Key Takeaways

  • Agility can be part of a potential “science of adaptation”
  • Cybernetic theory can be used to model how adaptation happens, and how opportunities are converted and help to simulate agile strategies
  • Sports analytics is closely related to agile problem-solving and this concept of adaptation science
  • As with sports tactics, we could rehearse agile tactics to execute them more reliably
  • The concepts of “stress-testing” and “adaptive opportunity cost” can also help to strategise

Predicting Successful Decision-Making

I believe that agility can become part of a scientific theory of adaptation, and I have been building simulations to explore some of these ideas. However, in order for agility to become a science, it must be shown to complement and add to the existing science of economic decision-making. In order to add something new to existing microeconomics and decision-making science, a science of agility would offer a different way of looking at familiar problems. It could be the case that the science of successful decision-making is not only predicted by assuming people are rational and having aligned incentives such as bonuses with the desired outcome as classical economics dictates. The more recent idea of behavioural economists that “nudging” people with inherent cognitive biases to make better decisions may also not be the full story. I believe that indeed there is a scientific “gap” in the market for predicting successful adaptation by individuals and organisations. So, it is my contention that successful decision-making is predicted by having the capacity for adaptation and using it wisely. I believe that this capacity for adaptation is nothing more than the ability to move resources around in order to take opportunities as they emerge. To be able to adapt in this way well is to behave with “agility,” as the name implies. There is, however, some conceptual development needed to make good on the promise of this idea. So, let’s consider the ingredients of an agile theory of adaptation.

The Ingredients of Agile Adaptation

The first ingredient for a better model of adaptation is the concept of control. This already exists as a science called “cybernetics”. Using these ideas, I argue that successful action (rather than simply decision-making) is largely predicted when the components for control over a situation are provided to a competent individual. The three main components of control are simple:

  1. The resources, both information and physical to act, which comprise the “capacity to act”
  2. The “opportunity to act” which comprises the often fleeting opportunity, that given sufficient capacity to act, it will reliably lead to success
  3. A competent individual able to use these control resources to take the opportunity

These components, when all supplied, can be called the “locus of control” of an individual. When an opportunity falls within my locus of control, my contention is that as a competent individual, I will reliably take the opportunity. Nowhere does this type of analysis seem more common-place and clear than in team sports.


Consider an example from my favourite sport, football. If, as a football team you collectively give a good footballing opponent too much time and space, they will take advantage of that and choose one of the better actions to exploit any weakness in your defence. Conversely, if you manage to deny, even very good, football players the resources in terms of time and space to act, they will reliably fail to win the game, as they are simply being denied the capacity to act. The game of adaptation is this: To supply agents with the locus of control to take their opportunities. In team ball sports the capacity to act is simply and obviously connected to passing the ball to where it needs to go. The idea of successful adaptation can then be said to be the facility to move the locus of control to where it is needed. As a more general way of analysing and predicting success in micro-economic decisions, this idea of supplying the ingredients of control is actually quite novel (so I would argue) in economics.

If this dimension of predicting successful decision-making and action is as important as I think, then it follows that we should aim to predict where the locus of control is and where it needs to be for a successful outcome because this best predicts success . I call the analysis of the adaptations required to move the locus of control to where it should be “Exchange Cybernetics”. Agents must exchange control resources to move them where they need to go to control situations and convert opportunities. If they do this successfully, they will reliably succeed in their goals, just like the football team moving the ball to where it needs to go to eventually score a goal. This should also start to sound familiar to anyone who works in software development teams or manages teams, generally, because I think that this problem is simply a scientific description of the process or property of having “agility”. By defining what this locus of control for each activity looks like, and measuring it, we should be able to reliably predict success or failure. If such measurement and prediction sounds impossible, consider football analytics.

#planning #science #business agility #agile #applied research #data science

Exchange Cybernetics: towards a Science of Agility & Adaptation
1.10 GEEK