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What makes a primary source authentic?

I’ve just been listening to a press briefing being given by President Trump and his team yesterday…  two things struck me as very interesting. 

He was asked by a reporter what he had to say to those who are very afraid just now.  His response was that it was a nasty question and the reporter was a bad reporter.  He then explained that he was an optimist, that it was a matter of patriotic duty to be an optimist, and to promulgate narratives that were not optimistic was to promulgate fake news.

He also spoke in favor of using the anti-malarial drug, asking what people had to lose in trying it.  Better to travel in hope than to criticise. When asked to comment, Dr Fauci did not disagree with the President, but pointed out that they were using different criteria.  While the President’s words were optimistic, based on anecdotal evidence, Dr Fauci’s view, that we don’t yet know if it will work, was based on the current state of clinical evidence.

I wondered what was going on here. It appeared to me to be a collision between two quite different approaches to ‘truth’. The first of these emerged following the Reformation. People were no longer prepared to rely on priests to read the ‘truth’ on their behalf and there was an emancipation of reading, made possible by the Gutenberg and Caxton technologies. The Enlightenment emerged subsequently as a way in which individuals could learn how to read the right way. ‘Science’ as we have come to understand it was born, an ‘expert’ becoming someone who can say what is ‘true’ because they are recognised as knowing the right ways of reading. Except that there are many who would now say that so-called ‘experts’ are just the latest version of the pre-Reformation priests.

This is leading to the second approach to ‘truth’, made possible by social media and internet technology, for example by Google and Facebook. This is an emancipation of authorship in which individuals want to author their own ways of reading, i.e. their own ways of giving meaning to what is going on (wigo).  It gives rise to people choosing to live in their own ‘bubble’, i.e. interacting with people who share the same authorial relationship to wigo, whether from a ‘left‘ or a ‘right‘ perspective. Historians refer to this ‘bubble’ effect as source bias in the way wigo is described (as distinct from the point-of-view of the observer doing the describing).

My hypothesis about what is going on, then, is that when President Trump refers to fake news, he is challenging the source bias of its authors. Those of us identified with the Enlightenment, on the other hand, are hearing what he is saying as challenging the factual basis of the news. Corroborating evidence here for my hypothesis is Zuckerberg’s defense of “primary source speech” last October, in which he equated it with giving voice to people. In practice, this meant Facebook not censoring politicians’ campaign material. In effect, President Trump is claiming the right to give voice to his views. We are questioning the factual basis of his views.

After the Reformation, society developed ‘science’ as a way of choosing between different ways of reading, institutionalised by universities. Are we now going to be seeing the institutionalisation of right ways of authoring? Is a dictatorship of a majority the way of determining which bubble we should be living in? What is to constitute ‘truth’ in an age of emancipated authorship?  In an age of ‘critical studies’, in which it is as if each of us has at least one book in us, what, for example, makes a book worth writing? What would we say makes a primary source authentic?

The authenticity of feelings we have about something rests upon our personal valency for that way of feeling, ‘valency’ here meaning that which fits with our personal history. A bubble emerges through sharing aspects of our personal valency reflected in what we take to be ‘true’. To question our personal valency, therefore, is to question the authenticity of our speaking. What is in question here is not what we are saying so much as our ability to entertain doubt about the ‘truth’ of what we are saying.[1] I guess what distinguishes President Trump, then, is his wish that we not entertain doubt about what he is saying. How weird is that?


[1]. This invokes Peirce’s ‘irritation of doubt’, from his 1877 paper on “The Fixation of Belief” in Popular Science Monthly 12 (November), pages 1-15. This is the fourth in a series of ways of establishing ‘truth’ – (i) by common sense, (ii) by the method of authority, (iii) by a priori assumptions and (iv) by working through an ‘irritation of doubt’ raised by an existing ‘truth’. I consider the challenge presented by the fourth of these in Boxer, P. J. (2018). “Working with ‘the irritation of doubt’: the place of metaphor.” Socioanalysis 20: 27-50.

Edge and edginess

by Philip Boxer

Collaboration involves working with experiences in groups.  As such, consideration can be given to basic assumption activity affecting the work of the group – the way our personal unconscious valencies affect the ways in which we work together.  In this context, we can think of edginess as being on a personal edge…  the angst associated with being beyond our own comfort zone.  On edge, perhaps!  But how does this relate to the “edge” in edge-driven collaboration?

The following triangle separates these two concepts: edginess can be experienced as much within the boundary/perimeter of the organization as at its edges.

The challenge in collaborative learning, however, is to be able to use the experience of edginess to tell us something about what is going on at the edge.

The ‘wickedness’ of socio-technical ecosystems

by Philip Boxer

Software-intensive ecosystems—systems with large numbers of independent software-intensive and human agents and adaptive behavior—are an increasingly important social, financial, and political force in the world. These systems are different from traditional “closed-world” systems: they are constantly evolving, they have no centralized control, they have many heterogeneous elements, their requirements are inherently conflicting and unknowable, failures are normal, and the boundary between people and systems is blurred. [1]

Such ecosystems have emergent properties – properties which their original designers could not predict – and present a kind of “wicked” problem.[2] Wicked problems have the following characteristics:

  • There is no definitive formulation.
  • They have no stopping rule.
  • Solutions are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad.
  • There is no immediate or ultimate test of a solution.
  • They do not have a well-described set of potential solutions.
  • Every implemented solution has consequences.
  • Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  • Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  • The causes of a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways.
  • The planner (designer) has no right to be wrong.

