The educational value of false talks and presentations: TEDf

August 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

Dreams carry mysterious creative powers. I even wonder if we actually need dreams to open our minds, to make us aware of things and thoughts that we simply neglect or forget when awake. Sometimes the dreams are impossible for us to understand and often they are totally out of this (known) world. But they are never meaningless and can offer surprising insights like the one I had last night. I was lucky enough to remember it and share the idea from my dream. Coming from the science, technology and business world – where being right is the thing – I’m not surprised that I had to be asleep in order to get this right.

On learning the right stuff

The Internet is crowded with excellent talks, presentations, MOOCs, and other university courses that teach us how things are, what is the right or best way to think about them, what works, what is correct knowledge and stuff. We can immerse ourselves in the world of abundant videos and admire the wonderful, convincing, admirable scientists, businessmen and other thinkers who have solved difficult problems and can now offer us ever better knowledge.

Doctor_hats

TED talks are a perfect example of this flow of the good and right knowledge, sharp and original thinking, perfect solutions and their fascinated and mesmerized audiences. We learn wonderful things from the masterminds of such talks and texts, their logic and creativity and the ways to deal with complex problems. Especially we can follow their passion, exceptionally productive skills, and ability to think and solve the most intriguing and significant problems. Many seem to think now that this is the way, through the Internet we will learn in the future, by following the best brains in how they can be right in their knowing.

Dream come true and false

But this is not what my dream told me. Instead, in my dream last night, I realized how extremely valuable for a modern man it would be to closely and in detail observe how the mistaken scientists, politicians, other leaders, and artists have explained the world as they have thought about it. And how they have, nevertheless, been able to convince us or other audiences to believe and trust what they have said and shown.

Here I don’t mean the fraudulent people who just want to deceive, persuade, and manipulate us while knowing what they are doing. In my dream the main figures were the scientists, politicians, journalists and activists who seriously believed – and “knew”, just like their audiences did – that they were right and wanted the audience to understand the object of their thinking in the same, correct way. They did this by following all the best rules of logical argumentation, etiquette and style of presentation. But they were just wrong. This should not surprise us at all since we know, how the sciences continuously develop and old science truths turn into wrong or false.

What would we gain from being able to observe such erroneous presentations and moments of unjustified persuasion?

Knowing for a fact that someone has been proven wrong and being able to follow such a talk is not a common privilege. We don’t have TEDf talks (false TED talks). But with the exponentially growing number of videoed talks and discussions we are gaining more and more material where just this happens and TEDf actually becomes a possibility: we can follow in detail someone who is convinced to be right but has been proven wrong. We can even enjoy materials offered to us to know this.

It is an astonishing moment to follow such false talks and discussions. As a relatively recent example, take this video from the year 2003 on Alan Greenspan, one of the worlds most influential economists of his time, previous Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States. He admits being wrong in his assumptions – and after doing that his earlier talks acquire a totally different meaning and significance.

https://www.facebook.com/brandon.weber.upw/videos/965788896816947/?fref=nf

If we would know beforehand that a talk or an article is wrong or false we learn a number of new and valuable things. First of all, we would know – by definition – that whatever these respected masterminds claim and conclude they are wrong in some or all of their claims. More importantly, we would also know that they actually did not have the right to make us believe in what they say: they should have warned us. Further, while observing their story telling and having this pre-knowledge we could relate everything they say or argue to this knowing that they are not right. We could even follow with a different eye the way they express themselves in persuading their audiences. Knowing this true knowledge background could totally change the way we listen to them, and how we would try to understand what they say and how they say it. It is indeed educational for us to recognize this special, critical way of listening because more often than not we face such situations in today’s media.

By listening and following talks that have once been the truth but have since been proven false, we can learn the following:

We learn in detail how false or erroneous data is taken as the solid ground against which the rest of the data is then interpreted and otherwise used.

We learn how wrong or biased deductions are made and how superficially right or promising consequences are actually suggested and forcefully promoted.

We learn how the passion of the respected masterminds is reflected in the way they make their case, use the evidence and treat other alternative explanations – or people disagreeing.

We learn how the recognized masterminds behave in their style and expressions – without any doubts – when they have been offered the chance to be the representatives of “the right thing”.

We learn how we, as the audience, react to such forceful acts of knowledge communication and how we are persuaded to believe what is false. We learn from ourselves.

But of course, we would learn that the false talks, articles and presentations are already here, everyday and all over the media and our world. They argue with false and unsustainable data and evidence, trying to convince us on how things really are and making us uncomfortable that we don’t know better. But we don’t know who they are and where – yet.

We are floating on the waves of the modern and future knowledge and technology society and the pressure to advance, gain, go further, to innovate. We are forgetting how valuable it is to learn from the suggestions and claims that are simply wrong and especially to follow the most prestigious and leading actors persuading us. In science, at its best, this has not been totally forgotten but often it is buried under the not-so-sexy practice of theory-hypothesis formation and the processes of confirmation and falsification. But even there lurk the beasts of modern science pr and media visibility that invites scientists to forget the value of the false claims – or hypotheses: https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/h0-heroes-and-h1-fairies-among-us/ But we or our children will see the future videos when it is already know they are wrong.

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Ignorant search engines do not understand your life

June 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

Imagine buying a car, being really serious and excited about it, intending to get one as soon as possible. Or – imagine that you are just dreaming of buying one. We all know how stimulating it is to get started and to be engaged with the planning and eventual buying process. It is a personal and often a family adventure.

Then make a quick test and see how well the search engines understand you and your excited mental mode – your willingness to buy something wonderful and now! Try telling it to the best search engines.

Try putting “Intend to buy a car” to Google or Yahoo search. I was inspired to do this quick experiment when reading the exciting story about Yahoo: “Marissa Mayer and the fight to save Yahoo!” by Nicholas Carlson (2015). The book tells how the search engine competition is a continuous challenge to Yahoo and I though that my ideas might help them. I even tried to send a note to them but no luck in making this contact. So, I explain my motivations here.

Visiting Stanford I had some extra time to run a miniature experiment. In Figure 1 you can see the screen capture from the Google search and wonder – what are these algorithms thinking about my motivations and intentions, why don’t they care? (well, they have no interest whatsoever in my or your internal world, they just want to record your ‘clicks’). It is the mantra of today to claim that with Big Data they predict your behavior. But this is just nonsense. Most of the time they cannot do that and Big Data systems are impotent.

Intend_to_buy_a_car copy

 

Future 1.

In the search outcomes shown you can immediately see that they indeed are very sensitive to “buying” in any of its forms and they also get hooked to direct quotations like “intend to buy” etc. But these quotation matches can occur for any context and it does not help us in any way, the search gets totally lost and irrelevant to your present intentions and life in general. The list of search results (mistakes in buying, leasing vs. buying, bargaining etc) looks like the search engine was searching data for another robot, not a passionate, intentional and dynamic human being. Big mistake. The search engines are non-human creatures that hate dynamic human life. They have no interest in what you as a thinking, feeling and intentional individual might have on your mind.

Contrary to what the masterminds behind the search engines and especially their marketing people claim – the algorithms do not know you or your real dynamic life at all. They only have their precious models of it as my colleague Hannu Tuomisaari so eloquently describes.

Then I repeated the minitest with Yahoo! and the results were quite the same, even more straightforward, but at least it found a site interested in my intentions, Toluna, but even that was not interested in my personal case in order to help and support me.

Intend_to_buy_a_car_Yahoo copy

Figure 2.

In short – the search engines seem to think that you are interested in finding shops (it is true, quite often), reading other buyers comments (perhaps, perhaps not), getting guidance for buying (maybe, maybe not), or learn about statistics (surely not).

It is by no means surprising that this happens because the engines are guessing what you might be looking for and they do not want to ask about your acute motivation or mental state, they think it is not informative or that it is not very practical to ask for such knowledge. Many seem to think that it is not wise to trust people when they tell about their intentions. What a mistake!

Last, imagine another very human case: you are in a pressing need to buy car, for one reason or another. Next, tell this to Yahoo! or Google. In Figure 3. you can see the results of Google. No surprise that it has no understanding whatsoever of your current state of mind and instead it teases you with information about cost vs. value, what every sucker (!) should know, a flowchart even. We all have our own “musts” and when such a situation exists we have our own constraints – for some it can be time, for other costs. If I were a car dealer paying for these adverts in Google I would be worried: why do they miss a motivated customer. Perhaps we could have a service that could be just for them? There is no way to tell that to the passionately searching customer.

I_must_buy_a_car_Google copy

Figure 3.

Well, we all know what are our own personal motivations. In case of “must buy” we might have a time limitation, for example (I’m too busy, cannot go to a shop) and we can start looking for “buying service”, perhaps even find a sales rep coming to out home with a candidate car or two. How do I express this need in the search field? “Buy car visit home” does not understand me. “Buy car xx”? Well, surely after some text work we get what we want but is this the best a search engine could do?

Of course these are complicated situation for the mechanical search engines to decipher. But as a teasing end to this, of course I do have human-centric ideas and concepts to solve these problems, but that is another story. The background thinking to this can be found from my earlier blogs on the Internet of Behaviors: https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/internet-of-behaviors-ib/,
and especially on the value of intention knowledge: https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/the-psychology-behind-internet-of-behaviors-ib/

I sent an inspiring note already half a year ago to Yahoo, but maybe I had the wrong email address that I found with my search engine?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A perfect data security service to protect our data and identity?

May 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

What if I would suggest that it is possible to provide a 100% secure way of storing your data and in a way that the operator itself cannot read or reveal the data it is storing – even in front of any legal or other threat?

For example, the recent eBay episode where their user data (user names, passwords, addresses etc http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/21/us-ebay-password-idUSBREA4K0B420140521) were stolen would not worry you at all because you could be sure that even if they had all the data in their customer data storage, yours included, they could not find and indentify your data. You could sleep your nights well.

