business organizational level in this narrative – which I would consider here a baseline level of consideration for purposes of this series, and this more individual participant level of involvement in these systems, I will explicitly discuss the issues raised here from a supply chain and related value chain systems perspective, and at that higher organizational level too. I will explicitly discuss business theory at a business and marketplace ecosystem level. This flow of discussion is going to call for a progression of upcoming series installments, and I offer this anticipatory note here to indicate at least in broad brush stroke terms, the basic direction that this series is headed, and certainly as of now in it. I expect to add in more elements to this narrative progression as I proceed, but this is the basic outline that I will add them into.

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.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 13: considering first steps toward developing a general theory of business 5

Posted in blogs and marketing, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on February 11, 2017

This is my 13th 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 1-12.)

I have been developing an approach in this series, to a general theory of business that is grounded in behavioral terms, and in terms of transaction processes as they are shaped by individual behavior and its expectations (see Parts 9-12.) Then in Part 12, I began discussing long-term sustainable business relationships and the flows of transactions that characterize them, in game theory terms, and more particularly in terms of win-win strategies and their execution (see this piece on game theory strategies per se as an orienting introduction to that topic area.)

Game theory strategies address a wide range of decision making options and their follow-throughs, that address and seek to encompass a wide range of behavioral patterns. And game theory per se addresses both time-limited games that would only continue for constrained periods of time until some specific end-point is reached, and more open-ended games that can at least in principle simply continue indefinitely. And of significant importance for this discussion, games and their strategies as encompassed here can be more fully determined with fixed rules for next steps, or they can be more stochastic and with a range of possible moves and types of move available, each with an at least roughly characterized probability of being pursued. Mixed strategy games fit that basic game paradigm.

Win-win games, as noted in Part 12, follow a strategy in which effort is made to ensure that both/all players involved gain measures of positive value from participating, even as individual participants seek to maximize their own personal gain in this. And I referred to that strategy in terms of “enlightened self-interest”, and certainly when there are potential opportunities for involved parties to continue gaining from this – if the others in these games are willing to keep playing too, and where a game can continue for open-ended durations. Fixed and limited duration games, in which participants can expect to in effect cash in their chips and walk away, cease to remain stably win-win as player-recognized end points for participation in them come close and enter into decision making processes. So I wrote Part 12, essentially entirely in terms of open-ended games as would be expected in the strategies and operational executions of long-term and open-ended continuing business ventures, where participants would see positive incentive to themselves to actively give other participants incentive to keep playing too.
Then at the end of Part 12, I stated that I would consider zero-sum (win-lose) games and other strategies. And I added that I would at least briefly discuss where win-win and zero-sum strategies would make sense and be likely to occur. I have in fact begun to do this already in this posting when I made note of time limited or other constrained game endings and how win-win strategies can break down, losing their perceived advantage for participating players who might be left at the end of a game with a value exchange deficit from that.

• Mixed strategies can include in them, combinations of more win-win play options and tactics, and win-lose play options and tactics, with the balance between them shifting over time, moving more towards win-win when a game seems more open ended, and moving towards win-lose when the game becomes more overtly end-point limited.
• One measure of business strategy effectiveness in this context, can be found in more accurately being able to predict when an explicitly more win-win approach should be followed tactically, to maintain stable competitive advantage as long and as effectively as possible
• And when a more win-lose tactical approach would make more sense (from a risk management perspective.) Change and uncertainty enter in there, as factors that can shift the strategically considered balance from a more win-win to a win-lose approach, or vice versa arise. And effective ongoing strategic planning facilitates and enables rapid reevaluation and pivoting in what types of tactical and operational approaches would best be followed in any given here and now.

To take that out of the abstract, let’s consider a second, also more generally stated working example. As just noted above, time and remaining duration of play – remaining duration of business activity opportunity here, can represent a largely non-renewable resource and certainly if a game need not be open ended. True, decision and actions can sometimes be taken to in effect give a time resource-limited business a new lease on life – and positive incentive to follow a win-win strategy with suppliers and supply chain partners, vendors and customers and more as initially expected end points approach – but in an avoidable manner. But time is only one possible limiting resource here that can define where and how a best strategy would shift between more win-win and win-lose options. So I framed the above bullet points in terms of just one possible decision shaping, limiting resource as a strategy defining factor. The example that I turn to next is a more widely considered resource-limited business, where in-house competition for access to what involved stakeholders need, can be driven in a largely win-lose direction by those resource constraints.

I am going to discuss that strategy shaping, resource limited scenario in a next installment to this series. And in anticipation of that, I would pose a basic question to you, the reader about your own business. What are your potentially critically limiting resources there, that would of necessity impact upon and shape your strategic planning and your tactical and operational follow-through on that?