Wicked problems are thus not amenable to traditional reductionist analysis. As Rittel and Webber say: “As we seek to improve the effectiveness of actions in pursuit of valued outcomes, as system boundaries get stretched, and as we become more sophisticated about the complex workings of open societal systems, it becomes ever more difficult to make the planning idea operational”. We simply cannot draw a box around the “system” and analyze it. This presents us with a challenge not just at the level of the software ecosystem, but also at the level of the socio-technical ecosystems that they support. While this challenge appears to undermine our ability to do any meaningful analysis, simply not analyzing such ecosystems is not an acceptable option given that society is increasingly dependent on them – for example, the ecosystems supported by the internet and the “smart grid” for energy production and distribution.

The US Army considered the impact of these wicked problems on the Commander’s Appreciation and Campaign Design, which it defined as “ill-structured”. It concluded that a different approach to problem solving was needed that was inductive in nature, concerned with producing “a well-framed problem hypothesis and an associated campaign design—a conceptual approach for the problem.” [3] Thus as much attention had to be paid to the way the problem was framed (i.e. to the way the boxes were defined), as to the subsequent analysis of what was placed within those boxes. The conclusion reached was as follows:

“The issue is whether a commander should begin by analyzing the mission, or whether complexity compels the commander to first understand the operational problem, and then—based upon that understanding—design a broad approach to problem solving. The answer to this question depends upon the problem and the mission. If the problem is structured so that professionals can agree on how to solve it, and the mission received from higher headquarters is properly framed and complete, then it makes sense to begin with the analysis of the mission (breaking it down into specified, implied, and essential tasks). However, if the problem is unstructured (professionals cannot agree on how to solve the problem), or the mission received from higher headquarters is not properly framed (it is inappropriate for this problem), or higher headquarters provided no clear guidance (permissive orders), then it is crucial to begin by starting to identify and understand the operational problem systemically. This is one of the functions of operational art.”

Another way of stating the challenge, therefore, is to analyze our understanding of the contexts-of-use into which our systems are being deployed before analyzing any proposed architectures for such systems, or proposed architectural changes, to ensure that they are as suitable as possible given our understanding of those contexts-of-use. In this way, architecture analysis becomes an alignment mechanism, ensuring that the software infrastructure that we build is as appropriate as possible for the needs of the contexts-of-use, which collectively form a socio-technical ecosystem.

These socio-technical ecosystems are distinguished by the presence of both task systems and the social systems of meaning that they support. [4] In order to examine the architectural characteristics of both software-intensive and socio-technical ecosystems, traditional architectural analysis must be extended to account for how alignment impacts on the wicked (ill-structured) nature of ecosystems. Such an analysis can give us insight into the properties of an ecosystem and can help us reason about the alignment of the ecosystem with the goals of its many stakeholders.

[1] This perspective on complex adaptive systems exhibiting organized complexity is to be found in Northrop, L., et al., Ultra-Large-Scale Systems: The Software Challenge of the Future. June, 2006, Pittsburgh: Software Engineering Institute, Carnegie Mellon University.
[2] The original use of this term is to be found in Rittel, H. and M. Webber, Dilemmas in the General Theory of Planning. Policy Sciences, 1973.
[3] TRADOC, Commander’s Appreciation and Campaign Design. 2008.
[4] The original work on this emphasized that while sentient and task groups might correspond, the nature of task systems and snetient systems were essentially incommensurable. Quoting from Miller, E. J. and A. K. Rice (1967), Systems of Organization: The Control of Task and Sentient Boundaries. London, Tavistock: “We have considered many different words – commitment, identity, affiliation, cathexis – to denote the groups with which human beings identify themselves, as distinct from task groups, with which they may or may not become identified. We have chosen sentient – ‘that feels or is capable of feeling; having the power or function of sensation or of perception by the senses, 1632’ (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary) – as expressing most clearly what we mean. We shall therefore talk of sentient system and sentient group to refer to that system or group that demands and receives loyalty from its members; and we shall talk of a sentient boundary to refer to the boundary round a sentient group or sentient system. We shall use sentience to mean ‘the condition or quality of being sentient’ (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary)”.

