Goals and the limits of self-organization

Thought-provoking post by Jurgen Appelo on the teleology of software projects (post here, check the perceptive comments too).  More properly, he points out that projects do not have a goal in and of themselves.  In his words, they don’t have intrinsic goals (other than self-preservation).

For me, this insight points to the limits of self-organization in initiatives.   IMO, without some degree of design — or extrinsic goals — a self-organized system (or pieces of that system) can get off the rails.  There is a tremendous amount of power in emergent-friendly systems — that’s what social media is all about.   For example, what emerges from Wikipedia is clearly emergent, but it has a explicit goal and with an extrinsic design model:

Wikipedia’s purpose is to act as an encyclopedia, a comprehensive written compendium that contains information on all branches of knowledge

Finding the proper balance between design and emergence is a fascinating topic.  In fact, my take is that this topic is the subtext of many of the arguments among methodology adherents — waterfall vs. agile. 

I’m always a bit leery of purist arguments.  In fact, I have a syncretist’s instinct to “square the circle”.  Perhaps what I’m looking for is something like Deng Xiaoping’s modifications to traditional Marxist dogma…   How about “Waterfall with Agile Characteristics”?


India Observations: What’s here that’s missing from China

It smacks you in the face as soon as you turn on the TV, especially with the trust vote (aka, vote of confidence, oops, I meant “no confidence” vote) looming over the Singh government.  Which is exactly the gaping void in China: substantive political debate that would lead to a change in government.  Individual pols may get in trouble, some political topics are debated, some appeals are heard and even answered.  However, there is never any questioning of the leading (and permanent) role of the Communist Party.

Funny how reassuring and familiar the chaos of high-stakes — if not exactly high-grade — parliamentary debate can be (plenty of coverage in the Times of India here, with a highly-annoying old school blizzard of pop-ups if your blocker isn’t on).

Another familar sight: jailed and hospitalized legislators shipped in for a knife’s edge vote (here and here).  And oddly reassuring too…I’m convinced that corrupt politicians are less dangerous than the so-called “incorruptible.” 

Put me down as a vote for old-fashioned human frailty over an inhuman devotion to ideology.

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