Sunday, May 12, 2013

In search of two better terms - Chaotic vs Linear

Many years ago (getting on for a decade now) when dealing with the issues of diffusion and how changes not only diffused but evolved, I developed the following graph to describe evolution (see figure 1).

Figure 1 - Evolution

The graph is based upon two axis. One of ubiquity which measured how widespread and commonplace the notion of something was and certainty which measured how well defined & well understood something was. 

By measuring the change of the style of publications related to the act then different domains were highlighted i.e. for activities (things we do) we have :-
  • Genesis : where publications tend to refer to the wonder of the thing.
  • Custom built : where publications refer to the building, construction and awareness.
  • Product : where publications refer to operation, maintenance and feature differentiation
  • Commodity : where publications are dominated by use, i.e. what is built with or on, guides for maximising use etc.
This process of evolution covers activities (what we do), practices (how we do things) and data. Each of these evolve through similar states in terms of characteristics, though the terms we use are different i.e. activities evolve from genesis to commodity, practices from novel to best.

Each component can evolve independently or in certain cases co-evolve for example with computing infrastructure provided as a product we had novel practices for architecture which evolved to become best practices (scale-up, disaster recovery, N+1). As the act of computing infrastructure itself evolved to more of a utility then novel architectural practices appeared and are currently evolving (scale-out, chaos engines, design for failure).  Hence best architectural practice for an activity provided through a product is not the same as best architectural practice for an activity provided through a utility.

To understand the connections we need to invoke mapping techniques but that's another conversation. What I'm looking at is one of the underpinning axis of mapping ... evolution.

By 2008, I had amassed several thousand data points providing the same pattern and the causation had been modelled (simple competition including user and supply). However, one thing has niggled me from the beginning. Back when I started to collect the data, I needed descriptive terms to describe the characteristics of the extremes of evolution with the in-between state being a transition from one to another.

At one extreme you had the un-modelled, the uncertain, the constantly changing, the unpredictable, lacking agreement and convergence, the novel and rare, the exciting (in terms of future potential) and the poorly understood. 

At the other extreme, the same act would evolve to the understood, the stable, the predictable, the measured, the agreed and converged, the common and widespread, the dull, mastery of perceived simple operation.

The latter simple operation is important as the actual act through standard interfaces often hides a world of complexity in the same manner that putting a plug into a socket and switching it on hides the complexity of electrical generation and distribution from the consumer. We have a perceived notion of mastery - we socket the plug and switch on - and expect power to be delivered. We are often unaware of the myriad of systems - some simple, some complex - that enable this. Our notion of mastery is only shaken when our expected outcome is not delivered.

The same holds with currency. When I hand over a pound to buy my 20p newspaper I have an expected outcome. I don't expect to get a varying amount of change in return. When I turn on the taps, I expect to get running water not nothing, not sand, not sludge and not a fizzy drink. It's our expectation of a simple linear type operation which is essential in defining commodity and utility despite the actual complexity of any systems the interface obscures.

I struggled with finding terms to describe these two extremes of evolution. Nothing was truly suitable. I could use chaotic vs ordered but this implied a permanence in state and the terminology was confusing. I did however find a descriptive framework in Stacey's Matrix, which had axis of certainty and agreement. One extreme was chaos and anarchy (low certainty and agreement), the other was simple (high certainty and agreement). See figure 2

Figure 2 - Stacey's Matrix

Simple in this term referred to a simple linear type operation and on reading a paper by Roger's which discussed how things not only diffused but as footnote mentioned how they matured becoming less chaotic and more linear in appearance, I decided to use the terms Chaotic vs Linear to describe the extremes. However, I've never been happy with those descriptive terms mainly because the notion linear degenerates quickly into linear / non-linear systems and the notion of chaotic quickly degenerates itself into other discussions.

So, finally, after all these years, I'm revisiting this and looking for two terms which more aptly describe the characteristics of the extremes i.e.

Something more apt than "chaotic" to describe characteristics of the un-modelled, the uncertain, the constantly changing, the unpredictable, lacking agreement and convergence, the novel and rare, the exciting (in terms of future potential) and the poorly understood. 

Something more apt than "linear"to describe characteristics of the understood, the certain, the stable, the predictable, the measured, the agreed and converged, the common and widespread, the dull with  mastery of perceived simple operation.

A good friend of mine @jamesurquhart has suggested "wild" vs "domesticated". I actually quite like that as descriptive terms for the characteristics of the extreme (see figure 3). I'm hoping someone might have a better suggestion.

