Thursday, August 2, 2012

Return on Coordination

   (Commentary posted by Roger Erickson.)

Why does the economics field neglect return-on-coordination so thoroughly? In all complex systems, the highest return, by far, is the return on coordination. It pays to invest in coordination skills, by optimally distributing resources. Post WWII growth of the middle class proved that, as does asset allocation in all team activities, including military forces. No system is stronger than the weakest link, etc, etc.

So why can't a nation full of such smart people act more cooperatively, and leverage more of the compounding, potential return-on-coordination? It's a function of the behavioral habits citizens learn, and the drifting balance between multiple habits. What's our ratio of personally hoarding static assets vs collectively hoarding dynamic coordination capabilities? The balance between those two habits follows social connectivity, which follows our social methods, training & practice.  In short, when answering these questions, all roads lead to K-12 education and group preparation.  Our nation will become what our kids learn & practice.

That's what military officer training & War Colleges are all about. They've got the theory down, but even our vaunted DoD is still way behind on adequate practice. When pressure mounts, too many military personnel fall back on personally practiced habits (PowerPoint driven promotion ratings?) that are still more ingrained than group coordination.

Every human tribe had this problem solved - for small numbers. It's the historically rapid rise in human population that's scaled beyond our ability to manage it. We've outrun incredibly efficient tribal mechanisms that by themselves can't scale up adequately to meet the demands of our current population size. To start nibbling away at our exploding Output Gap, we'll have to discover & start using some very indirect approaches to teach citizens to covet & hoard dynamic coordination capabilities.  How?  Let 'em see and sense the allure of the incredible returns possible with coordination.    Organized teams can do amazing things - with enough practice. That means the opposite of austerity.  It means investing in the cost of coordination, and exploring how to optimally distribute the returns ... in order to tempt everyone to explore even more coordination.   That's how we'll transition to hoarding teamwork, not static assets. That's how we'll make a continuously more perfect union.  Show me a sport where teams win by hoarding equipment and neglecting teamwork.  Napoleon supposedly said that morale is to material as 3 is to 1.  In the same ratio, team practice and shared success must be rated at 10, at least.

Complex systems adapt by organizing increasingly agile exploration of increasingly distributed option sets. Teams achieve amazing things only when everyone plays their proper roles with exquisite timing. Note that increasing either population numbers or individual capabilities simply generates even more group options to explore. We're overwhelmed with increasing options, and our success follows the quality of our selection path. For now, we can arbitrarily define, teach and practice 4 stages of an apparently universal process of mobilization.

1) Group success "follows the quality [including tempo] of distributed decision-making." [Note: the USMC changes this link periodically. If broken, google "USMC Warfighting pdf"]

2) Groups "generate tempo by decentralizing decision-making."
    [Note: the USMC changes this link too. If broken, google "USMC Campaigning pdf"]

3) Groups decentralize decision-making by distributing resources well enough to allow distributed exploration of dynamic options.
(It's called liquidity or recombination. We teach one another, distribute resources where useful, & give time for study & practice  - all to generate more innovation.  Species innovate by exploring the unpredictable value generated by sexual recombination.  Cultures innovate by exploring options-recombination, which requires unrestricted liquidity, NOT hoarding of liquidity units.)

4) Groups continually re-prioritize decentralized decision patterns, by distributing feedback well enough to continuously re-align all actions with net benefit.

This ain't rocket science. Ancestors of every surviving species figured this out over 1 million years ago. All students should know this by 5th grade, not just members of sports, music, dance or drama teams.

ps: Physicists call this "reverse-entropy" [basically, if extra energy is available, a way to locally store it can & eventually will appear, and the attributes of that "culture" will reflect the inexorable statistics of energy moving around & settling into the most-stable components & patterns of components.  If more options are available, the culture will be molded by statistics of available energy into whatever form can accept that energy & sample those options.]

Ecologists call this "auto-catalysis" [Aka, any mechanism for cooperatively storing energy will create a sink for attracting & capturing the partners. A "probability of reinforcement" gradient results, just like any critter hanging around a food source].

We can do this.  No matter what we achieve, we ourselves or our kids will quickly be bored by it, and want  to achieve even more.  Quitters won't leave surviving descendants.

1 comment:

Roger Erickson said...