Further, what if you could decide on how various service providers in the net can collect data about you and your whereabouts? This will be possible with this same security solution where the operator simply does not know whose data it has and where exactly it is stored!

I’m lucky to work as the advisor for a project where such a (patented) system is on its way to the market, in various application and service forms. Of course it is an inspiring innovation challenge, but the most motivating ambition is to return the right to privacy to the individuals and to other actors who need protection, the right to own their personal data and the right to decide to whom they reveal it – or their identity. It is not only a matter of protecting our data, it is a profound human right and one of the most foundational requirements for true democracy as Pekka Pere, the chair of our company board has repeatedly emphasized. Sounds like science fiction? It is not.

The inflicted security neurosis

You don’t have to be a security pathologist to understand why people have lost their trust in data privacy. But it is even more surprising how firms and technology innovators alike express this same tendency to worry and helplessness. Having attended a few recent meetings and seminars on data security in Silicon Valley and in Finland I’ve been astonished by the lack of trust in the (near) future technology’s ability to solve the current security problems – once and for all. I know there are highly competent people and teams in the field, take a look at the Stanford University computer scientists, for example, but in general, most of the population and even computer professionals seem to suffer from a social helplessness syndrome in data security.

 

SanatCruzNo Why this helplessness?

It is not long time ago when the first seriously dangerous computer viruses gave their wake-up call to individuals and public and private organizations alike. Then came the targeted attacks like the Stuxnet worm in 2010 – only a year after the publication of the famous book “Daemon” by Daniel Suarez, where he painted a black fictional landscape for the worst future possibilities in data crime. Only quite recently we learned from Wikileaks, NSA, and Snowden that no data is safe today.

Last, the FBI and the US Government, in 2014, made their call by ensuring that even a data service operator, with good motivations, cannot offer secure data storage or mail systems to their eager and worried clients: the Government forced the operator to reveal their keys to access the data of interest, actually any ‘suspicious’ data – and in this way, made the trust-based business of LavaBit impossible in USA.
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/20/why-did-lavabit-shut-down-snowden-email

It is time to turn around the security question and formulate it anew:

Now that a perfectly secure data storage system becomes available, protecting your data so that none can hack it from its storage site and the system does not reveal your identity, what can – and what should we do with such a service and application? My prediction for a rather near future is that we will have to relearn the ways of protecting our data and identity but also to learn new ways to express our trust in the world of the virtual. Traditional protection systems are needed as before but the security game as a whole will change and people and firms will benefit from it. This will touch a number of digital service providers in all sectors of public and private life when they cannot take it for granted that they have automatic access to our data.

Hence, here are some of my first thoughts about the consequences of this change in security services and everyday practices. I believe that once we have our products on market and the potential customers – firms, public or private organizations or individuals – have learned to trust the new security tools and services, a game change is inevitable. The team with which I work will not be the only ones trying to ignite it; the markets have been ripe for some time already.

We deserve a 100% security

We all benefit from the services offered by Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Pinterest, you name it – in exchange for the personal data we offer them to be used according to any of their business models. Visiting Stanford in 2010 and discussing some of these issues with my always inspiring colleagues there, I started thinking about a possibility to found a data & knowledge broker who could interfere with this situation – what I see partly as an unjust arrangement – and to start taking care of our personal benefits and protecting us when needed.

No such brokers have appeared so far, and then it happened that Manu Rautakoura – a friend and a security business pro, with similar ideas – started discussing this theme with me openly over FB. Finally, we ended up on a better idea related to Manu’s and his colleagues’ work: they had already started a most ambitious and innovative development work on personal data security – the 100% security concept I have mentioned above. We realized that their data and identity protection scheme could become one of the first significant steps towards a new arrangement of the secure, perhaps even dynamically anonymous personal data markets of the near future.

Personal data is our true currency, stronger than bitcoin

The most important data asset we have as individuals or firms is the knowledge of the security status of our data, be it family finances, other economical data and documents, private life episodes, inventions, work in progress, customer documents, health, whatever. Traditional computer security systems are surprisingly weak in providing this asset to us in a trustworthy form and it seems like people have just adapted to this unhappy situation – while being increasingly more worried about their data privacy and security.

It is a serious learning experience for anyone to find out how important it is to have the right to our own data so that it is not used against us in an unjust way. Public and private organizations alike can sometimes put us in a situation where by owning our data and using it according to their whatever business or service models, they can put an unjust pressure on us, affect and limit our behaviors – without offering any alternative solutions to us. There are a number of asymmetric transaction situations on the personal data markets of which well-known examples are the cases where a person’s credit history data is not perfect for reasons the person himself knows but the companies do not care to note. Similar problems occur when a person’s health-related precondition allows insurance companies to deny insurance services.

Most of us have nothing against telling the whole and honest health story when asked by a reliable company or organization, willing to offer its help and to use data for that purpose. But if the company does not have any service offer to its customers who are in trouble – and by that can only cause extra harm to them – then they do not deserve the right to access that personal data neither. It should always be a two-ways street of trust. Actually, the patient or any customer offers valuable capital, the data and identity, to the serving firm, which can then easily turn it into economical capital.

Knowing the true security status

The data security firms have not succeeded in helping us know our own security status and they try to teach us to trust when they say that “your virus defense has been updated” or that “we have a secure system”. When new threats occur, they have “updated their protections systems and services”. We need and deserve more: we simply have to know when our savings and the documents related to them are really safe and that nobody can access our private data.

The knowledge of the security level of our own data is not only a nice service or luxury (or a burden to the security provider) – it is the most influential knowledge that can guide us in managing our valuable assets of life. Anything can happen in the world and cause problems but we need to know exactly what is the security status of our possessions (e.g. customer data if we are a firm, personal data as individuals) in the storage systems we rely on. Our company should be able to provide that level of security within six months from now.

As shown by the scary example on how FBI and the US Government acted in the security case we now know that even the operators cannot guarantee complete security in USA – unless they are offered a suitable technology to do that. Of course, USA is not alone in the security battle and on these problematic markets, and we should better know the related practices in China, Russia and many other countries, small and large alike.

Better UI for data security awareness

Data security and privacy protection systems are perhaps the worst UI examples within the ict applications industry today, especially considering how vital they are to their user. Hence, I had an extra delight to be early involved with our security concept development and for once, could have a word early on how to build the UI so that it supports everything that the tools and the systems have been built for – to help the people and firms in knowing their security status, for real. I assumed the extra role as UI-concept designer for a totally new, simple and fresh way to help people in managing their own personal and identity security. This will appear on the systems to come.

What about cyber-criminals?

It is perhaps a wet dream of the cyber-criminals to have a 100% secure data storage and communication system – like ours – for storing any sensitive and criminal data. This being the fact of future we should again turn the question around: how can we involve people and help them provide secure ways to allow access to any of their data when they think it is relevant and beneficial for them or the society?

Then remain the serious questions of what to do when a cyber-criminal refuses to reveal the key to the criminal data or what does it mean when criminals have 100% secure ways of communicating and conducting their evil deeds? We do not have a solution to these problems now but we are convinced that whatever the solutions will be, they have to achieve the trust of the people who comply with such new arrangements. We will be developing these thoughts further and continue the discussion in the blog and in our coming Youtube videos.

 

 

On strategic perception III: Perception theorist meets a strategist

December 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

This is not the right place to make a detailed ‘correspondence analysis’ of the perception system architectures, intelligent perception-action systems (very little is actually known of them), and the strategy process elements but surely this will be happening in the future strategy research. Here I deal with a few less-known but inspiring aspects of perception, which I have admired over the years and explain their implications to strategy thinking. Further, although it is not often mentioned here I assume that all perceptions-action processes are tuned and colored by feelings, experiences, and emotions.  We cannot live without them. Of course, not all phenomena described are new or novel, but they are worthwhile to ponder.

I chose the following ones: functional structure of perception, invariance-based perception, and opportunity perception. The last one is a relatively novel concept and even non-existent – as far as I know – in perception sciences (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/small-creative-acts-and-opportunity-perception/). The point here is to see if they could offer guidelines to the design of efficient strategy processes.

StanHoods

Functional structure of perception

 The human perception system is the best example of a successful strategic architecture I can imagine.  However, it is not as well known as many would think. If you doubt this claim just try to find a general theory on perception in the scientific literature – it does not exist although masses of data, some promising ‘small’ theories, and research paradigms exist.

No species can survive without agile perception-action; it is our essential capability supporting our development as primitive and cultural organisms – simultaneously. Of course, each species has its own advantages like the extended spectrum of vision in birds and insects, the amazing skill of birds to ‘compute’ the time-to-target time in their flight, the infrared sense of snakes or the zoom-like properties of the eagle eye. These exceptional qualities have provided them with real, perception-based strategic advantages. Here I use a few metaphorical views – derived from the analysis of intelligent perception – for the architectural analysis of the strategy processes in firms.

Strategic lessons of perception architecture

Ascending centers of intelligence. During biological development the increasingly intelligent processes of organisms are progressively drawn upwards in the (neural/sensory-perceptual) system. There are upper limits to this, and because of that the most developed species like some birds, mammals and humans have learned to outsource parts of their perception-action architecture  (use of tools, writing, technology in general, cultural objects). These intelligent resources are then refined and incorporated into the perception-action system, while the early object and feature recognition processes are made fast, reliable, and automatic.

There are two parallel development streams in the evolution of the perception-action architecture: towards faster and automatic early processes and towards the intelligent higher levels, including the adoption of tools. Interestingly, when humans learned to produce – outsource their specific perception/action processes – cultural objects, symbols and even writing, development did not stop there. Instead this material then became available for the internal processes as well in the form of imagery and imagination. Because of that, intelligent perception has become a continuously evolving system with interacting external and internal components.

