This last paragraph caught my attention:

Karl Popper, the great philosopher of science, once divided the world into two categories: clocks and clouds. Clocks are neat, orderly systems that can be solved through reduction; clouds are an epistemic mess, “highly irregular, disorderly, and more or less unpredictable.” The mistake of modern science is to pretend that everything is a clock, which is why we get seduced again and again by the false promises of brain scanners and gene sequencers. We want to believe we will understand nature if we find the exact right tool to cut its joints. But that approach is doomed to failure. We live in a universe not of clocks but of clouds.1

Our businesses are mixtures of clocks and clouds, but it is often difficult to distinguish which parts are clouds and which parts are clocks.  The clocks are things that we can measure and control but clouds are things that we can only try to predict.

Confusion begins when we try to measure and control clouds as if they are clocks or we focus only on trying to control clocks without trying to predict and mange the clouds. Like Leher’s comment on science, it is also a mistake of modern business to try to pretend everything is a clock. While I am a strong proponent of using business analytics, such as simulation and optimization in project portfolio management tools, the analytical tools that we use should be able to manage data from both clocks and clouds. And when we’re using these tools, we should be ever mindful of the inherent uncertainty (cloudiness!) in the data and the resulting predictions. Business analyses should rarely be chiseled in stone. Too often, they are treated like they are.

Look around your business today. Where are your clocks? Where are your clouds?

1From “Lost In the Details – How breaking everything down into particles blinds scientists to the big picture.” By Jonah Lehrer, Wired, May 2010.

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