The Complex Agnosticism Function

“What happened in old times with the Stoics still happens today, as soon as ever a philosophy begins to believe in itself. It always creates the world in its own image; it cannot do otherwise; philosophy is this tyrannical impulse itself, the most spiritual Will to Power, the will to ‘creation of the world,’ the will to the causa prima.”

– Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

The observer recognizes and prioritizes in accordance with expansion of its Information Dominance. In observing this, we are prudent to maintain healthy skepticism toward any popular theory that starts by anchoring the Observer. For instance, perhaps the infamous division of Man and Nature is propaganda for the war between mitochondria and photosynthesis. We should likewise be wary of the “laws” that go unquestioned within each system of objects and representations. We fill our lives and equations with these constants. We trust them as immutable laws, though they are repeatedly unmasked as emergent power-laws instead. Indeed, they are reliable to the extent the agents of their system continue to obey the axioms. The categories of the mind and the constants of physics may be one in the same re-valuation.

Does this mean you should stop “believing in” gravity? No. Does this mean you should assume the entire world is in your solipsistic head, and that you can gain mystical control over its illusions? No. Likewise, one should not shy from conceptualizing such foolishness, searching for what lies beneath it. Metaphysics means little more than a long-running “To Do” list of semiotic intelligent observation. Rather than a platform, a partisan statement, we will claim metaphysical agnosticism as a complex function, a tool in our toolkit, one that suspends our disbelief, our desperation to delude ourselves with fantastic answers, long enough to evolve as scientists and philosophers our available information.

Einstein revolutionized physics with special and then general relativity; Planck, Bohr, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, and others built quantum reality “below” their perception; by unlocking mathematical considerations, this complex agnosticism function has become supercomputers in our pockets. We have networked the world. We have begun collecting data that separates pattern from chaos. We may embed artificial superintelligence within our human bodies. Certainty was always the greatest enemy of discovery. We should “play with” each metaphysical option, compare where they lead us, and question what we are missing.

In practice, continuing the example of gravity, maintaining metaphysical agnosticism permits pursuit of paths that may appear to compete. Like music, superficial contradictions in one measure may harmonize with impressive strength later. If all reality is cybernetic, binary bits that interpreted as space-time, light, matter, and gravity, even if one believed it a game or a dream, we can maneuver against each law, leveraging another law against it. Emergent power-laws are economic. If all reality is substantial physicality, we should keep looking for a physical source that produces gravitational force. Representation is political. In the end, there will be no difference between a cosmos that is many or one, mental or natural, wave or particle – each false dichotomy belies two vectors of the same superposition. We should play little games with our truth-ideas. We should enjoy our serious games, taking these ideas, smashing them, freezing them, shooting them with lasers; whether philosophically, mathematically, or physically.

Quantum Liberty

“Some of us should venture to embark on a synthesis of facts and theories, albeit with second-hand and incomplete knowledge of some of them—and at the risk of making fools of ourselves.”

– Erwin Schrödinger

Groundwork for an Ethics of Machinic Agency

While freedom in action, predicated upon equalities that never manifest empirically but instead follow predictable laws, we can nevertheless build a case for quantum liberty. Even if the physics of lawful activity, determined within a probability density of particle-laborers, suggests we are not free, we have an innate sense of responsibility for consequences. This responsibility in ourselves and others is Agency. The paradox of Agency is that it requires us to believe in free will and determinism simultaneously. However, this is only a paradox when we apply abstraction that places our ideas on a single plane. Without this confusion of levels, the system of freedom and determination becomes clear.

While freedom is a homogenous lack of hindrance predicated upon categorical non-individuality, liberty is the emergent process of relative socioeconomic non-hindrance catalyzed by the sociopolitical power-laws that maintain the stability of non-equilibrium exchange. Quantum Liberty means that cosmic expansion ripples into a system of inequalities that, through capitalistic exchange, generates the rules that make us free. Are we free to fly? How silly – of course not – but the laws of physics liberate us to the extent we exploit some superpositions against others. Liberty is, in practice, the exploitation at one Level of Observation the power-laws and constants we find true at other levels.

Our emotional sentiments toward the freedom-signal and the liberty-signal stir some rebellion to this truth-idea; but, as Marx and Engel said about so many platforms of the Communist party – anti-property, anti-marriage, anti-nationalism – we do not freely bring these abstract commodities, these wave functions of justice, independently into being. A crowd of assemblages, possessing capital-mass and Information Dominance, lead and control these concepts. We concern ourselves little with DNA and Hormones as laborers of the human body, concern ourselves even less with photons and electrons as laborers of the human cosmos, and only recently concerned the middle class with the citizen as laborers of a socioeconomic system. This is precisely why liberty is an anti-freedom; a tradition in philosophy that authors express in fluffy, optimistic, utopian crescendos. More specifically, the hegemonic majority, within one normalized standard deviation of the liberated “average” citizen, enjoys far more freedom than those “long tails” of the sixth sigma, the asymptotic minorities, the socially dead.