It is not straightforward at all to define any upper limit to the quality and kind of tools that can be adopted. Of course it s possible to speculate about the neural processing limits of the mankind, but we simply do not have enough scientific knowledge to support this analysis (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/203/).
Human retina, for example, does not deal with the most complex visual processing and has allocated it to higher or ‘later’ layers, at the cortex.  Frog and rabbit eyes, on the other hand, use significant resources to record movement direction, for example, already on the retina in a way that does not take place in the human eye. The ‘bug detector’, an example of the early intelligence,  is a term originally used in the study of frog retina where such detectors exist.

The evolutional pathway may appear as a contrast to the prevalent organizational development of shifting decision power in the top-down direction. But a good strategic question remains, what kind of intelligent processing is valuable enough – and why – to be shifted higher up and transformed in the command chains or system network and what exactly is good to implement at lower levels and in what form and content? It is not only a division of labor between the lower and higher level processes but a genuine change of quality in both. Notice that I do not use the expression ‘should be left to’  – I want to emphasize that it is a matter of intelligent and learning resourcing of the organism’s strategy.

With the complex, emerging value network environments of future firms the distribution of different resources in the firm becomes an increasingly difficult strategy problem. We have outlined some of the behavioral aspects of this challenge in  “Behavioral theory of a networked firm in value network environment” (Göte Nyman et al., 2013). Preparing this blog I realized how significant role ‘network perception’ – the way a firm perceives an environment and itself – has in value network analysis.

Humans and rabbits have different strategic landscapes in the world and nature keeps experimenting with the biological strategies. As a result, our higher brain centers have become specialized in the analysis of complex, neurally computable object relationships (related e.g. to spatial analysis, numerosity, scene structures, color relationships, sound source recognition, among many others) in the external and internal world. Surprisingly little, however, is known how the brain perceives the internal environment. I have observed a neglect of the formal analysis of the internal perception in firms, but a similar tendency seems evident in psychological sciences, too – there is a scant interest in the formal-theoretical study of internal perception.  This is not the place to go deeper in this topic, but I do mean more than just subjectivity in referring to the problem of strong form of internal perception.  I believe hat in a near future many of the internal perceptual phenomena we now call ‘experiences’ or ‘conscious processes’ will be treated as specific forms of pattern recognition and decision making.

Assigning perceptual bandwidth and priorities. Connectivity to the higher centers from the sense organs, the retina for example, is arranged so that the most relevant information from the sensory ‘radar-field’ (the center of view in vision, sensitivity of fingertips, and lips, for example) is assigned a significant information transmission and pre-processing power. There are also ‘fast lanes’ that carry relevant attention-grabbing visual and other sensory information along special pathways somewhere higher in the system, where it has special value. At the moment we can only speculate about these functions. In the Vasa ship case, there was no fast lane to carry the perception data to the King who could have stopped the maiden cruise or warned about its dangers.
Foveal information from the visual field with diameter of only a few degrees uses most of the fibers from the human retina to the brain centers. The primary cortical areas have large cell masses reserved for hands, fingers, lips and the tongue, for example. Frogs for example, have a different retinal organization and the frog’s eye is more uniform in this sense and it roughly reminds of a camera sensor-cell system.

Considering firms, we can ask how should information-action relevance be defined and how to assign the bandwidth within the whole perceptual architecture? Of course it is a strategic resourcing question, but with increasing importance of dynamic, networked environments it becomes a wicked problem. Hence, whatever the answer to this will be – or was in the case of the financial crisis, Vasa ship, Challenger investigations, the Finnish Government – it is a most profound matter of strategic analysis and discourse in any organization. However, it is not uncommon to rely on strategic conventions and measures that together with a rigid power structure actually mask the perceptive processes.

Purposeful feed-back. Division of (fast) labor, feed-back, and functional organization starts as early as possible in the sensory pathway, already before the higher centers are reached, and it continues there and throughout the system. All human sensory systems (and already on the retina, or in the auditory pathway, for example) have strong feed-back (also lateral feed, either inhibiting or exciting) at all levels which helps the system to adapt fast to changing environmental conditions. Feed-back has different functions, depending at what level of the system it happens. The early processing, sensory feed-back can e.g. clean the noisy incoming stream of data and help reveal the relevant signals from other stimulation like overall luminance in vision and the noise background in hearing. At higher levels feed-back can have a role in a complex state control and world model updating, for example.

But not all feed-back is valuable – its system properties like time constants, purpose and processing cost determine its value – which in the natural, dynamic organizational context is actually difficult to model and quantify.

Cross-functional connectivity. Very early and rich connections are made with functionally different (other senses, motion, emotion, attention and arousal control, orientation etc) centers in different parts of the cortical and subcortical brain. All senses feed to the brain centers responsible for the sleep-wakefulness, orientation, and alertness. In other words, they all have access to vital function of our bodies. It is not well known how and why these connections have developed but of course it is easy to speculate that they provide – what is now known in organizations – a possibility for the bottom-up and top-down information to cross functional boundaries in order to guarantee relevant state-related behavior in the multi-dimensional world. Extreme specialization and functional separation would be inefficient, costly, and probably disastrous.

Early relationship processing. This is perhaps the most foundational aspect of sensory and perceptual processing but it is rarely discussed in popular texts on perception: as soon as possible, perception becomes relational (relationship computations). As a result, information about signal feature (and object) relationships – not of the features themselves – is carried to or offered for further analysis by higher centers. For example, there is no exact or unique point-to point mapping between the optical image on the retina and the visual cortex.  Knowing that a visual cortical cell is active does not allow back-wards computing to know what exactly has caused its activity. The same is true for all sensory data. We live in the middle of an inverse problem of the brain and life. Top-down connectivity makes this kind of systems even more complex – but also adaptive.

The relationship extraction starts already at the receptor level. In the eye, a receptor cell does not sit there quiet waiting for photons to arrive and to excite it. It has a hidden biological engine that keeps its membrane potential at a suitable level for survival. When photons then hit it, a biochemical process with strong ionic feed-back processes is initiated and the membrane potential changes: this is called cell response, but actually it is a cell system response and intimately connected with the surrounding biochemical processes.  The physical world as we interpret and experience it has already at the receptor layer lost its 1-1 mapping on our senses. In this sense it is impossible to exactly perceive the world. But there is sense in this: without such a relativistic process the brain would be overloaded with ‘stupid’ information – copies of the optical images or sound waves and the system just would not work. It would be ore or less like a digital computer memory. If our senses copied the word in 1-1 fashion our mind would be a universe of crowded with irrelevant material – a perfect bureaucracy.

I don’t think that any (human) measurement conducted by an organization is different from what goes on in the retinal cell. It is basically a relationship extraction process by an active recipient (a worker, analyst, researcher, engineer) who extracts (locally, but dependent) meaningful relationship information from the received stimuli (customers, partners, contractors, networks). Then there is the inverse problem in trying to interpret the data – what exactly has caused that data to be available?

In simple firm situations this relationship perception happens without problems: monitoring well-known phenomena or conducting straightforward measurements can be accomplished without errors and we have learned to make the right guesses and behave accordingly.  But as soon as the objects of observation become dynamic, complex, dependent on other objects, or just adopt unexpected behaviors, the characteristics of the observer or the observing systems as a whole start affecting the ‘measurement’.  This is nothing new to theoretical physicists. The observer characteristics are affected by system variables, like the royal pressure in the Vasa case or the limited field of view of the financial analysts of the US Government during the crisis.

When an event is measured or perceived the priority-one goal for the organism, or a firm, is to guess what has caused the event. But the same percept can occur for totally different reasons. Only a tested or otherwise reliable theory or a model of the world can help the perceiver to interpret the measurement data.

Integration of feature, object and scene information. All incoming sensory information is integrated and sensed together: the perceptual system makes holistic inferences about it and makes always one plausible and possible interpretation (object vs. background, for example) about the world perceived. This is why flight simulators (vision, sense of acceleration, tilt) or 3D movies with various augmentation features (tremor, water puffs, sound surround) work so fine and we are led to feel as if living in one world only – it really is a miracle performance how we accomplish this since other alternative world interpretations do exist always, both in real life and in simulators. Sometimes such a unique interpretation is not stable and we can see alternating versions of the same world. This happens in the well-known figure-ground perception demonstrations but it is not rare in firm contexts where the management can disagree whether they are facing a threat or an opportunity. There are some eye-opening visual demonstrations of this:

http://sploid.gizmodo.com/this-video-is-really-going-to-screw-up-your-mind-1453464918

http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2013/10/forced-perspective-model-car-photos/

http://vivas.fi/48-esimerkkia-luovasta-katutaiteesta-nama-ovat-paatahuimaavia/

Attentive mechanisms guide perception and efficient action. Priority systems govern the perception processes and have the capability to orient the system towards the relevant source and to invest the best resources to the analysis and required responses. Amazingly, the attentive system is actually capable – almost hardwired – to take the full system (body and soul) control for a limited amount of time, as long as it is necessary to gain relevant understanding of the environment or of the organism itself and act accordingly. However, it is not only a catastrophe processing protocol, it is a most natural part of our everyday life and behavior.

Shared resources for internal and external analysis. Partly the same higher processes start dealing with both sensory information originating from the environment and the information generated within the system (imagination, memory, attention, for example). It is not well known how all this happens in the brain and senses although a popular topic are the mirror cells believed to demonstrate just this kind of resource sharing (cf. Rizzolatti, for example).

Perceptual invariance.

This is a fascinating but not well-known aspect of perception. In this context invariance refers to the relationship between the elements of the world that remain perceptually constant or similar under variable conditions. When we perceive the world or our own internal states we do not directly experience the invariant relationship because it is inherent or inbuilt in our experiences. A popular example from human vision is instructive.  Let us assume that the retinal image size of a person we are looking at from a 2 meter distance is 14 mm high. When the person then moves to 4 m distance from us the size of the retinal image becomes halved and it will be 7 mm. Amazingly, and as we all have experienced it, we do not see the size of a person to shrink (with the size of the retinal image) when he moves away from us.  This is called size constancy and it is based on a perceptual size invariance: the brain has detected something in the world, a relationship between the image of the person and then image of his environment (room height, for example) on the retina that remains relatively the same in both situations. This makes it possible to perceive the object size as a constant. We have no experience of this ‘computational’ process happening, it simply happens as a percept.

