Success is a Unique Configuration

management science philosophy heuristics

(Note: I am trying to find a new word to replace 'manager', which I find wholly insufficient. So I'm taking the word out of and use a placeholder [.])

We like to believe there is a secret to all things.

Or rather, a reproducible secret to all things. Or rather, that what one person did well we can do as well.

We might call this the heuristic of awesome. That there is something I can do with little effort that will get me what that person has.

If this were so I think it unlikely humanity would have accomplished so much.

We prove ourselves in fields of endeavors that are of our own choosing. We create the circumstances for our victory or defeat from the unique context of our lives. There is no heuristic of awesome that is common across all people.

We see things others do not. If another person does not see it, we have a choice of belief. Is it there or am I just imagining things? Both answers can be yes.

This is the pathway to delusion as much as the pathway to greatness. Perhaps the two are the same thing in the end. Belief is a powerful thing.

Success is a unique configuration that people see because the shadow of their vision falls in a certain way. We create circumstances in the pursuit of something.

We can describe those circumstances with money, power, fame or such things. But they are just the shadows cast by the unique vision that only we can at first see.

Because, even if we see something for what it is, or what it can be, then we still have to gather the belief of others.

There is some magic in all this that I struggle to define. And I’m drawn to define it.

Because by seeking to understand it I hope to point others in the direction of its attainment.

I think and work in the field of business and the profession of [.]. Business brings together so much human endeavor and the profession of [.] so much human identity. They give us metaphors for life and living.

One thing people do well is categorize. Categorization is a fundamental element of business because it is a fundamental element of how we think, define and explain.

The way we categorize things shapes how we see things. How we see things guides how we act. And one element I am certain about the profession of [.] is that it finds its best expression in taking action.

[.] is a practice.

It is about doing. Doing is about applying the self to a task and, ideally, as part of a clear plan. The ideal is sometimes practical, but often not.

Sometimes we have no plan and sometimes we have a plan that we know is poor. But whatever the case we know we must act. Some of us do and some of us do not. Some of those who do are [.] as are some of those who do not.

This is another reason why the word [.] is insufficient. It is too diffuse and broad. We can achieve great things in life, but to a significant degree we can do so only when dealing with specifics.

Our first task is to seek after clarity.

The profession of [.] has a significant element of science to it. It is also philosophical in nature. It is a profession that requires an active mind and constant connection to the change being sought.

Because the [.] must think in terms of the future as much as the past. They bring the two together in the present.

Which brings us to the first challenge of the [.]. If our first task is clarity, our first hurdle is defining the future. The future is diffuse while the past is concrete.

The past has the advantage of being composed of facts. We can point to a procession of facts and interpret them in a way that is coherent with what we believe. We take these patterns and overlay them on the future and find the means to convince ourselves that what we see is true.

Success is a unique configuration discoverable by individuals searching for something. It is contextual. Sometimes we see it as a class of things and we can build a shared vocabulary that defines those things.

This lets others attempt for reproducible success. But we should always be careful about buying into this.

It’s an illusion and when we cease questioning what things mean and really are we lose our ability to influence the situation.

Take the term ‘entrepreneur’.

It has found an meaning quite different from that which Jean Baptiste Say chose it to mean. To him, an entrepreneur is someone who moves resources from the unproductive to the productive.

Many members of the [.] profession compete to model as best they can the modern interpretation of the word.

We are heading towards some sort of ‘peak entrepreneur’ when people recognize that there is a lot more to successful business.

As a business historian I'm interested in the GFC as a historical event. It helps us recognize that much of what we believed of business and [.] was incorrect. I’m also interested that people recognize that the GFC was as much a bubble of conceit as it was a financial bubble.

After the bubble popped we were left feeling slightly grubby about business. This is when the business model generation set out to create a whole new set of tools to describe their world.

The problem is, there is a lot of good business and [.] tools and techniques that remain of significant value. We are in a liminal state where we have some of the old and some of the new and can only discover what works by combining them.

This is why it’s important to recognize that the profession of [.] is a practice.

It’s a practice that relies on science and philosophy to help shape the future and interpret the past. But it is fundamentally an exercise in applied volition.

And it needs to remain so because our attempts at logical consistency are worthy but doomed. It takes great effort to maintain discipline around mitigating our cognitive limitations.

The effort to do so makes us stronger but our attempts to derive universal truths in the profession of [.] miss the point.

Success is a unique configuration and to discover it we must get active, make decisions, explore our environment, pursue our geas and make things up as we go along.

Thankfully we’ve rediscovered the scientific method of late and are reapplying it to the profession of [.]. Well, some of us are.

But there is a deeper issue at play with the application of science to [.]. The profession picked up scientific tools and techniques before it had defined its universe.

This led to a misguided attempt to apply the techniques successful in the physical sciences to the profession of [.].

We might think ‘so what’. That this is just a question of academic interest. We might take it for granted the idea that management is a practice. That there is no issue of ‘helpful’ science and ‘unhelpful’ science.

Not so. Social proof is a powerful force.

Because we have for so long worked in a context of competitive, task focused and individualistic business values we have decades upon decades of behavioral influences telling us the science of [.] is closely related to the physical sciences.

We have adapted ourselves to conform to this background of belief. We have taken it to be true and thereby made it to be true.

In so doing we made it harder for disconfirming views to coexist. The history of ideas has been one of stringent attempts at orthodoxy seeking to drive out diversity. Within our organizations we reinforce this search for orthodoxy in our promotion values.

This is why the 'pretense of knowledge' has been such a disaster and why the GFC has been such a blessing. We reject disconfirmation and only events of unmistakable importance push us to question our beliefs.

