Tools for volatile times


So here are some tools I have come across for mental modeling in uncertain times

VUCA –VolatileUncertainComplex, and Ambiguous 


This apparently comes from the armed forces. It is to build out a probability space of what might happen – opposed to what will happen.  However this article states that we already live in a world like this. It is the status quo, we need a new tool – BANI:Brittle, Anxious, Nonlinear, and Incomprehensible.  Unlike volatile systems with large changes, brittle systems break. Uncertain systems are where you make decisions with uncertain outcomes. Anxious systems is were you cannot make a decision at all, or as soon as you make one decision you retrace and make another. Complex has many variables, nonlinear means the variables progress in complicated ways overtime. Ambiguous means many things can happen, incomprehensible means we dont understand what will happen. From that medium link above the author says “The concept of ‘flattening the curve’ is inherently a war against nonlinearity.” 

So what does the BANI framework give us that VUCA did not, or what to they both give us? There are some proposals in the article but I am going to give my own here. VUCA is intended to build out probability spaces. BANI describes the tools that we need to use to build the probability space. It is unclear if we can build out BANI probability spaces with scenario planning exercises and Miro sessions. Instead we need to create tools that give us different perspectives or points of view into the space and reduce it to VACA. – IMHO


(Trigger warning, after writing this post and finishing the article I saw there is an example from Koch industries and a quotation by Charles Koch. I considered deleting this post. I do NOT agree or endorse their positions or practices and I am deeply disappointed that I found this… however I do think the ideas in this essay are worth consider especially if they are influencing how these sorts of businesses and people operate). 

This is another process from the developed in the military. It was developed by John Boyd, a fighter pilot who is really fascinating.  I just started reading his book A Discourse on Winning and Losing. OODA means Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It is a theory of action. It means all people observe a situation, orient themselves with regards to it, decide what to do, and then act.  In the essay linked above ‘Orient’ is the most complex part and depends on things like cultural heritage, genetics, memory and so forth. I would agree with that. Orientation is the work of the soul (not sure Boyd would agree with me – but there it is)

I am not sure if I agree. I think many people skip the orientation step -and this perhaps is the goal of psychology. There are also people who fail to connect the decide and act – this too may be the realm of psychology. If you are processing correctly at all steps then the individual or group going through the OODA loop fastest will be the most successful or ‘defeat the competition’. This is from the military after all.

Also you can disrupt the enemy’s loop.   There are different ways to interfere with the enemy’s loop. This is where I am reminded of Marx. Why read Marx or any economic or political theory. Why Marx and not Proudhon? Well if you want to change society you have to figure out where in the network to stage your intervention. Proudhon said it was property, Marx said it was class, today it may be something else.  For Boyd it is Orientation. What is the critical part of the system that if you overwhelm everything else will change. This is not a perfect analogy -but just go with it – I find it slightly poetic. By disorienting your opponent – interfering with the Orientation step – then you have the highest chance of breaking down his OODA loop, because this is the most complicated stage and has the most opportunity for interference.

The next question – and this also comes from the above essay – is how do you make sure no one is messing with your orientation and disrupting your OODA loop.  The answer Boyd gives is in how you orient. Basically you must use deductive and inductive reasoning at the same time. That you must both create and destroy at the same time, you must constantly be creating your orientation.  I do and dont agree with this. I think it is not related to reasoning but psychology – maybe meditate instead of cogitate. The question is about cognitive biases and get out of them. But granted – I have not sat with this enough – and I these are quick reactions not thoughtful responses. 

The final question – also from the above essay – which is excellent please read it – is how to build OODA organizations in addition to individuals.The essay says it is by giving individuals/leaders more autonomy – essentially letting individuals orient themselves – and organization can have orientation robustness. The example is the German Blitzgrieg.  The second step is that the communication, what I interpret as the symbolic language of the organization is implict but not explicit. This creates room for individuals to follow their own orientation.

I wonder perhaps if this is where the notion of corporate or organizational culture comes in and the current management practices of developing corporate culture. 

These two articles exposed me to new ideas. It is the first time in a long time I have read an article where I discover individuals quoted and made examples of who I am so strongly against. It makes me realize how infrequently I come into contact with POV and reasoning outside my orientation.