When firms measure any objects of interests they face the same challenge that some call the contextuality of the data: having the measurement data is not enough and can even be misleading  if they do not know the scene against which it has been observed or collected. Market data, for example can be highly sensitive to the cultural background  of the consumers which makes comparing the purchasing behaviors in different cultures problematic. This can introduce a risk of misinterpreting the  data. On the other hand, having the relevant data about the scene or environment can provide significant added value to the computations and make them more intelligent.

Perception experimentalists do know that if we observe a person totally without the environment, this constancy disappears or is at least weaker. Through the invariance phenomenon we have gained the knowledge that the observed object (the person) has not changed although the image (information) of him has shrunk on the retina. It is a most intelligent and valuable ability to perceive objects and phenomena in the world as the same even though our sensory mechanisms record significant changes that are caused by the environment or the behavior of the target itself.

Our brains have learned to infer the nature of an object from the information provided by other aspects of the world and the workings of our senses. It is an extremely complex process. Perception is not a simple physical measurement process and it is actually rather bad in measuring anything (physically) objectively but it works for us in this world and at the scale of our living.

If we did not have this ability we would be exhausted. According to a story, there is a small fish – the journal reference to which I have lost – that does not have this size constancy and it has been reported to attack anything that produces a certain size of a retinal image on its eye: sometimes the object can be an edible, nearby bug or a large fish far away from its reach. You can guess how such a creature behaves in clear water: it wastes a lot of energy. Maybe it lives in murky waters, where it just cannot see far, I don’t know.

Any organization should be interested in the internal and external object relationships that remain invariant. However, it is equally important to notice when an invariance is breaking down because it is a sign of significant change in the state of the world or of its objects. A current (analogical, a bit far fetched perhaps) example is the popular media discourse on print vs. digital magazine consumption. Not so long ago, some analysts seemed to think that it is basically a zero-sum phenomenon: an invariant total number of printed and digital magazines are read per customer. They claimed that because of this invariance, the fast increase in digital magazine consumption is causing the death of print.

If the ‘perception system’ of a firm is tuned only to direct measures and metrics it will miss the important relationships. For example, market data has not shown the magazine reading to fall with the same speed as digital reading has increased.  Similarly, the number of car accidents has not increased in direct proportion to the number of mobile phones used in cars – indicating that mobile phone use in cars is not directly causing car accidents. Such relationships are complex and finding invariances is puzzling. But they are hugely important in understanding the world through perception.

Other current examples are facebook and Twitter, for example, and the type of networks people (unconsciously) build there. There are many business-, technological, and economical reasons to be curious about what in these behavior networks remain structurally invariant even when their size and connectivity changes (http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/130828/srep02522/full/srep02522.html. Having this knowledge can help planning campaigns, estimate ROIs, distribute any information and reach audiences- commercially or otherwise. Basically, this too is a matter of recognizing the invariances – and why they occur.

It is a most strategic perceptual decision to select between two or more alternative world-views. The famous works by Kahneman and Tversky, the Nobel laureates demonstrations were no different from this, only the decision domains studied were different: they could show how people make different decisions depending whether they have a vision of sacrificing or saving people. Such a vision would, on average, determine how people perceive the problem at hand, which would then have a significant impact on the perceived problem solving opportunities. On the other hand, there is a good reason to ask how often we actually perceive the world in such a clean arrangement?

Ship_bridge

Opportunity perception (OP).

I have described the essence of OP as I understand it in https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/small-creative-acts-and-opportunity-perception. Every now and then organizations are surprised by a competitor perceiving the world in a totally different – productive or disastrous – way.  One of my most educational experiences dates back to year 2001 in trying to encourage the technology management at Nokia to open their device systems for sw developers and to create what is now seen as an ecosystem. In giving the talk to the Nokia tech managers – it included this explicit suggestion – I could immediately see and feel that they did not perceive any opportunity in what I was offering.  Only one of about 40 participants – she had a psychology (!) background  – approached me and commented on its importance and relevance. Surprised by this lack of interest and reaction I wrote a letter back to one of the supervisors, even put it in English and suggested it to be shared:

The issue concerns the degree to which mobile phone products (or other related or similar products in general) should have an architecturally open structure for usability components”. Then I continued:  “There is no doubt that some major player in this area will open up their devices and in some phase get a status as open standard and start an avalanche of usability applications from personal to very specific ones and even technical…” (dated on 5h January, 2001).

Nothing happened, no reaction.  Anyone who knows or remembers what was going on in the mobile phone industry then, understands that this was a very-very early indication of an opportunity. We all know what Apple did – apparently perceiving the opportunity.

The question arises: what prevents from seeing even the most valuable strategic opportunities? In this specific case all professionals in Finland already new about the open Linux and everyone could follow the Mac/Apple use culture; the evidence was there for everyone to see, it was not a weak signal – but it was not perceived.

Engagement aversion is a peculiar type of blindness

Immediate threats are easy to see, to recognize the opportunities for being damaged or hurt and to react because it is imperative. It is a very basic biological requirement for survival.  Positive opportunities, on the other hand, mean an invitation to a voluntary engagement, perhaps a change of the current world view  – and it requires time & work, re-orientation and re-thinking. It is a demanding strategic requirement and especially when the dominant ways to perceive seem to work well. In such situations it is not rare at all to observe what I have called ‘engagement aversion” in managers who already are overloaded by responsibilities and tight schedules.

Opportunity perception and entrepreneurship

‘Strategy’ in the firm relies on the perception of opportunities to achieve the vision and to reach the related sub-goals. In cognitive psychology, chess is a popular research model of strategic decision making and players have been studied in order to understand high-level strategic perception and action together, cf. e.g. de Groot, A. D. (1965). Thought and choice in chess. The Hague: Mouton & Company;  Hartston, W. R. & Wason, P. C. (1983). The psychology of chess. London: Batsford.

But even these studies the concept of perception is somewhat vague and researcher like Simon and Chase (1973), for example, were skeptical about the possibility to obtain relevant verbal information about perception at all:

“The player’s perceptual processing of the board is so rapid (and probably unavailable to conscious introspection) that it is impossible to obtain an accurate verbal description of the process from him.”

They focused on the rather primitive concept of ‘chunk’ in perception and memory. Actually it refers to a meaningful cognitive storage and perception entity (the exact nature of which is practically unknown) – a kind of knowledge package – that the players use in various chess-related tasks. A simple lesson from these well-known studies was that the masters of chess perceive and pay attention to meaningful structures and relationships, not individual pieces of the game and in this sense they differ from amateurs. Professional wine tasters have a similar ability: they use a rich and systematic vocabulary for classifying and differentiating wine tastes, which allows them to perform better than amateurs. As far as I know, it is not yet known, which chemical aspects in the wines exactly produce the most informative taste perceptions that the tasters then actually use for evaluating the various aspects of the wine quality.

The exceptional skills of the wine tasters are not rare aspects of intelligent human perception in general, and with my team POEM we have numerous similar findings from the studies on the perception and evaluation of camera and print image quality, for example (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/subjective-image-quality-beauty-and-the-beast-in-vision/). Similarly,  Tapio Lokki from Aalto University in Finland has conducted most impressive studies on the subjective perception and evaluation of the quality of spaces like concert halls (cf. https://mediatech.aalto.fi/en/research/virtual-acoustics). In other words, efficient perceptual (subjective) processing is a core competence in extremely complex environmental situations but it requires a systematic and a language of its own.

OP as a concept is receiving increasing interest in the study of entrepreneurship (cf. Shane & Venkataraman, 2000; Eckhardt & Shane, 2003, Zolin, 2013). Most of these studies use the terms opportunity identification, opportunity recognition and opportunity pursuit but with much conceptual variation. However, as far as I have noticed it they do not include any real theory of perception and instead rely on everyday concepts of perception. Hence they have remained descriptive, and conceptually superficial.

Among the OP studies there is an interesting approach concerning the need to speed up the strategy process. Eckhardt & Shane, 2003 have introduced what they call “The life cycle of opportunities” by which they refer to the risk for transient advantages – just like in any strategic choice – in capitalizing on a new opportunity.  Their view is related to the classic work and ideas by Schumpeterian (1934) and suggests an approach to manage the temporal risks of quickly emerging and changing competitive landscape.

Participation spans the firm’s perception array

Organizations vary in how much they involve their personnel or the customer-audience in their vision processes.  Firms having their roots in the Nordic countries are known from the participatory organizational culture. However, the underlying thought pattern is the same as elsewhere, namely that company vision is to be shared; unit- and even individual visions should be aligned and by that make the vision respected and pursued. Only if something extraordinary – in terms of risk management – happens the shared vision can and should be immediately changed or modified. In normal practice, however, the iteration is accomplished only every year and typically, less frequently, a major change is introduced. Emphasizing the ‘ shared vision’ has overshadowed the real need for shared organizational perception.

The complexities of the present world, the global and multi-cultural giants, the networked environment and the emerging value networks have for some time challenged a straightforward ‘shared vision’ paradigm. For example, the powerful and connected social media – external or internal to firms – networks, and the new information and communication channels have made almost any organizational system practically open and continuously adaptive in nature.  Navigating and managing an open system, in a multi-cultural and dynamic network world demands specific framing of the value chains that are fast becoming networks. Ecosystem ambitions, so fashionable a concept in the consideration of the digital markets, flourish and companies try to find competitive advantages through building them or participating in the existing ones.

As a result the traditional strategic orientation of the firm much evolve towards an attention system almost like a perception array being strongly guided and directed by its intelligent and multidimensional perception. Of course, the mission of the firm remains the foundation although even that can become increasingly challenging. Sticking to the traditional vision-strategy cycle is a major risk itself and it can become an obstacle to organizational progress as it has happened to the Finnish Government. The search for a dynamic strategy process model is on.