Many great minds are working to form the basis of a scientific view of the universe that shapes and influences the profession of [.].

This broad and simultaneous inquiry is leading to many new tools and techniques. This is how it should be. Tool follows concept which comes from people.

We can trace much of what ails the profession of [.] to putting tools before people. And this without taking the time to think through the underlying concepts.

Which, by the way, is why we should all think very carefully about our love affair with Big Data.

The science of understanding the world of the [.] is based on motive, not on motion. It is about intention. It is about volition.

This requires the determined observer to take a different approach to observation and measurement.

We can thank the likes of Thaler, Kahneman and Drucker for giving us permission to step away from causal determinism as the basis for analysing business and the profession of [.].

We are now able to turn the fullness of our attention to the matter at hand without having to ignore the obvious.

Part of the secret to enjoying a film is being able to suspend disbelief. Suspending disbelief was also necessary to make much of conventional business science work.

For too many years we indulged ourselves in the folly of seeking to explain the behavioral in terms of the physical.

The social sciences defy causal explanation. They defy functional explanation.

We made a valiant effort to make it work and employed the full gamut of our facilities for seeking coherency. And it was working. Thanks again to the GFC we came to see the emperor wasn’t that well dressed after all.

We can understand the profession of [.] in terms of action driven by intention. This is why we must view it as a practice. It is someting learned and understood by doing and referring back to what it was we were seeking to achieve.

This is what Aristotle described as phronesis. The wisdom of determining ends and the means of attaining them. How the right course of action depends on the details of a particular situation. How the automatic application of a law doesn't lead to understanding.

Success is a unique configuration. There is no heuristic of awesome that we can apply to a situation. The great tools that have emerged following the GFC are like rorschach tests.

They push us to describe a particular configuration of success that we can achieve, something that emerges from our urge to conquer.

We seek to shape the future such that it arrives in our present in a state that we can take advantage of. The future is diffuse and requires our will to shape it. By acting upon our intention to shape the future we create the means for it to emerge in our present.

Success is a unique configuration that emerges from consistent and intentional application of our will to an unshaped future.

The world of the [.] is based on intention, motive and expectations. Ethics and morality of action are inexorably rolled into the mix. Ethics is all responsible business has. It is about the desire to make the world a better place.

The world of business and the [.] professional are complex social systems. They defy analysis without synthesis. Partialization, analytical reductionism and our yearnings to make the world explicable encourage us to indulge in the semblance of certainty.

We are wired to ignore the disconfirming evidence and so find it easy to suspend our disbelief. That people are tired of pretending is apparent when reading modern leadership literature.

Writers often roll their eyes at the scientific applications of the profession of [.] by using language such as ‘so-called management science’. This is how destructive the attempt to take intention out of the study of [.] has been.

It has driven us to distrust the application of scientific thinking to the profession of [.]. A slew of disciplines have sought to take its place. This is what a discredited idea looks like.

And we must resist it.

We are prone to mental laziness and don’t see the shortcuts we take. But this is one we need to force ourselves to discover. We have to turn this decay of belief around.

We have to put aside easy refrains like ‘oh, that’s an intangible and can’t be measured’ and ‘oh, we can’t do anything about that - it’s out of our control’.

Without making an effort to make plain the mysterious we open ourselves up to the hero leader and professional hand-waver.

These are not the droids you're looking for.

This is important because the success of the professional [.] is based on their ability to make disparate groups of independent knowledge workers create more than the sum of their parts.

People thrive in open systems. Open systems demand clarity and explicability.

When we shy away from the effort of presenting the complex in plain language we lose the opportunity for unique combinations that the post-GFC world offers.

And when we avoid that task we also avoid our own learning. To teach something is the best way to learn it. If the student has not learnt, then the teacher has not taught. This is an exercise in mutual communication.

It’s important because there is no dashboard more effective than the invisible culture that binds people. And that emerges when people understand within the limitations of our means of conception the system within which they work.

The lure of the analytics industry is that it will make plain the invisible. So that then we may apply the familiar controls of mass production organizations.

Perhaps this will happen but I’m not putting money on it. This is another reason why I emphasize the need to think of growth in terms of better than bigger.

Past a certain size a system becomes inexplicable in simple terms. I’m not making a statement about the limits of complexity science here. I’m making a statement about our ability to conceive of the complex.

So that we can anticipate and coordinate the actions of others without complicated control mechanisms. There is something very human in the profession of [.] that exposes the limits of scientific application.

It’s not about the science. It’s about the people.

All business is people business.

This is why intention, motive and expectation must form the enduring heart of the practice of the profession of [.].

Because there is another conceit that is forming within the analytics world. It is based on our unconscious desire to substitute an easier question for a harder one. It is the idea that data can be subjected to an alchemical process that produces insight.

Perhaps it might. But the focus of a vast industry to discover a version of the Philosophers Stone misses the point.

Information emerges from communication. And our basis of communication remains one of telling. We communicate nothing by telling.

Communication is enacted by the receiver. This means communication emerges from asking. Information is not given, it is obtained.

Information emerges from asking. It matters little if we discover the secret of life: if it is not described in the language of the asker then it remains undiscovered.

Data confuses, misdirects and complicates. Big Data just does it on an industrial scale.

We can’t industrialize communication. The more people learn and grow the more obtuse and specific becomes their questions. This is good: it is what success looks like.

The profession of [.] needs to be based on principles not data. And the first principle is that [.] is a practice that seeks a unique configuration of events.

Success will emerge from consistent and intentional application of our will to an unshaped future. And this takes practice.

The world of the [.] is based on intention, motive and expectations.