Monday, November 12, 2012

Exploring Transitions

I've been thinking about the new picture that covers the transitory domain since it was first posted at and in particular I’ve been focused on the "Duffer zone" for which Dave Snowden has said:
… when you deliberately remove all constrains with no idea whatsoever about what you will do.  You deserve to die.
This does not square with what is a crucial association of this transitory framework - our awareness of the dynamic of a situation.  There is in this sub-model an area of deliberation upon the unknown and the impossible, which we attend to because we must when we find ourselves in certain situations.  As a result, I think this zone may be far richer than a first glance indicates.

The background for this discussion is a “system-of-meaning,”  where we have taxonomy and typology locked into conflict.  Taxonomies are information lattices formed under high constraints, while typologies are theories that can developed when there is an abundance of information and constraints are low.  From my post on Between Taxonomy and Typology:

(3.6)    We see the conflicts more clearly because the boundaries of systems are more visible than the rules and principles of behavior.  Thus transgressions of the rules may be more shocking because they occur in unexpected contexts, nearer the heart (center) than the edge.
(3.7)    Fragments slip through these boundaries. 
To understand this sub-model we need to look at both the high and low constraints and their interactions.

1.  High Constraints

If we consider our starting point to be the lower right corner “Deliberate Awareness of the Dynamic,” we will find in most circumstances that there are considerable constraints in place and our options for engagement and activity are rather limited.  When starting in the lower right corner of the illustration, there are only a limited number of options that one can try for.  This is an area of high constraints where only incremental change can be exercised.  There is no easy outcome in these sorts of activities or games and our choice of moves are rather limited.

I have found a concise example from classes in Political Science and Statecraft in Deterrence Theory.  When we consider the strategies through which a state can exercise its power in a bipolar relationship, we can construct movements from one cell to the next along the following lines:

    (1.1)    The desired outcome of bargaining is coercion, wherein the target party has acted through force that is real or implied.

    (1.2)    If the target does not yield, it is because one side has settled upon a strategy of escalation. This is brinksmanship wherein “…the threats involved might become so huge as to be unmanageable at which point both sides are likely to back down.” (ibid)

    (1.3)    A state can pursue an indirect strategy of diplomacy or soft power.  Outcomes are ones of mutual benefits.  Outcomes may also be the de-escalation of demands and other levers of explicit force.  Diplomacy expands the scope of engagements between the parties.

   (1.4)    The last available movement in deterrence is the opposite of brinkmanship, namely deception, propaganda or bluffing.  One party has hidden information that, when later revealed, underscores the weakness of the position.

These movements are sensible when placed within the sub-model of the transitory domain.  In the highly constrained situation these moves are all below the diagonal line.  The diagonal represents the Cynefin boundary between the complex domain and disorder, proceeding from disorder through ambiguity towards coherence as it rises to the right.

We cannot breach this line as we cannot design a strategy that moves from the deliberate and impossible to the easy and unexpected.  Such a move would require a radical change of constraints and that reconstitutes the problem into one in a different domain.  If we reframe the problem, then we are no longer oriented towards the complex domain – reframing reduces the situation to an ordered solution which by definition means the complicated or simple domain.  In similar fashion, the revelation of hidden information changes the context in the same way.  The transitory domain is fluid and we cannot fashion a deliberate strategy to “stay in place” for very long.

We can construct similar moves from contracting and negotiations:
    (1.1)    Demands and conditions;
    (1.2)    Chicken or defense-in-depth; also see the Chicken game;
    (1.3)    Integrative negotiation, the so called “win-win”; and
    (1.4)    And various forms of misdirection.

From certain forms of negotiations and Game Theory there is one final applicable move:
    (1.5)    This is the roll of the dice, the deadline of the clock, and the so called “moves by nature.” This is the limit of the unknown when a move, any move, is forced upon us. This last case is necessarily ambiguous and fits in the center cell of the sub-model. 

2.  Low Constraints

Having fleshed out the incremental moves available under high constraints, we need to examine the zone labeled “Exploit Occurrence” in a similar vein.  The critical characteristic of the Easy corner (upper left) is that when there are few constraints the people or agents in the system can readily – freely – move.

The baseline example for this scenario is the Technology Adoption Lifecycle model.  With the first move already provided and oriented towards coherence and the complex domain, we can easily plot out the moves:

    (2.1)    Innovators and early adopters accept the risks to seize the rewards that are promised. This is deliberate awareness, even though the risks (and failures) are not clearly apparent.