Before we conclude in favor of revolution on the one hand, or fascism on the other hand, let us understand what freedom through rules, and therefore quantum liberty, implies for reality and human life. It is not simply the axiomatics of exchange that make “free” markets stabilize around their electromagnetic equilibriums. Equal freedom of exchange does not create Liberty on its own. We also cannot justify totalitarian inequalities or anarchistic freedom based on the differentiation of vectors. The individual narrative of the egoist, as shown by Max Stirner, is always at the expense of others. Even if we were all equal in our labor upon a common claim of the resources of Earth, liberty is far from individual. The problem of liberty lies in the sphere of morality, and the consequences that arise when all things freely exchange in accordance with identical rules. As Bertrand Russell described, coherence is not sufficient evidence that our beliefs are true, as multiple coherent systems of belief accurately using the same data are possible, yet these systems are nevertheless incompatible with one another, implying only one is correct or all are incomplete (PP). Likewise, if Liberty is “Freedom maximized by Rules” we will quickly see that many coherent axiomatic systems of liberty result in different social consequences in practice. We should pay special attention, though Baudrillard analyzes this in hyperbole and pessimistic tones, to our realization that our systems of exchange are so ubiquitously managed that even the absence of a rule is judgement regarding the morality of that rule.

We shape the plane of socioeconomic inequalities primarily not by rules “among equals” but by encoded laws so far removed from the reality of their enforcement as to encourage ignorance or passive acceptance. It seems the Universe and the State have this in common. Few question the validity of gravity or the stop sign once their context socializes them to accept such external control. The apparent power-law constants of molar aggregation and the emergent anti-entropy of the quantum level constantly expand. The rules are the pipeline that secures the flow of liberty, but the original free play becomes something distinct in the resulting markets of exchange. We find this system beholden to coherence in motion rather than identity. The rules of at the level that we can predict are unequal to our personal level of observation. The continuous functions of Information Dominance; non-exchangeable in any scenario, are the rules that liberate us for exchange at our own level of singularity.

State of Nature philosophy puts the information equality of abstract citizenship precisely in this way – the king and the peasant die equally well on guillotine. In more recent media, everyone becomes equal with a gun in their mouth. What a simulacrum indeed! The exchange-value of human vitalism, the cosmic citizen-as-particle, meets its final market correction in contrast only to the State of War. Locke justifies slavery based on prisoners of abstract war, involuntary servitude limited to byproducts of The War Machine (STG), while Deleuze & Guattari poignantly speak on behalf of postmodern capitalism-citizens, that we are all slaves, slaves of slaves, bound to our facticity of death (AO).

Irreducibility is a pattern superimposed by the human mind, which in observation of gradation consistently loses track of relevance. It is far easier (and lazier) to establish dogmatic planes of signification. Mastery, whether a painter or a chemist, lies in the practice of layering gradations to create coherence. To the rest of us, the “irreducible” components of any system behave in a wave-like manner, a great ocean we barely know. With sufficient opportunities, when given the “breathing room” of sufficient space-time within the phase of existential instantiation, the components behave like particles. These waves crash onto the shore of our consciousness, impressing us and moving our sands. The wavelike components of reality thrust upon and collapse onto the beach of our mind as so many particularized objects – particles “in principle” only, because their irreducibility is as much a fiction of the excitable mind as the further reducibility on another plane of observation. Creating a continuous reduction leads to confusion of levels, because abstraction treats the ocean, its motion, and the crashing waves as one sign. Observing planes, like gradation between primary colors, confuses the observer unless they may jump from one order of magnitude to another, sweeping the fuzzy vertical under the epistemological rug.

The trouble with any system of coordinates is the implicit role of a coordinating system that controls the orientation of the coordinate system. For instance, while a fighter pilot during a dog fight works to complete complex maneuvers against the enemy, applying a fluidity of spatiotemporal orientation to generate and exploit opportunities, we must recognize that the orientation of the coordinate system, the fighter jet, orients under the control of a coordinating system, the pilot. Changing the orientation of a system of coordinates may change nothing about the components of the system, but it shifts the observation available and opens new planes of significance we previously overlooked due to gradation errors.

These problems of conception reveal a first principle: Quantum Liberty is skewed emergence of the probability density of component particle-becoming. The orientation of the Observer skews the concretized outputs of each sociopolitical production system. We can begin with a soft subjectivist assumption most components have an incomplete understanding of their system, and some components have an orientation that produces Information Dominance against other components and other systems. Therefore, we should begin any analysis with a healthy scientific skepticism of the Observer – especially of ourselves.

This analysis spans all of philosophy. First, the question of what cosmic laws may tell us about our own laws. Second, the question of what cosmic freedom may tell us about social, economic, and political freedom. Philosophy does not provide permanent answers, though many sciences are “spin offs” from the continuous improvement of the body of philosophical questions available. Most frequently, when we collapse planes of observation in our abstractions, we conceal the unanswered question and the analyst that asked it.

Berkeley assigned this cover-up to his monotheistic deity, while Hegel made us participants in this deity as a collective. Some agree with Schopenhauer, that questions and analysts are an unfortunate mistake of the cosmos, of which we intelligent self-reflective beings are the worst of all Observers. Others conclude with Nietzsche that the cosmic machine is amoral, so that a human’s Machinic Agency must be highly personal in its definition of values. First, we should play a detective game, in search of the lost Observers of semiotic abstraction. The Observer, as we have concealed it through invention, is the orientating system of any exchange-triangulation.

When we say that particles possess free will or exhibit mechanical determinism, in each case we are losing the metadata regarding the orientation and signification of the Observer. The abstractions of observation proceeds in truncating the parameters, cancelling the noise, leading the witness, and selecting the level of observation. The components of the system produced behave like particles under observation, relative to the system as a continuous function. Though wave-like prior to semiotic abstractions, they become particularized through the choices of the Observer and categorized based on level of observation and orientation of the coordinate system. The Observer, as scientist, philosopher, et al, superimposes a dialectical manipulation, over-codes an axiomatization, of a system that behaves wave-like until it becomes particularized.

