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On Context: Methods and Mindsets for Situational Awareness

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It could be argued that tribes, communities of practice, organizations, and societies accrete symbolic systems that forge a common language over time to accomplish tasks usually related to the preservation, extension of power, and access to resources needed to continue to flourish and allow these networks within boundaries to feel a sense of agency and empowerment. Indeed, when one group or tribe within a larger ecosystem feels threatened or produces radical new ideas, the heretical rebels leverage common metaphors, symbols, and tactics to achieve strategic goals – at first rebelling against the existing power structure (writing manifestos, throwing molotov cocktail), supplanting the existing “high priests”. Eventually, though, they develop the same rituals that previous power structure utilized to maintain and extend their power base – the heretics eventually become the high priests of a new caste system and then anoint their own saints.
We have seen this evolution in social systems and the accretion of ‘webs of signification’ in the context of IT in general and software design and development in particular. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz said that “man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs,” which can inform our understanding of tribes in a software enterprise setting. With each new principled-based movement within IT, from RUP to Agile, to Lean Software, to Lean UX and more recently DevOps and Lean Startup, the new tribe has the need to extend it’s power base beyond the context for which it was originally intended. Even if each tribe armed with their own methods and practices makes sense at a given time and place, this does not necessarily mean it’s appropriate or strategic from a systems, wholistic, enterprise, or societal perspective.

This notion is important in making strategic decisions from an enterprise perspective in terms of which ideology to deploy, how to allocate resources, and how to ensure that across the portfolio of potential ‘bets’ the appropriate methods are deployed. This tension – between tribes that wish to enjoy greater agency by proselytizing their ideology and methods into other domains, and the needs of the organization, which seeks balance across multiple competing factions to actually achieve enterprise-wide goals, is the primary challenge faced by leaders.

We’ll explore these notions, and seek to understand the various roles, practices, and methods that are either local-optima or more global in perspective, to seek to provide a framework for decision-making in uncertain and turbulent times. We’ll unpack the relationship between different horizons from probable to possible, and provide some heuristics for when things like Design Thinking or LeanUX are most appropriate, and when Agile, PMBOK, or ITIL frameworks might be the most authentic satisficing lens through which to make decisions.

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On Context: Methods and Mindsets for Situational Awareness

