Believing and Acting Beings

I updated the sketch from last week’s post so that it now looks like the sketch on the right (click on it to make it larger).

Decision Cycle, Rev. 2
Decision Cycle, Rev. 2

Here are the changes…

  • I replaced physics with reality in an attempt to be a little less obtuse.
  • I also added “(Expectations)” to Beliefs. They are essentially the same things. This also gives me a place to hang The Stress Equation when combined with Reality/Physics.
  • I changed the line from Facts to “modify”. Facts modify Reality/Physics. This seemed to be a bit richer way of thinking about how facts relate to reality.
  • I added “(Issues)” to Opportunities in order to cover all the circumstantial reasons for decision. the distinction between the two is worth some deeper exploration at some point. In the meantime, read The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday.
  • Finally, I fixed the directions of the feedback loop arrows so they point in the right directions1.

This sketch is only the barest outline of a framework for thinking, but there are some interesting observations that can be made. For example, the Natural Systems Loop is the universe without Thinking and Acting Beings. Note that I changed the title of this post to “Believing and Acting Beings”. Thinking is the process of forming beliefs. Beliefs are exposed by adaptive reactions to facts. All higher animals at least exhibit learning. Learning is an adaptive reaction to facts. This leads to the conclusion that all higher animals have beliefs. From this, I’ve formed the belief that while human belief systems are certainly extremely complex, at our core we’re no different than any other animal that learns.

Your milage may vary. If so, I’d love to hear about it.

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Frameworks

The human body is a great source of metaphors. One of my favorites is how the framework of our skeletons is “fleshed out” with the necessary tissues to create a human that might be just like you. The framework/”tissue” pattern is likely repeated in more places than we realize, but a common example is construction. A building, be it a single family home or a skyscraper, usually begins with a frame 1 on which various “organs” are hung; the siding on the outside of the house, the roof, the plumbing, electrical, and heating systems, the internal finishing and furnishing.

Frameworks are selected and tweaked based on the particular outcome we’re hoping to achieve. Your skeleton is different than my skeleton because you’re different than me, but if we were the strip away the flesh from our bones what would be left would be recognizable as a human skeleton. The same is true for a building. We would recognized a building framework because it has a top, bottom, and sides, floors, ceilings, windows and doors in an arrangement that’s likely to provide shelter and utility to humans.

Concepts can be constructed on frameworks, too, and I’m a collector of these conceptual frameworks. They tend to be lists where each item in the list is designed to highlight particular aspects of a concept. The full list provides some degree of completeness when describing the concept. As with other frameworks they are often tweaked to support the needs of whatever the concept under consideration happens to be, but when the details are stripped away are still recognizable as a particular category of framework.

Here is a list of a few frameworks, in alphabetical order, that I’m currently finding to be useful…

  • ACOILUSD – This is one form of what designers call the “customer journey”. It expands to; Aware, Choose, Order, Install, Learn, Use, Support, Dispose. All of these elements are addressed by a complete product (a good or a service and its delivery system) either explicitly or implicitly. It’s better if it’s explicit.
  • Aesthetic Mechanical Pragmatism – My framework for my belief system.
  • Business Model Canvas – Created by Alexander Osterwalder and to some degree popularized and reinforced by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf.
  • Purpose/Mastery/Autonomy – A framework for what really motivates us once you get above the basics of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I think this originally came from Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”, but I first learned about it in this RSA YouTube video.
  • SCIPAB – From Mandel Communications, it provides a framework for fleshing out a request to anyone. This is key if you’re trying to create any kind of change that requires the cooperation and collaboration of other people.
  • System One/System Two – Most of our behavior is automatic and reflexive (System One) rather than deliberate (System Two). This framework was first introduced to me by Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow. It changed what I believe about how people make decisions and to some degree helped me to give them a lot more slack.
  • Value Proposition – The version I find most useful is derived from Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm though it may be expanded a bit. Mine includes: For [Customer] Who [Needs] The [Product] That [Provides these benefits] Unlike [Alternative Solutions] From [Other Sources].
  • Wardley Technology Evolution – An element of Wardley mapping that provides me with a quick appreciation for the maturity of a particular way of achieving an outcome and the opportunity for moving it to the next level. First introduced to me by Simon Wardley’s hilarious 2014 OSCON keynote and further elaborated on in his blog Bits or Pieces.
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Engineering 101

All technologies are nothing more than applying energy to rearrange atoms and/or bits1 within a system of constraints.

Engineering is the discipline of understanding and applying those constraints in order to create systems that solve problems.