The Double Challenge: working through the tension between meaning and motivation

by Philip Boxer
This was a presentation and a paper given at a 2008 ISPSO Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

An enterprise is made up of a number of systems of practice within which its work is organized, whether the enterprise is public or private, virtual or not, or for profit or not. Such an enterprise faces a double challenge in the way it elaborates its systems of practice: this challenge places it between what it knows how to do, and the demands made on it by turbulent environments[1] that take it beyond what it knows. A case study of a large system, the US wildland fire service, is used to exemplify these ideas, and the implications for considering the kinds of leadership that are needed to meet this challenge. Motivation is defined as that which emerges where there are gaps in the ability of the enterprise to do what it needs to survive and prosper, that is gaps in its systems of practice. These gaps are understood as ‘driving’ the enterprise[2], and show themselves as dilemmas that are symptomatic of these gaps. The double challenge presented by these dilemmas are relate to vertical and horizontal kinds of leadership[3]. This double challenge provides a way of understanding both the competitive pressures on the organization, and the way the individual experiences those pressures. And it is the horizontal axis and the relationship of the person in an edge role to authorization that makes the difference. We can summarize this difference in terms of different approaches to leadership. In “Bipartite Leadership” we have leadership organized around the vertical “authority” axis. This leadership involves both the leaders at the top of the organization, and those working within the organization, whether its professionals or its organized labor. The leadership comes from the way the tension between these two perspectives are held (‘1’ and ‘2’ below).[4]
It is a tension because while the ‘top’ must concern itself with the direction of the organization as a whole, it is the professionals/unions who are dealing ‘bottom-up’ with the impossibilities embedded amongst the organization’s systems of practice. When we introduce the horizontal “authorization” axis however, we introduce “Tripartite Leadership”. This is the ‘edge-driven’ axis presenting the interests of customers that the organization is seeking to respond to individually within the context of their lives, for example doctors’ patients, or service engineers’ clients (‘3’ below).

In the case, those representing the interests of the horizontal axis were the incident commanders who had the job of mitigating the risks of wildland fires that had become too big to contain locally. The need for tripartite leadership will only arise of necessity in facing turbulence in the environment, and it introduces a new tension with both ends of the bipartite leadership. Used positively, these new tensions can generate demand for change[5], but used negatively they marginalize those in edge roles while insulating the organization itself from the need to change.[6] The different kinds of anxiety created by working on these different axes helps us understand the different kinds of
leadership needed in response.

[1] Emery, F.E. and Trist, E.L. (1965) “The causal texture of organizational environments”, Human Relations, Vol 18, pp21-32
[2] Lacan, Jacques (1964) Le séminaire, Livre XI: Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse. French: (texte établi par Jacques-Alain Miller), Paris: Seuil, 1973. English: Book XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (edited by Jacques-Alain Miller), New York: Norton, 1978
[3] Armstrong, D. (2007) “The Dynamics of Lateral Relations in Changing Organizations Worlds”, Organisational & Social Dynamics 7(2) 193-210.
[4] The format of the dilemma is explained in the blog on dilemmas as drivers of change.
[5] Beer, Eisenstat and Spector – “Why change programs don’t produce change” Harvard Business Review Nov-Dec 1990
[6] Boxer, P. (2004) “Facing Facts: what’s the good of change”, Socio-Analysis, 6:44

Forensic process: using dilemmas as drivers of change

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

Espoused theory, theory-in-use and the systemic
Culture can be understood as the tacit assumptions reigning over ‘how we do things around here’. To some extent these can be drawn out into the open and questioned. To the extent that they cannot, they form a strategy ceiling[1] – a level above which it is ‘none of your business’ how a business operates. Culture change is made intractable by the resistance to, and difficulties in, raising the strategy ceiling. This resistance is based on the way the business is used to support the identifications of its members.
A theory-in-use describes the organisation of processes, skills, resources and accountabilities governing the ways in which particular kinds of activity may be undertaken by a business. Thus, for example, the theory-in-use of a building governs what it is easy and difficult to do within that building. The nature of the strategy ceiling will be implicit in the way the theory-in-use of a business is used by its members to support their identities. An espoused theory is what people say about the way a business works from their own point of view, of which a systemic view is a special case, defined from the perspective of the outputs of a business as experienced by a particular client-customer as the business takes up a role in his or her life. An innovation, if it is to contribute to the sustainability of a business, must necessarily make sense from a systemic point of view.

Forensic process
Forensic process uses the metaphor of serial murders being committed by the business that appear to leave no clues as to how they were committed. The forensic process assumes that the implementation of certain kinds of innovation run up against some aspect of a business’s existing culture that ‘murders’ them. As a consequence, attempts to implement innovations can fail repeatedly in practice, with no-one knowing why they fail. By establishing how these ‘murders’ are done, a forensic process enables a business to learn about its strategy ceiling, and the choices it must face if things are to change. The paradox here is that the members of a business must be prepared to take a sufficiently systemic point of view to see that there might be a gap in what the business is doing that demands innovation – serial ‘murder’ dramatising the idea that some kinds of innovation must be stopped! The aim of a forensic process is therefore to establish what is problematic[2] about the gap being addressed by the implementation of an innovation, and how the culture somehow refuses to take up that problematic.