At the writing of this I just read a hilarious and educating article on how the management of many firms have already learned a double behavior: the strategy life vs. real life: The article  “Zorro-management” by professors Mika Pantzar ja Janne Tienari (Kauppalehti 28th November 2013) describes their observations on how the local management of multi-national or otherwise centralized, large companies are learning to lead a double life: to obey to and communicate with the headquarters according to the top-down strategy demands and the jargon to which they just have to respond by “yeas, of course” and “here is our strategy document” and to behave as good company strategists. But at night – in real life – they put on their Zorro masks and work with real, local company people and try to help them to work, make working life worth living, to use their own thinking and understanding to achieve something good. Not all companies have a brave Zorro to dare this and I doubt if a Zorro really ever gets promoted in Finland.

Requirements for the tools of strategic perception

There is the hidden assumption that it is realistic to assume the existence of a unanimous audience for a company vision. As a consequence, the management feels the pressure for effective communication which then forces the vision statements to be condensed and easy to understand by everyone – actually defined by the weakest links – in defining the objectives, either in the form of economical, value-related or other performance measures. It is probably impossible to find a vision definition that would be complex, inherently adaptive, multi-purpose, dynamic and multi-dimensional in nature. There are many reasons for this and one is the requirement to be able to measure the progress towards the vision. Furthermore, a plethora of metric are then used actually to freeze the vision and the strategy work. This overall process has not changed over the years and is getting relatively slower.

The vision statements are meant to be ambitious and to promise all the good for the firm and its customers. It is no surprise then that there is the frequent complaint that “they failed to fulfill the vision”. For example, our leading Government members seem actually afraid of failing publicly to reach – at any price – the visions or goals of which they are responsible in the Governmental Program.

On a national level and even within the political system the information society is making individual (human) visions increasingly different.  Accordingly, the perception of opportunities for a progress are becoming fragmented. Instead of emphasizing the coherent vision model in firms, the perception-based strategy view suggests to take it as a fact that a detailed, shared vision is becoming impossible and even be a hindrance to the firm. Of course, shared interest in and possibility for opportunity perception is crucial at al levels of a modern firm: you may call it empowerment, delegation, directing attention, motivation, or value-based behavior, but in essence it means a shared ground that guides the orientation to opportunities. Opportunity perception on the other hand, precedes personal and organizational intentions (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/the-psychology-behind-internet-of-behaviors-ib/) and the pursuit of opportunities (cf.  Stevenson, H. H., and T. M. Amabile. “Entrepreneurial Management: In Pursuit of Opportunity.” Harvard Business School Press, 1999).

Perhaps in the near future some of the following elements will the core elements of a dynamic strategy process in a firm having a purpose, motivation and goals:

– spanning the perception array,
– defining  intelligent and purposeful perception,
– processing of intention data,
– support for opportunity perception
– pursuit of opportunities and
– tuning the feed-back architecture.

It may be difficult and risky to change the current system, especially starting from a well-defined and rigid strategy model. The obstacles are many, ranging from strategy-oriented reward systems and power structures to the dominant organizational cultures. I do not have direct data available here but I guess that the speed by which the vision statements are today proving to be wrong, irrelevant or even hazardous, is increasing.

Guidelines for building a purposeful strategy process?  Not yet.

To return back to where we started: all animals – alone or as herds – are capable of opportunity perception, of purposeful, goal-directed behavior relying on the biologically implemented strategy systems and intelligent perception architectures. Using these resources they build an internal world model according to which they can pursuit their goals and act with full power when needed.

Opportunity perception is almost totally unknown perceptual-cognitive-motivational-creative phenomenon but it is an essential aspect of intelligent perception. As a first approximation I introduced the foundations of the concept of  “Firm perception” which actually means a functional entity consisting of Perception architecture+ Intelligent perception+Opportunity perception+Opportunity pursuit. I will later continue developing it further and bring it closer to perception-inspired building of the strategy process.

Conquering the audio space: let the world talk to me!

December 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

Visual technologies and culture surround us everywhere and has made us deaf to innovative audio. Simultaneously, the radio, music channels, and mobile talk have made us blind to the huge possibilities of the audio space in general.

What follows is again one of the ideas I’ve presented to the representatives of a decreasingly famous telecommunication firm in Finland – without too much excitement of reception: expanding the audio space for any human purpose. So, I will here shortly introduce the concepts in the hope that somewhere, some might be inspired by it. Whatever happens, these technological innovations will be available for us one day.

Visual information overloads us: the displays get larger and cheaper, 3D is here, flashing, moving, and talking displays surround us, ebooks are desperately trying to conquer our everyday life, and more is to come.  It is easy to predict what will happen: we have to learn to neglect the visual streams, fight against the visual noise by neglect, and the broadcasters will be frustrated observing the decreasing efficiency of their visual communications.

The simple reason for the problem of sensory disturbances and interference is that we are extremely bad in attending to two or more simultaneous tasks requiring vision. Because we are visual creatures and our surrounds have already been conquered by visuals, a simple solution is a better use of different sensory channels, which in today’s communication practice means expanding the available audio space and boosting its potential.

The familiar visual and audio developments have overshadowed the possibility to use audio space in a novel way and for new forms of communications, shadowing, interaction, on-line face-to-face communication, audio-shopping, and audio-based browsing – spontaneous talking to each other.

This is how it could go:

Imagine that we could always hear what we see: a shop telling its story, a person talking to anyone who wants to hear about his or her life, car drivers telling where they are going, train saying when its leaving, practically any object or anyone of us – could have a directional audio transmitter that sends audio that we want to broadcast or with what we want to create interaction. We would have audio connection with everything and everybody we can see and with those who can see us and are interested.  There are numerous technological ways to accomplish this.

Some might think this is just augmented reality that you could use as an application with the googleglasses, for example. Yes, of course it could be used with them but it is easier, and more fun and we are simply more efficient and accurate in just pointing at what interests us. We can then use the head and eye movements for what they are needed for in our attentive behavior.

More importantly: it is time to expand the audio space in our everyday life – work, education, business, and on just about any activity that is relevant to us. Anyone interested in the information offered through such audio sources could then get access – with practically no more effort or disturbance than from listening to music – by simply pointing his device to the source and locking to it: the object, the shop window, a person, or whatever and start reception or even interaction. A shop might want to tell about their new products, campaigns or offerings or just about their own thinking about anything. An advert could tell more than is shown by the flashing visuals to the eager listener. Objects could talk to us. People could talk to each other more. And it would not block our vision. But we would be in control – always.

A huge untouched audio space waits for the conqueror and is available for us for innovative and valuable purposes. As a technology it would be less disturbing than the visual one that demands our full 100% attention when looking at or reading something on a display or following a trailer or other ongoing story. Driving a car and following a live broadcast from a large display near the road is simply dangerous. We all have already learned how easy it is to listen to music when walking on the street, at work or while being engaged with other activities of life. Visual world alone is simply too demanding.

Finally, it is possible that these ideas have been around already for years. If so, I just wish something will happen with it in real audio life. If it is really new, perhaps a mobile phone company could conquer the audio space first. Internet of general audio does not really exist yet. And last, a mp is not a bad pointer and the earplugs are here already here. The audio space is huge and only the audio imagination sets the limits.

On strategic perception II: problems

November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

On strategic perception II: problems

My perception journey to strategy turned out to be somewhat longish so I decided to post it in three parts. But first, I felt it fair to present already here the summary of the implications from my ‘intelligent perception’ –analysis and its relevance to strategy thinking. A comprehensive strategy process model is not realistic here and of course, various perception-analysis driven strategy process designs are possible. But if you happen to find these thoughts interesting I hope the background explanations in part III will inspire you.

What would a perception theorist ask a strategist?

I have put the perception implications in a question form and as you will see I keep repeating – on purpose – the word ‘perception’ instead of measurement. In addition I use the term ‘firm’ when I actually refer to any form of organization, public, private or other.

Furthermore, I do not make a separation between cognitive, emotional, motivational and experiential aspects of perception in any way. I assume and I’m convinced that they are always tightly integrated and inseparable. Only experimental maniacs and brain speculators separate them in their laboratories and top-science publications. The takeaway questions as I see them, considering the perceptual system theory in the strategy context, are the following:

  1. How does the firm understand the meaning of’ ‘intelligent perception’ in its business/behavior environment? What are its domains of perception?
  2. What is the perceptual (measurement, observation, action) architecture through which the firm relates to its environment and itself? Who and what processes in and outside the firm are at the center of this and why?
  3. How is intelligent perception-action implemented in the firm?
  4. How does perceptual learning and related action take place?
  5. How are the perception processes linked with the strategy process and decision making?
  6. How are the critical invariances recognized (e.g. on the market, competitor activities, customer behavior, in technology development, business environment in general, financial developments) in its environment and within itself?
  7. How does the firm find its own one-world interpretation? How are the alternative and changing worlds derived and dealt with in the perception processes?
  8. What is the firms ‘operating system’ and bandwidth solution in connecting the perceptions with action? How are the perception processes given the right to action and system control when something critical happens?
  9. How does the firm increase the efficiency of early observations and the intelligence of the higher levels in interpreting the perceived information?

10. Is there a cost/benefit analysis of the firm’s perception system?TopScience

Spanning the perceptual architecture

Intelligent perception systems are not designed for observing and reacting to everything.  Instead, they have the capacity to form a relationship with relevant external and internal events. Biological systems use these systems to direct the perceptual, neuro-hormonal, evaluative, and motor resources accordingly.  Furthermore, perception systems are multi-dimensional (cognitive, emotional, motivational etc) in nature and involve both the pleasures and pains of perception and they are always intimately linked with behavioral control.

