Phenomenology of Stockpiles

Before we stare into the postmodern abyss, we should complete our analysis of technology and its essence; that is, its existential conceptual universalization. For this, we must turn to Martin Heidegger, who claimed that the machination of technological progress and its accompanying mechanization of life turns every living being into stockpiled resources, mechanical means to an uncertain end. The speciesism implicit in humanistic ideology left philosophy at a loss once animal and slave labor no longer played a role in the most effective economies of the world. For Heidegger, this reveals the insufficient expression of will-to-power across human form-of-life. The essence of being will never emerge from humanistic existential self-negation.

Heidegger saw in Germany the progression of technology into bureaucracy, disenchantment, and fascism. In response to the removal of meaning and significance, the need to generate subjective meaning independent of society and the State became the imperative of human life. Autocratic regimes performing genocide of arbitrary scapegoats is the consistent result of socialistic centralization. Reliance on a higher power, whether for objectivity or purpose, creates its own subjection. Losing their will to self-responsibility, socialization of meaning results in moral insolvency of individuals, then moral bankruptcy. Whether political subjection, spiritual asceticism, or conformity to THEY, through consumerism and spectacle, the intelligent being who fails to generate meaning out of their own experience of becoming-in-the-world inevitably falls into inauthenticity and suicide.

The mechanization of dualism was the same movement as the development of totalitarian idealism. Descartes escaped from the moral responsibility unending war and brutality by separating mind from body, leaving the use of each body permissible – responsibility for slavery, carnism, and war avoids recognition through stoic detachment. Kant escaped from the moral responsibility of choices that carry consequences by crystalizing this dualism even further. The realm of the thing-in-itself required a duty of egalitarianism at the expense of the entire phenomenal plane. Space, time, and bodies are all illusions; choice, consequences, and individual merit are productions of the mind. Kant’s moral bankruptcy results in a total loss of objectivity; just another system of inequalities, based on the comprehensive negation of life and meaning, again results in depravity, corruption, bureaucracy, carnism, slavery, and war. The last step in this progression spawns Hegel, who loses any pretense of objectivity or concern for life, again anointing idealistic hierarchy and war instead of freedom, value, and significance.

This placed philosophy in a terrible position. To regain objectivity necessitated an increasing belief in mechanical determinism and materialist history. To regain meaning necessitated an increasing romanticism of our sentimental, subjective, perceptual flux and emotional chaos. Once determinism, forgiven of any moral responsibility by Descartes and Kant, moved into rationalized sciences, philosophical materialism narrowed its attention to the interplay of historical forces, diminishing further the importance of any life or the Earth; when war is the only mechanism of progress, individual freedom, choice, value, and significance depreciate. Meanwhile, increasing romanticism results in further emotional rebellion; continuous movement without objective action. Philosophies of meaning progressively abandoned the attempt to take meaningful action, leaving positivism, structuralism, and pragmatism to their own pluralistic, pervasive doubt of knowledge, communication, or causal agency. We cannot feel surprised by the insanity that results from the fantasies of FreudoMarxian depersonalization. The “perpetual flux of stratified assemblages, ordered by the Body Without Organs” inspires rational revolt. This sad reaction to the absurd abyss at which we realize our total responsibility becomes a circus of values in its escape; we have the epistemology we deserve.

For Heidegger, the essence of a semiotic sign is more than its rhizomatic tracing through pluralistic matrices. Essence is the universality of the sign as a form, an aspect of being that transcends time and experience. Technology remains lost between mechanization and machination; its pervasive influence continues to spread and entrap the individual through technique, tools, means, and ends:

“To posit ends and procure and utilize the means to them is a human activity. The manufacture and utilization of equipment, tools, and machines, the manufactured and used things themselves, and the needs and ends that they serve, all belong to what technology is. The whole complex of these contrivances is technology. Technology itself is a contrivance—in Latin, an instrumentum.”

– Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology

Mechanization paradigms generate systems of inequality through principles, anchoring technological acceleration in favor of partisan gradations of value. Technology, if an independent partisan entity, is a contrivance that reinvents everything by a standard of instrumentalism. Because technology and technique are fundamentally human endeavors, this becomes tautological. To say that the utility of utility proves itself in its increase of utility says nothing new, only that acceleration, growth, and expansion are core elements of human success, precisely because these are emergent power-laws of anything that gains material complexity to survive against entropy and chaos. Growth rationalizes the intended consequences of inequality, which is to raise the virtuosity of capital rather than the worker. Technology provides equalization of process independent of human volition by means of an aggregation of generalized systemic liquidity. However, the socioeconomic systems that produce this technology constantly degrade technological validity through collective action. Impatient with the pace of progress for the baseline standards of living, socialism attempt to correct the emergent inequality of equal rights, preferring centralized control of unequal treatment. Because the idealist visions of an ordered and orchestrated society are incompatible, mechanization of economy becomes mechanization of sociopolitical panopticism. Out of this duplicity, more machination paradigms emerge, generating their system of values as a rejection of those with power at the time, pointing to aggregate unintended consequences. Because the mechanization paradigm never purifies itself and the machination paradigm attacks the symptom rather than the disease, the system falls into learned helplessness; bureaucracy, stagnation, and entropy result.

Just as early modern metaphysics failed to reveal the truth of being, life, and consciousness, its artificial prioritization of human, male, race, and class caused epistemology to fail in understanding instrumentalism. For Heidegger, the system of inequalities creates a paradigm that cannot reveal the truth of technology. Namely, that the essence of technology is the enframing and stockpiling of energy, forced from the Earth, held for a future purpose. Workers and resources become “stockpiled” as a means to a later end, but this purpose remains unknown, continuously displaced. Instrumentalism turns all beings into instruments of becoming. Unless someone argues that technology itself has a purpose of its own, a purpose to which we remain woefully ignorant, our progress will continue to leave us alienated as stockpiled instruments of future beings.