The understanding of dilemmas aims at formulating the fundamental problematics faced by an organisation. The origins of this approach to understanding dilemmas lie with the Milan method, and the work by Cronen, Pearce and Tomm in elaborating the Systemic Epistemology with which they worked. The dilemma is, in their terms, a strange loop.[3] These strange loops have the characteristics of the moebius strip (shown below)[4], and an approach to elaborating their effects is to be found in Charles Hamden-Turner’s book. [5]

These dilemmas can be elaborated in terms of an impossibility around which they move, which is a way of formulating a dilemma in terms of alternative themes/strategies which offer alternative resolutions of its point of impossibility, but which, when held as a dilemma, enable innovations to be engendered that move the business closer to addressing the impossibility.

Implications for Intervention
A forensic process uses case material in order to discover what problematics are being ‘refused’ by the business, thereby establishing where the blockages are to lifting its strategy ceiling. Such a process will not be authorised by senior management unless they are themselves concerned about the current performance of the business from a systemic perspective, and are prepared to use the forensic process to understand how the strategy ceiling needs to be lifted.
If one side of a dilemma is held by an informal culture and the other by the formal culture, then insofar as the informal culture seeks to defend its identity through resisting attempts to bridge the dilemma, it will be very difficult for the formal culture to benefit from the informal culture’s learning. Under these circumstances, a key question is why one side is kept ‘informal’ (or in the shadows) i.e. what interests are thus served.

Analysing dilemmas
A ‘non-discursive formation’ is a way of referring to a particular combination of espoused theory and theory-in-use.  The diagram used below for representing a dilemma represents a non-discursive formation as a particular cultural formation of axiomatics, process, outcome and consequences:

  • Axiomatics – the set of assumptions that implicitly govern the way sense is made within the non-discursive formation/theory-in-use
  • Process – the behaviours that follow from and are consistent with the axiomatics
  • Outcome – the result of the behaviours
  • Consequence – that which follows the outcome. There are two kinds of consequence:
    1. that which reinforces the axiomatics of the formation; and
    2. that which does not.

A dilemma arises when two such non-discursive formations have consequences that ‘flip’ to the other formation, so that there is either an oscillation over time between the two formations, or the two formations co-exist within the enterprise, even though only one is identified with the formal culture. The dilemma is defined by the ‘point of impossibility’ around which the oscillation takes place. For example, a business can oscillate between periods of cost cutting and investment in people. This reflects a cyclical response to external business conditions around the impossibility of defining the investment in people in a way that relates to growth in profitability. This oscillation would be a symptom of the inability of the Board of Directors to hold this dilemma effectively at the level of the business as a whole.

A dilemma forces a separation between two non-discursive formations that have to be ‘held’ if the effects of the impossibility are not to become dysfunctional. This can be represented in the form of an effects ladder.  This shows the way dilemmas are held in relation to a larger demand situation, in this case representing value as defined by the Board.[6]


[1] The notion of a strategy ceiling is taken up more fully in a later blog.
[2] All problems and issues can be thought of in terms of what it is about them which makes them difficult to resolve, tidy up or explain away… underlying dilemmas give problems and issues their intractable nature and ensure that they keep recurring in some form or other. Speaking about the “problematic” nature of problems or issues is a way of referring to the nature of what makes problems ‘difficult’.
[3] Toward an Explanation of How the Milan Method Works: An invitation to a Systemic Epistemology and the Evolution of Family Systems in Campbell & Draper (eds) “Applications of Systemic Family Therapy: The Milan Approach” Grune & Stratton 1985. pp69-84.
[4] The moebius strip has the topological property of having only one side. If you trace a line along the surface of the strip, you return to the same place you started from.
[5] Charles Hampden-Turner. Charting the Corporate Mind: from Dilemma to Strategy. Blackwell 1990.
[6] When a business begins to respond to its clients one-by-one, these effects ladders cannot be defined for the business as a whole, but for each client’s way of defining value within their context.

Triple Loop Learning

by Philip Boxer
I have always found Kolb’s experiential learning cycle a useful way of approaching the place of reflection in learning, for example in reflective learning, learning as a subversive activity, or judging the quality of development. But despite its being named as an experiential cycle, I never found it well rooted in the being of the person doing the learning. In what follows, I propose two ways of short-circuiting the cycle in order to more clearly distinguish learning rooted in the learner’s way of being. This can be done by introducing a gap between expectations and experience as an outcome from the concrete experience of the learner themselves:
Three different kinds of response are identified to this gap, providing a useful way of distinguishing between single-, double- and triple-loop learning: [1,2]

  • Single loop: the gap is feedback to the way an existing plan is being used, improving the plan. For example in quality programmes measuring the deviation in outputs from the norm. The expectations against which the gap is identified are set by the intent behind the particular way in which the plan is being used. For example, was the treatment that had been planned for the patient carried out effectively?
  • Double loop: the gap is feedback to the efficacy of the approach itself, leading to improvements, refinements and adaptations to the approach. The expectations against which the gap is identified are set by the intent behind the formation of the approach itself. For example, were the right assumptions used in the way the care plan was itself constructed to treat these kinds of condition?
  • Triple loop: the gap is feedback on the effects generated in the situation experienced, whether or not those effects are consistent with the intent behind the approach and its application. The expectations against which the gap is identified are set by the nature of the dilemmas experienced within its larger context. For example, did the outcome for the patient suggest that a different approach needed to be adopted in the way care plans were constructed for these kinds of situation in order to address the emergent dilemmas more effectively?

