Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Strategy Principles In Abundance

This isn't really a book review, more an observation on the ideas expressed by the authors of the book, but I encourage everyone to buy this book and study what it has to offer.  Not just read it; we all need to figure out how to personally apply as many of the concepts briefly examined there-in as we ultimately prove able to.  It's that important.

In the book, the following statement is made:
"... global living standards will continue to improve regardless of the horrors that dominate the headlines."  A Note From The Authors, pg X
Stripped of its context, this is a re-statement of a basic strategic principle that can be expressed in a digital context as information =/= knowledge.  Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler are making the explicit point that the examples of failure notwithstanding (and however horrible in practice), humanity is - and they contend has historically always been - on an inexorably rising trend of improving conditions of life.  They make this point in support of the concept of exponential growth applying to more than just our tech toys; that all of human existence is improving on the identical, inter-connected and interdependent scale as well.

In Chapter 1, Our Grandest Challenge; The Lesson Of Aluminum, pg 3-4, they make the observation:
History's littered with tales of once-rare resources made plentiful by innovation.  The reason is pretty straight-forward; scarcity is often contextual."
 A more intuitive explanation of the strategic principle of "position" I have trouble imagining.  Advancement of position is always measured against both your present condition and that of others too.  From this it can be seen that position is also always an unstable and temporary condition; a momentary measurement of a fluctuating placement within a dynamic and unceasing process.  The author's contention that this is a context that is much more subject to direct individual influence - and that our steadily improving technology only increases that degree of influence - is potentially sufficient to justify the cost of the book all in itself.

"... one of the better responses to the threat of scarcity is not to try to slice our pie thinner - rather it's to figure out how to make more pies."   Chapter 1, Our Grandest Challenge, The Limits To Growth; pg 9
 In rhetoric, there is a technique I've seen identified as framing the argument.  By delineating the boundaries within which discussion is limited, the outcome of the exchange can be predictably controlled.  Classical strategy has it that you must control the context of possibility as to which positional advancement tactics are permissible.  Strategy has an internal ethic, but this is as akin to morality as a kiss is to rape (they're both inter-active human behavior, but ...).   Holding up the potential for less pie per capita may well be ethical behavior, but the more moral positional advancement is to actualize the capability for more of us to make pies instead (hopefully so as to offer some to us all at less cost per bite).

"One reason abundance remains hard to accept is because we live in an extraordinarily uncertain world, and decision making in the face of uncertainty is never easy.  In a perfectly rational world, when given a choice, we would asses the probability and the utility of all possible outcomes and then combine these two to make our call.  But humans rarely have all the facts, we can't possibly know all the outcomes, and - even if we did - we have neither the temporal flexibility nor the neurological capacity to analyze all the data.  Rather, our decisions are made based on limited, often unreliable, information, and further hampered by internal limits (the brain's processing power) and external limits (the time constraints under which we have to make our decision).  So we have developed an unconscious strategy, a problem-solving aid for just such situations: we rely upon heuristics."  Chapter 3, Seeing The Forest Through The Trees, Cognitive Biases, pg 29
 In the world we actually live in, some 3,500 years ago someone developed a methodology that assumed both uncertainty and the absence of complete (or even reliable) knowledge upon which to base decisions.  Upon occasion I have the amusing conceit to think that Sun Tzu may well have been simply the most observant guy of his fellow humans behavior to have ever existed, and that his famous treatise may in fact be the oldest surviving example of an effective job application known to human history.  That bit of hubris notwithstanding, I do know that the principles of strategy he recorded offer a far more consistent and broadly applicable standard upon which to base decision making then any possible format of qualified guesses possibly could reliably achieve.  I'm not dismissing heuristics, knowing what you don't know is valuable; maybe a conscious strategy would be a better choice, that's all.

I firmly believe that we are capable of developing technology that deliberately applies the principles of classical strategy to our knowledge base so as to vastly improve our individual capability to quantifiably apply that to our decision making process as a matter of routine.  If all of our major choices (those which we spend time and effort deciding - the ones not having an intuitive answer immediately apparent) were the result of a data search of all pertinent information, ranked by a series of hierarchies to arrive at a select number of choices with predetermined probabilities of result, then we all become much more capable of providing for our individual wants and needs through our own arrangements.  This presents an obvious source of conflict of course.

Diamandis and Kotler seem to be comfortable in the belief that networks of users of technology will accrete naturally.  While true enough, this position leaves the direction of such growth far too susceptible to destructive (or merely oppositional) forces influence.  My belief is that such user networks deserve nurturing and promotion in their growth process; in direction, in speed and in the very nature of that growth.  People should be be made aware of the increased possibility for their personal development, be directed to the means of doing so achievable from their circumstance and taught the philosophical values and standards appropriate to the safe usage of technology.  I will write more on this in another post, but I believe Peter Diamandis in particular needs to re-evaluate his apparent position on the development of networks, both in light of the individuals safety as well as the effect such networks have on peaceably ..., err, encouraging political hierarchies to modify existing legislative structures so as to better allow for ease of technology advancement that undeniably disrupts historical technology-based social and economic arrangements.  I submit that such networks can provide a reinforcement of the efforts exerted by organizations such as his own X-Prize Foundation in achieving positive societal change.

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