Of course, this is precisely what adults do through socioeconomic behavior; we stockpile time, energy, and resources in any form we can for the support of our own future, the future of our children, and for those with the wealth to do so, as many generations of human civilization that we can afford to improve. Indeed, we must take up moral responsibility for the end goal of this stockpiling, establishing it upon a system of meaning, or we will displace the guilt and anxiety of machination indefinitely. The danger begins when we miraculate our anxiety toward our own teleological stockpiling into a causa prima for religious, political, or social mechanization.

“The coming to presence of technology threatens revealing, threatens it with the possibility that all revealing will be consumed in ordering and that everything will present itself only in the hiddenness of standing-reserve. Human activity can never directly counter this danger. Human achievement alone can never banish it.” – Ibid

Heidegger’s analysis of instrumental machination shows that that mechanization is a method of enframing, we entrap meaning within an ordered framework out of anxiety toward our own finitude of orchestration. Technology reveals the potential of nature by means of capital, society, and science that relies upon system builders orchestrating the majority. The natural energy impossible to the individual is then entrapped within an artificial order of stock-piled energy. When this instrumentalism is miraculated as first-cause, this energy revelation expands to include the rationalization of every living being, in accordance with a destiny; unfortunately, it is a destiny no one yet realizes. The greatest danger of technology is that our increased certainty of probable outcomes exhausts the possibility of meaning, while hiding the essence of being in a stockpiled network of means without an end.

Heidegger later made a claim that philosophy as practiced is dead because THEY (the rabble, the spectacle) aligned existentialism too much with humanism rather than being-in-itself as an expression of will-to-power. As our analysis will show, the clear answer to claims of machination and the moral bankruptcy of mechanization requires a restoration of equality, objectivity, and responsibility. To avoid the depravity of instrumentalist systems of inequality, we must build our paradigm without the foolish speciesism that brings about the Biopolitics of fascism and communism. This means that our duality is on the side of life as it balances and conquers entropy. A morality of will-to-power ought to treat animal, alien, and machine life as an intelligent end, wherein minimum viable resilience is our means.

Life-process versus entropy; this will indeed anchor our valuations, though philosophers have taken this exposure to the equality of “bare” life with extremes of hope and desperation. We draw this line, between the life-process as an open system and the the entropy of its material hardware; entropy as the gravity that life is struggling to overcome. Looking to Heidegger’s predecessors, will find this life-against-entropy dualism has partisan affects; a clear division arises between the pessimistic virtualization of Schopenhauer and the affirmative nihilism of Nietzsche. This partisan separation continues into the French post-structuralists and contemporary American pragmatism, though each repeatedly lose themselves in Marxist ideology. Dividing reality into will-in-itself versus perpetual flux continues to result in mystic subjectivism or violence romanticism, yet each are integrally pessimistic.

Our Time in the Desert

Spending “our time in the desert” carries a long-running history in Western religious and philosophical literature. The desert provides clarity of analysis to the Observer by escaping the subjectivity of densely-populated areas. Whether prophet or philologist, escaping the world of privileged life to find an alien world without our feelings, fears, and troubles; this has long been a clarifying moment. However, as we will find, even the “desert of the real” no longer holds the same significance. We have experienced to many living deserts, too many virtualizations of false lifelessness, smiling at us and walking around out of habit.

In Western philosophy, the desert represents a partial answer to what the world might be when it is absent of life. Many of the problems of philosophy emerge out of linguistic or stylistic flaws, existential particularized instances that thought transforms into generalization prematurely, or abstractions that take on a “life of their own” and run amok in the civilized mind. The spectacle of human society is too full of symbols and signs, leaving the philosopher in search of “bare life” in the wilderness, to at last secure a hold on the sublime. There is immediately a textual question, were one to note it: why the desert? Nietzsche, like his own retreat to Switzerland, has Zarathustra retire to the mountains. Henry David Thoreau escapes to Walden pond, painting a scene of a small cabin among American pines, praising self-sufficiency. In similar fashion, we may try our own hermitage to mountains or forests to escape the confused misrepresentations of society and fashion. The desert, in contrast, represents an alien reality, one that does not welcome us or praise us, a physicality that humbles the consciousness that believes reality manifests for life.

In the process of enduring the desert, we see an escape of the noise, light, and concerns of Others. Yet this escape requires there be something to escape into as well. The desert holds the appeal of an absence of signs, representation, and symbolic exchange. The comforts of the mountain or the forest still let us believe we can make a home, then construct a metaphysics that justifies our selfish human privilege. The alien forms of the desert, self-sufficient without the presence of human mechanization and machination, reveals the Observer’s alienation. The unintended consequences of society become clear in the desert of the real. The alien landscape of human lifelessness reveals the alienation of human society. Then we see that enclosure within the social machine encroaches upon individual moral systems of valuation and signification.

For this, we must strip representation down to bare life, then even forget life itself. At the extremes, the cosmos is a lush paradise, phenomenon created by the human mind and for the human mind; else it is an enormous desert, a system of objects that entraps us, an enormous machine in which matter is more real than our lives ever might be.

The inescapable social machine creates the need to distance thought from its comfortable privilege, opening the individual value system to the experiments of alien reality. The long-running contemplation of inhuman reality as a desert represents a stance on metaphysics. The weight of our decisions in the desert are the moral responsibility of bare life; every metaphysics carries extreme implications for moral systems.

