The illusion of control

Daniel Mezick has a good post in LinkedIn today:

About the illusion of control, and the idea that control is an emergent property.  (There’s that darn word emergent again.)  See the article he links to: “The ‘Command and Control’ Military Gets Agile.”


Some quick thoughts.

Of course it is an illusion that anyone knows the future.  OK, yes, for a day or two things are likely to continue as they are.  The weatherman typically wins that way.  But seldom do we have two-day efforts.

Of course the situations we are dealing with are hugely complex.  And all the elements are changing.

Of course, if the work is similar enough and if, if. if (but the if’s never come true)…then we could build something that is “pretty well defined” within a reasonably well-defined timebox.  And so, support the illusion of control.  But of course, my conditions almost never apply.

Moreover, because things are changing so much, just building well what was clearly defined 6 months ago is NOT the problem.  We want to build what is needed most for the 6 months (or 4 years) AFTER we deliver it.  That is what society, our customers and our organization should want us to do.

Because the problems are complex and changing, a lot of the issue is learning our way through the problem set.  First, just understanding well-enough what the problem set is.  And this takes time.

More on this problem set issue in the next blog post.

A bit more: It is certainly an illusion that we have complete control at the beginning.  BUT… we have some control or influence over the situation.  We are never completely helpless.  And we can become more and more effective with time in “solving the problem”… given a not completely crazy problem set.  We may fail at first, but eventually we will at least mitigate “the problem” some.

So, as one current example, the C19 vaccines (note multiple) are starting to bring C19 somewhat under control.  (Wee hope sufficient control.)  But could we have said on April 1, 2020 how and when with any precision (and accuracy)?  No.  (For example, which quarter the vaccine would start being delivered.  Some might have guessed 4thQ20, but it was only a guess. And experts optimistically guess late 2021.)




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