We don’t know how much of the world we can actually perceive and it has been a matter of popular discussion how much of the environmental visual information humans really  ‘see’. Due to the eye movements we are actually blind about twice a second. Furthermore, I believe we see less that 1/1000 000 of what there is to be seen in the whole visual field – even if it is within the sensory range or our senses. These aspects of perception demonstrate well how biological and artificial perception systems have a design and architecture that optimizes between the system economy and functional value. We are blind most of the time but do not see it. Strategic perception is no different: in the middle of the continuous blindness, intelligent perception is necessary for survival.

Perception is spontaneously agile

Perception without action is nothing: when we accidentally burn our fingers, the incoming signal pathways do not have to ask for permission from the ‘brain management’ to recruit the motor system. Or when you triple and are about to fall down, your sensory-motor balance-maintaining system not only reacts to the surprise but it is also ‘allowed’ to take full control over your external and internal behavior – for the moment – in order to regain balance. After that, control is swiftly transferred back to the base behavior and the relevant context is recovered  (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/human-real-time-operating-system-theory/).

We could characterize this smooth perception-action behavior ‘agile’ as is now fashionable in talking about ‘fast strategies’ and agile ict development projects using scrum methods, for example (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrum_(development). In scrum, as in the above human examples the full (distributed) project control is momentarily transferred to individual (planned and interactively allocated) people or teams that have a relevant task to accomplish at that specific phase of the project.

This is accomplished and secured by forming a holistic project entity, including a dynamic team structure and multiple-level feed-back system. In this way the continuously interacting and evaluative collaboration project avoids the pitfalls of the rigid waterfall approaches. In one sense, as a system the scrum model resembles the human perception-action system: it includes specific actor roles (purpose-driven) and continuous interactions among the participants, and it proceeds according to fast and effective planned sprints (during a week, for example), guided by the continuous feed-back and evaluation processes.  As its best, a scum organization is fast, adaptive and can orient to new situations according to the internal and external project requirements.

In part III where I explain the core principles of the perception system behaviors, it becomes clear how they closely tangent the scrum methodology principles. But even scrum depends critically on its ability to gather relevant perceptual information about its distributed environment. This is especially challenging when the participants come from different disciplines, having their own stakeholders and operation domains with their limitations.

I’m not an experienced scrum master, although I participated in a short scrum education and have been involved in numerous spontaneous scrum-like processes. However my experience from one formal scrum project was that from the start it was unclear what was the perception architecture and how it was spanned. Of course everyone in the scrum project had a saying on the ‘perceptual background’ but not everyone was aware of its relevance in what was to come. Over the exercise it then became evident when conflicts of interests started to occur and hidden problem were revealed and discussed: it was clear that the perception architecture had not been optimally spanned and it did not fully serve its purpose. This seemed to be one of the repeating weak points of the scrum system.  However, at the moment I believe a scrum-like approach could perhaps best benefit from the perception lessons I will present in part III.

Organizations relying on the classic strategy model – mission-vision-strategy-resourcing-implementation are slow and have much to learn in trusting and avoiding the risks of giving the full control to its sub-systems. A recent Finnish example of extremely sow performance in reacting to the incoming perceptual data is our Government, remaining hesitant on how to respond to the perceived problem data, as I describe it in part I. It is not rare to hear similar stories from firms’ personnel. Indeed, a firm trusting its perception must arrange access to organized action when the perception system so requires. As far as I understand it scrum has not yet made a breakthrough in wide scale strategy work and it is absent from governmental –level strategy forums.

The illusion of a kind strategy world

We are destined to rely on extremely strong assumptions about the world. Only rarely can we hear CEOs and other high-level company representatives to explicitly describe what these assumptions actually are in their own strategy contexts. In everyday life we typically assume the world to be relatively kind to us – so that we don’t have to observe everything. It would take all our efforts and it would not be enough. As humans we do have moving eyes, which we could whirl around all the time, but luckily we have developed the swift ability to shift attention according to relevance and without moving the eyes or ears. This is a good metaphor to any firm: how to avoid excess ‘organizational eye movements’ in order to perceive (measure) important events and objects and to build intelligent perception systems that can direct attention by using the existing resources optimally?

Together the selectivity of perception and its ecological success show how valuable intelligent perception is for any system, biological or artificial. The strategic capabilities of the perception systems deserve our full admiration.

Strategy as the home of the firm’s perception system

Not unlike artificial and biological systems most organizations, public and private, orient to their world and are guided by a strategy. It is their de facto perception system and process and includes a perceptual action architecture – although firms do not typically use these terms. In the classic strategy process the perception system is used for collecting relevant internal and external forecast information and the current situation is analyzed in order to make the best possible decisions. Information sources are numerous and can be anything from the cash flow, competitive performance, competence, market, financial, and competitor data to the technology situations and trends. SAP and other similar integrated systems are trying to be the technological implementations of organizational perception: in the extreme case (imaginary only, I hope) such systems can be the only eyes to the world by an isolated manager or a bureaucrat.

I do know of firms whose strategy process is built on effective and relevant perception-action systems and architecture – and I’m lucky to have a friend, a true professional, Jaakko Ahonen  (http://www.ahonenpartners.fi/) who applies this kind strategy guiding approach in his customer (b-b or b-c) oriented growth consultancy. Interestingly, he has combined the analysis of the perceptual architectures of firms to collect data on relatively complex but relevant, multi-dimensional customer decisions and behaviors. Not surprisingly, even after many discussions with him, he does not use the term ‘perception’ in his context at all, but the results of his approach have been just impressive, to say the least. I’m convinced that there are others who think alike, but the concepts used vary.

Firms differ in how they collect strategic information: the way it is done is an expression of how they think about their perception mechanisms in scanning the external environment and the firms themselves. The initial phase of a strategy building cycle includes the declaration (either design or inventory) of this architecture and the perception resources are then spanned accordingly. This includes e.g. knowledge acquisition, measurement, and analytics, and can be seen as part of the firm’s knowledge management process. In this way the firm defines the true relationships it has with itself and its environment. Nothing else can achieve that. This may sound like loose philosophical talk but it is not: in building artificial vision systems, for example, the architectural approach is a necessary and critical ‘win-or-loose’ design phase.

Organizational perception can be implemented in the form of customer, market, sales and forecast data analysis, various data representation forms, discussion forums, person-to-person interactions – any big or small data process and it can also occur in various knowledge and customer relationship activities of the management and other personnel. However, it is not an extremely complex task to map and model this architecture in a company, or a government, for that matter, and to describe the basic components and the inherent perceptional relationships, but I have never seen it done.

Scorecards – bureaucrat perception?

Balanced scorecard models (e.g.http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/10-074.pdf) come close to the perceptual approach in how they define the metrics for the firm’s progress on financial, customer-, growth, and business process sectors.  The BSC system spans a ‘measurement architecture’, but it differs from the perception approach where the emphasis is on intelligent perception aspect: I use the ‘perception-action lens’ to look deeper into the nature of the measurement and data collection as part of the strategy. Perception is more than measurement as it has its own domains of activity and forms of engagement.  No measurement happens without some human engagement.

A simple example is the employees responding to various questionnaires probing their work or the firm atmosphere. It is not rare to hear them complain that they lack the real means to express their relevant observations and at the right time, for example on quality, coordination, or management communication, even when it would be of utmost value for the firm. The problem is not a lack of data, or lack of personnel inventory it is a problem of a distorted perception-action system.

For company strategists the design of measurement metrics is crucial: ignoring the perception mechanisms can entertain unfounded faith in the data sources and measures or simply cause neglect of relevant information.

Distorted perception architecture is disastrous

A curious example of a distorted perception architecture concerns the investigation panel of the Challenger accident in 1986 where one member of the panel, Richard Feynman, the famous physics Nobelist could not get his strong and clear message through and had to find his own ways to express his opinion about the accident causes. The panel was reluctant to accept his simple and practical observations, which inspired him to demonstrate them on a televised hearing. He took a glass full of ice and water and put a real O-ring from Challenger into it and then showed how he could break the cold ring by hand; this made it impossible to neglect the valid observation and his arguments. For an unknown reason, the panel had spanned its perception mechanisms in a way that made Feynman’s observation invisible in the investigation process. To many the arguments by Feynman had remained weak or silent signals but the demonstration changed the situation. It is a good question, why this happened and just like in the 2008 crisis, various explanations, political, social-psychological, institutional and others can be given but the outcome was the same: the distorted perception architecture determined which perceptions were possible.

Another educational example is the US financial crisis in 2008, which was sharply analyzed by Charles Perrow in his 2010 talk at CISAC/Stanford. He described in detail, with names of the relevant persons why the approaching disaster was not perceived by the Government and by those responsible individuals and organizations, which should have seen it. As is now well known, also a number of firms had good short-range, economical reasons to hide it and make it difficult to perceive.

A feasible interpretation is that the perceptual architecture of the Government and its analysts network was significantly biased, for a number of reasons. It did not include the players, especially banks and insurance companies, the main actors who were in continuous lobbying contact with politicians and other stakeholders. Information about the subprime problems had been visibly accumulating and a few specialists had been explicitly warning about it, but they were excluded – perhaps on purpose – from the perceptual architecture. Indeed some of them have later complained about improper treatment and behavior they received to their warnings (http://rwer.wordpress.com/2010/05/13/keen-roubini-and-baker-win-revere-award-for-economics-2). Sparrow described in delicious detail how the available observations on these actions and behaviors were neglected, left outside the perceptual architecture, which should have contained the underlying influential persons and their organizations. There were no weak signals – only very strong ones but they were neglected.

Why the lack or perception?

Is it a matter of sensitivity? Yves Doz, for example (http://www.strategicagility.com/) discusses strategic perceptions in terms of the need for strategic sharpness.  As these crisis examples show, there is much more to perception than meets the eye.  There seem to be at least two, almost orthogonal ways to interpret these architectural perception-problems. On one hand, some futures researchers argue (Ansoff, Hiltunen, for example) that it is a question of weak signals, which are simply difficult to observe. Because of that methods like the Delphi method are used to probe the best imaginable information sources (people).