Plato told us that there is a perfect and sublime realm of pure forms, triangles, circles, concepts, and virtues, all complete and wholesome in the full light of the sun. Meanwhile human existence is a sad misrepresentation of the true reality, like shadows cast on the wall of cave, create by puppets and trifles in a flickering fire. The allegory of the cave inspires a long lineage of mathematicians, astronomers, and rationalists, all trying to wake up from the dream of this world so that they may see the true world in all its sublime glory. This effort to deny the significance of bodily life makes its way to the Rationalists, like Descartes and Spinoza. The rationalists insisted that a perfect reality lay outside the material reach of humanity, except through total conceptualization and pure reason.

Aristotle takes a more encyclopedic approach (an apt description of the method by William James). Describing the attributes of human experience, cataloging the ideas found in agreement, and attempting to summarize the most probable and consistent explanation for the full sum of human belief, Aristotle established the framework for the division of our major sciences. The lineage of Aristotle, ending with the British Empiricists, insist that the material perception of humanity is the only reality upon which we can base our judgements. Anything abstract is either self-evident, as the result of a system of abstract machines like 1+1=2, or they are generalizations of experience, hypotheses that must undergo continuous experimentation for validity.

Insisting on exclusively a priori grounds, Descartes builds out a moral system based on the perfection of axiomatization, aspiring to find God-given precepts as pure as mathematics. Descartes wants an ontologically self-evident deity, with a moral code as self-contained – in the absence of any believer – as Euclidean geometry. Insisting on exclusively a posteriori grounds, Hume insists that human nature and justice must arise from probability, experiments, and patterns.

As good literary critics, we must look to the context of these arguments and read between the lines. The foundations of metaphysics and physics, its implications for ontology and epistemology, these were the formal concerns of their arguments. Between the lines, the first modern philosophers were finding that the “pagans” of Rome and Greece were not so different from Europeans and that the divine right of kings ought not trump the sovereignty of individuals. On the one side, the rationalist denial of the validity of human life and the Christian attitude toward worldly pain and desire, whatever the intended consequences, had resulted in abuses of despotism, outlandish inequality, disposability of slaves and peasants, as well as a long series of wars, killing and torturing lives in the name of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Hume’s skepticism laid out a groundwork for methodical naturalism that had terrible implications for personal beliefs about the burden of moral responsibility humanity bears. By what means do we justify enslavement, castration, starvation, domestication, or carnism – there is no grounds for any of these injustices without a social machine producing it. Empirical logic dictated that the ontological argument for a deity only gave the cosmos itself the name of God. All the injustices of human life, and many abuses against nature, originate in human prejudices, perpetuated by justifications provided by organized religion.

Hume awoke Kant from his “dogmatic slumber” and likewise startled into action all Western philosophy that followed. Hume stated, “All knowledge degenerates into probability.” Indeed, centuries of improvement in stochastic econometrics proves above all that the average human keeps economics and statistics as far away from their domesticated habits as they can. Probability of two united representations of the senses provide us with increasing certainty, but generalization of correlation into causality can only be an optimism bias imposed by the mind itself. Necessity, power, force, causal agency are thus projections of the mind superimposed on the consistent union of representations in the constant conjunction. Like heat, color, weight, sound, taste, and smell gain signification relative to the context of the Observer, Hume closes the book on generalization from certainty of probability. There is no cause and effect, nor causality and causal agency at all, only a probability we forecast and trust based on consistency of experience; “Anything may produce anything,” and by implication, any king, master, government, or religion who tells your otherwise are deluding you for the purposes of undeserved access to resources, labor, and moral hypocrisy.

Kant takes the extremes of the two approaches and attempts a “Copernican Revolution” by embracing both sides wholesale. Kant argues that the mind produces causality, not as a forecasted probability, but as a category of the mind itself. The representations of the senses, cause and effect, are all produced by the mind, as are space and time, but the mechanical determinism we see outside the mind tells us nothing about the freedom of the will “inside” the mind. The machine may look predetermined and predictable from the outside, reactive within a chain of causes and effects, but the ghost within this shell is free and moral. While causality is consistent beyond a reasonable doubt, the feeling of freedom of the will and moral valuation is likewise consistent beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, he argues, it must be the mind itself that adds everything other than freedom of will and pure reason to our representations of space, time, appearance, and causality. This lensing applies to the perception of other rational agents, and any of our interactions among intelligent beings, so their determinism and our freedom cannot contradict one another.

Based on this approach to bridging the gap between free will and determinism, Kant builds causal agency upon the synthesis of internally true freedom and externally apparent determinism. Without insisting on the rationalist freedom necessary for moral choices or insisting on the naturalist determinism necessary for moral consequences, Kant breaks the world in two. On one side of life we find the phenomena that the mind generates, but on the other side the mind builds this upon the numen of metaphysics, the thing-in-itself about which we can reach no conclusions. This separation is essential to the moral agency we take for granted anyway, because in a purely deterministic world we would have no ability to make choices, and therefore bear no burden of responsibility; while in a purely free world we would have no control over the outcome of our choices, and therefore bear no burden of responsibility. When we begin with the axiomatics of Western philosophy, it is only if we are both free to make choices and the world contains enough determinism to link our choices to consequences that we bear any moral responsibility for actions.

Kant short-circuits the arguments for either extreme by separating human reality from actual reality. This allows for the belief that each choice is its own causa prima without undermining our responsibility for the consequences in deterministic perception. However, this separation, and the postulated numen as a thing-in-itself devoid of human perceptions, built a wall between humanity and the metaphysical realm. The intended consequences of this mechanization lay in finding a logically necessary system of morals. The unintended consequences of this machination are precisely where philosophy finds its desert: a world of numen in which mind refuses to live.

While Kant placed a wall in the individual mind, separating the senses and intellect from the metaphysical reality of the thing-in-itself, Hegel takes this license into senseless material abstraction, under the premise that any narrow view of the material whole may find through its self-reflection the complete understanding of the whole.

