Oriented Change – What and Why

The change-harvesting approach has these elements at its base: human, local, oriented, taken, and iterative.

Today, I want to talk about what that adjective “oriented” means.

Prior muses on human and local are here:

Human Change: What and Why

Local Change: What and Why

We’ve said that leaning in to the humans in our systems leads us to locality pretty directly. We say “find the smallest easiest nearest change with detectable outcome and make it”. But this gives us a puzzle: there are often a lot of such changes. How do we decide between them?

The change-harvester’s “oriented” says don’t sweat it too much: turn to face your non-local goal, and grab any change that doesn’t make it further away. Don’t spend a lot of cycles deciding which change aims precisely, take anything that’s not definitely wrong and do it.

Goals that are outside what we can do in one step — non-local goals — live out there on the horizon. The change-harvester orients herself towards the horizon, then acts, without much fuss. And that’s what that word “oriented” means.

The way the trade decides on steps is not oriented, it’s precisely aimed. The precision-aiming approach invests heavily in change-choosing, based on the idea that working to a detailed path will get us to the target faster.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but “pish pish”.

That rationale is an “idol of the schema”, a tall tower of conclusion built on many layers of shaky (& shady) premises, creating a lovely theory that ought to work in practice, but doesn’t. (The difference between theory and practice is that, in theory, theory works.)

Why does the change-harvester push for orientation? We cited one reason: because precision aiming, in practice, invests considerable time, energy, & thought, but doesn’t produce significantly better outcomes. The normal reaction is “try harder”. Orientation says “try different”.

The knee-shaped curve of our actual ability at precision aiming is another factor. The curve of “aiming accuracy to distance” slopes gently down for a short way, then dives precipitously beyond a pretty small range. We suck at thinking through paths that are more than a week out.

Another factor in the why is our concept of multivalence. Small-step actions (remember locality) deliver enormous value, even when that value isn’t the value we expect to reap when we get “there”.

Every time we finish a small step of making things “better”, we get 3 values: 1) the value of the “better”-ness, 2) the value of the rhythm of tension and release, and 3) the value of opportunity — every finished step is a chance for us to steer.

And, by relying on orientation, we’re also avoiding two costs that come from the precision-aiming effort: 1) the direct investment in the act, which in some shops can take weeks of work. 2) the high stakes of the decisions, with all the meetings, politics, & waste they imply.

The “oriented” approach says, find any human-focused, local change that has a detectable outcome, and execute it. It is an approach of “act then look”, and it is as effective in coding as it is in peopling as it is in teaming as it is in organizing.

At this point, we’ve worked a little bit on human, local, and now oriented. I hope you’re starting to feel a sense of weight, here, a thickening of the change-harvesting conceptual cluster. Next up, maybe even tonight or tomorrow, we’ll turn to “taken”, the fourth of our five.

Thanks for reading along.


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