I have questioned this by suggesting that it is a matter of a distorted perceptual architecture, which does not include relevant perception mechanisms and processes (https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/weak-signals-or-weak-theory-of-observation/). The observed signals may appear weak, but only because the sources have not been properly identified and included in the perceptual architecture. Of course it would be possible to combine the Delphi with the architecture approach but there is the challenge that the best sources may not be the members of the establishment or have the fame to be recognized as valuable sources.

Another explanation is related to what a colleague of mine Professor Leena Kasvio once described several years ago: an accident where a landing passenger airplane crashed against a car driving on the runway. Her description of the causes was that the air traffic controllers had a distorted (she did not use this term) idea of what was their core task and consequently, what to monitor; it is not only managing the air traffic and finding the right landing window and process etc. for the planes but especially to help them land safely. The latter view would span the perception architecture accordingly and had naturally included the runway traffic, be they cars cats or bulldozers.

An alternative, cognitive-theoretical explanation to poor organizational perception is the notion of cognitive dissonance according to which denial and distortion of perception or even blindness can be caused by a person’s – or an organization’s – observation and experience that reality appears to challenge her deepest and most established beliefs about the world (Kessler, 2010, in real-world economics review). At first sight this feels like loose psychoanalytical thinking to me and not very convincing.  

However, I have just read an interview from a Danish economist predicting that Netherlands and Finland will be the next ones on line to cause economical problems in Europe (Kauppalehti 12.11.2013). There is strong statistics to support this view. Finland having been among the best pupils in the European economy class, the claim has surprised many Finns and indeed, it seems like it is threatening our deep national (positive) views of ourselves. Hence, almost as a support for the cognitive dissonance view his comment has not had a serious predecessor in the dominant Finnish economical discourse although the possibility has appeared on the strategy charts of firms preparing for the near future.

One is tempted to claim that due to the cognitive dissonance our (public) national perceptual architecture has not included sources, which would reveal such negative phenomena. Hence, we just remain passive, as if waiting for an external and forceful attentive signal or even instruction (from economists, EU politicians, rating organizations etc) to include such perception sources – when the situation becomes undeniably threatening. After that, the new perception mechanism will be span and in open public use, but time has been lost again.

Is it possible to perceive a ‘black swan’?

In his books “The Black Swan” and “Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets” Taleb described the ‘black swan’ metaphor used to describe significant but rare and ‘outlier’  – improbable, difficult to predict with traditional methods – phenomena. Interestingly, hindsight is also included in the black swan concept, that is, the tendency to offer explanations to its occurrence retrospectively. My colleague Hannu Tuomisaari from Aalto University reminded me of Taleb’s work in this context and the possible challenge it is to the perceptual architecture concept – and made me think:

The retrospective explanation of the ‘black swan’ carries an interesting perceptual aspect, although imaginary: retrospection itself is a demonstration of the possibility to envision what has caused the unexpected phenomenon to occur. Illusory or not but the imagination is also based on spanning a (imaginary) perceptual architecture that includes the relevant observations. How else could such phenomena be explained? A question remains, though, is it ever been possible to span a relevant perceptual architecture for catching a black swan?

A distorted perceptual architecture can sink ships

Disastrous consequence of a biased perceptual architecture is not a novel phenomenon. One of my favorite historical examples is the stability test of the famous Swedish Vasa warship, which sank outside Stockholm on its maiden cruise in August 1628 (http://faculty.up.edu/lulay/failure/vasacasestudy.pdf). It was built in a hurry and with the largest investments ever in order to make it the most glorious warship in Sweden. King Gustav had hurried its building and put the shipyard management under royal pressure. By doing this, he seriously distorted the perception-action mechanisms at the shipyard.

The construction process was problematic from the beginning and there were early doubts about the ship’s stability. Aware of these problems, the shipyard management had Vasa tested at the harbor by ordering a group of 30 men to run from side-to-side of the ship: already on the third run Vasa was rocking dangerously. The warning signal was strong enough for them and the test was halted. Curious enough, no information of this result could reach the critical decision makers, and Vasa prepared for her celebrated maiden cruise. One could say that the warning signal remained ‘weak’ from the system – surely from the King’s – perspective. Then on the first celebrated cruise, a mild wind outside the harbor was enough to heel Vasa over and she sank after a 1300 meter cruise, taking 53 seamen with her. Today the well-preserved Vasa, raised in 1961, can be admired at the amazing museum in Stockholm.

One could consider Vasa either as a simple case of bad communication or a combination of bad management, fear for the Royal power of the King and his subordinates – and a communication failure.  But there is more to it; the catastrophe bears a close resemblance to the preceding events of the financial crisis in USA. Had the perception-action architecture been spanned according to the core national strategic goals, untouched by local interests, lobbying, political, and other perception masking factors, the early warning signs would have been early, strong and loud enough within this architecture.  In both cases, many seemed to ask, after the disaster: “Why didn’t we see it coming?”, but it is the wrong question – it should read: “Why didn’t we tune our perception-action architecture right?”

On strategic perception I

November 11, 2013 § 1 Comment

 In the short discussion on “The art of strategy” (October 2013) two well-known McKinsey specialists do not refer to strategic perception at all, although their comments touch on physics, resourcing, analytics, rigor, and even psychology as important concepts and metaphors in strategy discourse. Their view on perception is quite different from the famous swordsman Musashi’s who had a saying (my very free translation): “Seeing is weak, perceiving is strong”. In his world a misperception at a critical moment would cost his life and so it is with organizations – a difference in time constants perhaps. Vision without intelligent perception would be fateful for a samurai. Indeed, it is not rare to forget ‘perception’ in strategy considerations although ‘vision’ is ever present.

Here in this first part,  I will first introduce my thoughts on the fascinating topic of perception and then take up some familiar problems of the classic vision-strategy processes and finally start relating these two worlds.  This may be an unorthodox linking of the apparently separate worlds but I have been fortunate to live in both of them during my academic and not-so-academic career, and Musashi is no stranger to me either.

What is perception – in this context?

Intelligent perception could be an essential component of any vision-strategy model. The term ‘perception’ does occur in organizational studies but it is my general impression that it is typically misunderstood, hidden under trendy disguises like sense-making, sensing, framing, or awareness building, for example, its relevance underestimated, or it is just used in a popular-psychological sense and as such of not much use.

Perception is not an easy topic: the theory of perception is an evolving and moving target itself. For example, it may come as a surprise to many that there is no general theory of the observer (perceiver) even in classical or modern physics (cf. my article related to this at http://arxiv.org/abs/1309.3633). No wonder then, that such a serious theory does not exist in the organizational sciences either. I’m convinced that it will soon evolve because of the fast increase in the complexity of the organizational environment, where perception skills and capabilities become – they already are – necessary assets.

Perception is a fascinating phenomenon. It is not about recording the world or oneself – it is acting in them. The ‘in’ here is not a spelling mistake, I really do not mean ‘on’ – I believe I use the language right here: perception-action cannot be separated from the world and the perceiver without damaging the knowledge of either of them. Further, perception is directed outwards and inwards – simultaneously. Because of this intelligent perception is a most intriguing biological capacity and has a huge ‘strategic’ value when it drives the internal and external ‘behavior’ of an organism, human experience, or the behavior of a machine or an organization.  You would expect strategy researchers to be seriously interested in it.

What I talk about when I talk about perception (I borrowed this title from Haruki Murakami’s book title which he borrowed from Raymond Carver)

Perception – human, animal, artificial – is necessary in building an intelligent relationship, a symbiosis, with the unknown environments – the internal and the external. It constructs (internal) images, scenes, and many unknown mental activities related to these worlds, to recognize and represent the inherent invariances (behavior-strategically most important and informative relationships between the perceived objects or internal states), in order to plan, guide and be entangled with actions accordingly.  Intelligent perception means being sensitive both to opportunities and obstacles in reaching for something valuable; to learn and adapt to these environmental changes quickly and to learn from them, to generate intelligent perception structures (hard-,  soft-, inherited or culturally wired)  that help automate perception and action processes. This is necessary because both need to be fast and focused. In doing all this intelligent perception makes it possible for the actor-observer to release its limited resources for ever higher-level and valuable functions, and finally – it allows the organism’s full trust on its perception so much that any action can be accomplished with full power and accuracy. It may be good to repeat here that perception is not directed to the outer world only. Beneath all this lies the world of pain and pleasure, colors of mental life, aesthetics, culture, and love – which I only can imply here.

We can admire the amazing perceptual abilities in human sports and performance arts and in animal flight and fight. Of course we can experience them in our everyday life, but most of its wonders remain hidden from our awareness because we live our perceptions. Robots are still ignorant: in war they can accidentally kill anyone and they are practically useless in trying to recognize peace. Having said all this, is there anything in this description of perception that should not be an essential aspect of any strategy considerations? Could this insight be useful in the analysis of strategy processes and perhaps inform their design in organizations?

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Strategy discourse – problems and opportunities

Strategy researchers discuss the need to extend strategy analysis and views to better cover what they call “demand (D) or consumer/customer side” of strategy research (and practice).  This is in contrast to the resource-based view (RBV) emphasizing the production side (cf. Priem, Butler, Li, 2013, for example; thanks Mikko Laine from Aalto DVN team, for sharing this J). This may not appear novel at all, especially to a human-centric worldview and in the familiar matters of our global, digitally driven life. However, it is a way to turn the perceiving senses to the world outside the organization. But a burning practical question remains, how to best conceptualize and organize the strategy process of firms, large companies and even nations. The vision-strategy process as it is typically applied today hides an increasing number of problems, one of them being the neglect of strategic perception.

