Thursday, May 24, 2012

The "Evolving Aggregate's Task"

How fast is the USA dissolving, from the inside out, as the ratio of engagement to disengagement declines? And what can we not just do, but BEST DO about it?

For quick, situational awareness, let's consider a recent, mini case-report.

Vallejo, Calif., once bankrupt, is now a model for cities in an age of austerity

If this is a model experience & response, then American cities - and states - are still in shockingly deep trouble. Vallejo, CA's unfolding story reminds me more of a pathetic Lord of the Flies than a stirring story of insanely impressive innovation & evolution. The thrust of the Vallejo article is that this is one model for how to re-organize in an "age of austerity." A more audacious response would be to refute the defeatist strategy of austerity, and instead commit to shaping the supposed "age" that our dispirited aggregate seems to be resigning itself to.

The pattern I see is:

1) dismal context awareness of US citizens and aggregates (the whole world is always changing, but most of us, individually & collectively, are woefully out of paradigm - and ongoing "paradigms" are not static, but continue to change)

2) initial consequence is that far too many not only didn't see it coming, but didn't even get the license # of the SituationDeliveryVan (SDV) that just ran over them.

3) given the still-lagging situational awareness, many are still sitting listlessly in the same road, vulnerable to the same and new SDVans & their increasingly frequent "stocking" runs. (SD, Inc. is accelerating expansion of their fleet, if you hadn't yet noticed.)

What are we NOT seeing? Why AREN'T we seeing these things, soon enough?

Where are the scouts contributing the info required to build civic, situational awareness (SA)?

Where are the local command & review teams, staff, councils & delegated officers RAPIDLY summarizing SA from that info?  When our kids are resorting to spontaneous attempts at reorganization - through gangs - you know we're too disengaged.  If we don't take  our kids to work, or elsewhere, soon enough, they'll look for secondary options.

Where are the agile, strategic responses - that should have been initiated 30 years ago?

What the hell happened to American ingenuity & distributed resilience?

And above all else, where is the will, initiative & automatic instinct to act locally without letting communities dissolve?  Prevention is a lot easier than - repeatedly - reconstituting losses.

Martial law from above is a last gasp ploy when civic law isn't self-organizing from below.

So why isn't bottom-up civic-law self-organizing, in more places, sooner?

It's hard to put one's finger on what critical step is missing when a previously self-aggregating aggregate fails to continue organizing - or why it even started slowing it's rate of mobilization.

Ecologists, biologists, historians, military-strategists and system-scientists have long studied this general issue - how aggregates alter rates of adaptive mobilization at any scale - and there are some obvious, if initial, clues as to what's lagging.

Aggregate Instrumentation
Every growing aggregate can generate many combinations of more components and higher component transaction-rates. To preserve aggregate agility in any new organizational pattern, a rapidly increasing amount of situational awareness information must be passed through existing and/or new inter-component, communication channels. In short, a growing aggregate must scale aggregate self-instrumentation much faster than it's actual organic growth. In general, if the size of an aggregate doubles, to maintain similar agility, the amount of info-passing across all components may have to initially increase by a multiple of n-factorial.

That's why brain-size grows faster than body size as one compares different sized animals with similar agility. And if you want increasing agility simultaneously with aggregate growth, then even further, genius-level innovation is required. In the USA, civic-coordination services have to grow at a rate faster, not slower than population and/or economic growth. If they don't, the USA will regress, not prosper.

Aggregate Selective Tuning
To re-adapt to changing situations, a growing aggregate must be constantly re-tuned, very cleverly. The general pattern seen in all model systems that succeed is 2-step re-iteration. Surviving systems periodically re-connect everything to everything, then relax to the minimum connectivity patterns needed for that particular situation. Then they do it all over again. That's the basic pattern seen in the dramatic sexual recombination of genes, in the chemical gradients generated as an embryo grows from one to billions of organized cells, and in the development of neural organization in the developing brain. It's also what happens in tribes, armies, neighborhoods, markets, nations and international markets. New components (i.e., kids/students) go out and meet many peers, then briefly settle into defined adult roles before making room for a succeeding wave of adaptive components able to re-connect & re-tune into novel patterns. Explore, tune in, re-spawn & bow out.

There are too many sub-steps involved to possibly list & review in this article, but even these two, simple observations above allow us to ask further, pertinent questions.

Why are our systems failing?  Why is our adaptive rate declining?
Why are we not adequately scouting all the emerging data lines affecting our aggregate? There are many headlights coming down all roads converging on our unfolding situations. What distributed incentives are we failing to adjust, thereby allowing diverse SDVans to slip through more often, to run over parts of our aggregate with increasing frequency?

Why aren't we adequately reviewing & summarizing our own, distributed knowledge, fast enough? Why, as situations, our size, and our complexity change, are we not re-connecting everything to everything ... frequently enough & quickly enough? Why should an aggregate with our aggregate knowledge ever be in a position of effectively saying "no one could have predicted we wouldn't listen to some of our own people" - or even not knowing that such diverse scouting reports exist?

Institutional hubris simply reflects lack of situational practice, which in turn follows failure to review scaling data. In short, we have too many people over-analyzing insufficient data, when we already know that all data is meaningless without context, and that most data is irrelevant even with context. 

Simple conclusion is that we're spawning options faster than we're exploring them, and are getting distracted in the process. That's inherently a failure to rank options and prioritize pursuit of the largest returns. We're failing to cross our own chasm!

This is a recurring, general problem which I've previously named the "Traveling Entrepreneur's Task." Seeing as how the task scales up to be a rate-limiting task for all evolving aggregates, this task may be better named the "Entrepreneurial Aggregate's Task."