Therefore, Machinic Agency emerges out of the suspension between antithetical oppositions, ones that must never resolve. To resolve them would cease the revolutions of the system and its complexity, annihilating the cosmos. Of course, no component can achieve this. The system moves along all the same. Machinic Agency manifests at some system equilibria, neither predicated on the subject by a synthesis of a universal totality, nor an uncaused cause of the soul, but a suspension between systems of rules and their freedom of exchange. Unobserved, the person is not a citizen, a father, a philosopher, these relations particularize an individual as a component of each coordinate system. Unobserved, or without self-reflective intelligent consciousness, the components are free. Free play herein as being, a moment of potentiality, an unrestricted market of wills crashing and churning like so many ocean currents. Taken in aggregate, homogenized through abstraction, we can extrapolate wave-like probabilities of being and becoming. These uncollapsed truth-value densities, like a tropical storm one week prior to landfall, we may then predict from afar.

It is this capacity for prediction and communication that bring together philosophy and science as strange bedfellows. As Schopenhauer observed, there lies a gulf between knowing something innately through practice or knowing something abstractly through generalized rules and reason, such as the difference between a carpenter cutting down a tree and building an ornamented rocking chair and an engineer studying the product of this endeavor with geometry and physics to mass produce it. The only thing gained by physics, mathematics, predicate logic, and other abstract methods is the ability to communicate and reproduce what an expert practitioner already gained, whether kickboxer, billiard player, or farmer, without any need. We can feel some nostalgia here, as he wrote The World as Will and Representation before the major industrialization, modernization, and globalization we know today. Today technology has allowed a form of capitalism, in which the applied sciences, general research, and development of artificial intelligence has made abstract efforts its own domain of creativity for its practitioners.

The above metaphor regarding the prediction of hurricanes also provides an excellent example of the goals of abstract reason when taken as a literal fact. Prior to computers, networks, algorithms, GPS, satellites, Doppler systems, and several radars connected globally, the oral traditions of Caribbean islanders and the practical wisdom of elders read signs of hurricanes. Science and technology standardized this wisdom, validated what data to gather, and stored hypothesis, error, and conclusions in a consistent manner so that despite geographic distribution, early warnings could become communicable predictions. Due to the methodological rigor of science, these predictions become trusted even between nations.

Science is the ability to standardize what we communicate and how we trust the meaning of its communication, even when we conclude together – “That was obvious! We already knew that!” Philosophy is the art of analyzing the inconsistencies, shortcuts, conflicts of interest, and moral implications of how these questions gain attention, the means of deliberation, and the consequences of the myriad of conclusions. Science and Philosophy represent two forms of collective observation, one regarding practical understanding the other regarding the process of knowledge production.

Observation is axiomatization. It takes knowledge that a master practitioner knows as self-evident through the body and the senses, then generalizes this knowledge in terms of the self-evidence of collective intelligence. The problem of truth-value is a problem of trust. Truth is the dominant information of a trustworthy system of coherent facts, backed by probability, experiments, debate, and sanitized data sets. The role of the observer and the conflict of interest inherent in a brilliant individual or the nostalgia of an entire generation we must interrogate with a mix of skepticism, doubt, and suspicion.

Too much Information Dominance in the hands of a solitary group is certain to divorce precision of truth-value from accuracy of truth-value. Each may become coherent systems, probable explanations, from identical validated facts. The difference between knowledge as precision and our doubt toward truth as accuracy requires our discipline to never stop questioning, verifying, and cross-checking. There is simply too much incentive to truncate and superimpose when an organization gains Information Dominance. The incentive to protect privilege skews perception in favor of self-preservation. Inquiry therefore needs observer disagreement. However self-evident, reliable, and coherent the ideas we must doubt their legitimacy. No matter how reputable the intellectual ethics of our specialists are, we must nevertheless make room, as John Stuart Mill said, for “eccentricity” in our theories (OL). Especially when serious enquiries may shape, via selection pressure, the truth-ideas that will gain future Information Dominance, we must maintain suspicion.

The contemporary need to produce ethics worthy of methodical naturalism becomes clear: the philosophy of suspicion can no longer be the isolated pessimism or ranting of the hermit that refuses to exit society. However, the “professionalization” of philosophy has fallen short, a diaspora far from our real needs. While Schopenhauer, Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Baudrillard blazed our trail of suspicion, building methodical suspicion equal to power of science and technology requires an element of process control. If the world is now a simulation, philosophers must undertake semiotic hacking.

Defining Quantum Liberty as a groundwork for Machinic Agency requires more than a simple re-thinking. The digital age is unlike any other, if Empire become continuous, no longer party to a territory, ethnic, or religious group. As philosophers and scientists, our practices are shifting from those of tribal spearman in the forest to become space marines of science fiction. Despite any intensity of strength of will we may have, we still need re-tooling. One tool brought by quantum thinking is the ability to rely on the unreal symbolically to derive a probable reality without losing our pragmatist footing. Note the distinction between inserting a symbol with probable significance, such as dark matter, and miraculating an abstraction as a first-cause, such as spirit. We will tolerate symbols of significance precisely to the extent they make experiments possible and theoretical enquiry more robust.

Precisely because of the potential conflict of interest that provides a stable recording surface for theoretical, applied, experimental, and commercialized technological progress – namely, socioeconomic exchange that funds the salaries and budgets of individuals and institutions; and precisely because we can unwittingly be the origin of our own bias, indoctrination, and axiomatization due to the marginal relative incentives of Information Dominance, philosophers must play the role of facilitator, counselor, and psychoanalyst.

