fluffy social media words and the OODA loop

New Loops

Matt Riding’s @techguerilla – guest blog posted over at Amber’s new site Brass Tack Thinking, talked about his struggle with fluffier of the Social Media terms that seemingly have to be used to communicate it’s message, an excerpt of the opening paragraphs:

I have an aversion to “fluff”. I don’t mean that jar of creamy marshmallow awesomeness that sometimes sits in your pantry, I mean those words that get thrown around that sound great but rarely contain much actionable value.

Social Media gets far more than its fair share of this type of language, and that’s to be expected, after all a big part of social media is about relationship building. Where relationships are concerned words like “significance”, “harmony”, “trust”, “being real” are par for the course. But when I write them (and I do) a little shiver goes down my spine and I can feel the bile rise in my throat. My body reacts as if I’m a lifelong vegan who has decided to shove these words made of cow parts down my gullet.

Are these words really ‘bad’ however? Do they really only contain feel-good rainbows formed from the glitter ashes of old hippies? I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the issue isn’t the words, or even the meaning of the words, but rather how they are applied to an objective.

from Fluffy Words Are Bad, Mmmkay? (Or Are They?) | Brass Tack Thinking.

Matt and I had a brief back and forth in the comments section, mostly me trying to get a point across regarding how businesses regard “control”, one that he likely already agreed with. My general thought was that while it might be effective to tell business that Social media is merely giving business a new method to achieve old aims, it is deeper than that and that Social Media business prescription is about excavating many of the old assumptions of the values implied in business, and thus the aims of those assumptions. A lot of this has to do with how culturally we have come to think about top-down control, and they way we esteem it.

What came to mind for me in terms of the shift in how we think about control was John Boyd’s OODA loop, a model of cognition that has had great currency in certain business strategy quarters, but has perhaps even greater application in Social Media marketing contexts. Here is the OODA loop wikipedia entry. For those who don’t know – and this post is mostly for you – John Boyd has become something of a think-guru for some, largely because he brought Japanese business models and ancient Asian military philosophy to bear upon what many would consider the most result-oriented, top-down industry in the world: the United States military, and he did so in a way that emphasized information processing and the articulation of technologies. His relative success there gives his ideas a certain impressiveness, an aura, when talking about things civilian. I’m not a Boydist by any stretch, but I do think his model extremely illuminating.

There are many aspects to John Boyd’s approach to warfare, most of them having to do with increases in feedback speed and decision making in the age of information processing. Boyd was a fighter pilot with supposedly an incredible kill-ratio, and he felt that dexterity and rate of feedback was key to winning in the theater of war. A nimble, more lightly armed fighter jet was preferable to heavy, powerfully armed fighter jets. Beneath Boyd’s recommendations of de-centralized, loosely organized, mobile units of action in communication (much of which has been adopted by the new military), is a more abstract concept of cognition itself, what he called the OODA Loop. What is interesting about this model is that it is easily extended beyond the person or animal (organism), into technological interfaces or social structures and organizations. It allows us to trace the circuits of observation and decision that make up effective action.

It is not a be all and end all concept, but rather in Social Media perhaps a helpful concept base, or model by which to illustrate how important “inter-action” is to business.

I offer here only the briefest summation of what essentially is an elemental picture of the world and selves. Above is a simplified version of the OODA loop the fuller version of which is found at the top of this post.  For those who would like to look at a more in depth presentation of the loop for business Henrik Mårtensson’s blog, Kallokain, which has an excellent overview of the main OODA principles involved as they pertain to business. I would love to discuss this model in terms of Social Media itself and all the internal dynamics it proposes, especially the cultural ones, but for now this post is mostly a cursory one of introduction for those is unfamiliar with Boyd’s loop, and perhaps a first exploration of the value of that model for Social Media business thinking.

What is helpful about John Boyd’s fighter-pilot loop is that it is continuous. All cognition, whether it be business corporate structures pursuing market share, or an amoeba scooting along towards a sugar solution, comes down to this circle of observation to act and back. One could easily call it the  Circle of Life without much exaggeration. What this means for Social Media in business should be apparent. Social Media connections are an increase in speed, breadth and if properly run, cycle between the businesses informed decisions and its living environment (customers, cultural event contexts). Boyd felt that the faster the cycle can be completed and repeated, coupled to the depth of its comprehension and review, the more intelligent and aware the agent became (and therefore more self-determining). Domination of the theater was not the domination of sheer, applied power, like big guns blasting. It as a domination of awareness and maneuverability, being able cover more ground, more quickly, with greater flexibility.