The difference between double-and triple-loop is subtle here. If we approach our expectations of the concrete experience in terms of supply-side and demand-side perspectives, then it is the demand-side perspective that distinguishes triple-loop learning, placing the primary emphasis on the value deficit associated with the asymmetric demand in the situation itself, the asymmetry being understood in terms of emergent dilemmas.[3] The purpose of the ‘plus-one’ exercise is to provide a means of getting at what these dilemmas might be, and to identify their underlying impossibilites that may then drive network interventions..

[1]. A constructivist perspective on triple loop is to be found in Peschl, M. F. (2007). “Triple-loop learning as foundation for profound change, individual cultivation, and radical innovation: construction processes beyond scientific and rational knowledge.” Constructivist Foundations 2(2-3): 136-145.
[2]. It was Argyris who popularised double loop: Argyris, C. and D. A. Schon (1974). Theory-in-Practice: increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
[3]. To give more precision to this distinction, we will need to look more deeply into the nature of reflexive process.

The impact of differences in context

by Charlie Alfred

by Charlie Alfred
Philip, To answer the question in your last blog on distinguishing the 3 asymmetries, the first test to see how clearly you are describing the issues would be for me to echo back my understanding of the three asymmetries (taken from the Governance article):

1. Isolate variations in technologies 

This asymmetry is fundamentally on the supplier side, although consumers may experience the result sometimes. For example:

  • PC manufacturers deal with different processors, memory chips, monitors, disk drives
  • Software developers deal with different databases, messaging systems, libraries, etc.

The result of this asymmetry might be invisible to the consumer (e.g. standardization of parts), or may show up as a quality difference in the product or service (e.g. auto X has a better stereo).

2. Isolate variations in business models
This asymmetry appears to straddle the supplier and consumer side. Each supplier in an industry chooses a business model that forms the basis for how they intend to complete. This business model choice will make the supplier more attractive to certain types of customers and less attractive to others.

  • Airlines: Southwest Airlines vs. United vs. Virgin Atlantic
  • Automotive: Honda vs. Mercedes vs. Hummer
  • Retailing: Wal-Mart vs. Macy’s vs. Home Depot

Consumers are affected by this asymmetry because they either must lock into a specific business model of their suppliers, or figure out an effective way to incorporate two or more (and know when it is best to use one instead of the other).

3. Isolate variations in context of use
This asymmetry predominantly affects the consumer side, as perceived value is a function of what the consumer does with the product or service. Not only can this asymmetry vary between consumers, it can also vary over time for the same consumer. For example, a person with a health club membership might use the facilities to:

  • workout to develop strength
  • workout to develop flexibility
  • workout to develop aerobic capability
  • exercise to lose weight
  • bring the kids to the swimming pool for recreation (and give mom a break)

I believe I got these right, and they are explained pretty clearly in your paper. However, I’m not sure that I understand how the SUV example is a good illustration of asymmetry #1. If I understand it correctly, I see this example as representing either asymmetries #2 and/or #3:

  • #2 Different SUV manufacturers clearly have different target markets and business models. For example, Land Rover and Jeep focus on off-road travel, while the Mercedes ML, BMW X3, and Acura MDX are targeted toward the urban luxury segment.
  • #3 Many SUV buyers select their vehicles anticipating a variety of uses, then end up discovering a few new ones after purchase. For example, someone might buy a Jeep for its off-road and towing capabilities, then get married and have kids and find value in the all-wheel drive and anti-lock braking safety features.

I think that the dynamic context-driven asymmetries are a very interesting concept. And I agree with you that the challenge of preparing for them is magnified by the difficulty of anticipating them. I’ve found with my own work on value models, that two things are absolutely essential:

  1. Very crisp, clear examples that illustrate the abstract concepts and make them real for other people. It looks like you are doing this pretty well. I really like the heart transplant, progressive disease, and investment management examples.
  2. A good description of the process that people might use to get to the endpoint. In my experience, a large percentage of people aren’t comfortable dealing with an abstract model. They need to see some sort of sequential process backing it up. I had trouble getting the value models ideas through to several bright engineers until I created an example (using a source code control system). Once that was in place, then the light bulbs began to come on at a faster rate.

I like your question about dealing with the third form of asymmetry (dynamic, context-driven). On the surface, this challenge seems daunting. A supplier wants to be prepared for whatever the consumers might need in whatever context they find themselves in. Given that the supplier’s preparedness is only going to be as good as what he is able to anticipate, this potentially has all of the earmarks of a Catch-22.

I believe that the path toward successfully addressing this challenge lies in modeling the contexts themselves. In other words, the typical reason that a consumer or supplier will be motivated to change their behavior is because something in their environment changed that alters their value experience. This includes understanding:

  • what forces drive certain contexts,
  • how and why the contexts change,
  • what the magnitude and direction of the change is,
  • how the changes impact the value models of the participants in the context.