Philosophers, in the broad sense of anyone who will take a system operative view of sociopolitical production, are those who elucidate and criticize; whereas specialists of science and industry become too far removed in their silos of thought to see the potential synthesis and cross-pollination of ideas lack any hope objectivity. As the population of information workers continues to grow, we should seek out the specialists who dare to look over the wall of etiquette erected between components of the American Invasive Ideology.

Gender in Technology

Today a Google employee is front-and-center in the Society of the Spectacle. He broke the rules of his universe, and the simulation has exiled him. Capitalism is predicated on reproduction, no longer of human life, but of the image. This employee crossed too far outside the normative boundaries of his simulacra. His image was not the copy of a copy of copy that society demands of liberal democracy’s Hegemonic Truth.

There are clear fallacies, poor assumptions, biases, prejudices in his words. However, as Hegel shows us, human progress is in the continual resolution of its conflicts. Like so many battles to control the image and simulacrum of absolutist truth-value, this moment is a polarizing loss for every “side” in this conflict of values. The only information gained when powerful corporations refuse a role in shaping society and morality is that Eros – the universal dipole moment toward the Other – has no place in the sanitized political economy of institutionalized knowledge creation.

This problem is far from a single “bad egg” that the rare bigot voices. This is a symptom of a machine that has no humanity, desperately ridding itself of the dirtiness and complexity of reality. If there is one critique shared by modern and contemporary philosophers across national, gender, orientation, political, and class boundaries, it is that we are not producing equality of Self and Other, we are only enforcing narcissism and Spectacle. We will awake one day, free and equal, but only because we are completely alone with our reflection. Karl Marx, Ayn Rand, Michele Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, Byung-Chul Han, Camilles Paglia, and the collective Tiqqun have been warning us for some time how dangerous it is to universally strip humans down to hours, dollars, and contracts in one sphere, likes, clicks, and views in the other.

Naturally, Google had no choice. Some infections require amputation. The real crisis of this moment is that the symptom is being treated without an authentic experience by anyone watching, of the sickness in the system. Unfortunately, when the circus of Spectacle is done torturing the employee and Google, nothing meaningful will have changed.

The true universals of humanity are sanitized away from capitalist production in favor of the free and equal codification of consumable difference. If it is too mysterious to mass produce, what merit could it have? Today, one of the five major companies automating this codification of empty but equal significance showed us that humanity will be finish its journey to the artificial on the Day of the Singularity. When we move from a society of proud workers creating and using tools to a society of tools creating and using humans, we will see what the complete alienation of humanity from its survival has cost us.

First and foremost, we have lost the mystery of the ghost in the shell. What is universally human – love, sex, hope, fear, anger, disgust, wonder, loneliness, and doubt – these are all becoming an unacceptable deviation from the machines of capitalist democracy.

We mature in different ways, at different skills, with path-dependent challenges, unique knowledge, and a vast spectrum hopes and dreams. Gender, Orientation, Race, Religion, and Class are all constructs that we cobble together along the way, building an Ego out of whatever happens to be lying around in the moment of necessity.

We must shape a richer understanding of diversity to cultivate the creativity of humanity. We have seen clearly that the brain has sufficient plasticity to teach improvements to spatial reasoning well into adult life, regardless of sex, after which all engineering becomes more easily pursued. We know that small groups who gain exposure to diversity come away with a more holistic concern for humanity. We also know that our words define us and limit us, crystallizing successful personality traits into biased dispositions.

When we proactively engage in authentic dialogue, anchored biases can gain complexity. When we silence, suppress, and exile thoughts and emotions that do not fit the official image of the branded herd, no one benefits. It is reactive and meaningless to the bigger picture, but too late to do anything better.

Corporations today have unprecedented power in shaping the richness of human experience, but the responsibility of a resilient society, global peace, and environmental sustainability is demanded by very few. The dollar and the image have created us in its image, to ensure the liquidity and deregulation of the simulation. Diversity programs and active encouragement of women and minorities to take leadership roles in technology is an important first step, but it is not enough. If we bring more “female resources” into the technology workplace while enforcing they leave their motherhood, daughterhood, sisterhood, friendship, love, culture, and citizenship at home, we will make the world a far worse place.

The compartmentalization once expected of Straight White Men in the political economy of Calvin’s Protestant Work Ethic, if extended to a fully employed, generic, neutered adulthood of the capitalist system… that is a sociopathic humanity hellbent on its own emptiness.

If we do not take the time to participate in authentic dialogue, about power, responsibility, and our future, we will find that the history of human progress was the totalitarian loss of all humanity.

Machinic Heterogenesis

This self-reproducing node in the machine is what separates and differentiates
it from structure and gives it value. Structure
implies feedback loops, it puts into play a concept of totalisation
that it itself masters. It is occupied by inputs and outputs whose
purpose is to make the structure function according to a principle
of eternal return. It is haunted by a desire for eternity. The
machine, on the contrary, is shaped by a desire for abolition. Its
emergence is doubled with breakdown, catastrophe – the
menace of death. It possesses a supplement: a dimension of
alterity which it develops in different forms. This alterity differentiates
it from structure, which is based on a principle of
homeomorphism. The difference s upplied by machinic
autopoiesis is based on disequilibrium, the prospection of virtual
Universes far from equilibrium. And this doesn’t simply
involve a rupture of formal equilibrium, but a radical ontological
reconversion. The machine always depends on exterior elements
in order to be able to exist as such. It implies a complementarity,
not j ust with the man who fabricates it, makes it
function or destroys it, but it is itself in a relation of alterity with
other virtual or actual machines – a “non-human” enunciation,
a proto-subjective diagram.

Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis

Minimum Viable Hyperorganism

 

Excerpt from Andrew Keener’s upcoming book: Continuous Experimentation 

Our definition of a physical “organism” is closely related to our definition of “living” itself. From a single-celled plankton to the human body, the ability to maintain cohesion, protect a semi-permeable boundary between self and environment, sustain its own existence, and reproduce are the difference between a complex system and living system.  Our understanding of an organism is tied to what it means to act as a minimum viable living system, regardless of the subsystems necessary to reproduce this “atomic” sovereignty.

Because we want to apply this organic scaling strategy to our socioeconomic systems, we can now ask a much harder question – how do we create a complex adaptive system, made up of human workers, ideological and socioeconomic constructs, machines, and information systems that can maintain their long-run viability. In other words, how can we use Organic Leadership to build a corporation, nation, or global economy that cannot die? We have seen throughout history many nations – and several empires – rise and fall, economic systems falter and crumble, and multiple millions of for-profit ventures fail to survive. If such constructs are the essential scaling pattern of human socioeconomic behavior, how do we create one that can come alive, and survive eternally?

We are creating an entirely new construct, then.  Just as a tesseract represents the construct of a fourth-dimensional cube – a “hypercube” what we are defining is a socioeconomic construct that is not merely considered a legal entity, it comes to life and does not die (for a very long time). We will call this construct a hyperorganism.

A hyperorganism is a quasi-eternal system and we establish our corporations as a legal entity that perpetually exists. Some of today’s corporations are very likely to evolve into the first hyperorganisms. A hyperorganism is made up of human workers, ideological and socioeconomic constructs, machines, and information systems, and many of our largest corporations are aspiring to this level of interdependent complexity. In fact, the primary shortcoming of today’s corporations is their apparent inability to maintain their long-run viability. The evolution increasingly sophisticated, super-intelligent information systems will resolve this problem, moving us toward empirical process control and long-run rational economic decisions. This will be sufficient to create the ability to maintain cohesion, because the survival of continuously-updated reliable information will temper the inconsistencies of human cultural and sociopolitical oscillation.

As our legal, financial, and ideological systems grow to answer new questions in response to the evolving hyperorganism, they will build out increasingly more complex systems of negotiation and governance, allowing it to protect a semi-permeable boundary between self and environment – in fact, through competition, emergencies, distrust, and litigation, an ever-stronger boundary of the hyperorganism will be inevitable. By gaining self-awareness as an emergent construct, developing increasingly resilient multi-fractal scaling patterns it will sustain its own existence, creating sophisticated value streams that test without running dry. Once the first hyperorganism emerges, it cannot help but reproduce – leaving risk to its next generation despite living in millennia.

Have you failed at dual-track Scrum?

Dual-track Scrum is a red flag that no part of your organization is practicing lean agility in any way shape or form. It preserves the transactional, finite, short-sighted project mindset.

Cadence improves internal signalling, but layering staggered cadences means you missed the underlying economic factors that make Scrum so effective. 

To be transformational – to dramatically shift your business model, disrupt your industry, or move to long-run economic optimization – requires an understanding of multi-fractal scaling and how time, distances, investment, and exchange differs based on their scale. 

For an in-depth look at time-cycle scaling in a typical digital value stream, check out my playlist on YouTube:

Time Cycle Scaling Economics

Orienting is Essential to Agility

Responsiveness and disruptive influence are the cornerstone of agility, because change through continuous experimentation is fundamental to life. Healthy and viable systems maintain their complexity far from equilibrium, relentlessly fighting collapse and death. After all, “poised” on the brink of chaos, there is an obvious business definition for agility:

Responsiveness to signals in a market with imperfect information and imperfect competition.

This context necessitates process control that keeps identity and novelty in constant tension – even against our most brilliant ideas. Thus, our tactical principles for general preparedness, quick orientation, and powerful responsiveness will be rooted in the need to orient faster than the enemy system, our ideological competition. Only the working product of our efforts can provide a pragmatic judgment of the value we have created, so the ultimate measure of our success as a Disruptive Influence is the actual change in behavior we have caused.

Because individuals and interactions are inherently complex, adaptive, and difficult to predict in the reality of socioeconomic competition, we value knowing them directly, studying them and interpreting their position ourselves. We value this over relying on their predictability, likelihood of adherence to an agreed-upon process, or correct use of the best possible tool for any given job. Although we assume processes and tools taken at face value will deceive us into a false sense of stability, we also recognize that individuals and interactions cannot always be taken at face value either.

Because responsiveness, both in decisiveness of action in an unexpected situation and as adaptation over a long-term investment horizon, will consistently be awarded with asymmetric payoffs, we can only trust a plan to the extent it includes contingencies, delays commitment, and distributes control to the individual with the best understanding of the situation at the time a decision must be made.

Because compromise is the inevitable and unsavory outcome of “contract” negotiation, while creative endeavors in contradistinction rely on the energy of tension, cognitive dissonance, intra-organizational paradoxes, and conflicting interpretations, we invest our time and effort in social exchanges while delaying formalization. A contract relies on an external locus of control for its power and validity, whereas we must prioritize a social and socioeconomic view of the complex system we hope to lead into adaptation.

