8.1.2 Reward Boundaries

The six keys to understanding the limits of our control over a position and its rewards.

Art of War Quote: 

"You can fail to understand your position and meet opponents.
Then you will fail."

Sun Tzu's The Art of War 10:3:8

Perspective: 

"Well, everyone will come to that conclusion sooner or later; for there is a limit to the capacity of man to control events. You may call it Destiny. Another may call it Providence; and a third, God. Names do not matter. It is the humility that matters; the wonder and the sense of awe that matters." Atharva Veda

General Principle: 

Each new advance requires us to discover a new sets of boundaries.

Situation: 

Successful moves often lead to tragedy instead of rewards. Since we naturally compare a new position to other positions, especially our past position, the most successful our advance, the more difficulty we have in understanding those limits (1.3.1 Competitive Comparison). The further we come in a short period of time, the more likely we are to misunderstand the boundaries on any strategic position. Political and military history consists of many examples of this problem, called hubris by the ancient Greeks. Modern pop-stars and especially lottery winners also provide a wealth cautionary examples.

Opportunity: 

The boundary conditions on any position represents our span of control. A good understanding of the basic principles of strategy force us to realize that, no matter how great our resources, they are always limited (3.1.1 Resource Limitations). The most critical strategic resource is always information. Despite a flood of information, our information too is always limited (2.1.1 Information Limits]). Just as the wealth of information in the modern world has the "haystack effect" of making critical information harder to find, a wealth of resources of all kinds can be finding our limits more difficult. The challenge of too much information in a world flooded with communicationis is so serious that the Institute offers a whole series of free, public articles about it.

Key Methods: 

The following six keys explains how we must respect our limits in order to get rewardeds.

  1. All positions are defined primarily by their limits. It doesn't matter how far we advance our position. It doesn't matter how high we rise within an organization. It doesn't matter how much better our position is relative to the position of others around us. Our span of control is always limited (1.9.2 Span of Control).
  2. When one limit is removed, another previously hidden limit takes its place. We advance our position to remove a limit, but when one constraint is removed, there is always another. Influence and control flows through our position like water through a series of pipes with different capacities. When we expand the most constrained point, there is still a constraint somewhere in the system. That constraint only appears after the greater restraint is removed, so the destruction of one limit naturally seems to create another in its place (1.8.1 Creation and Destruction). 
  3. As we complete a move, we must gather information to quickly assess our limits. Understanding we have limits is different from know what those limits are. We can make mistakes both ways by either missing real limits or imagining false ones. The larger our advance, the less we know about our limits and the harder we must work at understanding those limits (2.2 Information Gathering).
  4. Learning about limits requires extending our contact network. All aspects of Sun Tzu's system are loops. In this case, the final claiming step of the Progress Cycle require us to go back to the first step. We need to turn to others to get perspective on our limits. In new positions, we must contact others who are more familiar with the territory than we are. New positions often required building entirely new networks (2.4 Contact Networks).
  5. It is safer to underestimate rather than over estimate our control. Underestimating our control means we cannot maximize our rewards, but overestimating our control can result in losing control. No matter how plentiful our resources seem, we are always relatively powerless compared to the large environment. When we rise to positions of "power," others may think that we control conditions, but we do not. We are usually better off limiting our own and other people's expectations about what we can control (5.0 Minimizing Mistakes).
  6. Increasing our control in one area often descreases our control in another. This is a natural result of our position existing at a balancing point of complementary opposites. We must adapt to the shift of these forces as we enter a new position, which will offer us a new set of opportunities and a new set of problems (3.2.3 Complementary Opposites).

Illustration: 

Whenever we get our heart's desire, we discover that it comes with a new set of limits, but let us illistrate with getting promoted to take over our bosses job.

  1. All positions are defined primarily by their limits. Before our promotion, we likely over-estimated what our boss could and couldn't decide, such as how much employees are paid.
  2. When one limit is removed, another previously hidden limit takes its place. As boss, we can theoretically set any pay we want for our people, but we are constrained by the need to be profitable. If we lose money, we won't keep our job. If we raise the pay of one person, we likely have to adjust the pay of everyone. We do not discover all these complications until we take over the job.
  3. As we complete a move, we must gather information to quickly assess our limits. As a new boss, we cannot exceed our authority but must live up to our responsibilities. We cannot afford to make decisions outside of our span of control because such decisions cannot be executed and we end up stepping on others' toes. However, we must make the ones we are responsible for making.
  4. Learning about limits requires extending our contact network. We should ask both our former boss and new superiors about our limits to our responsibilty and authority. However, as Sun Tzu teaches, this isn't enough. We must learn about our authority and responsibility for a broad array of people who see our situation from a perspective that our superiors cannot. 
  5. It is safer to underestimate rather than over estimate our control. As a boss, when we violate our boundaries of authority, the effects in damaging relationships are going to be more damaging and long-lasting that failing to initially recognize all our responsibilities. 
  6. Increasing our control in one area often descreases our control in another. As a boss, we have more ability to give other people orders, but we usually get less accurate and timely information as our employees tend to filter the information that gets to us.