To be more specific here, I am going to explore a specific business type and business model in my next series installment that would be expected to follow a more predominantly win-lose game theory approach than to follow a win-win one, and how even a business that might be expected to focus on a more win-lose approach might still find significant reason to pursue win-win opportunities too. And after delving into that scenario, I am going to look more fully into mixed strategies, and how business strategy and operations change and evolve in game theory terms. This addresses business theory at the organizational level. Looking further ahead, I am also going to step back from that and consider all of this from the individual employee and manager level too, with a scenario that begins with the individual career developer and the hiring and promotion-directed strategies that they follow, and ends with the approaches that those same individuals follow when actually working at a business. And as part of that, I will also consider the strategies and the tactics of others who work with them or who otherwise become stakeholders to these transaction flows (games.)

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.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 12: considering first steps toward developing a general theory of business 4

Posted in blogs and marketing, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on December 29, 2016

This is my twelfth 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 1-11.)

I began this series with a more general discussion of inclusively encompassing general theories as such, in its Parts 1-8. And then I began to focus in on general theories of business as a special category of theory construct that could be developed within that larger framework, in Part 9. And this is my fourth installment in that ensuing narrative.

To be more specific here, I have been developing a general theory of business in this series, that seeks to provide an organizing explanatory framework for other content that I have been developing in this blog, and that is specifically grounded in behavioral theory and understanding. And after developing a basic, if just roughly outlined foundation for taking that approach (in Parts 9 and 10), I reframed business transactions per se in behavioral terms (in Part 11.) There, business processes and systems can be seen as consisting of chains of causally connected business transactions, and transactions per se can be considered fundamental building blocks for all business and marketplace activity.

And then towards the end of Part 11 and as a significant building block point of clarification for this body of empirically grounded theory and experience-based practice, I stated that:

• “When I address business theory in behavioral terms, I am selectively filtering the overall field of behavioral studies per se to focus entirely on the more specific domains of how human behavior shapes and influences business transactions in their broadest sense, and how that behavior is in turn shaped by such transactions.”

So a general theory of business builds from a subset of behavioral theory as a whole that offers clarifying, organizing insight into this more specific arena of activity. And a general theory of business per se, delves into specific issues and topic areas and conceptual distinctions that do not necessarily belong within behavioral theory per se but that can be informed by it.

• A selective if wide-ranging portion of behavioral theory forms a starting point for more business-specific elaboration as they would be tested, and as they are testable in-principle, through empirical observation and experiment and quasi-experiment and through ongoing experience.

And with that stated as connecting background material, I turn to consider the first of a set of to-address points that I started to present here at the end of Part 11, and which I reorganize and expand upon here as a rough guide for advancing this series forward:

• Altruism and self-serving behavior.
• Economic and business systems friction.
• Timeframes, and as promised at the end of Part 10 to this series: change and both in its smooth evolutionary forms and in its suddenly emergent disruptive forms.
• Tactics and strategy as framed from a behavioral perspective.
• Innovation and as both a product of business activity and as a shaper of it.
• And automation and artificial intelligence as they are coming to reshape business processes and business practices and both operationally and strategically,
• And employability in the workforce and what it means to be employed.
• And I will also address automation in general and artificial intelligence-based automation in particular as its reality will reshape what “business” means as a whole. (And yes, this bullet point as stated here, only acknowledges one minor element of what is certain to become our new, fundamentally disruptive game changing reality and well before the end of the 21st century.)

In anticipation of addressing the last of these points, I am offering this body of business theory and practice as a whole: this blog as a whole as we collectively enter a period of profound change, and globally. And my goal in all of this blog is to note and discuss this ongoing progression of change, even as I seek to offer here-and-now tools and resources for businesses and for the people who run them and who work at them, as we all face this.

Stepping back from that higher level point of consideration of this series and this blog as a whole and their motivation, the first of the above to-address points that I just offered here is focused on altruism and self-serving behavior, as these approaches and mind-sets enter into and shape both business and marketplace decisions and activities. And I begin this line of discussion with the fundamentals:

• Ultimately, it is always individuals who decide and act – and regardless of whether that means their taking unilateral action, or following or deviating from decisions and priorities as set by others.
• And ultimately all business activity, and I add all economic activity is transactional in nature, essentially always involving or at least impacting upon others – and even when the specific transactions under consideration initially arose unilaterally on some single individual’s part.
• This is very important. Outcomes achieved in those transactions and the consequences of how they are carried out have impact upon others. Decisions and actions that are carried out might be individually-based, but transactions actually entered into and carried out essentially never are.
• And this is precisely where the issues of altruism and of self-serving behavior enter this narrative: in the sometimes aligning and sometimes conflicting consequences of this point of difference dichotomy, and in how combinations of agreement and divergence play out in it.
• Self-serving behavior is orienting toward meeting the needs of self. Altruistic behavior is oriented toward meeting the needs of others.
• Altruism, I add does not necessarily or even commonly mean self-sacrifice; it can and in a business context almost always does mean seeking out and pursuing transaction outcomes that offer at least some measure of mutual benefit, and even when consideration of others and their needs holds significant priority in them. And in that, effective long-term stable and sustainable business transactions essentially always seek to find at least mutually acceptable balances between self-serving and altruistic needs and desires.
• And I add in this context that the extreme of strictly self-sacrificing behavior is self-limiting by its very nature. Behavior that only helps others and at the expense of those initiating a transaction, limits the likelihood of further such action even being possible, and certainly long-term. And flipping this around completely selfish behavior: behavior that only benefits of the transaction initiator and even at the direct expense of all others is equally self-limiting, and also because of the way that this type of behavior limits the possibilities of further transactional activities and certainly with anyone who finds themselves as having been taken advantage of and as having lost value.