  1. 1. On Context Methods and Mindsets for Situational Awareness WILLIAM EVANS Copyright © 2016-2018 William Evans
  2. 2. The Problem (Spaces) § Organizational Debt § Scale Agile Everywhere! § Bi-Modal Asshattery § Sprinkle me some DevOps § But Deming said…(and other name-dropping) § It’s about Culture (whatever the *fuck that is) § Local Optima Copyright © 2016-2018 William Evans
  3. 3. “The bastard form of mass culture is humiliated repetition... always new books, new programs, new films, news items, but always the same meaning.” ― Roland Barthes SEMANTIC FOUNDRY ATELIERMADE WITH LOVE SCALING AGILE
  4. 4. “Perversion, at its most fundamental, resides in the formal structure of how the subject relates to truth and speech. The pervert claims direct access to some figure of the big other ( from God or history, Gartner or Forrester), so that, dispelling all the ambiguity of language, he is able to act directly as the instrument of the big other's will.” Žižek on Perversion
  5. 5. § Start with the context. § Whole system(s), not local optima. § Both value streams and value chains are important. § Adapt processes & methods based on situational awareness inside of culture. § Methods are methods, not religions. § Consume uncertainty with small experiments to create more information. § Change starts small through practice modulated by habitus with respect to culture. Key Takeaways
  6. 6. Ontological Design is the design of ways of being — not just the purposeful creation of mental scafolding, but rather facilitating the evolution of human capability within social systems. Social systems focused on catalyzing, facilitating, and enabling situated and embodied human cognition and action. Ontological Design “To begin simply, ontological designing is a way of characterising the relation between human beings and lifeworlds.” - Anne-Marie Willis
  7. 7. “The intentional creation of purposeful systems.” — Jabe Bloom
  8. 8. ASSUMPTION 1 We all exist (beingness) with(in) system(s).
  9. 9. ASSUMPTION 2 We are all responsible for the design, development, and maintenance of systems that ideally* create value.
  10. 10. ASSUMPTION 3 We are in this to create. Specifically we are in this to create value – that is to create things that solve problems for customers for which they are willing to exchange some value. SEMANTIC FOUNDRY ATELIERMADE WITH LOVE
  11. 11. ASSUMPTION 4 I believe Agile (and) Lean(x), affords better ways of creating new things of value. B E C A U S E : • Tight feedback loops • Small batches to ship value • Customer interactions • Experimentation • Incremental and iterative
  12. 12. Boundaries “There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall. Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.” — Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed SEMANTIC FOUNDRY ATELIERMADE WITH LOVE
  13. 13. As organizations grow, scale, and mature, they develop structures, policies, rules, norms, and taboos most appropriate for their maturity and the exploitation of existing value streams. To become more resilient and capable of strategic play, exploration, and evolution, they will need to ‘refactor the code’ of the organization? Organizational debt becomes a context-free constraint on survivability. SEMANTIC FOUNDRY ATELIERMADE WITH LOVE Organizational Debt
  14. 14. Organizational Debt
  15. 15. But What is Culture? “A pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration (…) A product of joint learning.” – Edgar Schein Organizations are socio-technical systems in which the modalityof external adaptation and the solutioning of internal integration problems are interdependent, co-evolving, and complex.
  16. 16. Culture as Webs “Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun. I take culture to be those webs.” – Clifford Geertz SEMANTIC FOUNDRY ATELIERMADE WITH LOVE
  17. 17. Webs of Signification
  18. 18. Sensemaking Semantics “Meaning exists in the interactions between things, not in the things themselves.” – Alicia Juarrero
  19. 19. Sensemaking Systems “A system is not a sum of behaviors of its parts; it’s a product of their interactions.” — Russel Ackoff SEMANTIC FOUNDRY ATELIERMADE WITH LOVE
  20. 20. Foucault on Power • Legitimate Power which is formal authority in a hierarchy. • Expert Power is derived from possessing knowledge or expertise in a particular area. • Referent Power is based on the use and exercise of interpersonal relationships a person cultivates and social capital a person accumulates. • Coercive Power is derived from a person’s ability and willingness to influence others through threats, violence, or sanctions. • Reward Power arises from a person’s ability to influence the allocation of incentives within an organization including pay, appraisals and promotions • Informational Power relates to a person’s ability to control the flow of information and disinformation within a social group. “There is no power relation without a correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose at the same time power relations.” – Michel FoucaultFrench, John R. and Raven, Bertram (1959) The Bases of Social Power. Studies in Social Power
  21. 21. Structuring Structures Power is created and recreated culturally and symbolically, and re- legitimizes itself through the interactions between agents and structure.
  22. 22. Bourdieu’s Habitus “The relation to ‘what is possible’ is ultimately a relation to power.” — pierre bourdieu SEMANTIC FOUNDRY ATELIERMADE WITH LOVE
  23. 23. Habitus Habitus is ‘the way society becomes deposited in persons in the form of lasting dispositions, or trained capacities and structured propensities to think, feel and act in determinant ways, which then guide them’.
  24. 24. Practice (or habit) isn't a matter of cultural conformity to structures of power - there is an interaction between agency and structure - it is adaptive (or some some cases maladaptive) but also strategic, reactive and active, as well as modulated by cultural signifiers whilst temporally influenced by them. Practices
