A Business Guide to Compression Thinking

Why Compression Thinking?

Ours is a time of great uncertainty, of life and of business. In business, we usually think of risk first as to our markets and our cash flows. Fickle, pushy customers can consume all your time as well as all your money, so we think we have limited time to factor in big issues like the environment. Maybe we’d like to ignore them, but we can’t much longer.

Business needs a revolution, a whole new paradigm. Let’s call it Compression Thinking.

Compression Thinking vs. Commercial Thinking

Compression Thinking conflicts with today’s commercial thinking, as shown in Figure 1. However, we all live in today’s world, not tomorrow’s world. At every turn, Commercial Thinking violates Compression Thinking. Getting from here to there has to navigate these conflicts.

Figure 1 may make you gasp. But please go on. Reflect deeply on how to adapt to Compression Thinking. 

Figure 2 is sort of a starter kit to begin your new thinking. Excuse the trite phrase “outside the box.”

Type 1 Problems – In The Box  

In a functioning business, most daily problems are Type 1, “in the box,” low in abstraction. Given a box, organizations standardize processes inside that framework. The more they standardize, the more efficient they become. We can all become more efficient, and often the key is to have a standard process improvement methodology, like PDCA, and coach behavior so that people focus on the process, not on their internal politics. Good, but we’re still way inside the box. 

Type 2 Problems – Out Of The Box

Type 2 problems are in a “bigger box.” Abstraction increases as we look for game-changer innovations. “Fog factors” multiply. Data driven logic helps, but is seldom sufficient. For example, whether a new avant guarde movie will be a blockbuster or a bust remains largely a gut-feel gamble. We’re playing in a bigger box, but we’re still competing and our basic business values remain intact. 

Type 3 Problems – “No Box” 

Type 3 problem solving eliminates pre-conceived boxes. We reconceive our values, and with it, our scaffolding for problem solving. Adopt the Compression Principle of preserving all life over an indefinite future, and no problem ever appears the same again. Change what you think is important; old problems drop away and new ones appear.

How We Know What We Know is So?

Values systems are pretty abstract, gut level concepts, but at all three levels of problem abstraction, a key question is how do we know that what we think we know is so? Is it “grounded in reality,” meaning that an abstract idea can be traced to directly sensible evidence. This becomes more abstract when sensing must be by instruments and interpreted by statistics, but still, is something real represented by its symbolic wrapping?  

Vigorous Learning is to find evidence whenever possible. But sometimes clear evidence cannot be found. Then balance the interests of humans and nature as best you can using the evidence you do have.

Close, Careful, Systemic Observation of Nature

Close, careful, systemic observation of nature still has merit. The ability of indigenous people to directly sense changes and integrate information about nature is amazing to us more abstract-thinking beings. 

Indigenous peoples knew their locality intimately. The didn’t know much about the parts of the world they had never seen. Satellite imagery was beyond their ken.

Observe your locality carefully, but also try to learn about ecological effects that your actions could have in remote areas. It’s pretty easy to mess up a downstream ecology without knowing it if you use resources on a big scale. Nitrogen fertilizer run-off ending in dead zones at the mouths of rivers is a good example. You can’t be a steward of the environment without learning about what you must steward. Act locally; stay aware globally.

The Need for a Vigorous Learning Organization

Nobody can learn this much alone. We need to form Vigorous Learning Organizations to go way outside the commercially bounded rationality of 21st century business. 

Appreciating Compression Thinking intellectually is the first step. Actually doing anything significant is limited if attempted solo, and we still live in a society dominated by commercial thinking. For instance, putting cans for recycling at a curb does no good if no effective recycling system processes them. 

To change systems at even a local level, we need to form a Vigorous Learning Organization (VLO).  Practicing differently is where vigorous learning begins. It’s a big leap to figure out what you can do first hand, action level. You can’t do it all at once, so pick something doable and start. Just to light on something doable may take a VLO.  

Concepts for a VLO came from observing real companies having outstanding operations. Real people can form a VLO. Real people have practiced elements of Compression Thinking too, but so far as is known, not integrated into a “philosophy.”

See Yourself as Part of Nature

An overarching theme of Compression Thinking is sensing that you are part of Earth, and it part of you. Indigenous people survived for millennia on that core belief. Surely people with advanced technology can support a much higher population on earth and keep human systems in balance with nature. 

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