 The general expression of this task is to select the optimal path through a dynamic "space" where options constantly expand or shrink  as a consequence of any action taken. The general solution is to painstakingly map and take that path which continually grows the number of available, aggregate options. In a separate post I'll lay out some of the task parameters that have emerged, from multiple fields.

As Warren Mosler astutely asks, "How do you get people to explore their options?"   Why aren't we even adequately aware of the relative returns on all our spiraling options? Or that there are many, and that the number increases every day?  Heck, if an aggregate is not familiar with it's various options, it seems inescapable that, as a start, they're not exploring enough of them before choosing which to spend time digging in to.

Why aren't we at least reporting, listing, evaluating and ranking all our aggregate options? Tribal groups throughout history have faced this question, and it seems to have limited any & all colony sizes, from termites to humans. 

One answer is that we're simply not discussing our aggregate options widely, deeply or quickly enough. Why not? Perhaps we're simply not allowing ourselves enough time for group discussion. In all prior tribal systems, inordinate amounts of time were spent discussing aggregate options, precisely so that they could be ranked & pursued wisely, not randomly. Natural selection strongly favored those aggregates that measured & considered not just twice, but many times, before cutting into emerging situations. The same lesson is echoed in much business literature, as "slow down, and choose wisely, not randomly." If not, your aggregate never crosses the chasm to achieve its full Output potential.

Why do growing aggregates cycle in & out of optimally organized, aggregate behavior patterns? One obvious answer involves the ratio between distributed methods and emerging success rates. Aggregate strategy is, of necessity, the sum of an aggregate's distributed tactics or methods. Distributed incentive structures work adequately only if not saturated, or unduly frustrated. Obviously, an aggregate may fail to scale due to too much success, leading to distributed apathy & component "obesity."  Or, it may fail to scale due to a "systemic shock" response, where something triggers too much hoarding of resources in some model of the "central" organs of culture. The obvious problem is that reduced circulation of any sort of resource, from commodities to information, reduces aggregate agility.  In either case, the underlying causality is that the distributed methods - & incentives for using them - weren't adjusted with enough systemic agility.

In that case, the solution, if one even appears, occurs in an indirect, nested system response.  Some previously non-existent or seemingly negligible aggregate component becomes part of newly significant aggregate tuning instrumentation.

When a systemic shock reflex kicks in - for whatever reason - it's a sign of a overwhelmed system's desperate attempt to use outmoded reflexes to solve situations it has failed to adequately scout, consider, probe, surf and prepare for.

Sometimes a shock reflex may work, and sometimes it may lead to a self-induced death spiral not absolutely dictated by context. The overall lesson is that an ounce of adaptive prevention prevents multiples of pain, cure & lost output. It's far better to never fall into a systemic shock reflex, because it reveals a system already in a state of confusion, randomly falling back on old vs emerging strategies.

That's the absolutely last behavior an agile aggregate EVER wants to find itself expressing in a novel situation.

Systemic shock - i.e., rising disparity - is a graphic admission that an aggregate has been dozing on the watch, and has no idea whether another SituationDeliveryVan may be about to arrive, with or without it's headlights on.

Slow change in our distributed incentive systems may thus lead us to cycles of accelerating or declining aggregate growth rates.  The question is what to do about it?  How do we continually add protective sub-loops preemptively protecting us from such system bugs? 

Again, answers are already apparent from previously studied model systems. Every known process in biology or biochemistry seems to be simultaneously expressed in at least triplicate, affected by short, medium and long-term feedback mechanisms - call them checks & balances if you will.  This critical lesson, apparent in densely engineered, prior systems, may be exactly what we're failing to pay enough attention to as our aggregate explores it's own, new frontiers of scale.

Parallel system feedback systems with diverse time constants provide a general framework for smoothing out adaptive responses over multiple situations.  An aggregate employing this strategy is less likely to fall into the trap of over-adapting to any one situation while reducing it's chances of transitioning to the next, inevitably different situation.  Other evolved aggregates have shown us that survival of Entrepreneurial Aggregates means taking a middle path, where minimally-adequate adaptation to each situation allows adequate preparation for the next situation.

Is our culture adequately instrumented, from local to national levels?

In our nation, states, counties, cities, towns, schools, neighborhoods and families - do we have enough, different feedback systems with adequately differing time-constants? 

Are we letting the signal strength from those feedback channels scale automatically?   

Do we prepare our citizens - through actual practice - to listen and respond to that multiple and changing signal spectrum?  

As our aggregate size and complexity grows rapidly, are we spawning enough feedback systems with enough different time constants to keep our aggregate agile? 

To even achieve that last step, are we modeling our combined map of aggregate-feedback-methods-to-context, so that we can adequately FOCUS on aggregate tuning, which always delivers the highest return? 

It seems certain that we can always do that, but if we only remind ourselves that the highest return in any organized aggregate is ALWAYS the return-on-coordination.

In fact, to survive, we need to move on to a more powerful version of that message.  The highest return in any organized aggregate is ALWAYS the return-on-rate-of-coordination.

Seems obvious that success follows adaptive rate.  It's not sufficient to adapt, if your aggregate always finds that another aggregate has already done so a decade before, has moved on, and is already out of sight, disappeared into a future your aggregate won't share.

Methods for recursively tuning rate-of-return-on-coordination therefore offer themselves as the general, dynamic solution to the continually scaling "Entrepreneurial Aggregate's Task" or, more directly, the Evolving Aggregate's Task.

As promised, a follow-on post will begin to list the diverse parameters subtly affecting the "Entrepreneurial Aggregate's Task." There's no way that such a listing task will ever end. No one person or component of any system can ever know them all, at any one time ... and our list will never stop growing .. unless the USA dies.