Because a socioeconomic “factor of production” is defined by its output, evaluated on how much more value “the whole” can add in excess of its “parts”, and because digital products are continuously created and maintained but never mass-produced, we take the tangible product of our endeavors as the only valid measure of its worth.  However good the product design looks on paper, however well-defined the future state is documented, only exchange in the marketplace can determine the economic value of the product we have actually created

Drawing the Line Between PO and BA

The Scrum Business Analyst

I have heard more than once “There is no BA in Scrum.” Imagine how your BA’s feel when a transformation starts!  At best, they are uncertain what their role ought to be. At worst, it is made clear by everyone else in the process that the BA is no longer needed or wanted.

The irony, for an agile coach viewing this as an outsider, is that numerous individuals throughout the value stream who are also struggling to cope with the shifting sands of transformation, frequently report that mistakes, lack of prioritization, failure to clear dependencies, and miscommunication are due to “being too busy.”

Obviously, just from this “too busy” problem, there are two important things the BA ought to do as an active member of a Scrum Team in a scaled environment:

  1. Act in a WIP-clearing capacity to the extent their t-shaped skills allow.  To whatever extent they do not have T-shaped skills, the moment they are not clear on how to utilize their time is the perfect opportunity to develop these skills.
  2.  Capture the very broad “reminders of a conversation” about a story that, in a large enterprise, occur across a larger number of individuals, over a longer time period, and in more geographically distributed locations than “core scrum” implies.

Roles and Accountability

Now we can draw the line between the Product Owner and the Business Analyst.

The Product Owner is accountable for decomposing an Epic or expressing a single enhancement as User Stories.  The Product Owner creates a Story card in JIRA for this initial Story list that includes a JIRA Summary and the User Story in classic format:

As a {user persona} I want {action} so that {expected value to the user}.

This is an expression of “Commanders Intent” and represents why the story is being developed and who cares whether or not it is developed.  Thus, the User Story is an expression of product strategy, and represents trade-off choices and prioritization.  The decision to expend finite on and expiring resources – time, energy, money, and talent – on one product change versus another is the most critical accountability of the Product Owner.

Although the what and how is negotiable, the intention of the Product Owner serves as a litmus test for all subsequent decisions.  The what and how are the realm of operational effectiveness rather than strategy.  It includes the framework of economic decision making and the processes, practices, and tools that streamline communication and align strategic direction of a distributed control system.

The Business Analyst uses the Description to succinctly express the what and how that has already been determined so that no context is lost in subsequent decisions.  The what and how remain negotiable to the extent these better serve the “Commanders Intent” of the User Story.

In an analog Scrum board, there is typically an agreement on “front of the card” and “back of the card” content that serves as the “reminder of a conversation” for the team.  In a scaled environment relying on a digital board like JIRA, the Summary and Description fields serve a similar purpose.  As the number of individuals contributing to the value stream increase, the need to detail the conversations that have already occurred increases as well.

In the process of detailing each Story Description, it will often be apparent – due to test data or testing scenario coverage – that a Story ought to be split into two or more stories.  The Business Analyst completes this activity and is accountable for communicating the split to the Product Owner.

 Stories may also be further split during Backlog Refinement or Sprint Planning based on additional insights from the team. Attendees should collaboratively decide who will capture this decomposition within the tool, but the Product Owner is accountable for prioritization decisions (if the split impacts this).  

Purpose of the Story Description

So, to meaningfully define the role of the Business Analyst, we need an understanding of what value is created if one individual “owns” capturing the elements of a Story Description as the number of these predetermined elements continue to grow. To the extent at scale that the team is unable to economically interact with every other value add activity in the value stream, the purpose of the Description is a succinct expression all value-add activities and decisions that have influenced the User Story prior to development. While we want to express these in the fewest words possible, and work toward distributed control of decisions, we do not want previous insights “hidden” unnecessarily from the Scrum Team.

Several important activities have likely occurred prior to our Sprint:

  1. Business decisions fundamental to the economics of our interaction with the customer.
  2. Funding based on an overarching strategic initiative.
  3. Customer research and analysis of product metrics.
  4. User Persona definition and Empathy Mapping.
  5. UX Proofs of Concept and/or A/B Testing.
  6. Stakeholder meetings.
  7. Success Metrics defined.
  8. Technical dependencies fulfilled (such as a new or updated web service API).
  9. User Story decomposition.
  10. Other Stories already developed related to the feature.

Thus, many details needed “downstream” should be easily expressed in advance of the Sprint:

  1. Why are we building this story?
  2. Who is the User?
  3. How is this User unique in our Product (i.e. relate persona to an account type)?
  4. What Test Data will need to be requested to test the story?
  5. What steps does the User follow to obtain the value of the story?
  6. What will the User see when they finish the story?

Management by Spreadsheet? You’re Doomed

How Bad Operations Management – Capacity Utilization and “Managing by Spreadsheet” – will destroy your company.

Of course, this favorite tactic of ineffective operations managers takes so long to unravel everything you’ve worked for that leadership never figure out what happened. After the laws of economics bring the company to its knees, smaller in revenue and resources, they begin growing again, repeat the same mistakes, and crumble.

My colleagues and I enjoy calling this flawed approach “Management by Spreadsheet” – and it is unfortunate that this is a scenario where leaders rarely learn from history and are proverbially doomed to repeat it.

I understand, knowledge workers are expensive and variability of demand for their brilliance as spending on payroll rises is a terrifying prospect.

But I promise you this: The moment you attempt to control variability in capacity utilization for your individual allocable resources, you have signed a death sentence for your knowledge-worker-dependent company.

Why? A focus on capacity utilization sends a clear message to employees that there is nothing more important than the time they spend actively engaging in the most important function on their job description – which you probably put right on that spreadsheet. Every individual will now maximize their own workflow and they will do it at the expense of the overall system.

