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Requisite Agility is necessary to becoming edge-driven

  1. Digitalization is changing the balance-of-power between the supply-side and the demand-side of the economy, moving organizations towards having to deal with the multi-sided nature of clients’ demands.[1] Capturing value in this competitive environment depends on a demand-side ability to attend/align to the particular situation of each client and to wrapping any solutions around that client situation as it unfolds over time. This fundamentally changes the way organizations need to compete since they must both compete and collaborate around clients’ situations.[2]
  2. Capturing value on the demand-side means creating alignment and cohesion within clients’ situations better and more economically than the clients can themselves.[3] This means knowing a lot about how a client is itself trying to create value and where the gaps are in that client’s current approach to doing this.  This creates a new kind of challenge for the organization in which it must hold a dynamic balance between the effects created for each client and the sustainability of this kind of responsiveness. To be effects-driven, this balance must be held from its edges.[4]
  3. For an organization to be dynamically responsive, it must have the requisite agility to sustain concurrent networked collaborations at each one of its edges.[5] This requires an approach to organization that can sustain development across the whole range of its activities in a way that is itself aligned to its edges, platform architectures capable of supporting the resultant variety of value-creating responses,[6,7] and an approach to securing returns on investment that values impact on structural agility per se.[8] 
  4. To be edge-driven, individuals must be driven more by the outcomes they can secure for their clients than by any existing role definitions.  Doing as much as possible for the client without jeopardizing the sustainability of the organization means engaging critically with existing understandings, developing a ‘nose’ for the dilemmas faced by collaborations creating value for clients,[9] and pursuing learning that links the challenges their clients face to the challenges they themselves are prepared to face. [10,11]
  5. The way individuals take up these challenges within the context of an organization is subject to a three-way stretch between their investment in their own histories, the way their colleagues define what is in their interests, and the interests the organization’s clients have in the way value is created. The degree of cultural inertia of an organization is determined by the way these different valencies interact with each other.[12,13]  Changing their systemic balance is necessary to preventing maladaptation and to sustaining being edge-driven.[14]
  6. Under edge-driven competitive conditions, leadership must support a questioning of both the structures underlying the capabilities of the organization and of individuals’ valencies for how they support value-creation.[15]  For an organization to be dynamically responsive to its clients in a way that is sustainable, this means balancing the consistency of each response to a client’s situation by an interest in the client’s experience of the response’s value deficit, i.e., of its incompleteness.  Engendering leadership is leadership that enables this balance to be held in the pursuit of learning.[16]


[1] Boxer, P.J., Managing the Risks of Social Disruption: What Can We Learn from the Impact of Social Networking Software? Socioanalysis, 2013. 15: p. 32-44.

[2] Boxer, P. J. (2014). “Leading Organisations Without Boundaries: ‘Quantum’ Organisation and the Work of Making Meaning.” Organizational and Social Dynamics 14(1): 130-153.

[3] Boxer, P.J., et al. ‘Systems-of-Systems Engineering and the Pragmatics of Demand’. in Second International Systems Conference. 2008. Montreal, Que.: IEEE.

[4] Boxer, P. J. (2017). “On psychoanalysing organizations: why we need a third epoch.” Organizational and Social Dynamics 17(2): 259-266.

[5] Anderson, B. and P.J. Boxer, ‘Requisite Agility’. Eye on Integration, news@sei 2008, 2008.

[6] Boxer, P.J. and B. Cohen, ‘Why Critical Systems Need Help To Evolve’. Computer, 2010. 43(5): p. 56-63.

[7] Boxer, P.J. and R. Kazman, ‘Analyzing the Architectures of Software-Intensive Ecosystems’, in Managing Trade-Offs in Adaptable Software Architectures, I. Mistrik, et al., Editors. 2017, Elsevier: Maugan Kaufman: Burlington, Mass. p. 203-222.

[8] Boxer, P.J., The Architecture of Agility: Modeling the relation to Indirect Value within Ecosystems. 2012, Saarbrücken, Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing.

[9] Boxer, P.J., ‘Caring Beyond Reason: A question of ethics’. Socioanalysis, 2017. 19(December): p. 34-50.

[10] Boxer, P.J., ‘Working with ‘the irritation of doubt’: the place of metaphor’. Socioanalysis, 2018. 20: p. 27-50.

[11] Boxer, P.J., ‘Defences against innovation: the conservation of vagueness’, in Defences Against Anxiety: Explorations in a Paradigm, D. Armstrong and M. Rustin, Editors. 2014, Karnac: London. p. 70-87.

[12] Boxer, P.J., ‘Working with defences against innovation: the forensic challenge’. Organizational and Social Dynamics, 2017. 17(1): p. 89-110.

[13] Boxer, P.J., ‘Challenging impossibilities: using the plus-one process to explore leadership dilemmas’. Organizational & Social Dynamics, 2018. 19(1): p. 81-102.

[14] Boxer, P.J., ‘Betraying the citizen: social defences against innovation’. Organizational & Social Dynamics, 2015. 15(1): p. 1-19.

