Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

Measurement and mathematics – two different things

A large portion of managers prefer to run their businesses “by the numbers”. Gary Metcalf wrote about measurement and mathematics, but they’re two different things. Actually, mathematics is a subset of measurement. This is clear in the writings of C. West Churchman.

I got into reading West Churchman‘s writing, since he was Russell Ackoff‘s dissertation supervisor. (Russ is 87 years old, now. Churchman passed away in 2004 at the age of 90, so it’s not like he was a generator older.) In my reading of Churchman’s writings, I came to understand that his dissertation was actually on metrology — the philosophy of measurement. Given that background, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find that progress is the guarantor of the Singerian inquiring system (in The Design of Inquiring Systems).

Making a distinction between measurement and mathematics is straightforward in Churchman’s framework. Progress (including the sweeping in of new content) is the “fifth way of knowing” (if I use the ordering presented by Mitroff & Linstone in The Unbounded Mind. Mathematics is primarily an analytic-deductive inquiring system, which is the “second way of knowing”.

The important distinction between the second way and fifth way of knowing is openness. Mathematics is a closed system, In a Singerian inquiring system, new ideas are constantly “swept in” to ensure freshness and preclude groupthink. These ideas are applied by Barabba and Zaltman in Hearing the Voice of the Customer, and by Barabba in Meeting of the Minds.… Read more (in a new tab)

Disruptive innovation in services

Everyone seems to get the idea about disruptive innovation in product development.  Clayton Christensen‘s original research that led to The Innovator’s Dilemma was based on the challenge of 3.5″ disk drives and 5.25″ disk drives.  The ideas on disruptive innovation in services wasn’t so obvious to me, until I heard Christensen’s lecture on how business schools such as Harvard and Stanford seem to be overshooting the marketplace.

I was listening to an audio recording from IT Conversations, with Clayton Christensen speaking at the Open Source Business Conference 2004.  I’ve read Christensen’s writing some time ago, and was impressed by his style of presenting.  He speaks slowly and clearly, and his students must love him.  I’d heard most of the content before, but was impressed by an anecdote that is actually written up in The Innovator’s Solution (in Chapter 9):

[Clayton Christensen] … had written a paper that worried that the leading business schools’ traditional two-year MBA programs are being threatened by two disruptions. The most proximate wave, a low-end disruption, is executive evening-and-weekend MBA programs that enable working managers to earn MBA degrees in as little as a year. The most significant wave is a new-market disruption: on-the-job management training that ranges from corporate educational institutions such as Motorola University and GE’s Crotonville to training seminars in Holiday Inns.

Christensen asked for a student vote at the beginning of class:  After reading the paper, how many of you think that the leading MBA programs are being disrupted? 

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Knowing what we want — more choice (or too much)?

In coevolving technology and business, do we actually know what we want?  This may come with a presumption that more choice is better than less choice.  In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz suggests that we may think that we’re going to be happier with more choice, but in fact, we’re probably not.

I first listened to the audio recording of Barry Schwartz’s talk, "Less is More" at the Pop!Tech 2004 conference.  (For a visual approach to the content, look at the sketch by Peter Durand of Alphachimp Studio). The idea is simple, but Schwartz isn’t just a journalist, he’s a professor of psychology.  I’ve now been reading the book.  Since I’m a reader of footnotes, the book provides a lot of foundations from psychology.

In the prologue of the book, Schwartz starts off with references to political philosophy Isaiah Berlin, on the distinction between "negative liberty" and "positive liberty".  He then cites Amartya Sen (Nobel laureaute in Economics) and Development as Freedom.  Schwartz argues that:

  1. We would be better off we we embraced certain voluntary constraints on our freedom of choice, instead of rebelling against them.
  2. We would be better off seeking what was "good enough" instead of seeking the best (have you ever heard a parent say, "I want only the ‘good enough’ for my kids"?).
  3. We would be better off if we lowered our expectations about the results of decisions.
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Enterprise joy

I’m writing this as a response to one of David’s comments , where he noted the dark cast of my first posting on this site. 

I agree that there is a kind of serious cast to that post, where I talk about the complexity and uncertainty that managers face.  This prompted David to comment about the pain-relief school of management consulting.

However, I did mention the notion of sustainment, and this was meant in the most positive way, as an indication of the mutually life-sustaining relationship among human beings and their institutions.

I’d like to go a little further and propose the thought that enterprises may be a source of joy, and may even be thought to experience joy.  I credit this notion to one of our IBM colleagues, Sukanya Patwardhan.  As part of an extended discussion, I introduced one of my standard themes, which is that human social systems are fundamentally living systems , which, as usual led to a health care analogy.  Sukanya pursued this point further by saying that maybe what we should be concerned about is not simply healing, but rather to foster well-being in enterprise institutions.  She further said that as services professionals we should go beyond feeling our clients’ pain, but rather share their joy.

I have thought a lot about those words, and they resonate with me.  I agree with David that technologies can be fun, as well as utilitarian, or dominating in the sense of providing competitive advantage.… Read more (in a new tab)

‘Gathering’ is so passive

I have previously stated a view that Requirements gathering does more harm than good

‘Gathering’ generally has the connotation of collecting something that already exists. As if ‘Requirements’ were sitting out there fully formed waiting to be collected. What value does a Business Analyst add who asks a client for their requirements and writes down whatever they are told? I wish this was uncommon practice but I fear it is not. If I were to ask my clients what their requirements are I am mightily impressed when they say ‘we don’t know’. By demonstrating the ambiguity and inconsistency in the answers who claim that they do know, it is relatively simple to discover that they do not. I don’t believe they should know, and I believe that we are doing them a disservice to let them think it is expected of them to be able to articulate an unabiguous and consistent set. But all this begs the question ‘What is a ‘Requirement’ if such a thing exists at all?’. That’s for next time. For now, I will sign off by saying that in my view whatever we do needs to be active and not passive. We need to help clients to identify and remove ambiguity and inconsistency. Without giving the game away we also need to help them seperate ends and means, to distinguish their goals from the features of the solutions which satisfy them.

Metaphors and Models

What is a business?  How can (or should) an expert business practitioner relay his or her knowledge to another interested party?  Trying to understand these questions leads down a path of debating the merits and demerits of understanding through metaphors, and understanding through models.  This eventually ends up with a discussion of roots in philosophy of science.

During the Seiad project in 1977, Ian Simmonds and I had many discussions about understanding business, filling up the whiteboard in his office at the Watson Research Center.1 My studies into business strategy reflected the two primary foundations:  microeconomics  — Michael Porter is a leading proponent of this approach — and organization theory  — with roots in the research of the Tavistock Institute, and the sociotechnical systems thinking from Fred Emery and Eric Trist.  Add onto that my personal bent towards decision support systems — Peter Keen‘s research while at CISR at the Sloan School at MIT was highly influential — and a strategic view of marketing that can be described as Market-Driven Strategy, as described by George Day.  These all represent models of business.

Ian — as I recall, starting from a side discussion with Doug McDavid — brought up an alternative approach to businesses, with the book: Images of Organization, by Gareth Morgan.  I had a visceral response to this work, because it prescribed the use of metaphors to describe business.  The problem that I’ve found with metaphors is that they relay an initial — and possibly superficial — portrayal of business.… Read more (in a new tab)

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