This is where the term “enlightened self-interest” enters this narrative. And this is the context in which participants in transactions seek out and work towards transaction resolutions and conclusions that are more win-win in nature – giving all involved parties reason to reengage in further business transactional activities together, as is essential in this context if stable and sustainable business and marketplace systems are to arise and be maintained.

I just couched a key element of this narrative in terms of the game theory construct of win-win scenarios. I am going to continue this line of discussion in a next series installment where I will consider them and zero-sum (win-lose) scenarios, and at least briefly consider where each of them can be expected to arise in business processes and systems as they are carried out. And after addressing that dichotomy and related issues that enter into a fuller discussion of the first point of my above-stated to-address list, I will continue on from there to the next of those topic points. But in anticipation of Part 13 to this series itself, I note that I have predicated this installment’s discussion on an assumption that all business systems and business relationships would be stably sustaining and long-term. And while many are, some business transactions and business systems are not and by intentional design.

Some business process systems and some business relationships are intentionally and even of-necessity self-limiting and many of those are by their very nature one-off and not expected to lead into directly causally connected next step continuations. I am going to widen this posting’s line of discussion in the next to include wider ranges of needs and of business process types.

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.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 11: considering first steps toward developing a general theory of business 3

Posted in blogs and marketing, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on November 13, 2016

This is my eleventh 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 1-10.)

I began addressing general theories of business, as a particular type of general empirically grounded theory in Part 9 and Part 10 of this series. And my basic approach there has been one of framing business theory in behavioral terms, and both for descriptive and predictive purposes.

I continue that here, where I begin a discussion of behavioral strategies. And to put this posting into context with preceding installments leading up to it, I begin by reiterating that:

• Both individuals, and groups and organizations: assemblages of individuals follow behavioral strategies.
• Behavioral strategies are assembled out of series of specific decisions and actions. And they serve as organizers of subsequent decisions and actions, as well as determiners of what possibilities among them might be considered, and with what contingencies allowed for (and expected) when doing so.
• And this applies at all organizational levels from that of the individual on up. I note in this regard that at least in business contexts, group and organizational level behavioral strategies are more commonly identified as, and thought of in terms of operational and strategic plans and processes (and as representing deviations from them),
• Though corporate cultures and the assumptions and preconceptions that shape them enter into this too,
• As well as wider cultural and societal norms and expectations, and legal and related regulatory requirements.

I added at the end of Part 10 that I would discuss behavioral strategies from an individual actor perspective in this posting, and I will at least orient my line of discussion here from that perspective. But I begin doing so by noting a terminology distinction that I will follow in all following discussion in this series, from this point on:

• When I refer to behavior or behavioral strategies per se and without group-oriented or related qualifiers to indicate otherwise, I will mean individual behavior and its associated strategies: the behavior of individual employees and managers, consultants, clients and customers and other stakeholders who enter in some way into business transactions.
• And I will refer to organizational and group level behavior as such and in those terms, when not explicitly using more standard operational and strategic organizational terms as used in standard business systems discussion and elsewhere in this blog (e.g. team behavior where I make frequent use of “team” when discussing functionally coordinated groups of people who work together toward same-task or same task-type goals in a concerted manner.)

That noted, I begin by citing a fundamentally important detail relevant to what (individual) behavior means in a business theory context:

• Businesses and their processes and activities are transactional in nature and are rarely contained in the entirely individual context, or in individual behavior as if that might be considered in vacuo.
• Transactional processes, to be more precise there, cannot simply be measured or encapsulated as the simple sum total of individual participant action and response as measured and determined across all involved participants – and even if such data collection could be achieved in full possible detail and without error or friction; transactional processes cannot be fully captured and described for their instances of occurrence without consideration of factors and consequences that arise emergent to the group and organizational level. Rewording that to be as clear here as possible, transactional processes cannot be fully captured or described as if all individual participants in them were acting independently of each other and without feedback or other modulating interaction and their cumulative influence.
• Larger group and organizational contexts influence and shape and even significantly drive individual decision making and actions taken in response to it, and even when all specific individuals involved are primarily seeking to pursue their own conceptions of what would be best possible strategies for themselves and strictly for themselves – a situation that is sometimes approached in toxically internally unstable enterprises.
• Taking a key element of this progression of points at least somewhat out of the abstract, and as the risk of oversimplifying, little if anything that we do in our day-to-day work lives and business contexts would ever even be considered let alone carried out by us outside of an explicit business transaction context. And even when we would be carrying through on some same activity strictly on our own and without the driving influence of a work or marketplace context, specifically what we do and why and with what expectations and follow-through is shaped by the context in which we act.
• So when I address business theory in behavioral terms, I am selectively filtering the overall field of behavioral studies per se to focus entirely on the more specific domains of how human behavior shapes and influences business transactions in their broadest sense, and how that behavior is in turn shaped by such transactions.

