Exploitation and Exploration

I love going to jazz festivals. Listening to good jazz at home is enjoyable, but there is something special about the electricity that sparks during a live performance. And it’s not the same when you listen to a recording of a concert. It is completely different when you are actually there, immersed, experiencing directly with all your senses. I guess it’s similar with other types of music. But what makes the difference between listening to a recording and being at concert even bigger for jazz, is that it is all about improvisation. And then the experience with single concerts and festivals is also different. With concerts, you immerse yourself for a couple of hours into that magic and then go back to the normal world. But with jazz festivals, you relocate to live in a music village for a couple of days. This doesn’t only make it a different experience, but also calls for a different kind of decision.

Previously, when I learned of a new jazz festival or read the line-up of a familiar one, the way I decided whether to go was simple. I just checked who would be performing. If there were musicians that I liked, but hadn’t watched live, or some that I had but wanted to see again, then I went. If not, I usually wouldn’t risk it.

Once I chose to go, this brought another set of decisions. Jazz festivals usually have many stages with concerts going in parallel during the day and into the night. Last time I went to the North Sea Jazz Festival there were over eighty performances in only a few days.  So there is a good chance that some of those you want to watch will clash, and you are forced to choose. And I kept applying the same low-risk strategy for choosing what to watch as I did for deciding if I should go at all.

Then one day, I arrived late to a festival just before two clashing sets were about to begin. I dashed into the closest hall with no clue what I would find. And there I experienced what turned out to be the best concert of the whole festival. I hadn’t heard of the group and if I had read the description beforehand I would have avoided their performance.

I realised then, by only choosing concerts with familiar musicians, I was over-exploiting and under-exploring. My strategy was depriving me of learning opportunities and overall reduced the value I got from the festivals.

What happened at that festival changed the way I decide whether to go and to which concerts. Now I not only go to many more concerts of musicians previously unknown to me but not having a familiar name in the line-up does not determine the decision to buy tickets.

However, when the whole line-up of the festival is completely unknown, then going is all exploration and that’s highly risky. When there are no familiar musicians, I listen to recordings of previous concerts of some of the groups. If I like at least two of them, then I usually go to the festival, and once there, I would still check out a few acts I don’t know. That’s again a way to balance exploitation and exploration.

When I am in control, “I restrict the world to what I can imagine or permit”, writes Ranulph Granville. He gives the example of going to a restaurant with friends. If it’s always him who chooses the restaurant, the group will only go to the restaurants that he knows. They are limited to his taste and knowledge, or rather – as he admits – ignorance. Letting go of control by letting others choose, would not only expand his knowledge but would often give a better experience for everyone.

Having the wrong strategy when it comes to jazz festivals and restaurants would reduce the pleasure, but making such a small impact, these examples may not show how important this balance is (Note: Exploration and Exploitation is one of the Essential Balances in Organizations). Yet, we make similar choices all the time. For example, you might decide to invest your time in getting better at what you currently do well while not allocating time to trying out new things. This may put you in a very unpleasant situation in times when there is no more demand for what you are skilled at, or when you need a change but have difficulty choosing because you haven’t tested many alternatives.

Yet it seems that throughout our lives, many of us realise that when making choices, we should keep the balance between exploration and exploitation. We should let go of some control and not limit ourselves to what we already know. And that’s an important first step, but it’s not quite enough. It takes a greater effort to keep this awareness awake. But somehow, it’s also easier at a personal level.

We live our lives and are experiencing every minute of every day. We absorb sounds, tastes, smells and light and feel the air on our skin. Through evolution we are well equipped to receive a signal when there is even a small problem. We get a scratch and react right away. That’s not the case with organizations. They might be missing a whole limb or – and here the metaphor will fail to produce a feeling of exaggeration – a head, without noticing for years. To understand how the balance between exploration and exploitation works in organizations, we’ll start with the problem of resource allocation, and then move to more complex situations. Continue reading

What can Social Systems Theory bring to the VSM?

In 2015, when the Metaphorum was in Hull, I tried to kick off a discussion about potential contributions from cognitive science, and particularly from the Enactive school. I shared some insights and hinted at other possibilities. This year the Metaphorum conference was in Germany for the first time. It was organised by Mark Lambertz and hosted by Sipgate in Düsseldorf. I saw in the fact that the Metaphorum was in Germany a good opportunity to suggest another combination, this time with the Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann.

These are the slides from my talk and here you can also watch them with all animations.

Related posts:

The Mind Of Enterprise

Redrawing the Viable System Model diagram

Productive Paradoxes in Projects

SASSY Architecture

Human Resources?

People are valuable. That’s why they have an established status as human resources in organizations. When they are more valuable, they are even called assets.