Beyond this you’re specializing.

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Intelligence

A system is considered to be intelligent if it more or less reliably produces a desirable outcome from a range of unexpected circumstances. A system is considered to be a machine if it more or less reliably produces a desirable outcome from a range of anticipated circumstances. Continue reading “Intelligence”

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Time and System Design

Note to self (sort of obvious).

In system design time is an assumption it’s not feedback.

The proof of this is trivial. No matter what your system does or even if it exists, time marches on. Time doesn’t depend on your system in any way.

For example, if I design some sort of whiz bang toothbrush and I build an alarm into it that goes off after five minutes indicating you can stop brushing then I’ve made and assumption that five minutes is enough time to brush. No portion of my system has actually measured how clean your teeth are. I’ve only built an assumption into the system.

It may have been an informed assumption. For example, studies may have shown that on average brushing for only three minutes is not enough for most people and brushing for six or seven minutes doesn’t substantially improve how clean your teeth may be. In the real world however there will be circumstances where three minutes was plenty of time to get your teeth clean or seven minutes wasn’t nearly long enough. Outcomes are distributed and I’m building an informed statistical assumption into the system, but it’s still an assumption.

There are a lot of assumptions we build into systems, not just time based. In the toothbrush example, what is clean enough? Is my definition of clean enough the same as yours? My assumption may be based on long term dental health. Yours may be based on how your smile looks and your breath smells. If I know about all of these needs, how do I prioritize which is most important? Your priorities may be different. When cleanliness was measured in our experiments, how was it measured? If it wasn’t comprehensive in some way then there’s room for error. System design is a bet and is very subject to judgement. The objective of system design is to create a system that works often enough. It’s not to create a system that works all of the time.

It’s good to remember this because I often forget and get frustrated when something doesn’t do what I expected it to do. To avoid some kinds of frustration it can be good to ask yourself, “Does this system seem to work most of the time for most people?” If the answer is yes, then let go of the frustration. For me I either need to change my expectations or I need to stop engaging that system.

Interestingly, we arrive yet again at the basic equation …

stress = expectation – reality

This is another reminder.

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Asset Transformation

I’ve been toying with the notion that business, for certain, and possibly life in general is all about asset transformation. Basically, taking one or more assets and transforming them into other assets. We transform our skills and time into money by means of a job. We transform our charm and other personal characteristics into friendships by means of social engagements. Google transforms the audience it develops from web searches into money by means of providing space for advertising. It goes on and on.

The key elements of an asset transformation include the source assets, the resulting assets and the process of transformation. It’s really interesting how well this maps onto the basic planning pattern; Step 1 – Figure out what you want, Step 2 – Figure out what you have that’s relevant, Step 3 – Figure out how to get from what you have to what you want. All planning has these elements though when performed out of sequence it often results in poor planning.

Within this are also the notions of growth and consumption. Consumption is probably the easiest to think about. If you have a fixed, finite asset and you apply a process that consumes that asset in the transformation to another asset then eventually you run out of the supplying asset. Sometimes this ok or at least necessary. Consider the asset of time as it relates to your life. Until we reach Kurzweil’s singularity it’s fixed and finite for each of us. Efficiency, of course, is all about how much resulting assets you can get from the supplying assets. Lots of people have opinions about how to make life more efficient.

If that’s a little to abstract, just think about the gas in your gas tank. It’s an asset you use to get from point A to point B by means of a car. Eventually it runs low or out and you have to get more by transforming the asset of cash into the asset of gas by means of a service station.

Growth is more interesting. It seems like there might be at least two types; feedback growth and forward growth. Feedback growth occurs when a supplying asset is also a resulting asset. It doesn’t necessarily need to grow. Catalysts for example aren’t consumed by a process but are assets necessary for the process and are effectively products of those processes. Systems with network externalities do grow based on feedback, these do need to work in concert with other assets that are consumed. For example, social networks grow as a function of the number of participants, but this is at the expense of the pool of people who are not part of the social network yet. When that runs dry the process stops.

Forward growth may be just feedback with a longer loop. For example, when you are young opportunities (an asset) are relatively few, but one of those opportunities is to get a good education. Having a good education provides you with many more opportunities that you had otherwise many of which aren’t further education but also weren’t available before you got your education.

The notions of investment and profit apply to these growth modes as well.

If you were to say that this is just another way of looking at dynamic systems, then you’d be right. The relabeling though, seems to help me to identify opportunities that might be hidden. It’s certainly interesting to look at business opportunities through this lens.

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