Consider weather forecasting as an example. Changes in high and low barometric pressure, warm and cold frontal boundaries, air temperature, and relative humidity tend to trigger changes in weather. If these changes are serious enough and a blizzard is forecasted, I want to be sure that I have portable heaters, flashlights, and a few days supply of food and water. When faced with a serious storm, a strong desire for my family’s safety and my own helps predict my context-specific behavior. The same argument might be made for a person with a chronic and/or progressive disease, or a business whose market or competitors pose new challenges.

Abraham Maslow showed us that the basic forces that motivate people’s behavior are fairly straightforward and reasonably consistent across the population (at a high-level of abstraction). While the details start to fragment (i.e. not all people perceive safety or belonging the same way), two things are often true. First, these motivation drivers tend to have some consistency over time for an individual, and second, large numbers of individuals tend to think alike. My hypothesis is that differences in makeup from person to person has less of an impact on their wants and behavior than the differences in the context that they find themselves in.
Happy New Year
next in this thread

Responding to diversity in Value Models

by Charlie Alfred
Philip, Thank you very much for your comments on separating the supply-side from the demand-side. I agree with the points you raised, and have a few observations to share:
1. You observed that my article approaches the problem from the provider-side. Given the nature of my job, my original goal was to teach people I worked with about how to do a better job of software architecture. This is the main reason that the article takes this point of view.
My belief is best expressed by Dr. Russell Ackoff, former professor at the Wharton School of Business. He discusses the sibling processes of synthesis and analysis. He observes that analysis has been the predominant model of thought since the Industrial Revolution. Take a whole, break it down, and study the pieces in isolation.
Ackoff suggests that while analysis helps you to explain how things work, it doesn’t give you enough context to understand why they need to work that way, and what might cause them to change. To do this, you must study how a subject (system) functions in its larger context(s). This begins to expose which expectations, obstacles, and constraints are imposed on the subject.
In short, as a result of this research, I’ve come to the conclusion that an architect needs to:
a) start with synthesis to understand context (both shared and diverse),
b) use analysis to formulate approaches to challenges, analyze trade-offs, and mitigate risks, and
c) use synthesis to consider the feedback effect of the solution on the contexts, etc.
Ackoff’s writings have also convinced me that the scope of a system must expand to include all elements with significant inter-dependencies. The little bit of thinking that I’ve done on the subject of value suggests that the consumer and supplier sides cannot really be considered independently. This is the subject of my next observation.
2. You mention the two perspectives of value: consumer-side and supplier-side and raise the question about whether they can (and should) be considered independently or must be considered together.
As a general rule, I think that they cannot be considered in isolation:

a) In the long run, there is no supply-side value where there is no demand-side perceptions of value. In cases where demand-side utility curves are strong and inelastic, and suppliers have major market power, “long run” can be quite a long time. For example, OPEC can ignore the needs of its customers for price, supply, and to a lesser extent quality. However, this has the side effect of stimulating research into alternate sources. I agree that diversity on the demand side tends to strongly influence market segmentation in more competitive markets. While this happens a lot in dynamic markets, it also happens in ones that were thought to be stable. Southwest Airlines low fares/low cost approach has been extremely effective against United, American, and Delta.

b) Supply-side innovations often change utility curves on the demand side, by changing consumer’s perceptions of what is possible. Today, I can’t write a paper or report without having my web browser open and Google ready to run. My iPod Nano is so small and holds so much music that I want to take it to work. If I’m away from home and need to make a phone call, I pull my cell phone out of my pocket. 10 years ago, I was quite content without any of these things. It wasn’t that I was unaware of the benefits of instantaneous research, portable entertainment, or accessible communication. The main reason I was content with less than that, was that I had no idea that major improvement was possible. However, once exposed to the innovations, my utility curves (and hence, my value expectations) were reshaped for ever.

c) When faced with significant diversity in value perceptions by consumer, a provider can be faced with a difficult juggling problem. If the provider attempts to craft individual solutions, its development and operating costs can go up. If the provider attempts to create a solution that can be tailored to each context, it risks creating something that doesn’t fit any of them very well. Consider a sport utility vehicle. Buyers who like to drive it off-road want a lot of ground clearance. Suburban moms like the fact that a higher clearance gives them better visibility of the road. However, a higher clearance also tends to mean a higher center of gravity, which increases the risk of rollover in sharp turns. This is not much of a plus for the driver who wants the all-wheel drive for driving in snowy and icy climates.

In summary, the consumers and providers both win when the provider understands the value models and challenges well enough to combine the right set of diverse needs into a solution, while omitting the ones with incompatible challenges.