    (2.2)    The early and late majorities are the mainstream; they follow as more information becomes apparent.  A decision can be made on the basis of risks and rewards; this decision is rational or emotional and therefore the plausible movement case.

    (2.3)    We then find the laggards who avoid making the transition.  As they wait the circumstances change, until they face an abrupt transition whose consequences are unknown.

In marketing and technology diffusion we can design our (pricing) strategies towards the early adopters, the mainstream, or the late-comers.  And it is from marketing, rather than the technology adaptation model, that we can discover the last move within this region:

    (2.4)    The final case is one of deliberate bad acts to achieve disorder.  These are the Luddites, copycats and intellectual property thieves, spammers and more.  The actor’s objective is to upset the normal system and introduce disorder which refashions the dynamics of the system in unexpected ways.

These moves are all above the line.  Curiously, in a free-movement system I haven’t found a move into the center ambiguous square.  By way of explanation, we cannot subdivide the laggards (the unknown and unexpected) in any meaningful way.

3.  Misinterpretation

While we cannot design a strategy that moves across the center line, we can all too easily mistake a situation and naively apply a strategy for a highly constrained situation to one of low constraints.  Or vice versa.

If we choose for instance to apply strategies for an open (low constraint), free-movement situation to a highly constrained, incremental movement situation, we may well end up in the “Duffer zone” suffering from Dave’s comment about “no constraints … deserve to die.”

On the other hand, we may attempt to apply high constraint strategies to a free-movement situation (or system).  The outcomes that succeed or fail in this case are likely to be more random than they are deliberate.  We will chalk up these outcomes to surprise, or intervention, or luck in post-hoc rationalization (retrospective coherence).  This case is probably a return into the chaotic domain vice an ascent into the complex realm.

4.  Collaboration

Collaboration also has a role to play in this transitory framework.  We can see a ready alignment between early adopters and the dominant power in the easy—deliberate cell (upper left right).  We also can see a natural alignment among bad actors in the impossible—unexpected cell (lower right left).  These two collaborations have no predictive power as the system will stabilize and form or collapse without either coalition’s contribution.

The horizontal axis of the unknowns is peculiar case.  There would not normally be a confluence of interest between Brinksmanship and Laggards, as the zealots pushing their increasingly radical proposals are avoided and ignored by the late adopters.  I suspect this dynamic tends to reinforce the status-quo, especially when the laggards are a large fraction of the population.

The vertical axis of the plausible is the most interesting combination.  Here we find in diplomacy and integrative negotiation a predisposition towards engagement and the expansion of boundaries in “win-win” agreements.  We also have in social networks, which are open, free-movement systems, the known accomplishments of swarming and crowdsourcing.  The combination of these two interests may well represent a significant predisposition in this framework.

In summary this transitory framework is quite rich and complex. It contains a number of surprising connections and is asymmetrical enough that it defies reduction into 2 x 2 forms.


  1. Very good article and makes a lot of sense in many ways.

    My initial feeling was related to the plural of constraint. In the context it makes a lot of sense. Even when the constraints refers to capacity sources, this would mean a situation with many sources having not enough protective capacity. In other meanings of the word constraint (e.g. policy constraints, etc) it works as well. In other words a lot of interesting interaction between constraints.

    If I may, there is one suggestion I like to give.

    "If we consider our starting point to be the lower right corner “Deliberate Awareness of the Dynamic,” we will find in most circumstances that there are considerable constraints in place and our options for engagement and activity are rather limited." ==>

    "When we are faced with high constraints, the best way to go forward is to consider that we are in the siutation of the lower right corner"

    And something similar for "low constraints".

    This actually is your recommendation in your blog. However, I have trouble seeing the causality as you mention in the beginning.

  2. Thank you Stefan. The context is a bit obscure and it may take 3 or 4 readings to ascertain that I'm discussing strategies and policies as opposed to more recognized knowledge practices. These are inherently complex, future focused and rigidly constrained by the organizations culture. Yet we create many knowledge products that communicate (or attempt to) the rules and criteria and decision justifications in my line of work.

    As a result I have a Goldie-Locks opinion of constraints: you can have too many or too few, but never just enough. You've pointed out a bit of a blind spot which I must work to overcome.