[15] Boxer, P.J. and R. Veryard, ‘Taking Governance to the Edge’. Microsoft Architect Journal, 2006: p.

[16] Boxer, P.J., ‘Vive la différence: when a choice is not about choosing’. Socioanalysis, 2020. 22: p. 1-27.

The impact of differences in context

by Charlie Alfred

by Charlie Alfred
Philip, To answer the question in your last blog on distinguishing the 3 asymmetries, the first test to see how clearly you are describing the issues would be for me to echo back my understanding of the three asymmetries (taken from the Governance article):

1. Isolate variations in technologies 

This asymmetry is fundamentally on the supplier side, although consumers may experience the result sometimes. For example:

  • PC manufacturers deal with different processors, memory chips, monitors, disk drives
  • Software developers deal with different databases, messaging systems, libraries, etc.

The result of this asymmetry might be invisible to the consumer (e.g. standardization of parts), or may show up as a quality difference in the product or service (e.g. auto X has a better stereo).

2. Isolate variations in business models
This asymmetry appears to straddle the supplier and consumer side. Each supplier in an industry chooses a business model that forms the basis for how they intend to complete. This business model choice will make the supplier more attractive to certain types of customers and less attractive to others.

  • Airlines: Southwest Airlines vs. United vs. Virgin Atlantic
  • Automotive: Honda vs. Mercedes vs. Hummer
  • Retailing: Wal-Mart vs. Macy’s vs. Home Depot

Consumers are affected by this asymmetry because they either must lock into a specific business model of their suppliers, or figure out an effective way to incorporate two or more (and know when it is best to use one instead of the other).

3. Isolate variations in context of use
This asymmetry predominantly affects the consumer side, as perceived value is a function of what the consumer does with the product or service. Not only can this asymmetry vary between consumers, it can also vary over time for the same consumer. For example, a person with a health club membership might use the facilities to:

  • workout to develop strength
  • workout to develop flexibility
  • workout to develop aerobic capability
  • exercise to lose weight
  • bring the kids to the swimming pool for recreation (and give mom a break)

I believe I got these right, and they are explained pretty clearly in your paper. However, I’m not sure that I understand how the SUV example is a good illustration of asymmetry #1. If I understand it correctly, I see this example as representing either asymmetries #2 and/or #3:

  • #2 Different SUV manufacturers clearly have different target markets and business models. For example, Land Rover and Jeep focus on off-road travel, while the Mercedes ML, BMW X3, and Acura MDX are targeted toward the urban luxury segment.
  • #3 Many SUV buyers select their vehicles anticipating a variety of uses, then end up discovering a few new ones after purchase. For example, someone might buy a Jeep for its off-road and towing capabilities, then get married and have kids and find value in the all-wheel drive and anti-lock braking safety features.

I think that the dynamic context-driven asymmetries are a very interesting concept. And I agree with you that the challenge of preparing for them is magnified by the difficulty of anticipating them. I’ve found with my own work on value models, that two things are absolutely essential:

  1. Very crisp, clear examples that illustrate the abstract concepts and make them real for other people. It looks like you are doing this pretty well. I really like the heart transplant, progressive disease, and investment management examples.
  2. A good description of the process that people might use to get to the endpoint. In my experience, a large percentage of people aren’t comfortable dealing with an abstract model. They need to see some sort of sequential process backing it up. I had trouble getting the value models ideas through to several bright engineers until I created an example (using a source code control system). Once that was in place, then the light bulbs began to come on at a faster rate.

I like your question about dealing with the third form of asymmetry (dynamic, context-driven). On the surface, this challenge seems daunting. A supplier wants to be prepared for whatever the consumers might need in whatever context they find themselves in. Given that the supplier’s preparedness is only going to be as good as what he is able to anticipate, this potentially has all of the earmarks of a Catch-22.

I believe that the path toward successfully addressing this challenge lies in modeling the contexts themselves. In other words, the typical reason that a consumer or supplier will be motivated to change their behavior is because something in their environment changed that alters their value experience. This includes understanding:

  • what forces drive certain contexts,
  • how and why the contexts change,
  • what the magnitude and direction of the change is,
  • how the changes impact the value models of the participants in the context.

Consider weather forecasting as an example. Changes in high and low barometric pressure, warm and cold frontal boundaries, air temperature, and relative humidity tend to trigger changes in weather. If these changes are serious enough and a blizzard is forecasted, I want to be sure that I have portable heaters, flashlights, and a few days supply of food and water. When faced with a serious storm, a strong desire for my family’s safety and my own helps predict my context-specific behavior. The same argument might be made for a person with a chronic and/or progressive disease, or a business whose market or competitors pose new challenges.

Abraham Maslow showed us that the basic forces that motivate people’s behavior are fairly straightforward and reasonably consistent across the population (at a high-level of abstraction). While the details start to fragment (i.e. not all people perceive safety or belonging the same way), two things are often true. First, these motivation drivers tend to have some consistency over time for an individual, and second, large numbers of individuals tend to think alike. My hypothesis is that differences in makeup from person to person has less of an impact on their wants and behavior than the differences in the context that they find themselves in.
Happy New Year
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