Optimize For Learning…

Principles and Values: Secondary and Tertiary Principles

In the last post, I shared my primary principle: We want to thrive in a complex world. While I found this to be a great overall orienting principle, it is only an aspirational statement. As such, it is a few steps removed from actionable advice. 

Optimize For Learning

One effective way of making sense of a complex1 world so that we can act in it2 is to optimize for learning, my secondary principle. A complex world changes from moment to moment.  Taking appropriate actions in such a world requires constant learning. It may be beneficial to learn stable patterns or how things generally work. At the same time, we need to keep learning if those stable patterns we learned are now changing into different patterns. Learning never stops. How do we optimize for it?

Tertiary Principles

Effective communication, short feedback loops, systems awareness, and diversity of perspectives are the four tertiary principles that inform how I optimize for learning. 

I strive for effective communication because we’re in this together. As the primary principle states, for me to thrive, we must thrive. I believe we need to effectively communicate to coordinate between each other.

The speed/duration of feedback loops constrains how fast I can learn. The shorter the feedback loop, the faster I can learn if my actions had desired outcomes. The longer the feedback loop, the longer it takes to learn. If the feedback loop is too long, learning may not occur at all.

By systems awareness, I intend the need for understanding that we operate within multiple interacting systems which continually modify our constraints and actions available to us. My actions may have no consequence, some consequence, or vast cascading unforeseen consequences good, bad, or otherwise. I believe having this awareness facilitates learning and reduces the mystery of the world a bit.

Diversity of perspectives is needed for my learning to not get stuck in some local optimum. Each of us takes a different path through life. We are each on our very own epic journey. You all know things that I will never experience. If I am to make any claim of optimizing for learning, a diversity of experiences and perspectives is a must.

People Are the Ones Who Act

Because we are people, I believe it is important to always remember that people are the ones who act in the world. In the military, there is a saying: “people first, mission always”. It is far too easy to get stuck behind a facade of numbers on a spreadsheet and forget that there are people on the other side. Let’s never forget.3

What Do You Think?

Do these principles make sense to you? Am I missing a principle that I should include? Let me know in the comments.

Next Up

I’ll start the journey into elaborating on what I mean by complex: A Complex World.

1 I will elaborate on what I mean by complex in future posts.

2 Making sense of the world so we can act in it is a definition of sense-making, by Dave Snowden, “Trespassers W” (blog post, 28 Feb 2021), https://www.cognitive-edge.com/trespassers-w/ , accessed on 1 Mar 2021.

3 This is a reason why I dislike the term “resources” when applied to people. I borrow from the military vocabulary of personnel/materiel and always strive to distinguish people/personnel/staff from resources.



  1. Pingback: Onboarding to a Software Team: In Three Parts | No Motherships
  2. Pingback: We Want to Thrive in a Complex World | No Motherships

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