Assets

“People are our greatest asset!” You’ve probably heard that a lot. If not, try “People are our * asset” in Google, and you’ll get over 300 million results. “Greatest” is sometimes replaced by “biggest”, “most important”, and “most valuable”. The results are mainly of two types. The first is people praising narratives, and that’s by far the bigger group. The second is criticism of the statement being hypocritical. Probably most of the authors of the first type are well-meaning and most of the second type have good reasons. But I find this aphorism neither people-praising nor hypocritical. I find it downgrading and offensive.

Can we see people as assets? An asset is “anything tangible or intangible that is capable of being owned or controlled to produce value”. Continue reading

Notes on Stability-Diversity

To be healthy, organisations – like human beings – have to operate in balance. Going temporarily out of balance is OK, but if this goes on for too long, it’s dangerous. Just like riding a bike, the balance is the minimum organisations need to be able to move forward.

What kinds of things need to be balanced? There are three essential balances. The first one is between autonomy and cohesion, the second is about maintaining both stability and diversity, and the third is balancing between exploration and exploitation. The important thing to recognise here is that the nature of each balance will differ between organisations. And what needs to be done to restore balance will change over time. So we can’t be prescriptive or learn “best practice” from others. We can only give people the glasses to see what is going on and the knowledge that will help them maintain the balances in their organisations.

I’ve been doing the Essential Balances workshop for four years now. During the workshop, all three of them seem relatively easy to get, yet a bit more difficult to work with as a matter of habit.  Based on the feedback I received from people actually using these glasses for organisational diagnosis and design, the first and the third balance, Autonomy-Cohesion and Exploitation-Exploration, come more naturally, while the second one, Stability-Diversity, creates some problems. All three of them and a few more will be explained in detail in the forthcoming book “Essential Balances in Organisations”, but until then, I’ll make some clarifications here. I hope it will be of use also for people who are not familiar with this practice.

Stability and Diversity. At first glance, it might be difficult to see it as a balance. In fact, it covers four dynamics. So, it might be easier to see it as four different balances. Different, yet somehow the same. And the key to it is exactly in these two words: different and same. Continue reading

The Art of Form as a Form of Art

In Brussels, at the southeastern end of the Mont des Arts garden, there are stairs leading to Rue de Musée. Climbing up one of the stairways, there is a wall on your right. A few months ago, a form of art started spreading on that wall. I don’t know if it was spontaneous or organized.  In fact, it doesn’t matter. Every organization was at some point spontaneous and everything spontaneous is worth talking about if it has led to some organization.

When approaching it, all you see is just frames.

Getting closer, they (actually, you) start to make sense, but the name, given by the artist, accelerates the process. The name and the image enter into a loop, the name confirming the image, and the image confirming the name. Continue reading

SASSY Architecture

SASSY Architecture is a practice of combining two seemingly incompatible worldviews. The first one is based on non-contradiction and supports the vision for an ACE enterprise (Agile, Coherent, Efficient), through 3E enterprise descriptions (Expressive, Extensible, Executable), achieving “3 for the price of 1”: Enterprise Architecture, Governance, and Data Integration.

The second is based on self-reference and is a way of seeing enterprises as topologies of paradoxical decisions. Such a way of thinking helps deconstruct constraints to unleash innovation, reveal hidden dependencies in the decisions network, and avoid patterns of decisions limiting future options.

As a short overview, here are the slides from my talk at the Enterprise Architecture Summer School in Copenhagen last week.

Continue reading

QUTE: Enterprise Space and Time

Here’s another pair of glasses with which to look at organisations. It can be used either together with the Essential Balances or with the Productive Paradoxes, or on its own. For those new to my “glasses” metaphor, here’s a quick intro.

The Glasses Metaphor

As I’m sceptical about the usefulness of methodologies, frameworks and best practices when it comes to social species, my preference is to work with habits and instead of using models, to use organisations directly as the best model of themselves.

The best material model of a cat is another, or preferably the same, cat.

N. Wiener, A. Rosenblueth, Philosophy of Science (1945)

What I find important in working with organisations is to break free from some old habits, by changing them with new ones. And most of all, cultivating the habit of being conscious about the dual nature of habits: that they are both enabling and constraining; that while you create them they influence the way you create them. Along with recipes and best practices, I’m also sceptical about KPIs, evidence-based policies, and all methods claiming objectivity.

Objectivity is a subject’s delusion that observing can be done without him. Involving objectivity is abrogating responsibility – hence its popularity.