Keeping this general theory-defining set of restricted filters in mind, and its ramifications, let me restate the basic premise that I have been developing up to here in this line of discussion. Individuals make decisions and take actions, and refrain from doing so (which is also a decision and action-taking option), in social and group contexts – and as a core consideration that has to be addressed in any overarching theory of business and certainly in any that would be behaviorally grounded. This means addressing perceived costs and benefits individually worked towards, in a socially interactive and transactional context as that would on balance determine, what decisions would best be reached.

Let me take that out of the abstract with a more group-decision oriented example:

• One of the key roles that corporate cultures play, and one of the key reasons why they essentially always arise for organized groups that are maintained over any significant period of time, is that corporate cultures align what members of those groups decide upon, and align their perception of costs and benefits as they do so, so as to reduce friction and discord within the group from otherwise harmfully competing interests.
• This is not a perfect mechanism, but it does serve to channel disagreement and discord as they occur in directions that would limit direct threat to the overall organization itself.
• No corporate culture can prevent disagreement or discord, but an effective one reduces the likelihood of disagreement or discord taking a form or reaching a level of severity that would threaten the group – the organization as a whole. And an effective corporate culture and its ongoing maintenance serve to restore group stability when it is challenged or perturbed.
• Effective corporate cultures help to buffer their organizations from the damaging potential that arises from change.

Now let’s consider this from the perspective of business efficiency and effectiveness per se, and from the more strictly operational and strategic sense:

• Stable well run businesses are so because their systems in place can function smoothly and efficiently, and resiliently in the face of change and challenge. But perhaps more importantly they do so because they align organizational needs and organizational success with the needs and success of the people who work there, and with the members of the markets that they serve. The needs and perceived needs that drive individual behavior and the needs and perceived needs that drive the overall organization and its behavior are aligned, and certainly in general and as an ongoing goal, where all benefit from what can be seen as shared success.
• And when a business or organization begins to lose that alignment, as for example happens when employees are running scared from possible downsizings, or a business leadership presents itself as only looking out for themselves personally, a measure of fundamental stability and resiliency is lost from that for the organization too.

I primarily write of well run businesses and best practices in this blog, only citing problem businesses and practices for their lessons-learnable value in doing better. In well run, stable businesses and their group frameworks, individuals seek to both develop and pursue behavioral strategies that would advance their own goals and objectives and that would best meet their own individual needs – as they see them, and also help advance the organization that they are gaining this value from. People still compete, and even very actively and certainly when there is a perception of scarcity of value to be shared within an organization for its scale. But the implicit standardization of perspective and values that well established corporate cultures create, channel where and how even this type of conflict arises and is expressed, and over what. And well planned and executed strategic and operational frameworks organize how that takes place, creating marketable value in the business in the process.

Note that I have said nothing as to timeframes of consideration there. And I have not addressed altruistic intent, where that and group-supportive goals can be central to what an individual seeks to achieve, just as more self-serving goals can be. And in fact most of us seek out what to us are meaningful balances between outwardly looking and supportive altruistic goals, and more individually oriented and self-serving goals. I will continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will at least begin to explicitly address this set of issues. Then, as promised at the end of Part 10 to this series, that I will discuss change, and in both in its smooth evolutionary forms and in its suddenly emergent disruptive forms.

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.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 10: considering first steps toward developing a general theory of business 2

Posted in blogs and marketing, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on October 8, 2016

This is my tenth 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 1-9.)

I began this series with a narrative concerning general theories per se. Then I offered a first business-oriented example of how that line of discussion might be applied in a more specific general theory of business context, in Part 8 of this series, in the context of discussing the role of interpretations in general theories. And I offered a second such example in Part 9, when beginning to build a foundation for a specific general theory of business, on a foundation of individual and group behavior and descriptive and predictive theory that might be developed for that.

Then at the end of Part 9, I stated that I would “at least begin to explore business and economic transaction assumptions, as they would enter into this,” here in this installment. I do so from a behavioral perspective.

• People behave both altruistically and cooperatively: in support of individual others and of groups that they see themselves as belonging to, and selfishly and competitively, and often in combinations and at the same time (e.g. when members of a business’ workforce work together collaboratively and cooperatively as a group when competing against other same-industry businesses and their workforces, while still competing with each other within-group for status and position.)
• Any effective theory of business has to centrally acknowledge this, and the sometimes conflicting dynamics between individual drives and behavior, and group behavior.