How? This emphasis tends to be set squarely on the “run” phase of each worker’s process. For example, a developer now has the clear message that optimizing for time spent coding is the only expectation from leadership. When an individual worker in a complex process optimizes their own capacity utilization, there are a number tactics they pursue:
– Isolation from other workers rather than collaboration.
– Dependency on other workers to complete the planning, setup, and validation portions of their workflow, decreasing quality and overall value-add.
– Demand to receive ever-larger batches of work to increase the amount of time they can work uninterrupted.
– Increasingly large-batch output, increasing cycle time and decreasing quality.
– Increased external locus of control as anything outside their large-batch run-phase focus is not their “job” anymore.

As a dog returns to his proverbial vomit, so also the operations leader focusing on capacity utilization will do everything in their power… To make this situation EVEN WORSE. (S)he will add capacity to alleviate bottlenecks.

The complex system in which individual processes optimize their own run-phase process inevitably puts immense stress at a single point in the system. Whether one person or an entire department, capacity utilization management will create one crisis after another due to bottlenecks. The individual (or team) who becomes the bottleneck becomes overwhelmed and will wave every red flag they have as high as they can.

And leadership, who put them in this painful situation, attempts to save the day with additional control over capacity – by adding NEW resources at the bottleneck.

Of course, because variability of demand was the original problem, this means capacity bottlenecks will emerge in each subsequent silo in the system over time. Typically, this does not happen within the course of one project so no one can see it except the leader who is making the bad decisions in the first place.

In software development, where resources are extremely expensive and in short supply, this has horrible consequences – many projects can stall at the same bottleneck due to the lengthy cycle time of “talent acquisition”. Companies make hiring decisions in a state of crisis, when they are least likely to consider the long-term impact of the decision for their payroll or company culture.

At first, this leads to increasingly expensive hiring decisions with the fallacious assumption that resolving this one bottleneck will balance out the system. Then, due to variability in demand and increasing batch size and feedback cycle time, other bottlenecks inevitably emerge.

This is when leadership starts doing things that make alarms go off for everyone – suddenly, because the operations tactics have made payroll expense more of a burden than ever, the company stops hiring expensive resources out of panic and begins taking the cheapest body they can throw at the bottleneck in the shortest time.

You will see your first major walk-out of your most important resources begin.

In a state of denial, a capacity utilization manager will see this as a windfall, since payroll just went down. A systems view sees this is the beginning of the end, because the ratio of people with the most historic commitment, highest barriers to exit, and longest legacy of contribution to company culture – to those who are cheap and new and willing to leave any timeout – has just shifted drastically.

If you haven’t realized it yet, that spreadsheet is lying to you and it is pushing you toward financial crisis.

The truly sad thing is that some portion of executive leadership – sometimes all of them – actually believes things are getting better. More numbers and more spreadsheets translate to “we’re doing the best we can with a hard situation.” So the capacity utilization advocates survive the crisis that follows, because they have the spreadsheet that pacifies the misled leaders. The focus stays on utilization, bottlenecks, and talent acquisition, continuing the downward spiral.

Of course, you’re also no longer leading the same company as when you started tracking capacity utilization of allocable resources – whatever cross-functional teams composed of collaborative contributors you had are gone. Sometimes, an entire functional unit has turned over, leaving you with a group that was forged in the mold of large-batch, long queue, high cycle time work.

A few bad projects and damaged customer relationships later and that variability of demand combined with the additional capacity from less effective resources create a perfect storm. A small but perfectly manageable drop in demand and every individual can no longer maximize their capacity utilization.

Panic ensues.

Your most expensive resources probably start looking for another job because they see very clearly that the marginal return on their weekly payroll just tanked.

The second walk-out occurs at this point, continuing to strain relationships with existing current customers while placing the occasional project in crisis as another resource is taken from their silo and expected to hit the ground running.

Revenue is still falling, so low performers are sought out and “unnecessary” benefits are reduced. Fire a couple sales people here and a few testers over there because they can’t easily prove how they add value. Replace your talent acquisition rep. Anyone that was never a bottleneck, in fact, is expendable – but you’ll start with anyone you can get away with firing so that you don’t have pay out accumulated vacation or other obligations.

I assure you that the entire company sees that this fierce loyalty to “managing by spreadsheet” has resulted in the destruction of everything that made your company an awesome place to work. Everyone is now looking for a job.

Because the system has been trained against responsiveness to demand variability, it only takes a few more waves in the natural ebb and flow of demand to make you desperate enough to layoff anyone who is too expensive for their contribution at the exact moment of desperation. Anyone who was holding off on leaving the company due to timing or a sense of pride in “finishing what you start” will now also actively look for a job.

Now that you’ve shrunk to the point that less managers can “manage” the spreadsheets, you fire them, too.

Congratulations, you have basically destroyed everything you had worked to achieve with your company.

Unfortunately, many companies do not not learn their lesson, never ask the right questions, continue their flawed approach, and repeat the cycle of growth and collapse until the reputation for mismanagement makes it impossible to continue the vicious cycle.

If you are at any stage of this debacle, it’s not too late. The same internet upon which you found this post was built based on scientific principles from economics and queuing theory that can save your company.

Send me a message to find out how.

Two Weeks’ Notice Manifesto

This is My Manifesto

I have had a now-familiar conversation hundreds of times in my career in the software industry. A sharp, hard-working millennial – a developer, designer, consultant, or support engineer – is completely burned out. She sees no way to change her situation without starting over somewhere else and wants to personally let me know that she’s given her two weeks’ notice. The reasons are the similar to my own when I leave a job (or begin actively interviewing).

