1995 revisited

My computer is sprinkled with old reflections which I unearth when two conditions are fulfilled

a) I’m reflecting on a new problem (which happens almost daily)

b) I remember to look and see if I have ever thought about it before (which happens almost never)

Here’s an example of what comes up when the stars align…. I wrote it when I was working on a project to develop performance measures for Australian Technological development – the research arm of the then CRA, in about 1995.

The refelction is structured using a “What; So What; Now What” heuristic


Imagine a system: “A mess …. that enough people agree is a system”

Through time, the ecology of the system changes – the outputs of the system’s activity alter its own state, and that of its host context. Different things matter at a subsequent point in time than mattered before. (If we are paying enough attention, the sequence of different things might actually correspond to the accomplishment of some purpose in the world!)

Imagine that this is the graphic device we use to represent our trajectory through time:

We might even discern patterns to this progression that interest us, and which we dignify with the notion of “phases”

We could then see our system as it appeared in each of these phases:

So What?

Now we pause for a moment and go back to our system – our conventionally structured mess! When we look closer, we find it has a feature we had not noticed before. Whether we like it or not, intend it or not, it appears to behave purposefully.[1] All the messy threads have a way of stabilising on a certain set of outcomes:

Usually at this point, we are struck by an oddity: Although we want the system to behave differently through time so that it is effective in pursuing its goals, it seems to have a remarkable amount of stability in this purposefulness – irrespective of what we say, how we cajole or inspire. That purposefulness appears to correlate directly with the behaviours that are most consistently and fundamentally rewarded – whether they are what we “really want” at the time or not:

Now What?

My belief is that the system should in fact be performing in fundamentally different ways in each of the phases, and that it should be possible to characterise the nature of those phases and discover metrics which drive congruent behaviours:

We could proceed by answering these questions:

• What is our purpose in this phase, and how does it contribute to the overall purpose of the system?

• What are the appropriate behaviours and thinking styles that will expedite this phase?

• What are the core competencies that characterise and enable this phase?

• How should we give feedback to the system in a way that nurtures those competencies in that phase?

• How do we draw attention to the right things – the things that matter?

I think that this is a more creative exercise at first than data gathering. I think we need to reflect on the ways in which feedback occurs.

• What are the “valuing” mechanisms people use?

• What creates openness to a “measure”? Or to “incentives.”

• Can we nurture new valuing mechanisms?

• Can we make the current valuing mechanism form a background, and add a differential layer?




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