I begin fleshing out these assertions with a basic axiomatic assumption regarding individual decision making as it shapes ongoing individual behavior, and as that collectively shapes group behavior:

• Individuals conduct at least roughly outlined due diligence analyses of costs and expenditures that they would commit to if taking an action, where overall costs include risk as well as effort taken and monetary and other resource expenditure, and the expected benefits that they would derive from this can include combinations of differing types of perceived gain.
• This analysis can as one extreme be entirely analytical and overtly thought through, for pertinent details and contingencies.
• It can, as an opposite extreme be essentially entirely emotional and non-analytical in nature. And as a group-think example of that, consider “follow the crowd” fad-driven behavior where initial participants might or might not have thought out their actions analytically to at least a degree but where subsequent bandwagon participants more often simply follow along.
• But however this due diligence is carried out and both for form and for completeness, individuals always seek to achieve outcome results from actions taken that at least match and that preferably exceed costs and risks expended – from their perspective and according to their criteria. Here, simply matching and achieving break-even might be an acceptable outcome, but the desired outcome is essentially always one of gain.
• And this brings me to a fundamentally crucial detail: gain, and benefit in general does not necessarily have to be either monetary or monetizable for it to represent real value and even in overtly economic systems. It is not even necessary that its presumed value be readily quantifiable either: only that it be deemed significant and sufficient on the part of the individual who makes a decision to act, and who follows through on that action.
• To take that out of the abstract, for-profit businesses might trade entirely in quantifiable monetary and monetizable sources of value (e.g. transferable liquid assets: cash, and monetizable but not directly monetary business intelligence and related information.) But any general theory of business also has to account for nonprofits that are mission driven in support of societally significant goals, where participants in them find real and even overriding value in seeing their vision of those missions advanced.

An effective theory of business has to be able to allow for, and describe and explain complex and at times seemingly contradictory drives and actions and across the entire range of observed decision making and activity pursued. And an effective theory of business has to be able to accommodate at the very least individual behavioral decision making and the motivators and reasoning that drive it, and group and organizational behavior.

Group and organizational behavior per se, include in them emergent properties that do not significantly arise in individual decision making and behavior, as well as being grounded in individual member behavior. But I start with the individual and build out from there, adding group behavior complications to the model at the appropriate organizational level.

I am going to continue this discussion with behavioral strategies:

• Both individuals, and groups and organizations follow behavioral strategies.
• Behavioral strategies are assembled out of series of specific decisions and actions, and serve as organizers of them, as well as determiners of what actions will be taken, and with what contingencies allowed for (and expected) – and at all organizational levels from that of the individual on up.

I will discuss individual behavioral strategies in both the business place and marketplace, in this context. Then after that, I will discuss group and organizational behavior, and for both businesses as organizations and interacting groups of them, and in their marketplaces. And I will discuss change, and in both its smooth evolutionary forms and in its suddenly emergent disruptive forms. 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.

Platt Perspective at seven years

Posted in blogs and marketing by Timothy Platt on September 14, 2016

This is my 2150th installment of this blog to go live on it, and this posting marks my seventh anniversary in writing to it since I first formally began doing so. And to continue with the statistics, this means that I have been posting an average of just over 307 times per year. I began this addition to that progression of postings with numbers and statistics, but proceed from here to set that aside as unimportant – which it is and certainly beyond any brief and cursory moment of curiosity that noting a publication anniversary might prompt.

I set an incredibly audacious goal for myself in late 2009 when I first set out to write to this blog. And I did so as a matter of taking on an open-ended commitment that I have sought to honor since then. And I have maintained that far-reaching and audacious goal as my long-term objective, even as my ongoing effort to at least approach achieving it has shown how big it actually is.

• My goal here has been and remains, one of developing and offering a relatively comprehensive overarching general theory of business for the 21st century, and one that addresses essentially all levels of engagement there, from that of individual employment and career development, on through to consideration of entire economies.
• And of course, that means specifically and recurringly addressing individual businesses and their operational and strategic issues, and business-to-business collaborations and competitions, and a variety of other organizational levels and perspectives in between too.

The scale of my effort here has long since led me into at least a few significant complications, in deciding how best I should present all of this. That overtly became apparent to me very early on, starting with my postings and series directory system and certainly for my more active directories as offered here. I knew from even before I wrote my first posting to go live here, that I needed to offer something in the way of a directory system for finding and keeping track of everything that would come. I made a decision early on to limit the overall number of directory pages that I would organize all of this posting content into, to keep the blog’s overall organizing structure simpler for that. But this meant accepting a trade-off in which I add links to large numbers of separate postings on any single directory page, before starting a new continuation page to accompany it for that directory listing.

Just considering my more actively added-to directories here, the easiest of them to use and follow is probably my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development. And I select that one for this distinction, and even with its three directory pages as if this writing – because I have organized and developed my progression of series of postings in it, in what might be seen as a clearer and more intuitively perceivable overall pattern – an emergent trait that is much less apparent for example, in my Business Strategy and Operations directory or in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications.

My other main organizing goal here, and the second major point of organizational trade-off that I would note here, has been and continues to be one of writing individual postings in such a way that they would be readily understandable and usable on their own, and without anything like an absolute requirement to read earlier postings first.

I would like to think that I have been a lot more successful there, than I have been in resolving the conflicts in how best to set up my directory pages per se. Yes, I always offer reference links where I see them to be specifically useful to readers who would like to see relevant background information. And that includes both links to outside reference resources, and links to earlier postings offered here in this blog. But I have tried to make those reference options more supplemental than essential. And I freely acknowledge that this approach and this goal have somewhat broken down and certainly since I offered my year 6 anniversary posting in September 2015 – and particularly for some of my more recent key series in the Business Strategy and Operations directory.