Schopenhauer criticizes the entirety of Kant’s approach, saying that it is recycled Platonism. Ironically, it was only Kant’s popularity that drew so much attention to Hume’s methodological naturalist skepticism. Schopenhauer surveyed the full history available from multiple cultures for the first time since the fall of Rome, finding new insights in Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucius, and Taoism. In practice, Kant’s method was too convenient for the morality that submits to the prevailing ideology. If the creation of phenomena occurs in the mind of every self-conscious rational observer, and moral imperatives only apply to self-conscious intelligence, Kant’s prioritization of human valuation over the will expressed in all forms-of-life violated the principle of sufficient reason; instead, Schopenhauer argued our physical experience itself alienates us, the world of representation separates itself from the metaphysical will as a lonely expression of selfish altruism among the collective desire for consciousness.

The will was Schopenhauer’s thing-in-itself, and the will-to-live was far more coextensive than humans or civilization. In the world of will and representation, we experience thorough determinism of signs and even the choices we believe we make are representative interpretations of the movement of the one will; as generator of the forces driving all representational things. Finally, we arrive at the desert of Western philosophy. Stripping away the layers of representation, removing the system of values, both in concept and precept, and anything specific to the strategic goals of the human species, he lands upon the will by wandering into the desert, realizing the will cannot stop willing. Simply, being cannot stop becoming even throughout infinite revolutions and recurrence:

But let us suppose such a scene, stripped also of vegetation, and showing only naked rocks; then from the entire absence of that organic life which is necessary for existence, the will at once becomes uneasy, the desert assumes a terrible aspect, our mood becomes more tragic; the elevation to the sphere of pure knowing takes place with a more decided tearing of ourselves away from the interests of the will; and because we persist in continuing in the state of pure knowing, the sense of the sublime distinctly appears.

Schopenhauer, World as Will and Idea Vol. 1

The inescapable desert of pure knowing led him to immense pessimism, and he believed even the honesty of systems like Stoicism and Buddhism were insufficient for this desert. At one point he articulates this as a conversation among two friends, one wishing to be certain of the eternity of the soul, the other explaining the foolishness of wanting such assurance. In the end, the two call each other childish and part ways with no resolution; this may have been the underlying insight of all his philosophy, that all representation is childish non-sense. The will-to-live expressed in any one life was helplessly biased, and only self-conscious intelligent humanity was fully aware of the terrible burden of moral responsibility implicit in the recurrence.

Supposing anyone agrees to the groundwork of the pessimistic view reacts in the negative, treating its conclusions with any level of anger, indignation, and indolence, where might such a warrior take his passion? For this we find Friedrich Nietzsche, ready to reject the asceticism of any collective religion. He paves the way for a new method of nihilist existentialism that requires individualist positivism. While religious systems had long founded their origins on the ideas of prophets spending their time in the desert, seeking the truth-in-itself, Nietzsche rejected the notion that anyone may meaningfully appropriate these insights from another.

Going even further than Feuerbach or Schopenhauer, Nietzsche deploys his powers of literary criticism to show how the organization of religions around the insights of prophets provides us with the opposite guidance exemplified by their embrace of the desert. We ought to echo these as free spirits, creating our own system of values, not follow blindly the dogma institutionalized complacency. Within the mechanization of an ideological, dogmatic, axiomatized belief system, built in the shadow of these warrior-philosophers, we find the machination of the priests and clerics who, too weak to spend their own time in the desert, prevent all others as well.

The only answer for Nietzsche is to run into the desert, like a camel that has escaped with its burden, shrug it off, become a lion, and battle the enormous dragon “Thou Shalt” so that one may become a child, making new games and values:

“In that the NEW psychologist is about to put an end to the superstitions which have hitherto flourished with almost tropical luxuriance around the idea of the soul, he is really, as it were, thrusting himself into a new desert and a new distrust […] he finds that precisely thereby he is also condemned to INVENT—and, who knows? perhaps to DISCOVER the new.”

– Nietzsche, Beyond Good & Evil

Nietzsche sets the tone for the personal responsibility to become our own prophet in the desert, a warrior-philosopher far removed from the falsehoods of entrapment in the social machine. Albert Camus, who fought as a rebel during the Nazi occupation of France in WWII, took this moral responsibility as the essential meaning of human existence.

In the face of immense human suffering and depravity, surrounded by casualties of war and hopelessness actualized through countless suicides, Camus likewise found a desert in which we must fight for meaning and purpose. He called this desert the “absurd” – the self-consciousness speculative reality we experience, that is neither the material objects nor pure representation of mind. Representation distances us from the simple possibility that consciousness can distrust itself for some strategic reason; or that humanity repeatedly utilizes abstractions to justify murder. Therefore, we must revolt against the absurd and continuously fight for meaning.

It is here that the full history of philosophers rejecting naïve realism, with comprehensive skepticism that we may ever attain objectivity, finally reaches its absurd conclusion from the phenomenologists, that nothing is certain, “evoking after many others those waterless deserts where thought reaches its confines. After many others, yes indeed, but how eager they were to get out of them!” The desert of the real is the end of the power of thought, a limitation few philosophers were willing to accept.

This inability to find justification in knowledge of reality forces the burden of responsibility for our actions on our own shoulders. Thought will not attain certainty of material determinism or spiritual unity. We can only look to other humans for the depravity of the absurd. The mechanization of institutionalized values, which machinate unintended consequences, should not become our complacent acceptance.