What Social Media for business implies is a whole different set of eyes, sense organs, that can be plugged into the decision cycle. Unfortunately you cannot just connect up a different mode of sensing and expect to be able to suddenly “see” with it. Many of the processes and values that may have worked well under past modes of business command and control maybe obsolete or antithetical to the fine tune of what one is perceiving in a social media context. And this is where John Boyd’s OODA loop comes in handy. It lets us know that whatever we were doing (successfully or not) has ALWAYS been composed of OODA cycles. And that the new interconnections with the commerce environment are merely changes in frequency and modes of observe, orient, decide, and act. This though can involve serious changes in the culture of how we process information, self-reflection on our assumptions about how we can control our outcomes, and the acquisition of new habits of orientation and decision making.

When we talk about the changes in our behaviors towards customers or users, the language we use that evokes a change in method or even principle, it may help to grasp at a larger more conceptual level the advantages that are offered by the new media and new technologies, as well as better position the kind of revolutions of value that we have to undergo in order to most take advantage of them.

Next: what the OODA loop means for the “social” in Social Media, what happens when your customers/users are already in social media loops such as facebook or twitter?


Matt Ridings on the complex – problem solving

Complex simply and literally means “with folds”, a folded thing. Matt Riding has a beautiful post up on solution finding when faced with a folded thing:

What is complex?

For me personally, “complex” most closely resembles “nuanced”. Those things that can be comprehended, but not easily explained in simple terms. That tends to mean I’m discussing concepts with variable implications, philosophy would be a good example of something I can find extremely complex.

Then there are “complex” systems. These are the things we most commonly come across in our day to day lives. Your car is one representation, a corporate marketing strategy might be another, biology, various ecosystems, the weather, and so on. It is these everyday systems that cause us so much angst. When we are overwhelmed it is most often due to the fact that we are viewing things through that macro lens of complexity, “I have SO much to do, how will I ever get it all done?!”, “I’ve been made responsible for some huge project but I don’t even know where to begin!”.

The Complexity of Simple

Part of what I do for a living is consult for organizations who have large complex system challenges, and need to derive a strategic solution in very short order. I’m a ‘fixer’ if you will. A specific example might be developing an overriding social strategy that can be integrated throughout an organizations silos. While there are a lot of tools in my toolbox for achieving that, I’ll let you in on my biggest secret. A complex system, is only complex at the macro level. It is always made up of components that are relatively simple. If you can learn to break systems down to whatever level of simplicity you require you can achieve virtually anything. While sometimes not so obvious, you’ll see this theme repeated over and over throughout my posts.

via techguerilla talk – Matt Ridings.

There are several valuable thoughts here – Matt is confessing his trade secret, what makes he really good at what he does – but there is something about this point that is itself com-plex, or as he says, nuanced. The recommendation is easy: when faced with a folded thing, in particular a thing with many, many folds, Unfold it! And then as he suggests, work on in at the fold level. But this requires a sense of how all the folds fit together, and comprehensively how a little re-fold over here will effect all the other folds of the thing (or not at all). The shorthand for this kind of knowledge, a repository for the sense-of-how-it-works, often is kept in a kind of “best practices” sort of list that is memorized or we just become accustomed to, be they rules of thumb for link building for SEO questions, or  “Do unto others…” rules for human being questions.

The true beauty of complexity comes instead from the nuance itself, the way that all the folds together work to have a single, though possibly infinitely varied effect that defies simple encapsulation. This is where the art of solution-finding takes place. This is where the rule of thumb, the best practices, are abandoned as blind templates and each fold and series of folds is done with some reflexive feeling of what the effect will be. That is when the screw turn on the carburetor registers in the sound the car makes when you gas it.

I do agree that when faced with complexity you unfold it, but you unfold it with very sensitive hands, feeling how the folds register upon the whole thing. And when a complex thing is broken, either wide parts of the fabric need to be refolded in a different way, or perhaps it deserves to be a different sort of origami altogether. Sometime though we start out with a plain white sheet.