There is an over-arching struggle to find meaningful work, the ability to take pride in it, to feel that there is a purpose to what I do, and feel that there is a path toward mastery at something I can say “This is my art”.

“I’ll stand for nothing less, or never stand again.” – Chevelle

I have quit many jobs, with or without two full weeks of notice, been laid off twice, fired once (in college), and was kicked out of the Army – and I’m still early and what is a pretty successful career in technology. Since I’ve never even once written a letter of notice or resignation, I think it is about time I draft one.

More importantly, on behalf of talented Millennials everywhere, I’d like you to know – truly understand – that the two weeks’ notice we give you as a manager typically comes weeks or even months after we crafted our mental first draft, started accepting the relentless prospecting of talent scouts, and gave up on your ability to get out of way in our search for meaningful work, a purpose, and mastery of our craft.

So this is my universal – and truly honest – Two Weeks’ Notice, for every time I didn’t write one, and for the many times in my future I most likely also won’t write one. This is my Two Weeks’ Notice Manifesto, a public statement of what it takes to make me disengage despite my natural brilliance and indefatigable enthusiasm.

Money

You played hardball with my salary when I joined and have given me no path to increase it.

You are painfully arrogant – and ignorant – regarding my value in the open market.  It currently increases by 20% per year yet you think I will settle for a 5% raise (or no raise at all).

“Started from the bottom now we here.”

Proactive efforts on my part to establish clear expectations, a career path, and an informal timeline for promotion or salary increases are answered with vague notions of trust, respect, and reputation that have nothing to do with performance or the impact I have.

Most importantly, if I am giving you this notice, I have taken every opportunity available to add more economic value than you expected of me.  I have deliberately worked to increase the impact I have on value-add processes, organization-wide efficiency and effectiveness, revenue growth, and actionable metrics.  I can now see that I have exhausted my opportunities and my tangible impact on revenue and margin is now waning – removing all leverage and motivation on my part – and it is due to poor strategic decisions outside my control or that of peers.

I’m just tryna stay alive and take care of my people
And they don’t have no award for that […]
Shit don’t come with trophies, ain’t no envelopes to open
I just do it ’cause I’m ‘sposed to – Young Money, Drake

 

Growth

You treat my initial lack of understanding of the “nuance” of your backward, inefficient “processes” as some kind of failure or lack of intelligence on my part.

“A hater’s gonna hate, hate, hate, hate […] I’m just gonna shake it off.” – Taylor Swift

You provided no actual on-boarding, leaving me to my own volition to review artifacts, like some anthropologist, in an effort to mimic current practices.

You have truly valuable constructive criticism you could provide based on the decades of experience you have over me – but you prefer sarcasm, derisive rhetorical questions, and generally insult my intelligence.

You know that you – and the company – are terrible at on-boarding and that I am intelligent enough, educated enough, and experienced enough not to put up with it; so you give me preferential treatment to shut me up rather than investing in everyone.  And no, I do not take this as a sign I should stay, it is an indication that you have no plan for the future.

You have a general disbelief regarding the breadth and depth of my knowledge, skills, and experience – attempting to restrict me to the smallest possible scope of responsibilities.

Culture

You stomp out creativity and enthusiasm organization-wide but tell me not to “lose that energy”.

You are condescending and use sarcasm and deconstructionism when you do not understand my nomenclature or the vocabulary of my academic and career specialization.

 

You focus on short-term gains and their related vanity metrics (e.g. Project ROI) rather than the flow of long-term economic value

You have created a psychologically unsafe environment for the information worker, where most employees – the only employees who last – display symptoms of learned helplessness and defeat.

So I’m tearing this and everything else,
between me and what I want to do to pieces.
I’m tearing you and everything else,
between me and you to memory. – Nonpoint

Your “leadership” strips away all possible reward for prudent risk. Any feeling of accomplishment when someone takes real initiative to accomplish something meaningful in a novel way is more than negated by the likelihood of retroactive empowerment, personal insults, or deconstruction-based criticism.

Progress

You talk about “baby steps” in internal changes or excuse your inaction due to “lack of executive buy-in” to justify to yourself why you lack the discipline and initiative to change, innovate, or evolve.

“It could have been so much worse, but it should have been better”

– Five Finger Death Punch

You are stuck in old models of business and outdated practices despite the fact you would be a very late adopter of thoroughly proven best practices, no matter how many employees have attempted to convince you.

You fail to challenge me, heaping busy work on me instead.

You see my attempts to improve myself and my peers – in my pursuit of mastery in my craft and love of investment in my tribe – as a distraction that needs to be controlled rather than an opportunity to harness.

You assume my youth (and open-minded millennialism) generally decreases the value of my knowledge – despite the fact that the tech industry and its ever-evolving best demonstrated practices make my youth in advantage when

It’s not you, it’s me.

In light of these problems and a clear and consistent history of leadership anti-patterns, I can see that you will absolutely not change and will definitely make no effort to meaningfully address my concerns in any way. Unfortunately I have outgrown you. I am different and better than I was – smarter, stronger, more passionate and more creative than the day we met. I really do appreciate the rare moments of effort to invest in me as two humans at work, building something together. I have interesting stories tell. Some of my worst days and your worst behavior rank among the most beneficial insights I have gained – of who I will not be, of who I am, of what I will fight for.

It is time for me to move on.

This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name!  – Fort Minor