I have developed too many new technical terms in the course of my writing and have been pursuing and elaborating on too complex and comprehensive an overarching conceptual framework here, with too much essential background discussion that I have been building from, to simply gloss over all of that with a few connecting sentences. And I have found myself facing that clarity and ease of presentation predicament in a growing number of postings here and with the prospect of that number and percentage increasing – and not just in one directory listing. But I still try to keep everything as clear as possible, and as stand-alone-ready as possible too. That is not always easy and I have not always succeeded, but I do maintain it as a goal and even if it is an ultimately impossible one.

And this brings me up to here and now and today, and with a few general sentiments offered in anticipation of the year to come. I am still writing new postings at a rate that allows me to set one to go live every other day, with an occasional off-day publication posting added in as I deem appropriate. Certainly as of today, I expect to maintain this writing and publication pace throughout the coming year. At some point I will slow down my schedule here a second time, as I did when shifting from daily to every other day. But I am not ready for that yet. And I will continue striving towards my elusive, audacious goal. I would like to think that by now I have offered a relatively substantial portion of my answer to this challenge, but I know that I still have a long way to go.

So I begin this next year of writing and online publishing with the next anniversary as a next interim goal, and with a lot planned for those coming months already in place. I have already, for example, begun that effort with a next full month of postings already completed and uploaded to the server and with Word document starts set up for the next month of postings beyond that.

Tim Platt, September 14, 2016

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 9: considering first steps toward developing a general theory of business 1

Posted in blogs and marketing, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on September 6, 2016

This is my ninth 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 1-8.)

I focused in Part 8 on the general topic of interpretation in general theories, and on how interpretations arise in them, and on how they in turn shape and influence those theories and how they can be applied. And I began that discussion with the physical sciences, and with quantum theory and its diversity of fundamentally distinct interpretations. And I followed that with a macroeconomic-based, theory of business example where there are currently, as of this writing, at least two main interpretations in play as to what drives overall economic processes and activity: supply-side and demand-side approaches.

I will offer a second working example here of business and economic theory interpretation and its consequences. But to set the stage for that I will at least start presenting one of the core underlying pieces to my approach to a general theory of business and economics, as I have been developing it piecemeal here in this blog and as a compendium model theory. (See Parts 1-5 of this series where I explicitly define and discuss compendium model and minimalist general rules model approaches to general theories. And see Part 2 of that for the basic definitions of these two approaches.)

But turning here to begin considering the underpinnings of a possible minimalist general rules theory of business here, I note that:

• Business and economics are human activities and any meaningful minimalist general rules-based theory of them has to be solidly grounded in an understanding of human behavior and of what motivates it.
• Any such body of descriptive and predictive theory, like the empirically grounded transactional activity that it would be based upon, can best be seen as anthropocentric, and ultimately as being anthropomorphic in nature from how it is grounded in the human experience.
• And basic principles of human behavior, and of group behavior should underlie and inform its basic underlying axiomatic assumptions – and not simply be included as interpretive add-ons.

And as a corollary to that if nothing else, and since the approach to business and economics that I write of here is fundamentally grounded in the ongoing human experience, I add that:

• Any valid conceptual understanding of business and economics would for at least the most part be explicable and understandable in terms of normative human behavior,
• And explicitly understandable and explicitly stated deviation from that (e.g. the hysteria of crowds as that can drive fad-driven viral marketing and purchasing behavior.)

This does not mean that an empirically valid, accurately descriptive and predictive economic or business theory could not lead to unexpected conclusions, and even ones that would seem counterintuitive. Quite simply, no one thinks through all possible contingencies that they might be facing as a test for gaps and inconsistencies in all that they assume or presume, and both long-term and in their here-and-now as they make decisions.

• But the basic principles of a general theory of business or economics should be fundamentally intuitive, and certainly insofar as normal and normative behavior is, and certainly when considering group behavior.

And this leads me back to the questions that I raised concerning supply side and demand side economic theory as offered in my series: Open Markets, Captive Markets and the Assumptions of Supply and Demand Dynamics (at Macroeconomics and Business 2, postings 230 and following.) Ultimately, a more strictly supply-side economic theory, or a purely demand-side approach fail, because they carry within them fundamental gaps in their reasoning and in how they approach business transaction cycles. But at least as importantly, they both pursue and seek to describe business and economic behavior, without adequately considering the people who would actually perform this activity. They are axiomatically predicated on transaction-level process assumptions, but not on an axiom-level understanding of the people who would carry out those processes, or on what drives and motivates them.

This brings me to my second working example as promised above, which I now explicitly identify: communism as a theory of economics and of business and production. I have been writing for a number of years now, in this blog about the Peoples’ Republic of China, and their system of governance and its challenges (see my currently running series on this area of discussion: China and its Transition Imperatives, as can be found at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation, as postings 154 and loosely following.) But rather than focus on specific issues or exemplative details already raised in that narrative, I would turn here to consider communism as originally stated and presented, and without the historical baggage that accumulates when efforts are made to realize that type of system in the specific instance.

