By: Dan Genduso [visit website]
We need to re-imagine the world that we live in and become more agile as a society. The current architecture of society served its purpose, but its purpose was in the past, and that purpose no longer meets the needs of people today. We are bound by societal restrictions that were put in place long before any of us were alive…restrictions that met society’s needs at that point in time. Yet we allow our children and future generations, just as our parents allowed us, to be born into these restrictions…restrictions that dictate our entire life and the lives of those that follow in our footsteps.
Why do we insist on following this pattern? Why do we allow laws, political parties, or government operations that were written, established, or put into practice lifetimes ago to remain as roadblocks to societal progress? Does the existing operating model for servicing the needs of people even have a place in today’s society? What is the utility of this archaic foundation for public service at this exact point in time that makes it worth holding onto…worth keeping us from moving forward…worth keeping us from meeting our needs that actually exist today…needs that have moved beyond an ability to be serviced because this operating model cannot support them? When the founding fathers established the way our government operates, what needs did they have that match the needs we have today? Why are we letting ourselves be restricted to the scope that they put in place several centuries ago? It’s much easier to say what is different today than what is the same, yet we let that operating model dictate our lives.
Change happens when people’s needs change. As new needs start to surface, or as long-time needs go unfulfilled, those things remain needs for a reason. They remain needs because various solutions implemented throughout history were either short-term fixes, partial fixes, or, oftentimes, the wrong solutions altogether. If the tile flooring in your house starts to crack, your first thought might be to replace the tiles. You then pull up that section of flooring and notice that the concrete foundation underneath is cracking. However, you just want to fix the cracked tiles so that your home is more visually appealing when you look at it. So, you replace the tiles, and your floor looks perfect again…until a few years later when you notice the tiles are cracked again. Do you replace the tiles once again, or do you look at the root cause of the problem in the foundation? If you decide to replace the tiles again, your need for new tiles is just going to continually re-appear throughout your life.
When you look at the problems facing America today, or even the world, there are so many examples of these things that were put in place with an intention of solving societal problems. Does that mean they got everything right the first time? Did the scope of the problem they were solving for include all of the same use cases that exist today? Are there portions of that scope that are extinct today? Are there new needs today that were not a part of that original scope? If you combine all of the extinct parts with the new parts, you will start to see that the solution was simply a short-term fix, a partial fix, or a wrong solution altogether. Should we continue to replace broken tiles, or should we finally try and fix the foundation problem underneath those tiles?
When building technology, there is a term called “technical debt.” When an engineer decides to simply replace the floor tiles, the easy approach, rather than taking the best approach, which would be fixing the foundation, additional rework will eventually be required. The cost of that rework is the technical debt, and the more debt, the more difficult it is to make changes in the future. As more changes are added, the level of disorder, or entropy, starts to increase. The debt creates massive roadblocks in the code that requires huge workarounds and slow, timely fixes. The longer those fixes take to implement, the longer needs go unmet.
To fix this problem, engineers need to go in and remove all of that old code that is no longer a part of the actual technology solution, yet continues to slow things down and create massive roadblocks. Removing those things allows the technology to evolve in an agile way that can meet needs quickly. If those needs go away, that part of the code will become technical debt, which must be removed so the technology can continue evolving to meet needs that actually exist.
People live agile lives. Their needs are constantly evolving, and the more “societal debt” that we leave in the foundation of our laws and beliefs, the more roadblocks we create to limit our agile nature. We need to be just as focused on removing that societal debt as engineers are on removing technical debt. Otherwise, we will continually add short-term solutions that make the best solution even harder to achieve. As more short term solutions are added, the level of disorder in society…society’s entropy…will continue to increase. We are forcing ourselves to live in a closed-system by not taking a more agile approach to solving problems, and, the second law of thermodynamics tells us that the entropy cannot be reduced. It will only remain unchanged or increase from the disorder that you see today.
So, what can we do to become more agile in an attempt to first halt, and then reduce, the amount of disorder in today’s society, seen and made visible through terrorism, constant protests, and struggles for equality? We can start by trying to leverage technology to put more structure around the ways issues and needs are surfaced, addressed, and, hopefully, resolved. By re-purposing many of the same technologies that businesses are using today, but positioning them on top of person’s data instead of a business’s data, we can start to establish an agile, personalized structure for meeting the needs of agile people. People don’t live lives that mimic a waterfall project management approach, where you start one thing and don’t do anything else until that is completed. Imagine if you needed to go to a doctor for a checkup and you were unable to do anything else in your life between the time you decided to schedule an appointment and the time you went to the doctor. That is what a waterfall life would be like instead of an agile life.