3. I agree completely with your point about Porter’s use of horizontal and vertical linkages. To me, the notion of linkages was key, and differentiating between those that are internal and external was less significant.
I find it more interesting that the “architectural decisions” of the firm (value change) are what determine its cost and differentiation drivers. For example, an airline like United has chosen a hub/spoke architecture and a variety of airplane types. This lets it have very frequent departures and match aircraft sizes to the flight lane. OTOH, Southwest standardizes on a small number of aircraft and prefers direct flights. This lets it reduce the costs of training and maintenance, and reduce the cost of operating large hubs. The different business architectures appeal to diverse sets of passengers, because the passengers have different utility curves. In effect, linkages tie directly back to the value models of the consumer(s) and provider(s) and the constraints
that the environment enforces on its own (e.g. how far can a 727 fly without refueling?). As a related note, I love Christensen’s concept of discontinuous innovation.

In summary, I believe that necessity is the mother of invention, and value model diversity on the demand side will force the supply side to better satisfy it. It may not be a painless transition, because a lot of firms haven’t learned how to:
a)Forget about their own agenda, and immerse themselves in their customer’s context
b)Learn how to be jugglers and figure out which things can be juggled together and which cannot.
Let me know what you think.
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Value-Driven Architecture

by Charlie Alfred

by Charlie Alfred
I am the author of an article on Value-Driven Architecture that was published in the same issue of Microsoft Architecture Journal as the one that you wrote on SOA Governance. I finally had the opportunity to read your article during the past couple of weeks, as well as the earlier one you reference (Metropolis), written by Pat Helland.
It was very interesting to see how you both took the concept in different directions. Pat focused on the service-provider side, and emphasized the benefits of standardization and high-speed transportation (networks). You took a more systemic view and emphasized how diversity often is not limited to service
provider implementations, but instead reaches more deeply to affect the service API’s as well as the workflow management (or other control structures).
Someone at the 2004 Software Product Line Architecture conference in Boston made a very interesting observation:
“The ROI of a software product line comes from leveraging the commonality. However, you cannot achieve this effectively until you also identify and manage the variability.”
I believe this quote sums up a lot of the philosophy difference between Pat’s article and yours. Pat seems to be making the “benefits of leveraging the commonality” argument, while you do a very good job of articulating how difficult “managing the commonality” can be.
Both of these notions are essential and relate back to one of the central themes of the article I wrote on “Value Driven Architecture.” In order to know where to accommodate diversity and where to leverage commonality, you must have a way of identifying and contrasting context-specific challenges
(where each context consists of a set of like-minded stakeholders who are affected by equivalent obstacles and constraints). By contrasting the key challenges and their priorities side-by-side, the architect begins to clarify which challenges are similar enough to leverage with a standardized approach, and which ones require more diverse approaches.
Again, thanks for the thought-provoking article.
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Congregational Profiling

by Philip Boxer
What follows is a contribution to the work I was doing with Barry Palmer on Congregational Profiling. Aspects of this work were published subsequently in his paper: Holy People, Holy Place: Images of the Synagogue and its Leadership in Progressive Judaism.  The underlying question was to understand the impact of secularisation on the congregation, and how to work with its effects:

What do we think we are doing?
When we met, you had two particular questions to work with:

  • How do you engage with congregants’ concerns and their historical context?
  • How do you do make use of the ‘story’ approach in a way which is delegable?

As it turned out, we spent most of our time talking about some ways of thinking about what might be going on for congregations, and we parted with you still carrying some anxiety around what to do next.

Having talked since, we have ‘placed’ this same anxiety in relation to the “footnote” you wrote following the conversation with Beit Klal Yisrael. The comments I made were that:

  • There were two different kinds of conversation going on; the first concerned with how we made sense of what we were doing as interventionists; and the second concerned with how to construct an intervention which would work for your clients.
  • That you were compromising the orthogonality of your own relation to the client system in expecting the client system to share the kinds of meaning you were articulating in the footnote.
  • That it was necessarily the case that you would never have a complete sense of ‘rapport’ with the client system over the meanings you were ‘discovering’ through your own process – even though there would be areas of overlap and shared sense.
  • That the important aim of the form of the intervention was not so much to ‘produce’ shared meaning as to enable the client system to engage with the challenges it felt it was facing.

The challenge I think we face therefore is to find a way of understanding what we think we are doing, both as ‘ourselves’ in the situation, and through the form of the intervention.

In what follows, I try to elaborate the thinking behind the attached set of diagrams; before returning to the nature of this challenge, and what it has to say about your two questions.

Subscribers and Congregants
In thinking about for whom this intervention is being conducted, we can use your distinction between holy people vs holy place. The hypothesis is that “Subscribers” are dominantly concerned with “holy place”, insofar it is they who actively underwrite the continuing viability of the place.[1] They overlap two groupings: at one end of the spectrum, we have “potential congregants”, which would be anyone within some notional idea of being in a catchment area and who, by virtue of their present or past family connections, is a potential congregant.

At the other end we have active congregants, who I will take to be anyone who takes any active part in the work of the synagogue – as in your “holy people”.

I think that our intervention has to be neutral with respect to this spectrum as a whole, and has to look for ‘stories’ which bring it to life as a whole.

What do congregants hunger for?

I take the Rabbi as being known by a particular (potential) congregation through the form of the actual Rabbi. It is the spiritual hunger of members of a particular (potential) congregation that I am speaking of, and the K or K-bar reflect a distinction between the Rabbi’s knowing or not-knowing of what it is that is hungered after…..