And I begin this with a quote from Karl Marx, the founder of communism as a social, political and economic system that is known to many:

• “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Marx, in fact picked up on this proclamation and used it in his writings, where it goes back in its origins to at least 1851 and the writings of a scholar who Marx admired: Louis Blanc. But the origin of this sentiment is not as important here as is its pivotal role in both stating and understanding what an end-of-history, ultimate communist state would be like, as envisioned by Marx and his followers.

• Capitalism is viewed as a deeply divisive competitive system in which a small highly successful capitalist class rises to the top, by taking advantage of and suppressing a larger working class that they depend upon, even as they exploit them.
• But as a next step in sociopolitical evolution, and as a final possible evolutionary step in that process, communism is viewed as an essentially entirely cooperative system in which everyone plays by the same rules and in which no one does or even could seek out special advantage, except as an exception and aberration.

According to strict communist doctrine, this type of system can only arise in the most technologically advanced sociopolitical and economic settings, where means of production have developed to a point where they could meet all possible needs. But even when a society has developed technologically to a point where that is in fact possible, and for all basic and essential needs, conflicts of interest and desire for personal advancement still arise and even prevail. That, among other reasons is why regulatory law is needed, to rein in toxically short-sighted predatory and other destructive behavior in businesses and in the marketplace. And ultimately, this is both why and how attempts to actually realize a true communist state have always broken down and failed – as they did in the old Soviet Union and its vassal states, as it has in China, and as it has in countries such as North Korea.

There is a reason why the people of the Soviet Union would proclaim “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” in public, and to protect their own interests in the face of possible state sanctions. And there is a reason why those same people would also say things like “they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” The China of today has its counterparts to that sentiment, even as their people and government more openly publically proclaim Marx’s slogan and their one Party’s home-grown variations on it.

• Ultimately, communism fails as a system because of the way that its fundamental assumptions and tenets are disconnected from anything like a real understanding of human behavior.

I would argue that any valid, empirically useful descriptive and predictive minimalist general rules-based theory of business and economics would have to avoid this pitfall, by being built upon a deep understanding of human behavior, and for both individual and group behavior.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, where I will at least begin to explore business and economic transaction assumptions, as they would enter into this too. 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.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 8: interpretation and understandably meshing theory with the empirical reality that it seeks to predictably describe

Posted in blogs and marketing, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on August 3, 2016

This is my eighth 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 1-7.)

I have been discussing the issues of discovery and invention in recent installments to this series, and how assumptions as to their relevance shape the structure and nature of general theories that they might be applied to as mechanisms for arriving at New. Then at the end of Part 7, I stated that I would turn here to consider the complex of issues that enter into interpretation in bodies of explanatory and predictive theory. My goal here in this posting is to at least start that phase of this overall discussion. And I begin that by noting that the whole issue of “discovery” versus “invention” is itself an example of how general theories can and do include interpretations: basic assumptions that might not be afforded the status of underlying axioms that a theory is constructed from, but that nevertheless significantly influence and shape it.

• The points of interpretation that I write of here, shape what types of questions and hypotheses might be asked when descriptively and predictively employing a general theory. They influence what questions would be considered meaningful and they shape how they would be asked.
• And they help shape what would constitute a valid and even validatable answer or resolution to those questions.

And as I noted at the end of Part 7 when adding a lead-in for this posting, this applies to basic scientific theory as much as it does to any other body of general theory; “one of the main reasons why relativity and quantum theory seem so incompatible is that their ways of understanding and interpreting underlying reality are so divergent from each other.” Even the most fundamental, experimentally validated physical theories can differ for their interpretations, and so thoroughly and fundamentally as to render them conceptually incompatible, preventing anything like an easy or straightforward unification of their experientially validated descriptive and predictive understandings.

My goal here is to discuss interpretation and its role in general theories and I will begin with physical theory, as I have in earlier phases of this overall discussion. And once again, I will do so because the bodies of theory that I refer to there are so thoroughly empirically validated. This means that while they might face questions of completeness and questions as to how they might be reconciled with each other, they do not as readily raise issues or challenges as to their individual internal consistencies or reliability. Then, and on the basis of that discussion and its points, I will consider general theories of business or at least key elements that would have to enter into such a body of theory, where differences of interpretation in them have proven striking.

