Complex systems – be they organisations or economies – work best with ‘big what, little how’ type arrangements. That is, clear boundary conditions and guardrails to govern the overall direction of adaptation and mitigate risks, but allowing individual agents freedom within this to innovate and adapt within this to achieve their goals. This combination solves the ‘knowledge problem’ while at the same time limiting the excesses, inefficiencies and chaos of pure freedom.

Balancing autonomy and accountability. An essential counterweight to autonomy is strict accountability for results, and for the actions and behaviors that deliver those results. A company has to establish a strategy and a purpose that provide context for employees’ actions. It has to put the strategy into practice with measurable objectives, consistent measurement of progress toward those goals, feedback systems to monitor activities along the way, and appropriate consequences for reaching or failing to reach the goals. At their best, companies realize that not everything is easily measurable, or should be measured, and that constant temperature taking and micromanagement are inefficient and demoralizing. They establish transparent boundary conditions and clear expectations. Employees and teams know they will be held accountable, and they know where the guardrails are. They understand the objectives, and they have a great deal of freedom in determining how to reach them within those guardrails. Clarity of purpose and what we call high-resolution strategies, which give people a clear view of where they’re headed, provide the compass that can guide the choices that teams and individuals make when working autonomously.

Source: How Spotify Balances Employee Autonomy and Accountability

Mental models are powerful, and the ‘core belief of how the world works’ is so often the issue. At the same time, anything that sounds like ‘theory’ is often dismissed within businesses (confusing ‘theory’ and ‘theoretical’), so instead we debate the superficial a vs. b, rather than debating the underlying mechanics and worldviews. I’ve made much more strategy hay in my career just by identifying the mismatch between mental model (and therefore activity) and reality than I have through developing creative strategies…

I believe that the fundamental reason for this is because advertisers are desperately trying to produce ads that work – i.e. generate sales. The trouble is: our core beliefs about what makes ads work are based on ad effectiveness ideas that are flawed and dated. As a result, we end up producing ads that suck and struggle to compete for attention in a multi-screen set-up.

Source: Why we keep making TV ads that suck | Evgeny Bik | Pulse | LinkedIn

Customer centricity is a severely abused term. But there is real advantage in having a deep empathy for the intersection between your product and people’s lives, the job it solves and context it occurs in, and value it creates. It’s just that very few companies do it well.

Without question Apple’s ongoing success lends credence to the idea of humanity as a differentiator; the challenge for Snap, though, is that that approach didn’t work too well for Apple the first time around.

Source: Snap’s Apple Strategy – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

Perhaps advertising simply conforms to what the American science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon termed ‘Sturgeons Revelation’ (or ‘Sturgeon’s Law’ as it is often referred to). As he put it in in the March 1958 issue of Venture magazine:

I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.”

And yet.

All that effort, all that ingenuity, all that inspiration, all those years perfecting one’s craft, all those long hours, all that Powerpoint, all those brilliant rationales, all those conference calls… all those missed school plays and cancelled dates, all those postponed vacations, all those lovers never loved, all those bedtime stories never told, all those plans postponed, all those promises broken, all those passions never pursued…

To produce crap?

I confess I know from years of firsthand experience that producing crap takes almost as much time and effort as producing stuff that’s good or better.

So it strikes me that we have a choice.

We can choose to make those sacrifices in the name of producing crap, or in the name of producing something good.

Source: 2017: A new year, an old resolution | canalside view

Once again, framing is so fundamental in defining the solutions we consider, enormous in its implications, and yet so underappreciated.

But in the case of depression, which often has clear preceding events, indifference to causality allows many appropriate patient responses to be categorized as disordered—and that flows directly from seeing depression as a breakdown rather than a strategic, evolved response.

Source: Could Suicidal Behaviors Be the Result of Evolution?

Interesting. A case example in how the quest for scientific ‘rationality’ encourages us to focus on the foreground and neglect the broader context. (In a way similar to fundamental attribution error). Just because something is harder to study doesn’t make it any less ‘rational’; what can be measured is not necessarily what is important.

Complex systems encourages us to think as much about the connections as the individual agents, and think about emergent outcomes as much as reductive analysis.

He regrets the fact that the DSM, psychiatry’s diagnostic manual, has removed from major depressive disorder’s diagnostic criteria any exception for life circumstance, even bereavement. This is part of an effort to make diagnosis more objective and scientific, and encourage the profession to focus on observable symptoms rather than causes.

Source: Could Suicidal Behaviors Be the Result of Evolution?

Framing and perceived value are everything.

The team learned that at $18.99, consumers were crossing over from prestige department and specialty stores to buy Olay in discount, drug, and grocery stores. That price point sent exactly the right message. For the department store shopper, the product was a great value but still credibly expensive. For the mass shopper, the premium price signified that the product must be considerably better than anything else on the shelf. In contrast, $15.99 was in no-man’s land—for a mass shopper, expensive without signaling differentiation, and for a prestige shopper, not expensive enough. These differences were quite fine; had the team not focused so carefully on building and applying robust tests for multiple price points, the findings might never have emerged.

Source: Bringing Science to the Art of Strategy