Change-Harvesting: The How

The central concept of a dynamic unity is change-harvesting: make a change, harvest its value, use that value to make another change, over and over, change after change, world without end.

We spoke the other day about how tools shape problems. "If all you have is a hammer, all you will see are nails." It was a conversation about mental tools: frames, worldviews, culture.

My contention is that our trade’s standard frames, worldviews, and culture are failing us, and that we need something different. Change-harvesting is my attempt to get at that something different.

As a worldview, a cluster of mental tools, change-harvesting has several serious consequences, at the level of solving problems and, as we discussed before, at the level of experiencing them in the first place.

Today, I want to talk about “how we will change things”. The change-harvester seeks to make changes that are local, oriented, human, taken, and iterative.

You might immediately want to pop up and ask, "Yeah, but what will we be changing, shouldn’t we start there?" There are two answers to this. I’ll open with one, and close with the other.

The first answer to "what will we be changing?": That doesn’t matter right now. In fact, the change-harvesting worldview sees tremendous self-similarity at scale. We could be talking about software, individuals, teams, organizations. As I say, the other answer will come in a bit.

The question of how is answered by these five adjectives: local, oriented, human, taken, and iterative. Let’s break them down one by one. (Other muses will approach each in greater depth.)

Local — we will be making small changes that are near us. The rationale for this is rich, but is broadly said as "because it’s easier and safer that way". Easier: to identify, to implement, to assess, to reverse, to steer. Safer: to be wrong, to move, to accept.

You may have heard me speak of ENOF — Easiest Nearest Owwie First — as a policy. When I list all the things that are wrong in some situation, huge or tiny, nearby or distant, the one I always want to choose first is the smallest & nearest. This is putting "local" another way.

Local is a radical departure for much of the trade. We generally use three arguments. Local: 1) can’t be done. 2) isn’t efficient. 3) lacks sufficient power. No room to work these out in detail now, suffice to say that the change-harvesting view rejects all three arguments.

Oriented — we will be making changes that are broadly facing in the right direction, as far as we can currently make that out. The rationale: any further degree of precision beyond simple orientation costs us far more than it benefits us.

I live in Virginia. If I’m to drive to New York — celebrating New Years Eve in Times Square, one supposes, tho I would never ever do that — for the majority of my journey, "head north by northeast" is an incredibly crude, incredibly general, & incredibly effective technique.

The trade standard "aims": it sees a distant goal as target, draws a straight line to it, and follows that course precisely. We optimize for straightness and sprinting speed. That won’t even get me to Times Square, let alone getting a complex adaptive system to a City On A Hill.

Human — as we’re changing our most intense focus will be on the human factors in our situation. The rationale for this is dead simple: in any system involving humans, procedures, and machines, the humans are the most influential part — for good or ill.

Human beings have generalized and highly individualized traits, in the direct physical world and the indirect internal world. We want to work with those traits, not against them, we want to work at human scale. We want, ultimately, to focus relentlessly on these humans.

The trade standard concerns itself far too much with the not-human. The approach is towards optimizing procedures, building "air machines", the analogue of playing "air guitar", equally as likely to succeed. A particular flaw is ubiquitous: seeing individuals as interchangeable.

Taken — our changes will be taken from the people affected by the change. The rationale is multiple. First, because once oriented they’re the ones with the best ideas. Second, "giving" them the changes doesn’t work very well even when those changes are right.

Taken, as a concept, is deeply involved in a change-harvester finding "better". Nothing works quite like making a change and immediately feeling its effect on your own personal experience. Nothing.

The trade standard: given given given. Nearly all change comes from outside. Accordinly, it’s less beneficial, and it’s based in extrinsic motivation. If you do/don’t what I want, I’ll reward/punish you.

Iterative — we’ll make each change a single crank of the wheel, never final, only the next place from which to move, knowing full well we will likely be changing — the same thing — again later. The rationale: the day the dynamic unity stops changing is the day it dies.

When we’re learning, from "never done it" to "done it kinda but very badly" is the only time we’re greenfield. The rest of the time, which is to say the overwhelming majority of the time, we’re brownfield: changing what we’ve already changed.

The standard in the trade is to arrange change for a big bang of value at the end, then break that in to steps, and insist that each step is final. This is anti-change, anti-learning, anti-efficient, and ultimately anti-human.

So now you got a gloss: local, oriented, human, taken, and iterative. (We’ll do more depth on each sometime soon.) The change-harvester worldview approaches every change with these five adjectives in mind. It’s our take on "how we are going to change things".

When we were all very much younger, we asked the question "what are we going to change?" I gave one answer in the moment, "it doesn’t matter right now". That’s because the five adjectives don’t depend on the domain. They work in code, in indivivuals, in teams, in organizations.

But I promised a second answer. The persistent questioner, patient for so very long, asks again. And implicitly, she’s wondering if maye we put the cart before the horse.

Did we put the cart before the horse by considering how we’re going to change before considering what we’re going to change? No. The cart is the horse. The horse is the cart.

The second answer:

*What* we are going to change is *how* we are going to change.

I hope this one perturbs you a little. The change-harvesting worldview isn’t a technique or a method, it’s a true worldview, another frame, and if we move to it en masse a different culture. It has profound consequences, I think. We’ll talk much more about it in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, it’s Sunday night, and I have discovered a severely pressing owwie: I have a distinct lack of warmed-up shepard’s pie from Friday. It’s easy, it’s near, and I’m gonna go fix it.

I hope you get a nearby owwie fixed easily tonight. Chat ya soon!

Let’s change things!!

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