A Useful Reference Frame

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play. Finite games are those instrumental activities — from sports to politics to wars — in which the participants obey rules, recognize boundaries and announce winners and losers. The infinite game — there is only one — includes any authentic interaction, from touching to culture, that changes rules, plays with boundaries and exists solely for the purpose of continuing the game. A finite player seeks power; the infinite one displays…


This Is Water

Photo by Ahmed Zayan on Unsplash

Metaphor is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.”¹ George Lakoff and Mark Johnsen in their 2003 book “Metaphors We Live By” propose that human thought processes are largely metaphorical. Once I was exposed to this concept, I could not unsee it. I paraphrase and quote liberally below.

Argument Is War

Your claims are indefensible.
They attacked every weak point in my argument. Their criticisms were right on target.
I demolished their argument.
I’ve never won an argument with them.
You disagree? Okay, shoot!
If you use that strategy, they’ll wipe…


Complacency and the Clear/Chaotic boundary

We live in A Complex World. We are surrounded by complex systems. In this post I will take a moment to highlight how complex systems fail.

My colleague Jason Koppe shared a great summary in a tweet anticipating this post, linking to Richard Cook’s how.complexsystems.fail.

The website above is a great reference and goes into a lot… A LOT… more detail than I will go into here. I want to focus on a particular aspect of how complex systems fail that I find particularly useful in the context of Onboarding to a Software Team.

Clear/Chaotic Boundary

I highlighted various aspects of…


Black Swans and Turkey Problems

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The concept of the Black Swan was popularized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 book by the same name. Over many introductions of this concept to friends and colleagues, I observed that it is an easy concept to describe but a difficult one to grasp.

Unknown Unknown

Perhaps you’ve heard the following framing before. There are things we know we know: known knowns. There are things we know we don’t know: known unknowns. Then, there are things we don’t know, we don’t know: unknown unknowns. A Black Swan is an unknown unknown, an event that we did not see coming and…


What to Do When in Doubt

Photo by Bryan Goff on Unsplash

In a previous post on complexity, I highlighted Liz Keogh’s shortcut for complexity estimation in order to quickly figure out the complexity of the system. In this post I will share Dave Snowden’s Cynefin approach for dealing with aporia and figuring out what to do when in doubt about what to do.¹

An expression of doubt

So far, in my introduction of Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework, I focused on the four domains: Clear, Complicated, Complex, and Chaotic. However, there are additional aspects of the framework I haven’t highlighted until now. …


Complexity is Expensive

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

This is the third post on defining complexity in the onboarding series. I highlighted before that, in a complex system, the relationship between cause and effect is knowable only in hindsight. Additionally, our constraints will change on the timescale under consideration. A sense-making heuristic is to probe-sense-respond using exaptive practices. In this post, I’ll highlight that this is expensive.

Finite Capacity

Our ability to think is, on the one hand, vast. On the other hand, we can only think so much and think only so fast. Ultimately, we have a finite amount of time to think. When dealing with finite resources, we…


The Cynefin Framework

Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Last time in the onboarding series I wrote about complexity through the frame of relationship between cause and effect in the world. Today, I want to introduce Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework¹ which underpins what I mean by complexity.

Ordered Systems

So far, I defined an Ordered System as a system where a relationship between cause and effect can be determined. The relationship could be clear or discovered through analysis. When the relationship is clear, that is a Clear System.


Why Maps Are Effective Tools

Photo by N. on Unsplash

I made a claim on Twitter recently that Jeff Hawkins’ new book: “A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence”, explains why a map is an effective tool for the human brain.

Reference Frames

The key insight of the Thousand Brains theory is that the primary purpose of the neocortex is to process reference frames.

Each column in the neocortex — whether it represents visual input, tactile input, auditory input, language, or high-level thought — must have neurons that represent reference frames and locations.

Up to that point, most neuroscientists, including me, thought that the neocortex primarily processed sensory input. What…


In Hindsight

Photo by David Kovalenko on Unsplash

As I shared before, my primary principle is: We want to thrive in a complex world. In this post I will elaborate on what I mean by complex.

How to Organize a Children’s Party

First, a three minute introduction to complexity by Dave Snowden:

I want to discuss systems in the world. For this particular discussion, I want to highlight a specific framing through which I will analyze these systems: what is the relationship between cause and effect?¹ Specifically, are we able to determine causes for effects we observe?

Non-Complex Systems

Dave Snowden highlighted three types of systems in the Children’s Party video: Chaotic Systems, Ordered Systems…


Principles and Values: Secondary and Tertiary Principles

In the last post, I shared my primary principle: We want to thrive in a complex world. While I found this to be a great overall orienting principle, it is only an aspirational statement. As such, it is a few steps removed from actionable advice.

Optimize For Learning

One effective way of making sense of a complex¹ world so that we can act in it² is to optimize for learning, my secondary principle. A complex world changes from moment to moment. Taking appropriate actions in such a world requires constant learning. It may be beneficial to learn stable patterns or how things generally…

Tristan Slominski

Interested in design, development and operation of autonomous self-directed teams and decentralized distributed systems.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store