“At that last crossroad where thought hesitates, many men have arrived and even some of the humblest. They then abdicated what was most precious to them, their life. Others, princes of the mind, abdicated likewise, but they initiated the suicide of their thought in its purest revolt. The real effort is to stay there […] to examine closely the odd vegetation of those distant regions. Tenacity and acumen are privileged spectators of this inhuman show in which absurdity, hope, and death carry on their dialogue. The mind can then analyze the figures of that elementary yet subtle dance before illustrating them and reliving them itself.”

– Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

When we reach this realization, that nothing human can be certain, that nothing behind or under perception justifies our life, pleasure, suffering, or death; this is where all the interesting and dramatic intricacies of systems of living representations occur.

The absurd is a desert of the mind, the distance or distortion that lies between what the material of the cosmos might be without representation in consciousness and signification by intelligence. The absurd is everything that painfully fails to make sense, such that we reject the validity of our senses, or even put an end to sensory experience. The revolt against this denial and delusion described by Camus, as well as the reality of our moral systems within the social machine, reflects the prophetic independence of Nietzsche’s warrior-philosopher.

Camus concludes that if the absurd is the quintessential defining attribute of human life, he must maintain the discipline of methodological naturalism in his authentic appraisal of the system: “I must sacrifice everything to these certainties and I must see them squarely to be able to maintain them. Above all, I must adapt my behavior to them and pursue them in all their consequences” (Ibid).

He likewise takes stock of the problem of re-valuation of all values and the cowardice to do so. While Nietzsche treats this fear with disgust, Camus treats it with empathy. The desert of the real, the fact that we and all those we love will die, that the world will forget us and everything we ever hoped or desired; to fear the reality of this supposition is only natural:

“But I want to know beforehand if thought can live in those deserts. I already know that thought has at least entered those deserts. There it found its bread. There it realized that it had previously been feeding on phantoms. It justified some of the most urgent themes of human reflection.” Ibid.

For Camus, there is no doubt of how difficult and terrifying it may be to reconsider everything once held valuable, meaningful, and true. An individual re-valuation of all values must proceed when we finally strip away the mechanization and machination that filter our reality. Our time in the desert reveals the alienation and denial that it has brought us, that we are party to the machine, and it prevents us from prioritizing with any lucidity or acumen.

Bertrand Russell summarizes the long-running battle for objectivity similarly in Some Problems of Philosophy, and the alienation it represents, saying, “If we cannot be sure of the independent existence of objects, we shall be left alone in a desert — it may be that the whole outer world is nothing but a dream, and that we alone exist.”

Unfortunately, we have a new problem today. The same mechanization of general intellect implicit in capitalism is a machination that undermines virtuosity and moral responsibility. The interlinked supercomputers in our pockets free us to access more information than ever, but too much information too fast leaves us unable to find any significance in it. This is the decisive step in the process of alienation humanity pursued with the successive objects placed between us: tools, weapons, religion, governments, enclosure, property, currency, contracts, machinery, corporations, computers, the spectacle. The “war of all against all” described by Hobbes, the social machine can finally reduce our natural state of civil war to isolated individuals, so long as they carry their own chains of self-enslavement in their pocket.

We no longer find enclosure in the social machine mechanization of labor, we enclose the machination alienation within our personal machine. The spectacle and virtualization prevent us from reaching any desert of thought and any authentic life. In Simulacra & Simulation, Jean Baudrillard calls this problem hyperreality: “Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.” When social engineering precedes our understanding of rational normative valuation, when the full globalization of economic Oedipalization leaves us with no unaltered experience, we are only able to recognize patterns that Others created ahead of time for us to recognize.

Hyperreality is the universally unauthenticated life. It represents a loss of significance by managing all mystery ahead of time. We do not experience any event authentically because the genuine physicality experience is not the anchor, a virtual experience anchors us ahead of time. If we go camping, virtualization anchors us to what camping is and who campers are through movies, commercials, and social media. To be certain, this is not a new and unexpected result of technology, it is the very essence of technology. Where we once spent time in the desert to escape the representations of the social machine, now we recognize its total inescapability.

Philosophers once inspected the distinction between the world of the mind and the world the mind perceives, some claiming everything was virtual, others claiming everything was machines. Repeatedly, some dualism became established, such that our virtualization, though developed and enclosed by machines, we could feel confident we could escape them. Today our understanding of either loses its innocence, precisely because we finally know how to engineer the patterns. It is no longer a few power-hungry men and the herd instinct of the masses that develops the unintended consequences of our morality, we can no longer claim ignorance or escape. Today we are all party to the data, the algorithms are intentional, and intelligent people fight to manage or mismanage the collateral damage.

“The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory — precession of simulacra — it is the map that engenders the territory […] It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire, but our own. The desert of the real itself. – Baudrillard

Just as the chains of hyperreality prevent us from knowing the distinction between the real and the virtual, between our mechanization and our machination, the desert of the real is no longer a problem between us and material physicality, nor between us and the social machine. Now the absurd reality is within us. As we trace this lineage of the desert, we come full circle to the machines and automata from which self-consciousness attempted to distance us. The remainder of our philosophy will face the ethical and political dilemma in which we awake, to understand the moral weight of decisions, even if these we pursue in a dream within a dream, even if our awakening is only to another dream. We must establish what moral values ought to carry significance regardless of how deep in Plato’s cave we might be. Any mechanization that prevents this personal responsibility to life and existence is a machination.

Regardless of its original evolution, the intended consequence of formalization in written language was to bring humanity together. Abstraction became a powerful tool, trading on the currency of truth-values. Generalization allowed anchored, consistent existential instances to become probable patterns that we could exchange and test against reality. Once language became typography, the rules of grammar formalized and analyzed, and the lexicon of significations network into a matrix of signs, we realized the tool meant to bring us together resulted in our separation. The signs of language are simulacra, words that have definitions prior to our experience of an object. Together, full literacy creates a simulation of the world that we project upon it, distorting its significance. The signs of images in media do the same, so that instead of recognizing an object as a particularized word, we have experiences the name, the image, and the normative reactions of others in advance. Finally, we take all these simulations and place them on our own body, first in the pocket, then as wearable, with a goal to achieve further integration. Virtualization consumes us prior to any experience of reality.