I focus entirely, for the “scientific theory working example” half of this, on quantum theory and on its many competing interpretations. And I begin that with a general point of observation that I will be returning to in a business theory context too:

• The more intuitively obvious and understandable a theory and its basic details are, the less need there is and the less room there is for competing interpretations of it. The basic interpretation that does arise, and essentially by default in this situation, is that this body of theory is and will remain consistent with basic every day experience and its assumptions.
• Novelty leaves room for alternative interpretations: alternative assumptions and understandings in a theory’s formulation and use.
• And the counterintuitive, all but demands competing interpretations. That is true, if for no other reason than because people who develop and advance such a theory and those who employ it, seek to reshape its meaning and interpretation to be consistent with their own more everyday, intuitively knowable and predictable patterns. We all seek theories and interpretations that are in some fundamental sense consistent across the entirety of our overall experience. And we do this by discerning deeper underlying patterns and processes that unify where that is possible, or by interpreting apparent dissimilarities to reduce apparent conflicts where that is our best available option. And different people, starting from sometimes very divergent points of assumption and perspective can arrive at different interpretations that best mesh with what they have brought to the table for this. That certainly applies when a new general theory is initially coming together.

Uncertainty and a lack of readily, commonly understood clarity lead to differences. And this leads me directly to quantum theory: one of the most experimentally validated bodies of general physical theory that has ever been developed – and a body of theory that for all of that is perhaps best known and even to the completely unscientific in training, as being counterintuitive.

Quantum mechanics: the body of theory that describes position and motion for the microscopically small, that for their scale do not behave in accordance with Newtonian or Relativistic physics, is rife with competing interpretations. For anyone interested in reading about them in brief summary, I recommend this Wikipedia piece: Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics. I will simply note here, in even briefer elaboration of this story, that one such body of interpretation that has held significant sway for a number of years after reaching something of a consensus acceptance among physicists is the so-called Copenhagen interpretation. It has recently been significantly challenged by a newer quantum decoherence interpretation that a growing number of scientists have come to see as more understandably addressing certain recent quantum mechanical observations. And because of that, this interpretive approach has been gaining ground – and acceptance now. And to round out this set, the so-called many-worlds interpretation has become increasingly important too and particularly for proponents of string theory. Any experimental evidence that would support string theory as a unifying physical theory would of necessity place limits on what type of quantum theory interpretation can be assumed. String theory validation would probably at the very least suggest something like a variation on the many-worlds interpretation as a best approach to understanding this body of theory.

These are just names as presented here, but each of these three interpretations represents a significantly detailed approach to understanding a very large and exhaustively tested body of theory and its descriptive and predictive findings. And they all, and I add a variety of other quantum theory interpretations that have been proposed, differ from each other and from all of their competitors for at least a few crucial defining details. The counterintuitive nature of quantum theory, where nature behaves so very differently on the small scale than it does at the scale of our everyday experience has made this diversity inevitable. New types of observation and of explanatory model that would bridge the gaps between relativistic and quantum domains, and among other things fully include gravity in all of this, would winnow out a winner from this actively promoted and expanded interpretation diversity.

And with that in place as a source of comparison, I turn to business theory, and the issues of supply side and demand side economics. And with that, I will go full circle and at least in part return this discussion in its Part 8 to this series’ beginning. And I also cite here, a concurrently running series which I began by explicitly discussing supply side and demand side economics, their underlying assumptions and their use and misuse (see Open Markets, Captive Markets and the Assumptions of Supply and Demand Dynamics, at Macroeconomics and Business 2, postings 230 and following.)

I begin this portion of this posting by noting a point that I am sure is already obvious to anyone who has read my first postings to that series. I do not accept a strictly supply side economic interpretation, and I see the misuse of supply side economic thinking for political purposes to have been disastrous when pursued. But my goal here is not to judge either supply side or demand side approaches to economic theory, or hybrids of them that seek to take a more balanced and inclusive approach. My goal here is to discuss how supply and demand side approaches have arisen as ideological totems because of the way they are grounded in fundamentally different interpretations of economic reality, and with that shaping any overarching economic theory that might be developed. And any overarching theory of business would of necessity include within it a supporting and conceptually complementary macroeconomic and I add microeconomic theory too.

I am going to end this posting by offering what I would propose as a brief set of points of conjecture, and with a goal of provoking thought from them if nothing else.

• One of the fundamental and even pivotal points at which supply side and demand side economic theory differ in their basic interpretation-level foundations, is in how they identify and partition off units of cause and effect, in the cyclical processes that in fact constitute most all economic reality.
• And ultimately they come to disagreement there in their interpretations and understandings as to what steps in these cyclical processes drive those cycles, with supply-siders and certainly pure supply-siders seeing production and supply as fundamentally driving the marketplace, and with pure demand-siders seeing the marketplace and consumer purchasing decisions driving all.
• Both leave out fundamental considerations there. And to cite one possible example, supply side approaches are most viable when they are pursued in a context of paucity of choice and where consumers cannot effectively decide for themselves among competing alternatives and must buy what the suppliers offer. Diversity of choice and richness of supply shift the power there to the consumer choice, demand side. And ultimately both theories, at least when pushed to cartoon extremes (as is often done politically), are flawed and incomplete.

Do I see gaps in this line of reasoning? Yes, of course. But I offer it as a thought piece for here and now.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will begin to flesh out some of the issues and components that I see, at least in outline as fitting into any effective overall theory of business. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material about what I am attempting to do here at About this Blog and at Blogs and Marketing. And I include this series in my Reexamining the Fundamentals directory, as topics section VI there, where I offer related material regarding theory-based systems.

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