But when people have needs, as in the kind of needs where they are not able to move forward and self-actualize until those needs are met, we are not seeing visible progress. We are lacking a tool to automate the management of needs. Businesses have them, which is how they are constantly A/B testing and automating to optimize operations and enable continued growth. People don’t have that luxury. And in its absence, we are not solving problems and removing roadblocks that enable people to meet these critical needs in a quick and evolving manner. Instead of having these solved in an agile way, where parts of the need are continually being met along the way until completion, the solutions for these needs tend to be solved using a waterfall method. A method that is taking generations to complete, and, in the end, we will find that the solution is not even going to meet the current day needs. It took too long. It will be meeting the needs that were scoped out a couple generations ago. And it will bring with it a lot of societal debt.
If you look at something like today’s political parties, it’s easy to see why so many people believe that a two party system isn’t working to meet their needs. How many people align fully with all of the issue positions within a single political party? Why is someone who is pro-life required to also support guns? Can someone be pro-gun but have a centrist view, where restrictions and limitations are perfectly acceptable? Why does it always have to be all or nothing? It seems like the vast majority of people are more towards the center, but requiring them to choose one political party, represented by these bundled issues at a platform level, is really only benefiting people on the extreme right or left ends of the spectrum. The political parties seem to be focusing on too many issues without proper prioritization based on what people actually need, the value of what is being delivered, and the level at which a solution can impact multiple issues. We shouldn’t always have to focus on only right wing issues or only left wing issues every 4–8 years, depending on who is president. The government is already slow enough to address those issues given the waterfall manner in which they are approached, and many of those issues never make enough progress before the focus is shifted to the other end of the spectrum. When that shift does happen, it often counters any of the progress that was previously made.
Can’t we just have people provide data on where they stand on various issues using a sliding scale, while also prioritizing the issues that they need addressed, to meet their current-day needs? Would we even need a political party anymore if we had the technology to display the agile, constantly-evolving “pulse” of the people on every issue, where the people decide what issues we are going to address rather than leaving that to a political party and politicians? The “platform” that our country could be governed by would be a rolled-up data visualization on people’s needs at the issue level, and as those things change over the years, the platform evolves with them. Politicians would be there to write the laws based on what that platform is saying, but it would be without the pressure and influence of political parties that have created a stalemate in government, which continues to grow at an alarming rate.
How would simply changing the issues that government is addressing allow issues to be resolved in a more efficient manner? It wouldn’t. Issues are a cluster of needs, and the individual needs that make up those issues are the things that we should be looking to meet. As each need is met, causing people with those needs to fall out of that issue cluster, the issue as a whole will start to show progress at the rolled up level. The progress at the issue level, measured by the amount of single needs that were met versus the amount of needs that remain, doesn’t have to be limited to just a single issue. There are many similar needs that exist in other issue clusters that can be met with the same solution. When the government implements a solution that meets needs across multiple issues, all of those needs disappear, similar to the way lines of blocks disappear in the game of Tetris. A block with the correct shape simply fills the remaining gaps across a row, or series of rows, and then gravity pulls the remaining blocks down, reducing the size of the block cluster. The more rows that you are able to complete, the smaller the growing structure of blocks becomes, enabling you to extend the game and continue playing.
By focusing on things at the need level instead of at the issue level, the government would be able to start working on solutions that start to remove several rows at a time, with the rows being a single need, and the gap in each row being the solution to that need. The government can start to deliver very specific solutions…solutions that are in the shape of the exact Tetris piece that is needed to complete multiple rows in the growing cluster of cubes that are rising up from the bottom, where each single block represents a different person, and each row represents a single need. Once that missing piece falls into place, filling the gap that is the solution to that need, that person’s block is removed from the cluster of cubes…cubes that are made up of single needs…single needs from a single person…a person who is part of a country…a country that is part of the world…a world that, regardless of our differences, also has shared issues…shared issues that roll up from needs…needs that cannot be solved fast enough at the country level without mass collaboration…collaboration based on the distribution of Tetris blocks…blocks that fill the gaps of issues that have grown to a massive, seemingly impossible need cluster…a cluster that is made up of cells…cells that may continually evolve and join new clusters…clusters that get smaller with the removal of single cells…single cells that roll up to a cluster…a cluster that rolls up to an issue…an issue that the whole world considers a Cancer.