Our time in the desert of the real means that we cannot look to a higher or lower plane of existence, or base our morality on the significance of rules outside ourselves. Now there are no rules outside us, only the axiomatization of our simulations, rules which we either manage or mismanage. For Schopenhauer, the desert was our capacity to resist the will and engage in pure simulation. For Nietzsche, the desert was the struggle to create new systems of significance and new patterns of understanding. For Camus, the desert was the absurd distance that alienates us from objectivity. In Baudrillard, we finally face our desert of the real, that the loss of any objectivity leaves everyone equally speculative, in a simulation we create and cannot escape. We are party to all the unintended consequences of the system and must build a better machine.

Systemic Liberty & Component Freedom

Components act as units of teleonomic reproduction. They warrant attention as objects reliable as decision nodes. Complex networks of nodes may develop based on simple decision rules despite the pressures of entropy. If the nodes are not stable enough in the reproduction of decision rules, network complexity will not arise. Node reproduction relies on the equilibrium-stable identity maintained. Free play can generate networks, but continuous irreducibility and consistent rule identities are prerequisites of system regeneration.

Freedom of unrestricted components in any system of exchange manifests as unmanaged, uncoordinated interaction of market tacticians. These desiring-machines are not only homogenous but equally rational, equally information-bearing and equally demand-producing. Lumping homogenous tactical components creates unstable networks but fails to produce stable complex adaptive systems. Complex adaptive systems require objectification of nodes as homogenous resources. Therefore, freedom without accumulation of inequalities produces an enormous, boring aggregate of bacterium, heaped in a pile.

The pressure to submit to rules of objectification arises out of power-law dynamics; will-to-power is this final power-law trajectory of the cosmos. These competing systemic forces shape the success of free play at many levels of continuous irreducibility. Without gravity, magnetism, sexuality, pain, discontent, axiomatic drives so ingrained in our sense of mastery that very few recognize their enslavement, the system breaks out of the cadence of synchronization. Homogenous freedom, perfect equality of all components, results in a non-system.

Morality in practice develops consistent rules of ethics. Politics reproduce these ethical systems. Freedom and equality cannot form a complex system of teleonomic reproduction. The State (as with the body, the cosmos) cannot empower its citizens beyond a certain limit of relative freedoms, disseminated through its system of inequalities, justified by the morality of its axiomatics. There can be no anarchy-state. Any freedom of socioeconomic exchange and any individualization of sociopolitical force is thereby post-paternalistic, all liberation is post-despotic.

We find this easy to accept so long as the law is orders of magnitude away from our daily exchange relations. Systems of relations and variables are always systems of inequalities, not only in the mathematic but also the social phase space. Without these inequalities, there is no differentiation of variables, no separation of space-time, no mass or gravity, no weak or strong nuclear force. It is only through an anti-equality, heterogeneity in four or more dimensions, that the system can intelligibly produce homogeneity of one category versus another.

The supply curve emerges unequal to but continuously relating in juxtaposition with the demand curve. The exponential decay of economies of scale emerge unequal but continuously relating to the exponential growth of inventory holding costs. It is precisely when we chain together the abstraction of any given variable into a continuous function that probable inequality is meaningful despite the complete absence of a single representative for the inequalities of the system.

How silly of us to say, as it were, that this particularized man is a “demand variable” or that particularized woman is a “supply variable” of these socioeconomic networks! This was always the fantastic insight of the economics and physics of the early Modern Era – when we take an economic view of a sociopolitical system, there is no need to find any particularized representative of inequalities. The gradation of ranks emerges without management, though this is frequently a mismanagement. Emergent systems only need continuous sampling to keep the function unequal, and thereby meaningful, in comparison to other functions.

We can see that an increasing comfort with abstraction, probability, and tolerance limits has driven human progress. For example, the ability to symbolize (representation) not actual inventory, nor actual intrinsic worth, nor actual persons who exchange, but the logical set of all items held, all wealth accumulated, all persons who may exchange. Only then does the human symbolization of inventory, particles, and citizens plot into waves of normalized, probable, continuous possibilities.

To the quantum system, truth-value is a particle; but it is only a particle in principle. The statistician’s real and indoctrinated citizen must exist somewhere in this probability density of the population. Is she economic supply or demand? Is he political inventory holding cost or political transaction cost? These systems of inequalities are vectors, but only in aggregated calculation, in sufficient populations, driving us toward that ultimate capitalist conclusion – s/he is a superposition vector

Superposition citizenship, a moving-forward forward concretization, a superposition of a multitude of vectors, functions, calculi, and inequalities. The citizen is a particle of the social fabric, if only in principle. The atomic particle and the quantum particle are likewise citizens in principle. These are all inventions of the human mind, “real” functions, mathematically, but non-actual existentially. How lucky for us that such schizophrenia and bipolarity, such increasing alienation of probability from singularity, turned out to be pragmatically essential to a digital revolution that will self-perpetuate, remembering our imaginary simulacra on our behalf!

However, we come to an uncomfortable relation in singularity. Who am I, in a phase of recursive reflexivity, when my most reliable identity is the one defined by standard deviations from a particularized citizen that is true “in principle” beyond a reasonable doubt, but is axiomatized upon the acceptance that existential instantiation is merely relative? The failure of unquestioned personal morality lies in unquestioning submission to the ethics of the political system. More often, this results in displacement into some invasive ideology as system of denial, because the system of values has become morally bankrupt. This is a pornographization of the soul (even in the absence of gods) that would make the most despotic of the medieval popes jealous. The consumer-citizen no longer compelled to produce or consume commodities; that is a foregone conclusion. The weak, cowardly, distracted soul must now produce and consume itself. This production is relative to the gravitational pull of normalized continuous citizenship waves, again, in principle.

