When Every Path is a Critical Path

You're probably familiar with the distinction between clock time and event time, which loosely corresponds to the chronos vs kairos distinction in classical Greek thought. Industrial work couples the two with disciplined, tight coordination or synchronization. Work is organized along multiple pathways of event time, and one of them, the critical path, drives the rest, via a coupling to clock time. This creates a single "event-time zone" for the shared work context (illustrated in the top left of the picture below). In industrial work, when the discipline is strong you get lean conditions and economies of scale and scope. When the discipline is weak, you get fat conditions and economies of variety. A shared sense of delays/slack/urgency collapses, and the single event-time zone frays into many. Industrial work is disciplined and lean by default ("normal") and sloppy and fat via deviance. It is a paradigm within which exploration and trial and error are pathologized as deviant behaviors, tolerated briefly at best.

Post-industrial work, because it centers exploration and trial and error as normal, and tight synchronization as deviant, flips the valuation. One really powerful way to think about this is that in true trial-and-error exploration regimes, every path is a critical path. This is illustrated in the main part of the picture below. Since you don't know what the eventual convergent goal might be, or indeed, whether there is even a single convergent goal beyond the fog, there can be no single critical path to rule the rest. Clock and event time are coupled differently. Each path's event time evolves independently, and convergence requires a very non-trivial "merge" operation. Between forks and merges, each local path segment maintains its own relationship with clock time. Concepts like being delayed or "late" only make sense when a single critical path creates a global event time. When there isn't one, merges are conflicts between little local realities that have their own sense of time.

Challenge of the week: describe the local event time around your work in one phrase (example, "long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer panic").

Send your entry via reply to this email. Please don't tweet it at me :)

Daniel Thomasan is the winner of last week's challenge. Results below the picture.

When every path is a critical path, creating a forest of time trees

In last week's newsletter, I challenged you to populate a 2x2 of meaning/economic inequality in an interesting way. I got 11 entries. The winner is Daniel Thomasan. His solution:

  • Low economic inequality, low meaning inequality: Asimov's Spacer worlds

  • Low economic inequality, high meaning inequality: Modern Scandinavian countries

  • High economic inequality, low meaning inequality: Feudalism

  • High economic inequality, high meaning inequality: Earth from 'Caves of Steel'

Runner-up: Tim Beiko for his clever crypto version:

  • Low economic inequality, low meaning inequality: blockchain devs

  • Low economic inequality, high meaning inequality: Twitter crypto commentators

  • High economic inequality, low meaning inequality: HODLers

  • High economic inequality, high meaning inequality: ICOs

Thanks to everybody who played! All entries get 1 point for playing. Daniel gets 3 points for winning, Tim gets 2 points as runner-up. I'll start maintaining a spreadsheet leaderboard if we can keep this game going.

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Check out the 20 Breaking Smart Season 1 essays for the deeper context behind this newsletter. If you're interested in bringing the Season 1 workshop to your organization, get in touch. You can follow me on Twitter @vgr

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