Thinking Second-order Effects

đź’ˇ I was going to write a longer piece on this topic, but found this article to be helpful.

One of the key elements of being better in leadership, strategy, and organizational changes is being able to think and anticipate second-order effects.

When you want to roll out programs, systematic changes, (re)budgeting, headcount planning, introducing new processes, thinking beyond the first intended first-order, being able to navigate second-order effects will be critical in how successful those initiatives will be. Most outcomes will be lagging and have lasting/trickling effect throughout the organization, so the quality of the decision and the thoughtfulness matters a lot to save a lot of people’s time, effort, and pain.

Being a thoughtful individual is thinking about the delivery of messages and actions to be able to understand the perspective of and have empathy towards the recipient of the messages and actions.

Being a thoughtful leader is thinking not only about the delivery, but also being able to simulate and consider the trickling effect throughout the organization — what challenges does it bring to different teams’ goals and organizational systems, who will feel the increase in pressure, what does the message say to the other teams outside of your immediate org, who will feel more frustrated vs appreciated, and so forth.

So when you are thinking of introducing changes to your team or broader organization, especially one-way door decisions*, being able to plan and anticipate second-order effects will likely to be even more important than the first-order effects.

“We think about one-way doors, and two-way doors. A one-way door is a place with a decision if you walk through, and if you don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back. You can’t get back to the initial state. A two-way door, you can walk through and can see what you find, and if you don’t like it, you can walk right back through the door and return to the state that you had before. We think those two-way door decisions are reversible, and we want to encourage employees to make them. Why would we need anything more than the lightest weight approval process for those two-way doors?”

Amazon way (Quote Source)

Scaling Leadership through Two Management Frameworks

As an organization reaches certain scale, it is inevitable, at least due to the current limitation set by human interaction mechanisms (e.g. verbal communication, synchronous meetings, groups, hierarchies, physically independent) that there is a certain level of structure that needs to be put in place to manage the organization.

There is a few frameworks that can be useful when scaling the leadership. It’s local applications of the general management frameworks, so let’s explore how they can be relevant to scaling leadership.

1. Convergence <> Divergence framework

This framework demonstrates how to navigate within the horizontal layer (x-axis) of management.

As your organization scales, one thing you constantly run into is the overall increase in diversity within the organization. The proportion of diversity may increase or decrease, but the absolute number of diverse entity (in this case, employees) will simply increase as your headcount grows.

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Order and Chaos in a Company Culture

The society today upholds diversity as an absolute virtue. Diversity across educational backgrounds, race, ethnic group, gender, age is something we all pursue vigorously. It seems almost trivial to choose diversity over conformity or homogeneity in any discussion.

However, to put things into perspective, nature having evolved through millions, if not billions of years, may provide a slightly different view to this pro-diversity world. The balance and the timing of convergence and divergence play important roles in reaching the global optimum in any search space. The selection pressure from the environment acting as a converging force, offset by mutation from perturbation balancing as a diverging force are what make organisms so durable and adaptable to the ever-changing world we’re living in.

Continue reading “Order and Chaos in a Company Culture”