Figure 3 - Wild vs Domesticated

What I want to avoid is meaningless or confusing terms such as "innovation" which is equally used to describe genesis of something, feature differentiation of a product or more evolved models of providing pre-existing activities. I'm looking for something more apt in describing those characteristics which is not tarnished by common use or loaded with other connotations


Unknown said...

Perhaps you could lean on the Pioneer, Settler, Town Planner framework? Something like Frontier vs. Urbane?


swardley said...

That's an interesting framing ... the "wild frontier", "undiscovered" ... it's almost a mapping description.

biddster said...

I like the idea of reaching a steady state, but I'm not sure what the chaotic would be in that analogy.

Rafael Garcia-Suarez said...

For some reason this evolution reminds me of Giambattista Vico's framing of human history as a cycle from the divine age, to the heroic age, and then to the human age. But that's XVIIth century terminology. However: Vico says the first phase is characterised by metaphorical language -- describing new things by wonderful comparisons; the 2nd phase is categorised by metonymical language -- focusing on parts, and how they operate together, instead of a whole; the 3rd phase uses a prosaic language full of common loci. This resonates with the "change of the style of publications" you were listing.

Paul said...

In my mind its kind of like "unknown vs known" or "solutioning vs governing"

swardley said...

Hi Paul,

The unknown vs known is one I've considered, the problem of course is that degenerates into known unknown, known known etc.

An alternative is chartered vs unchartered.

swardley said...


That is spectacular because the general economic cycle has three phases - one of wonder, one of peace and one of war - which map to this progression .i.e. it's the evolution of activities to more commodity which initiates each next age. Standard nuts and bolts beget machine. Standard electricity begets radio / TV etc etc.

The uncertainty axis, certainly varies by publications from a focus on on wonder to parts and operation to common use. I had no read Vico's work before ... that's something I'll immediately correct.

Thank you.

Paul said...

good point, how about "discovery" as the meme...

swardley said...

Well, I've gone through Stacey, Boiset and host of others over the years and I've yet to find an adequate means of describing the extreme states of evolution and two highly definable set of characteristics.

All of the possible are loaded i.e. chaotic vs linear, chaos vs order, known vs unknown and none adequately describe the end points of evolution.

Even if I resorted to known vs unknown then I'm into realm of having an "unknown" state which actually has a set of very knowable characteristics (uncertain, rare, constantly changing etc).

Chaotic vs Linear was the best term I came up with before (based on Stacey - anarchy vs simple linear) but it's a headache in itself because of the linear / non-linear associations.

Chaos vs Order and various descriptions of systems fail to consider the uncertain element i.e. we don't know what sort of system it is.

Cynefin I find is a useful description of five different types of "system" (complex, simple, chaotic, complicated and disorder) but that's all. It has no essence of how things evolve.

I-Space equally is great for social learning and there are strong links with abstraction and codification driving diffusion which is also why the evolution has a particular hockey stick shape. But diffusion is not enough, it's the sequential diffusion of multiple improving systems through large ecosystems which in effect describes the process of evolution.

As an aside, because this process is competition based (depends upon actors), it's why evolution can't be mapped over time.

So, I-Space fantastic for social learning cycle but less so on the actual process of evolution from concept to hypothesis to theory to law. Unless someone can please point out what I've missed, I'd be very grateful as this has been a bugbear for years.

So without adequate terms to describe these polar opposite but definable states of evolution, I'm sort of forced to create two terms.

The best so far … and extending the mapping / discovery analogy … is uncharted vs charted.

I'm loathe to do, hence my previous attempts to use Stacey matrix but I'm starting to feel I have no option.

swardley said...

The various suggestions have been much appreciated.

I think however, I might be able to capture this transition between the two defined states of characteristics with the words Uncharted vs Kingdom

i.e. Uncharted vs Stateless vs Fiefdom vs Kingdom

Representing the transitions of :-

* Genesis to custom built to product to commodity

* Concept to hypothesis to theory to law

* Novel to emerging to good to best


* The Uncharted land of genesis
* Stateless groups of custom built providers
* The fiefdoms of products vendors
* The Kingdoms of commodity suppliers.

Uncharted is simply term used to describe a state having the characteristics of un-modelled, un-mapped, the uncertain, the constantly changing, the unpredictable, lacking agreement and convergence, the novel and rare, the exciting (in terms of future potential) and the poorly understood.

With Kingdom simply being a terms used to describe a state having the characteristics of the understood, the certain, the stable, the predictable, the measured, the agreed and converged, the common and widespread, the dull, the restricted, the accepted, perceived simple operation and laws of regulation.

It's not a perfect analogy but it feels better than chaotic vs linear as descriptive terms.

Still open for better suggestions.

swardley said...

Ok, I think I've nailed it - uncharted vs industrialised.

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