So the positive way is one in which the expectations of the members is that the truth of religion is accepted as lying in its particular form of relationship to an Ideal, in relation to which two directions are apparent: one in which the Rabbi’s knowledge is taken out to potential congregants who do not have the Rabbi’s knowing; and the other in which, within the context of the congregation’s certainty about the nature of their knowledge, the Rabbi encounters his own not-knowing.

It is in the nature of these two directions of movement that the former involves developing forms of ministry which ‘reach out’ in the sense of speaking in local dialects; and the latter leads to some separation between the Rabbi’s and his congregation’s relation to their truth(s).

The negative way constitutes an ethical break with the positive way in which a different kind of relation to religious truth is established: one in which both Rabbi and congregant problematise the possibility of knowing, and therefore the way of being-in-relation-to-G-d.

I don’t think it is possible for us to sustain this intervention other than by seeking to hold this ‘fourth’ position.

Holy Place vs Holy People

If we consider a religious space defined by the relation to the positive way, then the vertical dimension articulates the way in which the Rabbi is experienced by the congregation. With synagogue-in-community, the synagogue qua place is incidental to the nature of the religious process which is the community. In contrast, community-in-the-synagogue would be a drawing together of the community in the place – equating the role of the Rabbi with the operation of the place.

By ‘G-dding’ is meant all form of ritual activity which is constitutive of what people do to bring G-d into a relation with their own Being; and Being-in-relation-to-G-d is something like an inwardness through which Being comes into a relation with G-d.

I have presented the two trajectories in that form to reflect the following hypotheses about religious processes within the overall context of a positive way:

  • A response to the Ideal through an identification through place leads to the congregation coming into the synagogue. The Rabbi’s response is to develop the place as a holy one, in order to avoid himself becoming ‘the way’.
  • A response to the Ideal through an identification through community leads to a move towards more of a ‘G-dding’ form of religious process to hold together a shared sense of religious identity.

So here is some kind of oscillation taking place. I don’t mean to imply that the other two ‘quadrants’ are not occupied. But ‘G-dding-in-relation-to-Being’ in the synagogue seems to represent a particular challenge to the role of the Rabbi, while ‘Being-in-relation-to-G-d’ in the community seems to represent a particular challenge to the living of the Rabbi…. in other words, this oscillation appears to be defined particularly within a context defined by the Rabbi. Perhaps the profiling project will shed some light on these other possibilities that appear not really to include the Rabbi.[2]

It seems to me that, unless we want to adopt some unidirectional/evolutionary model of how the religious life of a community develops, we are going to need some form of cyclical understanding. This is an attempt to build on your own holy people x holy place ‘take’.

The effects of secularisation
If we now add another dimension, concerned with the way in which the ‘hunger’ is recognised, then by ethnic calling, I mean that there is no strong sense of the religious. The ‘entropic’ process of falling away from the religious calling is associated with the trajectory from holy place to holy people becoming to ‘ghetto’. Equally, the same process results in the trajectory from holy people to holy place becoming a social club.

The implications of this elaboration of the oscillation is to suggest a much greater importance to the symbiotic relation between the two forms of identification.[3],[4]

Your questions
So what do we think we are doing – in the sense of what is the basis of our intervention? I would want to say that it has to do with pursuing our own negative way in relation to this client system.

Why should the client system want us to be doing this? Because its experience of you is that you work with them in a way which enable them to open up and work with questions which are important to them. The danger you face in this is one of being pulled out of an orthogonal relation (i.e. to lose the basis of your intervention as being in the negative way)……

How then to engage with congregants’ concerns?

  • Ask for a timeline reflecting their sense of the past-present-future of the life of the congregation. Up is towards renewal, down is away from that (the vertical axis in the 3-D picture).
  • Then identify critical incidents which reflect turning moments in that history, and tell the story of those critical incidents.
  • Ask them for the crucial questions and challenges that these stories raise about the life of the congregation.

Your delegees then have the task of making sense of what they have heard; and you have the task of helping the delegees to make sense…..

This process of making sense could take the form of some kind of working conference.

[1] Is there a form of subscription appropriate to an orientation towards ‘holy people’?
[2] It seems to me that the thinking concerning the impact of the ‘sovereign self’ on being Jewish is precisely such a development. [This is the concept developed in ‘The Jew Within: Self, Family, and Community in America’ by Cohen & Eisen, Indiana University Press 2000.]
[3] But is there a different way of moving depending on which identification is dominant? [This distinction, between ‘people’ and ‘place’ can be understood in terms of the distinction between an imaginary identification (ideal ego) associated with taking up the practices of a holy people, and a symbolic identification (ego ideal) associated with taking up the forms of relation-to-G-d implicated in being a holy people.]
[4] This relation to spirituality may be approached in terms of the third relation to the Real aka the relation to objet petit a that is a relation to what remains lacking – the particular form taken for the subject by Das Ding/the lost object. For more on the effects of secularisation aka a refusal of this relation, see the blog on the refusal of symbolic castration.