Messy Management for a Complex World

Ecosystems, Not Machines | How Not To Innovate | Crackdown On Predictim | Yuval Noah Harari on the Robot Revolution | Saadia Muzaffar on Disruption

Update 2021-04-02: This is one of a series of lost posts that I am rehosting on Substack. This one was lost on Revue, which I used for a while in 2018. Still good material, so I am sending it out.

If there is a thread connecting today’s curated links, it might be the unexpected outcomes arising from complexity at various scales. Or maybe there is no thread after all.

There is a reason that I call myself a work ecologist, and it’s linked to the notion that social systems – like work organizations – must be considered in ecological terms, not as machines.


Think Biologically: Messy Management for a Complex World | Martin Reeves, Simon Levin, and Daichi Ueda wrote a thought-provoking report arguing that we need to transitionally from ‘mechanical’ management to one based on ecological and biological principles:

Although a mechanical approach works well in situations with high stability and low complexity, such as a production factory, it has a number of characteristics that make it ill-suited to CASs. For instance, it assumes linear interactions and straightforward cause-and-effect relationships while ignoring higher-order effects, and it suppresses adaptive learning by minimizing tinkering and deviations from prescribed processes. Mechanical management is becoming less and less effective in today’s business conditions, in which global competition and rapidly advancing technologies make both companies and their business environments more complex and less predictable.

The principles of messy management:

  • Pragmatism, Rather Than Intellectualism.

  • Resilience, Rather Than Efficiency.

  • Experimentation, Rather Than Deduction.

  • Indirect, Rather Than Direct, Approaches.

  • Holism, Rather Than Reductionism.

  • Plurality, Rather Than Universality.

I think I’ll have to undertake a longer discussion of this report, in the near term. A must-read. I wonder if a book is in the works?

A Guide To Corporate Innovation: 19 Strategies To Drive Innovation Now | Very funny and dead-on skewering of the conventional corporatist approach to innovation by CB Insights, or corporate innovation theater. This is just slide 8 of 19:

Have multiple groups with similar but different enough mandates – Have a venture, M&A, partnership, digital transformation, and innovation team that are all sort of doing the same thing, but to maximize confusion, have them reporting into different folks. Don’t have any sort of technology-driven system that keeps them all on the same page. This way, multiple groups can reach out to the same startup to create that impression of maximum confusion and to ensure that there is little to no knowledge-sharing within the organization.

Facebook, Twitter crack down on AI babysitter-rating service | Drew Harwell reports that social media companies are limiting Predictim’s access to user information that the company analyzes to provide a numeric risk rating for babysitter candidates.

Facebook spokeswoman Katy Dormer said the company also launched an investigation earlier this week into Predictim’s extraction, or “scraping,” of personal data. That investigation is ongoing and could include further penalties.

Twitter spokesman Nick Pacilio said the site conducted its own investigation earlier this week and revoked Predictim’s access to important site tools — known as application programming interfaces, or APIs — that would allow the start-up to review and analyze babysitters’ tweets on a massive scale.

“We strictly prohibit the use of Twitter data and APIs for surveillance purposes, including performing background checks,” Pacilio said.


Brad Shear, a Maryland attorney who specializes in social media and privacy law, said Predictim’s problems may run much deeper than that. The site, he said, appears to violate a ban on employers demanding job applicants verify or give access to their personal social media accounts. Such requests might run afoul of the law in 26 states, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Parsa said the service is “perfectly legal.”

“What they’re doing is purely against public policy: There are First Amendment issues, Fourth Amendment issues. If you talk to any lawmaker out there, they’ll say it’s absolutely disgusting what Predictim is trying to sell,” Shear said.

“The fact they would think this is okay obviously demonstrates they have some ethical issues,” he added. “They’re selling snake oil they say can predict people’s personalities and misleading parents along the way.”

I wrote about Predictim in yesterday’s The Stress Gap.

Historian Yuval Noah Harari on the Robot Revolution | Francesco Marconi spoke with the author of Sapiens and Homo Deus and thinks Yuval Noah Harari ‘sees a future in which machines make better doctors, AI aids dictatorships and surveillance has a silver lining’.


Quote of the Day

A strange thing happens when things become ubiquitous. When something is all around us, we tend to deem it benign. We start to think that it’s normal, and we just absorb it into our lexicon and stop questioning it. The ubiquity of online labor platforms and their addictive convenience has done the same thing. It’s romanticized this lure of disruption so much that it has managed to make an entire global workforce of workers disappear before our very eyes. They’re like Santa’s elves, right? They do all the work and you and I benefit from it, but we never hear about them. We have tech conferences that rival the budget of the Academy Awards, but we never hear about these workers. Online labor platforms have done a few things. They have reconfigured what it means to be a worker, and how work is perceived and experienced. And in this reconfiguration, they have designed an unacceptable level of inequity.

Saadia MuzaffarDisruption