If the aforementioned platform were designed in the proper way to allow for things to roll up to the issue levels, which we use to govern our country, then we could use that same platform to enable other critical government services that are in place to provide solutions to the same needs that are determining issues. The importance of those services will be determined by the needs that people have, measured by the size of the cluster for that need. Having that measurement will allow for proper budget allocations when it comes to funding those services, while also providing an overall measure of utility for those services. When services no longer have a utility assigned to them, they should be retired and replaced by new services that are needed to meet current day needs. Just like societal debt, this form of public service debt needs to be addressed so that our resources are not tied up solving needs of the past…needs that may have already been met by that service…needs that we no longer have to use resources to address when so many other needs are without resolution.
The platform wouldn’t have to be limited to simply determining demand. By starting with people’s needs, it can also be used to determine how those services operate and how people engage with each service. Unlike today, however, those services won’t need to be universal, one-size-fits-all solutions that are meant for mass distribution. Just as mass advertising was at one time a profitable and helpful method for companies to market their products, the ways in which these services are provided to the public were once effective in meeting the needs of the masses. However, as lives became more agile and things like the internet became an increasingly integral part of people’s lives, that type of mass advertising became less useful. The utility of that advertising method started to decline because people’s lives moved online, which meant they were engaging less and less with the places where that type of advertising existed, like TV, radio, and newspapers. The scope of mass advertising was determined by the options that existed when it was created. Mass advertising was restricted by the constraints of what those mediums could support.
As we evolved into a society that operates in an online world, the constraints on the types of advertising that businesses could use were lifted. When those constraints were removed, advertising had to be re-scoped. The way in which mass advertising is created and delivered is significantly different than the way that advertising could suddenly be created and delivered online. Mass advertising wasn’t enhanced to incorporate these things. A new form of digital adverting emerged, which required a different operating model and completely different technologies used for distribution of the advertisements. As businesses were able to see an increasing demand for digital advertising, a demand that signified a new need, those businesses started to shift their budget and attention to meet that need. At the same time, those businesses starting shifting budget away from mass advertising. That level of need was determined based on each individual person’s need, which was then matched with people of similar needs, and then rolled up into a report where businesses were able to make a decision based on total demand.
But businesses are able to do much more than simply determine total demand. Businesses are able to capture all kinds of data points for each individual user…data points that help them understand specific needs for individual customers, rather than a one-size-fits-all need for all customers. Single needs that, since they start at the individual level, can be rolled up to create clusters of people with that same need, which will then roll up at the cluster level to determine total need. And when a single person’s need changes, they simply move into a different cluster of customers that share that new need. By capturing this information at the need level, businesses are able to be as agile as the lives of the people that they are servicing.
Government has not evolved in the same way that businesses have to better meet the needs of people. When businesses realized that the scope for digital advertising was so drastically different than the mass advertising solution that had been in place, they didn’t take the approach of replacing cracked tiles. Instead, they changed the infrastructure problem, which fundamentally changed the way that society operates. While society has changed its operating model, many governmental services have not made the infrastructure changes to support society in that model. At best, government has replaced broken tiles over the years, but those tiles will just continue to break time after time until the infrastructure problem is fixed.
Once that infrastructure problem is fixed…once we are able to track individual people’s needs at the same level of granularity that businesses are capturing them today to enable digital marketing and optimize the way in which the company engages with its customers…then we can start to fix the tiles that lay on top of that data infrastructure…an infrastructure that, as a whole, is rolled up to represent society, but is made up of a cluster of individuals…individuals that are made up of a cluster of needs…a cluster of needs that can be broken down to a single need…a single need that will evolve throughout a person’s life, changing and joining new clusters in the process, disappearing once it has been met, and being replaced by a new need that did not exist when the original set of needs for that individual was scoped out and put into data form.
When that happens, we can re-imagine what governments looks like. Governments that finally have the infrastructure in place to meet the needs of a society that is living in an online, technology-driven, world. Governments that can deliver a personalized learning experience that meets every student’s needs through clustering at subject levels, proficiency levels, and medium preferences, among others. Governments that can help people earn a living without creating a new need for Universal Basic Income, as we transition from a world where businesses are relied upon to employ an entire nation, to a world where businesses are becoming only of a partial solution for employment needs. Governments that can provide personalized healthcare without incurring the massive operating costs that exist today…operating costs that exist because the foundation is still broken…a foundation that can support a society of individual needs…a government that can constantly evolve in a way that mimics the always-changing lives of the individuals that have those needs…needs that will eventually be replaced by needs that do not yet exist…needs that cluster together to make up an individual…a cluster that is different for each individual…a cluster of individuals that make up society…a society that can be broken down to individuals…a society that can be broken down to the needs that make up that individual…a society that starts with a single need of just one person…a person who has needs that only exist while they are living and then disappearing upon the completion of their life…a life that is navigated with APoll01.
Originally published at https://medium.com on September 19, 2018.