Heinz von Foerster

Instead of “this is how things are”,  my claim is that “it’s potentially useful to create certain observational habits”. Or – and here comes the metaphor – the habit of observation using different pairs of glasses. “Different” implies two things. One is that you are always wearing some pair of glasses, regardless of whether you realise it or not. And the other is, that offering a new pair is less important than creating the habit of changing the glasses from time to time. I prefer “glasses” to “lens” metaphor and here’s why. Glasses have indeed lenses and lenses are meant to improve the vision or, at any rate, they change it.  Quite often, the glasses I offer bring surprises. Where you trust your intuition, you might see things that are counter-intuitive, and where you’d rather use logic, they might appear illogical. It’s not intentional. It just often happens to be the case. The first reason I prefer glasses metaphor to just lens is that glasses have frames. That should be a constant reminder that every perspective has limitations, creates a bias, and leaves a blind spot. Using the same glasses might be problematic in some situations or in all situations, if you wear them for too long. And the second reason is that glasses are made to fit, they are something designed for our bodies. For example, they wouldn’t fit a mouse or even another person. This has far-reaching implications, which I’ll not go into now.

QUTE

QUTE stands for “Quantum Theory of Enterprise”. Continue reading

Wikipedia “Knows” more than it “Tells”

When pointing out the benefits of Linked Data, I’m usually talking about integrating data from heterogeneous sources in a way that’s independent of the local schemas and not fixed to past integration requirements. But even if we take a single data source, and a very popular one, Wikipedia, it’s easy to demonstrate what the web of data can bring that the web of documents can’t.

In fact, you can do it yourself in less than two minutes. Go to the page of Ludwig Wittgenstein. At the bottom of the infobox on the right of the page, you’ll find the sections “Influences” and “Influenced”. The first one contains the list (of links to the Wikipedia pages) of people that influenced Wittgenstein, and the second – those that he influenced. Expand the sections and count the people. Depending on when you are doing this, you might get a different number, but if you are reading this text by the end of 2017, you are likely to find out that, according to Wikipedia, Wittgenstein was influenced by 18 and influenced 32 people, respectively.

Now, if you look at the same data source, Wikipedia, but viewed as Linked Data, you’ll get a different result. Try it yourself by clicking here or use this link:

http://bit.ly/wittgenstein_influenced1.

The influencers are 19 and the influenced are 95 at the moment of writing this post, or these numbers if you click now (most likely bigger). Continue reading

Productive Paradoxes in Projects

In 2011, when I started this blog, I wanted it to be a place for reading and as such the initial theme was just a bit busier than this one. I didn’t go that far, but you still don’t see categories, tag clouds, my Twitter feed and so on. It was only recently that I added sharing buttons and started putting more images. And because of me keeping it minimal, you might have been reading this blog for some time without knowing about its tagline, as it is simply not visible in the blog. But it’s been there and when the blog appears in search results, you can see it.

The theme about paradoxes appeared only a few times, for example in  From Distinction to Value and Back and previously in Language and Meta-Language for EA. I haven’t focused on it in a post so far. It was even more difficult to start talking about it to an audience of project managers. First, claiming that projects are produced and full of paradoxes might appear a bit radical. And second, project managers are solution-oriented people, while in paradoxes there is nothing to solve. There is a problem there, but its solution is a problem itself, the solution of which is the initial problem. And third, talking about paradoxes is one thing, but convincing that understanding them is useful is another. Continue reading

How I use Evernote, Part 3 – Classification and Wishlist

This is the third and final instalment about Evernote. You may want to check out the previous ones first:

How I use Evernote, Part 1 – Note Creation,

How I use Evernote, Part 2 – Kanban Boards

What is left for this post, is to go over the way I look at and use tags and notebooks and to share the top seven features I miss in Evernote.

Classification

Currently I have over six thousand notes in Evernote. To manage them I classify them. This means I apply certain criteria to make a note a member of a set of notes. The capabilities of Evernote supporting this are tags, notebooks and search. There are other ways to think about them, not as just being different means for classification, but I find this perspective particularly useful.

The nice thing about tags is that they can be combined. I see a note tagged #A as belonging to set {A}, and a note with tag #{B} as belonging to set {B}. I can find both the intersection, {A} AND {B} and the union, {A} OR {B}, by selecting as search principle “Any” or “All”. Continue reading

How I use Evernote, Part 2 – Kanban Boards

This is the second part of the sequel on my way of using Evernote. The first one was about the creation of notes and the third will be about notebooks and tags and my overall approach for organising the content inside Evernote. In this part, I’ll describe how I use Evernote for task management.

My tool of choice for task management had been Trello. It still is for collaborative work on projects and for strategic flows, but I “migrated” my personal task management entirely to Evernote.

How? I simply use the way reminders appear on top of all notes with the ability to rearrange them by dragging, as Kanban board. Continue reading