The “Priority” field in JIRA

The Legacy We Build Upon

The topic of lean metrics requires an understanding of the influence of Kanban and the Toyota Production System. Scrum, as an agile process framework, was built as a lightweight version of the TPS Kanban practices that anyone could use, while Atlassian developed JIRA to enable visualization of any process, regardless of its complexity.

The “priority” field originated as part of Jira’s oldest legacy as an issue-tracking system. Greenhopper was a plug-in that enabled the issue-tracking database and web services to be used for Lean-Agile teams. Greenhopper created a new front end for the data in JIRA – namely, the work-in-progress board and the product backlog – so that a Scrum team or Kanban team could use JIRA for agile.  Ultimately, this became synonymous with JIRA and the today it ships with the agile front end OOTB.

In Scrum, the Product Backlog is used for prioritization, so the “priority” field has little meaning. In Kanban, the priority field is used to create swim-lanes based on Classes of Service.

Expedite Anything That Blocks Value Creation or Capture

“Blocker” would indicate that WIP limits can be violated and workers should interrupt their current work in favor of Expediting the blocker through the system so it doesn’t not cause long-running damage to continuous flow. The equivalent in Scrum is building out a process for stories, tasks, or bugs that are allowed to violate the Sprint commitment. In either case, the goal is to recognize that this is costly and unhealthy, an exception to normal rules. Unless it is a production defect, some element of the expedite cost should levied against the person demanding special treatment.

Flush the System of Any Critical Items that Disturb Continuous Flow

“Critical” would indicate that a card should “jump over” all other items at each step in the process, but it should not interrupt work or violate WIP limits. These items get to cut to the front of the line, but are not allowed to interrupt completion of existing efforts. The equivalent in Scrum is building out a process for what items, if any, are immediately prioritized to the top of the Product Backlog. It is typical for this to be a “Fixed Date” class of service – because fixed dates are the most consistent destroyer of sustainable flow, we want to get those things out of the way quickly so that the system can return to normal.

Everything Else Follows the “Normal” Process

“Major” and “Minor” and “Trivial” are typically part of the same Standard (aka normal) Class of Service. If used in Scrum, it is primarily for the benefit of the Product Owner to visualize previous conclusions about prioritization. In Kanban, these are meant to respect all WIP limits and follow a First-In-First-Out (FIFO) method at each step in the process.

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?

7 Simple Steps to Agile Transformation

I am never sure how to answer someone who says “What is agile?” After all, my mind is racing so fast that my ultimate, simple explanation – “A way to innovate and deliver products more effectively” leaves me wishing I could kidnap people for a 3-day course on lean-agile and continuous delivery.

What I can simplify (for someone who has a basic understanding of agile) are the steps in a true transformation, so that they can let me know where they are in the process.  Note that I have ordered these quite logically, while the real world is full of resistance, grey area, and co-evolution.

  1. Establish a cadence of synchronization (typically, this is scrum). Hypothesize the results of every change ahead of making it, test it, and validate or invalidate the hypothesis.  Inspect and adapt.
  2. Change from a human resource allocation mindset to a well-formed team mindset.
  3. Change from a finite project mindset to a living product mindset.
  4. Sell who you are, not what you plan to have on a shelf in X months.
  5. Change from a P&L and ROI mindset to an Economic Value Flow across the organization mindset (including upgrades in equipment, training for knowledge workers, benefits that raise barriers to exit).
  6. Change from centralized (top-down) market research, innovation planning, and risk assessment to distributed control over prudent risks.  This requires a framework for self-validation of discoveries, exploitation of opportunities, and communication of results.
  7. Change from performance tracking and formal leadership to systems optimization and organic leadership.

Hit Contact if you’d like to discuss your scenario or any of these points – I’m always available.

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

 

You do NOT want Transparency

Disruption and Transparency

As a custom app dev consultant I constantly get inserted into the space between organization silos – between marketing and accounting, between sales and operations, between IT and product management.  The agency life makes you a fly on the wall in meetings where groups who avoid each other are forced to work together directly for the first time. Maybe it is the nature of disruption, whether it is a lean, agile, or digital “transformation” – but it creates immense hoopla about and demands for “transparency”.

Transparency is promised all around, named as a priority in meetings, and complained about when people feel like they’re out of the loop. As the old bard said, “Ay, there lies the rub.”

Transparency is not what anyone wants.

Requesting transparency, instead, represents the desire for visibility and proper prioritization of important information as it flows to the people who will be impacted by it.  If someone doesn’t have an understanding of what information they want prioritized, “transparency” is really just an expression of distrust.

Transparency is saying “I don’t know what information is important, I don’t trust you to prioritize it for me, so give me access to all of it.”

Now don’t get me wrong, this post is not about how to allow or restrict access to data. Instead, if you are part of a disruption-in-progress, keep an eye out for communication anti-patterns.  When a complex system is creating new cultural repertoire, adapting to disruption, new information flows must be created.  New decision patterns emerge.  Some people like the change and others are oblivious to it until the day it hurts them because they personally failed to adapt. 

Examples of Communication Anti-Patterns:

  • Email notifications that are really just internal company spam.
  • Managers who request to be added to meeting invites “just in case” they want to pop in.
  • Sending someone a raw (and sort of meaningless) export of data in spreadsheet form as an “answer” to their question.
  • Stakeholders who demand access to the agile tool (JIRA, Rally, Trello) but never look at it.
  • You get a casual question about status and answer by forwarding several email chains.
  • Making up new KPIs and performance metrics that don’t matter.
  • Virtually every version of reports on “utilization” that I’ve seen.
  • Anonymous complaints to executive leadership about secrecy around financial status.
  • Weekly meetings that review numbers that only change quarterly.

