The mightiest skill the world’s thought leaders master is not diamond sharp insight. It is rather the ability to be just controversial enough. Fashionably controversial if you will.
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With all the benefits derived from the advances in standard of living, our modern society suffers from an apparent paradox which can be best paraphrased as “if everyone is special, then no one is”.
We strive for individuality even as the economic affluence required to express ourselves is increasingly tied to economies of scale and the uniformity they foster. We do our best to proclaim our uniqueness to the world on social media pages, but have to make use of highly standardized templates in the process. We share in the belief (and rightfully so) that the very success of our modern society depends on scale, yet it is precisely scale that appears to generate confusion when it comes to the most intimate aspects of our human identity.
I ran into this blog by Dave Snowden and I was absolutely impressed with the insights he introduces on communication being a double edged sword: illuminating on one hand, or having the potential to be used to coerce. He proposes that context-devoid slogans found on corporate posters and value statements don’t serve any educational or inspirational purpose, and rather quite the opposite: they often become tools for coercion driving a compliance organizational culture.
I’ve often wondered whether there is a way to discern value in a piece of writing, without being a specialist in the particular domain. This is a pertinent issue as the proliferation of social media has exponentially increased not just the amount of specialized writing, but the preference for short and succinct writing. And as “more” is not necessarily “better”, it would be useful to have a way to gauge whether our highly technologized world is more value-full in terms of communicating meaning.
I propose that the generalized fingerprints of value can be detected by the non-specialist possessing the right lens.
Simplicity and clarity are two unmistakable signs of intelligence. No matter how complex the subject introduced, an intelligent specialist will reduce it to simple, generalized explanations. And the logical clarity of the message “architecture” will reinforce the simplicity of the content.
Still, simplicity and logical clarity are a necessary sign of intelligent writer but not sufficient to prove the value of the message itself. Another ingredient is needed, which I tentatively term “tacit mechanics”.
The best illustration of the tacit mechanics feature is a concrete example.
Stephen Kann’s “Microcap Investment Strategies” blog article is a brief overview in simple terms and clear logic of the microcap investment algorithm. I propose this article is a value-full piece of writing based on the simplicity-clarity-tacit mechanics logical construct.
In this particular case, simplicity and clarity alone demonstrate an astute writer. But there is more to this article than coherence; there are the fingerprints of fundamental value.
Stephen references in this blog two flavors of tacit mechanics associated with microcap investment that demonstrate a profound and value-full understanding of the topic: “information arbitrage” and “inflection points”.
Information arbitrage for microcap investment can be related to a universal mechanics of commercial operations: success of any commercial operation is dependent on exploiting physical, or in this case informational market differentials.
Inflection points also are a proxy for an appreciation of the non-linear business growth process that is particular of smaller enterprises, and the dynamics of which cannot always be derived from historical performance and statistical trends. The dynamics implied in Stephen’s inflection points are in fact aligned with the latest management and business strategy thinking that embraces complexity science and system-theoretic principles, which go much beyond standard economic and financial modeling.
The reference to the article follows:
Let me start with a telling quote from Russell Ackoff: “the appeal of gurus lies to a large extent in the simplicity of the doctrines they put forth. They are simple no matter how complex the problems at which they are directed. They provide a life raft to those who are incapable of handling complexity.”
In today’s fast paced life, the “5 steps to…” recipe for success is pervasive. This type of headline template dominates both mass media and social media.
I will pick just one of the many examples to make a quick argument for the “5 steps to…” template being intellectual noise at best, and dangerous advice to follow at worst. One of the newly minted “thought leaders” on the LinkedIn social network recently posted the 6 lessons he lives by. Number one on his list is: “surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and move out of their way”. My assertion is that this basically tells us nothing. It is an incomplete statement devoid of context. It sounds great but doesn’t provide any meaningful path to wisdom.
I picked this one example because I usually take issue with the “people smarter than you” leadership anecdote. It’s insufficient in that it doesn’t tell what the leadership still adds to the mix. Your employees can be “smarter than you” in terms of information, knowledge, and even understanding. The leader still has to supply the wisdom, which is synthesized knowledge and understanding, and it is future oriented. Russell Ackoff proposes a clear hierarchy of mental content value going from data to information to knowledge to understanding and finally to wisdom, which is the hardest to acquire in life. These simple classifications of reality that start with “5 simple ways to…”, “the ten traits of…” and so forth are counterproductive to understanding the full beauty and complexity of life. In Ackoff’s words, they provide a false life raft. The modern world, not unlike the ancient world, is full of false prophets. The problem of calling their bluff remains.