The most amazing flaw in the organizational vision-strategy process is that it is practically never impossible to formulate a vision. In Finland, for example, we already have several national vision-strategy documents but we are in trouble. We have the national brand vision and the Team Finland strategy for 2014 (http://team.finland.fi/public/download.aspx?ID=115910&GUID={5F2A2D13-C30D-40A0-B71A-A4E2B5ADF6C0} and a recent futures document from our Government (which b totally underestimates scientific matters).  Every firm has it, even the third sector communities, universities and the minuscule departments have it.  I have never met an organization that would openly say that it was impossible for them to build a shared vision.  What a wonderful tool that works everywhere, in any conditions, and by anyone?

Vision can make the strategy process blind

Imagine an organization or a national government with a vision-strategy process actually masking the perception of its environment and adapting the strategy accordingly. Under changing circumstances this can be more typical than not in many of the present-day organizations, especially the large ones.  We Finns could sense something like that happening over the years following the collapse of Nokia – practically blind to its crucial market life – and we are now following another major scale strategy dance: the Finnish Government Program from June 2011 that has met a similar risk of slow deterioration. Again, like Nokia with its “connecting people” vision, it describes our wonderful national vision to be a “caring, open, responsible, globally aware and prosperous well-fare society.”

The way our national vision is defined in the Governmental program and has been guarded by various stakeholders and situational factors has actually fixated this vision on business-as-usual targets, blocking a perceptive, smooth, adaptive and novel way towards the national vision in the changing circumstance. Right now, as a nation we suffer from the lack intelligent perception inwards and outwards.

Strategic tools as weapons of internal destruction

Like all strategy programs, the Finnish one includes an analysis (perception) of the current environment and the foreseeable futures, and then looks at the politically agreed strategic means for reaching the goals. It is a standard process, based on difficult party negotiations after which the feasible or compromise policies are chosen to work towards the vision goals.

The worst of such strategy versions I have seen implemented are almost identical: from the higher education and university context in Finland, especially in my own ex-institute. Only about 10 or more years ago such strategy processes at universities were mostly harmless and academically eloquent exercises on discourse and documentation that could go on in parallel – with little interference – with effective real-world work and activities. Now with new power structures at our universities the situation has changed profoundly and the process has become an essential tool of both progress and survival.

I’m not arguing for the old system, but this has made the strategy process a de facto internal weapon of academic mass destruction: the power relationships dictate how different organizational units, dominant individuals, and research groups must struggle for resources and their ‘strategic position’ necessary for survival. Those who make it and succeed will be the ones defining the new strategy and gain more power – not much interest is given to the rest of the resources or the organization. In this specific context strategy process has a dissonant audience.

Many seem to think that the ‘fittest’ will survive, but a question remains, ‘in what sense the fittest’ because after destruction the weaker ones have no voice. Self-perception has not much role in these considerations when perception is fixated at external and formal outcomes. Businesses are no different, the metrics used and the weight given to different measures only vary, but they can have shared aims, often economically grounded.

Of course the classic strategy model is meant to be dynamic, sensitive, relevant, creative, and adaptive by using intelligent data, analysis, excellent leadership, and modification or re-evaluation during the vision-strategy cycle, every year or so. “Fast strategy” has even been the title of the book by Doz and Kosonen (2007) emphasizing the need to build a sensitive and fast or ‘agile’ strategy process. But ‘fast’ is relevant only when perception is intelligent. The McKinsey discussion above describes this well.

Change and volatility challenge strategy dynamics

Our Government case is no exception among the organizations suffering from the unstable environment and massive changes. The financial crisis in 2008 happened too fast for many. From the beginning, it was a challenge of perception – but it was not recognized as such. In Finland, already by 2010 we could perceive, by looking at our falling export data and its trend that something was seriously wrong: the export did not show any signs of recovery, unlike in Sweden and Germany, our two best reference countries in this context. The relative data looked scary.

In US the financial crisis was, most of all, a problem of intelligent perception but this became clear only after the crisis. The real predecessors of the 2008 events were vividly described at CISAC/Stanford on April 1st, 2010 by Charles Perrow:  “Markets, Information, and the Spreading of Risks: The Economic Meltdown and Organizational Theory”. The talk confirmed the problem of biased and weak organizational perception that had prevented many from seeing what was coming although the real signs were not weak at all. It was not a problem of misbehavior or strategic sensitivity only but a true lack of intelligent strategic perception. (https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/weak-signals-or-weak-theory-of-observation/ ). This is an excellent example of the conceptual difference between the concepts of perception as recording and perception as an intelligent process, directly linked with action.

Of course, strategies are meant to meet any positive or negative futures. Despite observing the heavy economical consequences of the crisis, our Government’s perception remained separate from its action; it had the vision and it did receive the environmental information but lacked the perceptual intelligence to support action.  Furthermore, it had a grounded strategy, produced with difficulty and in addition, the backing parties were willingly or unwillingly freezing it. As a result, the Government remained not only blind but also the hostage of its own public vision-strategy process: there was no quick way out or even a chance to perceive new strategic opportunities which would have been desperately needed.

Media and the public have learned to ‘know’ what a strategy is

The situation was not made easier by the media that loves to remind of the strategy (plan) and its ‘promises’ made in 2011. Now the Finnish Government had effective and willing guards in the media – and opposition, of course. As if to strengthen the friction effect, the visible public opinion and the news-hungry media had together become significant stakeholders treating the national strategy and its vision as promises – not as an imaginary future and the means to reach it. The media and its audience had obtained the power to inhibit any strategic changes from happening. In the discourse produced, the strategy adaptation process was transformed into a ‘breaking promises’ discourse.

Lack of intelligent perception has real consequences. An example I followed closely how our dominant print media were reluctant to turn its perception on the export and innovation problems in 2011: Finland had been unable to build economically large-scale firms during the last 20 years. For a colleague of mine, it took nearly two years to get published an analysis based on these nationally significant perceptions.  Our leading business magazines and the main newspaper were not interested to write about it: they did not perceive what professor Eero Byckling had clearly perceived. Finally Eero could publish his analysis on the Finnish export and innovation system failure in a journal focusing on cultural matters (!) (cf. Kanava 1/2013). Today, these topics have become public knowledge in the media discourse, but we lost valuable time. Why does this happen in ‘broad daylight’? Is this only a specific perception problem of Finland?

The standard explanation to the national-level problem is that we are currently suffering from the same ideological and democratic crowding problem as the US.  There the democrats and republicans block each other’s way to what the opponent sees as progress: the two parties perceive totally different and divergent opportunities to reach for the national vision. The scope of the damage possible due to such a process has been a real surprise to many.

Interestingly, the same thing as in US has happened in Finland, but in slow motion – it has been the outcome of the unanimous, multi-party Government remaining true to its vision and strategy statements – being passionately guarded by the media.  Changing the original vision and strategy had been ‘breaking the promises’, a failure and not intelligent adaptation.  Now we are ‘forced’ to adapt. Surprising enough, a recent poll in Finland showed that about 50% of the citizens have been ready for significant policy changes related to taxation and retirement age, for example.  Can a strategy process be weaker than this, frozen in front of its perceptive audience, willing to change? (http://www.eva.fi/blog/2013/03/19/evan-arvo-ja-asennetutkimus-2013-kadonneen-kasvun-metsastajat/). An amusing and inspiring example of a similar adaptation by workers to the strange US Governmental shut-off situation was observed at NASA Mars project (thanks Michael Sims for sharing this: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304500404579129810090504206).

Lack of passion for the vision

Only rarely does the formal organizational vision evoke a true passion in its audience, in the employees, and in those responsible for reaching it or among the citizen. It is no surprise that our Government has turned to a national guru who has the rhetoric and media fame and who can so re-formulate or translate (perhaps even transform) the formal visions and programs for their audiences to enjoy. Our national guru Dr. Himanen and his co-author, the famous Manuel Castells published a book in November 2013 on our national vision where they lifted dignity as a core element for our national vision. Of course, nobody is, or can be directly against such a valuable thing and many seem to accept it as a promising vision.

This is not a rare situation in companies that regularly invite charismatic speakers and showmen to ignite the audience for the implied by boring vision. In Italy, a clown became a significant political actor. Such performers and gurus are hoped to act as apostles with the ability to offer an inspiring vision – or the criticism of it – that is actually derived from the organizational situation and documents but to which they are hoped to breath signs of life.

The need for gurus has led to a curious recent event in Finland, the one now called “The Himanen case” where a visibly weak-quality national strategy-project application was accepted without open competition by the Head of Finnish Academy and the Head of Tekes, our leading and the most prestigious organizations for the national management of science and technology. The process was totally and bluntly against the standard evaluation practices and ethics in Finland.   The leaders of the two organizations willingly explained that they had been under pressure from the Prime Minister to accept the offer.

Some might think that the public process has been unfair to the guru in question since Dr. Himanen was only offering his help and (expensive) consulting business to the Prime Minister Office where they really needed help to give life to the dead-appearing Government vision-strategy plan. It became a total failure of trust in the strategy process – even before the final report of the work has become public. Now that the strategy report has appeared, it has received a chaotic reception and – to me – it seems that it will block our national perception for a year or two at least.

Organizational vision is not perception

Recently I browsed through a list of popular strategy tools in a local business magazine (Optio, 16/2013) introducing their core elements: scorecards, swots, blue ocean, lean systems, neo-taylorism, scenarios, weak signals, co-creation, change management, vriq, benchmarking, portfolios learning organization, and so on. While they do include a plethora of means to observe, analyze and model the environment, they have no serious interest in organizational perception. ‘Vision’, however, remains their basic component.

Interestingly, the term ‘vision’ actually has nothing to do with human or any other vision systems or perception. It is a definition of what an organization wants to see to happen to it, internally or externally, and it is not a matter of perceiving something. A better term would indeed be organizational imagination or dreaming – with the requirement that it must be – in some acceptable way – grounded and realistic in the eyes of its presenter or the audience.

I the next part, I will explain my view on why I believe the classic strategy process paradigm fails and suggest an alternative, opportunity perception-based concepts for supporting an effective strategy process that can match the demands of the complex and changing world.