I’m sure you have another hundred examples, just like I do.

So whether you adopting a new tool, some kind of “enablement” software, in your aspirations for lean scalability, changing your agile or DevOps processes to encourage innovation, or embracing digital transformation as a path to new business models and potential revenue: be human.  When nonsensical requests for transparency happen, let it inspire a dialogue (or several) about what information is most important to each person and the best way to present it.  If you didn’t see the future and have all those conversations up-front, guess what?  No one does. Start driving human dialogue as soon as you notice there is a communication anti-pattern.

Visualize Your Work – and Show it off!

And, if these aren’t problems you’re having right now, you should still think about the best ways to visualize your work in progress. You will benefit psychologically, someday you’ll be able to answer new but important questions to a manager or colleague more appropriately, and you’ll discover what you can teach to other who are earlier in their professional journey.

Are Robots Stealing Our Jobs???

I interview people at all levels of an organization during a Digital Transformation. Since the business case for transformation assumes lean process improvements, I have two goals:
– Make the information that runs the business into data a computer can “understand”
– Replace the non-human, monotonous tasks related to information with computers

To give away the ending here – the robots aren’t taking over. When I am done, all the social context, human relationships, and important judgement calls are still human-made. What we change is how quickly the mundane data-massaging, tiring research, and waiting between email chains that delay all of those human decisions. So I have a goal when I start interviewing: remove inefficiencies and make existing workflows more scalable. This implies automation.

One key thing here: nothing your business does is just chaos. I absolutely spend more time convincing people that an algorithm can capture the complexity of what drives decisions than I do formulating the algorithm. No matter how loosely controlled or gut-feel driven the decisions are, once a business grows into the 100s of employees, I can represent most of your processes with an algorithm. I could even replace the important human decisions with another algorithm that would succeed within a reasonable margin of the average employee, but that’s too risky. Instead, we make notifications and intuitive user interfaces to let one person make the same important decisions 10x or 100x as efficiently, making everyone more scalable. Don’t lay people off. Make it easy for them to increase their value-add.

Interestingly, there is a powerful cultural influence in these conversations due to the mistaken belief that “automation” somehow equals “artificial intelligence” – when what it really means is “fairly basic math equations tied together into one big powerful formula”. The intelligence is completely human-created, human-programmed, and human-managed. So I inevitably but happily show it works prior to convincing someone it works, because depending on their place in the company, the idea of automation replacing humans can be an ideal direction loaded with false optimism or a terrifying slippery slope where unrealistic pessimism prevails.

Both cultural perspectives ultimately distort the conversation.

In its really old roots in the Toyota Production System, the introduction of an “ejector” was a huge benefit to the safety, well-being, and efficiency of a machine worker. Before the ejector, a worker would carry a part to a machine that had just finished its task on a previous part. The employee would put down the part they were carrying, take out the previous part, pick up the next part to put it in the machine, then pick up the previous part. With an ejector system, the machine gets the previous part out of the way so that the worker just walks up and loads the next part, then takes the previous one, checks it for quality, moves it along the line.

Think of all your manual spreadsheet updates, paperwork, phone calls, and email chains just like that. You’ll still check the output for quality before passing along information or making a decision, but automation, notifications, workflow rules, and algorithms can save you a fair amount of your pain by pushing or ejecting what you need when you need it (keeping it out of your way the rest of the time).

This makes the value-add or revenue potential of every existing Customer Service or Sales or Marketing employee scalable beyond what additional hiring can accomplish. Lean Process automation doesn’t mean replacing all operations with an AI. This is the foundation of “Autonomation” – where a worker no longer manually labors at one machine, but becomes a manager of multiple “machines” – multiplying the value-add per employee. Replace the painful, slow, or unnecessary steps with a computer, while keeping the human element – the important decisions, the social context, the gut feel, human.

“Digital Transformation” Beyond the Hype

Living in the tech implementation space, the most exciting moment in a “Digital Transformation” for me is near the beginning of any project or initiative.  It’s the moment someone who is integral to operations finally opens the 5″ binder that has been sitting on their desk untouched; and finding the information contained in the binder is fundamental to all company revenue.  Or it’s the moment the battle book comes out from the sales VP and the ensuing conversation shows – to the collective surprise of the rest of the participants – there is no standardized pricing, and no tracking of how prices get negotiated.  Or it’s that moment I find a clipboard and start asking about the origin, purpose, and destination of each form.

That’s the juicy part.

On factory tours, in “working sessions” and project kickoffs, or detailing the business logic for an implementation, this is the moment my work is no longer just “make it prettier and online” and the conversation starts driving an actual transformation – of the workplace experience and overarching business model – using “digital” technology.

The reason this moment is so exciting for me happens to also the answer to the question I’ve heard at more than one barbecue from an older neighbor – “And what exactly are you transforming?”

I think that’s a great question in retrospect.

What we are actually transforming is information.

  • We take the information created purely for human consumption;
  • We make it easy for “computers” to read it efficiently instead of humans;
  • We use “computers” to present the information more quickly to more people.

It’s that simple. 

Pragmatically, that’s the process that takes the hard-to-maintain spreadsheets that become binders or clipboard papers and transforms them into intuitive digital interfaces (they are also “online and pretty”). By simplifying all of that socially complex and context-dependent information into a flat table a computer can understand, you become free to add all of the social and contextual perspective in multiple ways later (channel and audience specific) instead of just one way forever (in that binder).