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In my blog entry arguing for a unified theory of management, I proposed that most top management reference a fundamental distinction between exploration of new knowledge (i.e. innovation) and exploitation of existing knowledge (i.e. efficient operations).

Business and indeed the entire society is caught in an evolutionary dynamic that balances exploration and exploitation – see David Hurst’s ecological perspective. While the exploitation cycle is amenable to incremental thinking, exploration appears to be prone to discontinuities – hard to predict leaps of logic.

So what are these discontinuous changes, and how are we to visualize them in an evolutionary context? One of the first things that came to mind when thinking of discontinuities was the complexity mechanism of “phase transitions” which make possible the sudden transition from a lower to a higher order state. This agrees with the qualitative hierarchy notion from systems thinking. Structure is inherent in design, and any transition to a new paradigm requires a “scaffolding” to “hold up” the new paradigm shift, i.e. to make the phase transition irreversible.

The visual attached at the beginning of this blog attempts to notionally reconcile phase transitions, qualitative hierarchy, and design scaffolding around the concept of discontinuous change so that a visualization becomes possible. It is worth noting that while their effects are overt and explicit, discontinuous change dynamics are often tacit since they develop in the realm of imagination of creativity.