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[adaptation] [balance] [ceiling] [change] [crisis] [critical mass] [culture] [demand] [dialectic] [differentiation] [displacement] [leverage point] [maya] [meddle] [paradigm (shift)] [perestroika] [sea change] [tradition] [unresolved remnant] [wu wei]



A way of thinking about change involving two entities. Sometimes the changes to one entity are more obvious than the changes to the other entity.
System / 
Adaptation changes the system and/or the environment to improve the alignment or fit between them.
System / 
Adaptation changes the system and/or the innovation
  • the innovation assimilates itself to the system
  • the system accommodates the innovation

Hedonic adaptation refers to the way that adaptation influences - and is influenced by - the contours of pleasure in the system. This is the basis for an innovative approach to change management and technology change management, which is being pioneered by Veryard Projects.

Veryard Project Papers Technology Change Management

The Pleasure Principle

“People can adapt. But in the process of adapting, they destroy some other part of themselves. We are very adaptive, it is true. But we can also adapt to such an extent that we do ourselves harm. The process of adaptation has its costs.” [Christopher Alexander, The Timeless way of Building (New York, Oxford University Press, 1979) p 129]

“Many years ago, Sir Ronald Fisher noted that every biological system had to face the problem of present versus future, and that the future was always less certain than the present. To survive, a species had to do well today, but not so well that it didn’t allow for possible change tomorrow. His Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection said that the more adapted an organism was to present conditions, the less adaptable it tended to be to unknown future conditions. We can apply the theorem to individuals, small groups of people, large organizations, organizations of people and machines, and even complex systems of machinery, and can generalize it as follows: The better adapted you are, the less adaptable you tend to be.” [Gerald M. Weinberg, The Secrets of Consulting (New York, Dorset House Publishing, 1985) pp 29-30]


A normative mode of stability, in which the desirable (desired) elements of a system support one another in a "healthy" way.
Veryard Project Papers General Notes on Balance
Balancing the Elements of Consultancy


Something above your head, that limits access to what is above the ceiling.

A normal ceiling prevents you seeing what's above your head.

A glass ceiling allows you to see what's there - but you can't see what's stopping you reaching it.  Among other things, this term is used to denote practices that seem to prevent certain categories of employee - such as women or members of ethnic minorities - from reaching high office. These practices cannot be directly seen, but their existence is inferred (or alleged) from their apparent effects.

veryard project papers The Give and Take of Information
Internet Links the notion of strategic ceiling is taken from Philip Boxer - see papers at Boxer Research Ltd


change as path Going from a current state (AS-IS) to a desired state (TO-BE) - immediately, in a series of linear steps, or in a roundabout fashion.  This is a programmatic notion of change. more
change as maze Navigating a complex space, where each place or state gives you access to certain other places or states, and visibility of some further places or states not directly accessible.  This is a topological way of conceiving change.
change as landscape A hybrid of the first two notions - in which certain paths are "downhill" and others are "uphill". This leads to a hedonic approach to change, which also includes notions of pleasure and resistance.

Veryard Project Papers Demanding Change

16 Patterns of Change

Patterns for Managed Change

Business Change and Process Improvement (pdf)



A situation where normal (operational) behaviour is not possible or appropriate.
Veryard Project Papers Crisis Management

Critical Mass

The point where a process (like a chemical or nuclear reaction) becomes self-sustaining, generating more energy than it absorbs.  In other words, a defined threshold at which there is a qualitative change.

Critical mass involves not just a given size or quantity, but a given density of interaction between events. This either requires physical proximity or some form of network.

With a barbecue on a windy day, there is a stage where the matches keep blowing out, and you have to fuss over the charcoal with lighter fluid. Then the barbecue reaches a stage where it is going to stay alight, and you can leave it burning and go get the sausages.

People often refer to critical mass when they are describing or planning the take-up of new technologies. This is particularly relevant with network technologies, such as fax or email, where the value of the technology to one user depends on the number of other users. When plotting the graph of such technologies, there seems to be a point where the usage suddenly goes up exponentially - and this is supposedly where a critical mass is achieved.

Enough is as good as a feast - there may be enough sausages to go round - but that's not a critical mass. At some point in a commercial venture, one hopes, there will be enough sales to enough customers to cover the fixed costs (the "break-even" point), but that's not a critical mass either. To use the term "critical mass" merely as a synonym for a load is a sign of sloppy thinking. To repeat: critical mass is where quantity becomes quality.  (See also dialectic.)
veryard project papers component ecosystems (html)
component ecosystems (pdf)
Internet Links if you search for critical mass, you'll find lots of websites about bicycles and traffic:

There is also a pop group:

For more serious stuff, see the Critical Mass Energy Project

Primo Levi tells an anecdote of a barrel of sawdust that suddenly caught fire. He continues … “An apparently inert mass forgotten somewhere, in an attic, a cellar, or a dump, suddenly, under an almost always unknown stimulus, ‘remembered’ that it possessed energy, that it was out of balance with the environment, in short, that it was in the position of that billiard ball on the shelf. The contours of this fragile stability which chemists call metastability are ample. Included in them, besides all that which is alive, are also almost all organic substances, both natural and synthetic; and still other substances, all those that we see change their condition of a sudden, unexpectedly: a serene sky, but secretly saturated with vapour, which in a flash becomes clouded; a quiet stretch of water which below zero freezes in a few instants if a pebble is thrown into it. But the temptation is great to stretch the contours even further, to the point of enclosing in them our social behaviours, our tensions, all of today’s mankind, condemned and accustomed to living in the world in which everything seems stable and is not, in which awesome energies (I am not speaking only of the nuclear arsenals) sleep a light sleep. [Primo Levi, Other People’s Trades (Penguin: Michael Joseph, 1989) pp 98-99]


"Culture" is often merely an excuse for the failure of various projects and enterprises, including hard engineering. "We built the users a damn good system; the reason they didn't use it was cultural." Culture is what's left, once you've accounted for everything else. In other words, it's a synonym for gremlins.

The definition of "culture" is therefore negative and constantly shifting. It's not that … and it's not that either.


see also Requirement

A demand is a perverse kind of speech act. A demand is presented as a request for something, with the implication that the requester will be satisfied if the demand is met. But this implied commitment is rarely honoured. Instead, as soon as there is the slightest chance that the demand will be satisfied, the demand is at once escalated.

Veryard Projects coined the term Demanding Change to denote the recursive loop (vicious circle):

As a special case, we can identify the technological form Demanding Solutions: Techology Vendors are trying to enhance the ability of systems and services to respond to demand. This leads to notions of On-Demand Services, or the On-Demand Business
veryard project material Technology Change Management

Demanding Demand

On-Demand Services


According to his friend Engels, Marx's theory of change reflects three principles:


Differentiated service involves providing a different service according to the context. Ideally the interface remains the same, but with some variation in the content or quality or commercial terms of the service.

Differentiated security means subdividing the population into small differentiated clusters.  At the extreme, each individual belongs to a different class. This makes it much more difficult to scale or replicate attacks, since each cluster/individual has a different security profile and there should be no common weaknesses.

veryard project material Differentiated Services

Differentiated Security


"Displacement activity: inability to solve a hard problem causes frustration, which is vented by energetically solving an irrelevant but easier one."
[Ross Anderson, Security Engineering (Wiley, 2001), p 471]


Change can sometimes be regarded as a labyrinth. There are many logically possible ways to go, and you can glimpse some interesting paths, but only a limited number of them are accessible from where you are today.

The role of the consultant may be to help navigate the labyrinth, or to find ways of altering the topology of the labyrinth itself - reframing things so that they become possible (or no longer possible).

Security can be viewed in similar terms.

Veryard Project Papers Demanding Change

Demanding Security

Leverage Point

Donella Meadows writes: 'Folks who do systems analysis have a great belief in "leverage points." These are places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.'
Internet Links Places to Intervene in a System
Donella H. Meadows (Whole Earth Review, Winter 97)


Maya is an ancient Indian word (Sanskrit). It refers to the mistaken belief that a symbol is the same as the reality it represents, and that one's measurements are the thing that they measure.

Alfred Korzybski (founder of general semantics) called this “the illusion of mistaking the map for the territory”.

Maya can also be defined as the creation of form. It relates not only to the endless play of forms and the void from which it springs, but to the dangerous attachments people tend to develop in relation to their conceptual maps of the world.

Howard Rheingold, They have a word for it (Los Angeles, Jeremy P. Tarcher Inc, 1988)
(extract printed in Whole Earth Review No 57, Winter 1987)
Veryard Project Papers Fallacies and Illusions


Denotes a class of intervention into a complex system, condemned by Deming and other quality gurus.  Also called tampering or monkeying around. (See also Wu Wei).

A typical example of meddling is where a process is subject to statistical variation, and attempts are made to forcible reduce the variation, or to counter an increase in variation, without understanding the cause of the variation itself or the cause of the increase. Deming and his followers argue that such attempts are usually ineffectual, if not counter-productive.

Although there is a great deal of insight in Deming's argument, and many well-documented examples in the quality literature, it is difficult to be sure whether something counts as a meddle or not - it's a judgement based on a critical appreciation of both the system and the intervention. Meddling is what other people do. (Our interventions don't count as meddles because we understand stuff that other people don't understand.) 

veryard project material Reasoning about Systems (pdf)

Paradigm (Shift)

False paradigm shift is a common phenomenon in IT. We are always ready to announce a paradigm shift, to alter out jargon and notations, and to claim this gives us extraordinary new powers. But we do our damnedest to preserve our old thought patterns and working practices underneath the new facade.

It is as if an enlightenment scientist declared eager adherence to Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler and Newton, but continued to use Ptolomeic methods for calculating the positions of the stars, out of sheer habit.

Many of the so-called paradigm shifts are indeed no such thing. But in some cases, there are opportunities for radical shifts in thought patterns and working practices, which are resisted, or simply unavailable.

There are two complementary reasons for this. From the supply side, the new ideas are confusingly presented. There are some people who do understand how radical the new ideas are, but who choose to present them as safe increments to existing ideas, or as natural extensions to existing products. There are conflicts as to whether it is better to use new words for revised concepts, and which discipline should dominate the terminology. And there are many false gurus. From the user side, there are many pressures and temptations inhibiting change. The early adopters are impatient to get into the new area and are reluctant to think it carefully through; the late adopters will be reassured by the obvious lack of revolutionary change made by the early adopters.

Meanwhile, apparently working entirely independently from this phenomenon, the embodied experience of technology is changing. Gradually people (even IT people) get accustomed to GUI interfaces instead of 3270 screens. Gradually people start to experience the weirdness of the internet. Eventually a cognitive realignment takes place, and a genuine paradigm shift takes place, usually unannounced.

Perestroika, Perestroichik

Radical restructuring.

The agent of perestroika is known in Russian as a Perestroichik. (The original Perestroichik was of course Mikhail Sergeievich Gorbachev.)

Internet Links Party Plenum definition of Perestroika

Sea Change

“… suffer a sea change into something rich and strange …”

Shakespeare’s tempestual trope has become a popular but ill-thought-through cliché about change. What exactly is a sea change? Is it a change undergone by the sea itself, or by anything that comes into contact with the sea? Is it a surface fluctuation, a tidal alternation, or a radical transformation?

On the surface, the sea alternates between violent storms (The Tempest) and peaceful innocence. Tides ebb and flow. Molecules of water and ions of salt are sometimes tossed around but remain whole. Deeper and longer-term, oceans are largely unaffected by storms. Meanwhile, defences against the sea are broken apart, coastlines are redrawn, and objects exposed to salt water are quickly corroded; bright but lifeless metal, for example, is turned to a rich green. “These are pearls that were his eyes.”


New (or apparently new) things are often rhetorically contrasted with "traditional" ones. The advantages of the new are contrasted with the disadvantages of the "traditional".

Within software engineering, this rhetorical practice has itself become a tradition. New tools and methods are sold against an exaggerated baseline of incompetence, indiscipline, inefficiency and superstition. Hard-working professional software engineers rightly feel themselves maligned by this rhetoric.

veryard project material Traditional Business Relationships
Notes on Technical Progress

Unresolved Remnant

"The basic hypnotherapeutic rule of the unresolved remnant, which is just as valid for general psychotherapy, … states that one should never aim at the complete, total solution of a problem, but only at its improvement or lessening. … The effect of leaving an unresolved remnant is twofold: It lifts the whole idea of change out of the all-or-nothing utopia of either complete success or total failure, and it enables the patient to go, on his own, well beyond the change that the therapist seems to consider possible. The patient thus leaves treatment with a much greater confidence in his own capabilities and much less dependence on the crutches of therapy."
Paul Watzlawick, The Language of Change (New York, Basic Books, 1978) p 73

This is related to Gerry Weinberg’s principle, that a consultant should aim for 10% improvement.

Gerald M. Weinberg, The Secrets of Consulting (New York, Dorset House Publishing, 1985)

Wu Wei - No Monkeying Around

see Meddle

The concept of Wu Wei is central to Daoism (Taoism), and may be translated as NoAction or NonDoing, or as follows.
"Readiness to act the part in the phenomenal world assigned to man by time and his surroundings." Richard Woolheim
"Acting in accord with context." Douglas Flemons
"Taking no unnatural action, not produced from causes." Wing Tsit-Chan
"Practically speaking, it means without meddlesome, combative, or egotistical effort. It seems rather significant that the character Wei developed from the symbols for a clawing hand and a monkey, since the term Wu Wei means not going against the nature of things; no clever tampering; no Monkeying Around." Benjamin Hoff
The Tao of Pooh

The Daoist ideal of taking no action (wu wei) had a strong appeal to the Legalists, because if laws worked effectively at all times, there would be no need for any actual government.

veryard project papers Quality and Eastern Thought
Internet Links Tao Page
Jade Dragon
Hong Kong University

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