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Posts Tagged ‘Samo Burja

“If you want to know what an institution does, watch it when it’s doing nothing”*…




Realizing an institution is near failure is a difficult epistemic problem. There are many outwardly visible pieces of institutions that do not reflect their actual health.

Before the collapse of financial institutions starting in 1929, naive observers were optimistic on the basis of soaring stock prices. Even after the Black Tuesday stock market crash, most observers expected a normal depression and recovery. Instead, the system continued to deteriorate, bank failures wiped out savings, the gold standard was abandoned internationally, and the Great Depression ensued.

Particularly in mature organizations, many automated systems handle tasks. Such systems can persist and even fulfill their function, while the institution as a whole is failing.The default is decay, maintenance of old abilities is difficult, and growth of new abilities is rare. One must look at what features of an institution indicate the current health of the core organization itself, while carefully distinguishing these from features reflective of past health and support from outside institutions.

From these signs, it’s possible to discover whether an institution has the ability to face new threats or is merely trudging through a slow process of decay. If an institution is unable to adapt to meet new challenges, it will lose again and again. Enduring defeat can only last for so long, no matter how large or well established the retreating organization. Eventually the inability to win dooms all institutions…

Samo Burja (@SamoBurja), from whom we’ve learned before, on the future of the social, political, commercial, and cultural organizations on which we depend: “Institutional Failure as Surprise.”

See also: “How Do You Know If You’re Living Through the Death of an Empire?” (Spoiler alert: it’s the little things…)

* P.J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores


As we think systemically, we might recall that it was on this date in 1912 that the RMS Titanic, a state-of-the-art steamship, set sail from Southampton on its maiden voyage, bound for New York City.  Four days later, after calls at Cherbourg in France and Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland, the “unsinkable” Titanic collided with the iceberg that sent it under in the North Atlantic, 375 miles south of Newfoundland.


RMS Titanic leaving Southampton




Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 10, 2020 at 1:01 am

“There is nothing new except what has been forgotten”*…




Many galaxies would fly apart if they had as much mass as estimates based on their visible signature suggest. Although some have posited alternative theories of gravitation to explain this discrepancy, most physicists now hypothesize the existence of mass-bearing particles that are not detectable through emitted radiation such as visible light. We call these particles dark matter, and it is estimated to compose about 85% of all matter in the observable universe.

In analyzing the functional institutions of our society, we are not able to see for ourselves most of the knowledge that created them. Knowledge of this sort includes trade secrets, tacit technical knowledge, private social networks, private intelligence-gathering operations, management and persuasive skill, cooperation and collusion among founders and their allies, and founders’ long-term plans for their institutions.¹

This knowledge has profound effects on the social landscape. We must understand it if we hope to understand society. We therefore must examine intellectual dark matter: knowledge we cannot see publicly, but whose existence we can infer because our institutions would fly apart if the knowledge we see were all there was.² Such intellectual dark matter rests at the foundations of our society, dwarfing in scope and importance the accessible, shareable, visible knowledge on which we normally focus.

There are many forms of intellectual dark matter, but the three principal ones are lost, proprietary, and tacit knowledge…

Knowledge that we can show exists, but cannot directly access, rests at the foundations of society and technology.  Samo Burja explains how– and why it matters: “Intellectual Dark Matter.”

* Marie Antoinette


As we contemplate comprehension, we might recall that it was on this date in 1587 that a group led by John White established the Roanoke Colony in what is now Dare County, North Carolina.  It was in fact the second colony there:  in 1585, 107 men had been left to establish a presence on Roanoke Island.  White and his crew were actually sailing to Chesapeake Bay, but stopped to check on the Roanoke group.  When they arrived, they found no one.  The master pilot of the expedition insisted that White and his crew of 115 men and women (re-)found the colony at Roanoke.

After years of difficulty, the group persuaded White to return to England to ask for help.  He did, but was delayed in returning by the on-going war with the Spanish, when he finally returned, in 1590, he found no trace of the colony–all inhabitants, including his grand-daughter, Virginia Dare, the first child born in Roanoke Colony, thus the first England child born in the New World, were gone, leaving behind a single word, “Croatoan,” carved on a tree.  It is believed that they attempted to migrate to Croatoan Island (near Cape Hatteras), and were absorbed into the Croatan tribe there.  In any case the story of the Lost Colony was born…  though it fact, it was the Colony Lost Again.

…one of the chiefe trees or postes at the right side of the entrance had the barke taken off, and 5. foote from the ground in fayre Capitall letters was grauen CROATOAN without any crosse or signe of distresse

-Richard Hakluyt, from his description of the deserted settlement at Roanoke Island, August 18, 1590;  Principal Navigations, Voyages of the English Nation, Vol. III, 1600

White at the tree



Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 22, 2019 at 1:01 am

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