  25. 25. A field is a network, structure or set of relationships in which people express and reproduce their dispositionality, where they engage in practice, and where they compete for the distribution of different kinds of capital. Fields
  26. 26. Habitus is constituted through the exchange of 4 kinds of capital between agents in a field modulated by habitus: § Financial capital § Social capital § Cultural capital § Symbolic capital Four Capital(s)
  27. 27. Four Capital(s)
  28. 28. Identity Management Agents take action within a system through the performance of context- aware identities. Identies are managed, and co-evolve within the system and are sustainted to act through the exchange of various capitals. Capitals enable agents to perform their identities within microcultural boundaries. SEMANTIC FOUNDRY ATELIERMADE WITH LOVE
  29. 29. Facing the Problem “Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies.” — Friedrich Nietzsche SEMANTIC FOUNDRY ATELIERMADE WITH LOVE
  30. 30. Mapping the Domain
  31. 31. Evolution
  32. 32. Evolution
  33. 33. Three Horizons View
  34. 34. Methods to Context
  35. 35. Praxis to Domain Mapping FROM WARDLEY, SIMON, “ON PIONEERS, SETTLERS, TOWN PLANNERS AND THEFT.”
  36. 36. Dispositions to Domains
  37. 37. Situational Dynamics FROM WARDLEY, SIMON, “ON PIONEERS, SETTLERS, TOWN PLANNERS AND THEFT.”
  38. 38. Habitus Dynamics
  39. 39. Tribal Dynamics
  40. 40. Heretics Heretics are agents with(in) a system, characterized by a practical evaluation and mastery of the terrain to see new opportunities to create new knowledge outside the ortho(doxa).
  41. 41. High Priests High Priests are agents acting within a system whose dispositionality allows them to evolve new knowledge from heretics into the system, integrating it with the power structure, extracting the value, enforcing behavioral norms, and maintaining the system of power flows through the gospel.
  42. 42. Hagiolotry Hagiolotry is simply the making of saints. Sometimes High Priests can become saints, but more often than not it’s the heretics that become saints after execution. Saints act as powerful attractors within a social system, and can reify unstated, tacit, or taboo stories to bind actions.
  43. 43. Contextual Awareness § What are requisite variety of dispositions and practices for pioneers (heretics*), as well as the processes and methods deployed are different than in other domains? * Remember that heretics have a history of getting burned at the stake.
  44. 44. Contextual Awareness § What are requisite variety of dispositions and practices for pioneers (heretics*), as well as the processes and methods deployed are different than in other domains? § It’s about the movement between domains, and the interactions between teams and across domains where novelty can turn into capability. * Remember that heretics have a history of getting burned at the stake.
  45. 45. Contextual Awareness § What are requisite variety of dispositions and practices for pioneers (heretics*), as well as the processes and methods deployed are different than in other domains? § It’s about the movement between domains, and the interactions between teams and across domains where novelty can turn into capability. § Expertise (High Priests*) is important and valuable, but can also become a trap. * Remember that heretics have a history of getting burned at the stake.
  46. 46. Contextual Awareness § What are requisite variety of dispositions and practices for pioneers (heretics*), as well as the processes and methods deployed are different than in other domains? § It’s about the movement between domains, and the interactions between teams and across domains where novelty can turn into capability. § Expertise (High Priests*) is important and valuable, but can also become a trap. § Be pragmatic in your approach to the application of methods and practices. Thought leaders aren’t saints that should be followed blindly. * Remember that heretics have a history of getting burned at the stake.
  47. 47. Final Thoughts § Start with the context. § Whole system(s), not local optima. § Both value streams and value chains are important. § Adapt processes & methods based on situational awareness inside of culture. § Methods are methods, not religions. § Consume uncertainty with small experiments to create more information. § Change starts small through practice modulated by habitus with respect to culture.
  48. 48. References Bourdieu, P. (1980). The Logic of Practice. Stanford, Stanford University Press. Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London, Routledge. Bourdieu, P. (1986). ‘The Forms of Capital’. Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Capital. J. G. Richardson. New York, Greenwood Press: 241-58. Foucault, M. (1991). Discipline and Punish: the birth of a prison. London, Penguin. Foucault, Michel. "The Subject and Power." In Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, edited by H. Dreyfus and P. Rabinow, pp. 208-226. 2nd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1983. Gaventa, J. (2003). Power after Lukes: a review of the literature, Brighton: Institute of Development Studies. Geertz, Clifford (1977), The Interpretation of Culture, Basic Books Classics Juarrero, Alicia (2002). Dynamics in Action, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusettes Moncrieffe, J. (2006). “The Power of Stigma: Encounters with ‘Street Children’ and ‘Restavecs’ in Haiti.” IDS Bulletin 37(6): 31-46. VeneKlasen, L. and V. Miller (2002). A New Weave of Power, People and Politics: The Action Guide for Advocacy and Citizen Participation. Oklahoma City, World Neighbors. Wardley, Simon, “On Pioneers, Settlers, Town Planners and Theft.” Wardley, Simon, “An introduction to Wardley (Value Chain) Mapping”
  49. 49. THANKS Will Evans will@semanticfoundry.com @SemanticWill http://semanticfoundry.com http://linkedin/in/semanticwill Copyright © 2016-2017 William EvansCopyright © 2016-2017 William Evans

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