Friday, May 06, 2005


In many activities, there is a highly variable relationship between the quantity of input and the quantity of output.

For example, Naba Barkakati discusses the nonlinearity of creative endeavors, and argues for buffering as a form of decoupling or desynchronization. Buffering is a way to bridge between an internal world with variable levels of production, and an external world with "linear expectations".

Naba's point doesn't just apply to creative endeavours. It also applies to any activities involving other human beings, such as sales and marketing. On a day-to-day basis, there is no linear relationship between the input (quantity of sales effort, time) and the output (quantity of sales). So sales people (and sales organizations) build in exactly the kind of buffers Naba is talking about, to smooth away the visible peaks and troughs. This may include booking sales in the following period.

Buffers are also used to provide some smoothing between a fixed set of spending budgets, and a variable (and unpredictable) set of spending requirements.

But this mechanism has several negative effects.
  1. It makes it much harder to identify and execute system improvements. A writer may need more active support from an editor or publisher, but the buffers work as a defence mechanism,with the result that the writer doesn't get this support.
  2. The writer (the productive agent) carries more responsibility and takes a greater risk. This may increase the stress on the writer, who may be operating above his/her bearing limit.
  3. The attempted smoothing may be counter-productive, particularly if the buffers get larger and larger, resulting in a small number of major disappointments instead of more frequent minor disappointments.
In many contexts, buffering is regarded as borderline malfeasance. Senior management, investors and regulators can take a particularly dim view of buffering that misrepresents the true state of an operation.

So what's the answer? We may wish to implement various forms of loose coupling and asynchronicity, but this needs to be done within an appropriate governance framework, with shared attention to the economic and ethical behaviour of the whole system.

Technorati Tags:

No comments: