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Law of Limitations


A customer’s assessment of the quality of any organization is based on the best that customer has seen.  The customer does not know what is technically or organizationally feasible.

- Hutchins

Customers, as we already have learned, don’t accept a concept of limiting satisfaction of their needs.  On the other hand, one cannot infinitely use the same approach to improve this satisfaction.  Moreover, customers do not want the same improvement to be infinite: as Christensen [Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail.  Harvard Business Press, 1997] found out, as soon as improvement of one aspect achieves some satisfactory level, the customers begin anticipating improvement of another aspect.  Hence, every concept of improvement has limited lifespan, and inevitably should be replaced with different concept.  This conclusion is the essence of the Law of Limitations:

The conceptual paradigm of accomplishing the basic outcome in process of satisfying the customers’ need has limited potential for improvement, and should be replaced with different conceptual paradigm as soon as improvements approach this limit.


The potential for improvement is limited due to the following reasons:

  1. Any actual physicality used for accomplishment of the basic outcome has natural limits to its modifications;

  2. Use of any actual physicality in accomplishment of the basic outcome inevitably produces side effects, some of which grow to intolerable levels in process of improvements; and

  3. Customers accept only limited extent of improvements in accomplishment of the basic outcome, and aren’t willing to pay for extra improvements.


As soon as improvements of the basic outcome begin approaching one of these limits, it is a good time for replacing the physicality with another one, i.e. for changing the paradigm.

Law of Evolutionary Bottleneck


I always tried to turn every disaster into an opportunity.

- John D. Rockefeller, Jr.


The Law of Evolutionary Bottleneck states that


As soon as one outcome that should be accomplished to satisfy the need reaches its limit of improvement, it creates the Evolutionary Bottleneck that limits improvement of overall satisfaction of the need; the longer this Evolutionary Bottleneck remains unsolved, the more aggravated crisis the industry experiences; solution to Evolutionary Bottleneck creates the Breakthrough Opportunity and leads to further improvement of customers’ satisfaction.


A current paradigm when it is stretched to an inherent limit should be replaced with new paradigm.  This idea does not meet any objection, it is pretty obvious.  Then, why every paradigm shift creates a crisis?

The reason for such unreasonable course of events (pardon the pun) could be found, again, in fundamentals of human psychology.


Since every paradigm stays for years, decades, centuries, or even millennia, its realization involves army of experts. These experts take paradigm as a deep belief.  The only way to become an expert is to develop this belief to perfection and reject everything that contradicts this belief.  As long as current paradigm works fine, strengthening of such belief is OK.  But when a paradigm approaches its limitations and has to be replaced by another paradigm, this belief becomes wrong.

Let’s focus on the wording “another paradigm.”  New paradigm inevitably contradicts the experts’ beliefs.  Experts, accordingly, reject this paradigm and all facts that manifest its emergence, and become… the major culprit of industry crisis.


Wikipedia describes this phenomenon in the following way:


In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions and to irrationally avoid information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs.

The behavior of confirmation bias has sometimes been called “Tolstoy syndrome,” in reference to Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), who in 1897 wrote:


“I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabrics of their life.”


A related Tolstoy quote is:

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

The term “myside bias” was coined by the geneticist David Perkins, myside referring to “my” side of the issue under consideration. An important consequence of the myside bias is that many incorrect beliefs are slow to change and often become stronger even when evidence is presented which should weaken the belief. Generally, such irrational belief persistence results from according too much weight to evidence that accords with one's belief, and too little weight to evidence that does not. It can also result from the failure to search impartially for information.


Such myside bias of industry experts always results in prolongation of current paradigm far beyond its merits.  It becomes more and more difficult to improve the outcome that approaches its limits.  Finally, inability to further improve this outcome brings to halt improvements of other outcomes; the limitations to improvement of outcome create the Evolutionary Bottleneck.  Aggravating conflict between growth of customers’ expectations and inability of industry to deliver on these expectations brings industry into the crisis.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of industry experts – due to the same myside bias – further prolong the crisis by denying it or, when crisis is already way too evident, by attributing it to the culprits absolutely unrelated to the real ones, by denying the real Evolutionary Bottleneck.

The other reason of experts’ unwillingness to deal with real Evolutionary Bottleneck is as follows: more often than not, the outcome that limits improvements of entire satisfaction of the need is considered as an “industry Cinderella.”  For one or another reason, this outcome in boundaries of current paradigm gets minimum attention; while other outcomes are actively improved, this one just “follows” and “meets the requirements.”  The very idea of improving this outcome at expense of others is absolutely counterintuitive to the industry experts.


Continuous aggravation of crisis renders it more and more unsolvable from industry insiders’ viewpoint.  On the other hand, the more the crisis is aggravated, the more evident it becomes to the people who don’t identify themselves with outdated paradigm, whose knowledge is sufficient to do the job, but insufficient to create an insurmountable psychological barrier on the way to the new paradigm.  As Albert Einstein said, “Everybody knows a certain thing is unrealizable until somebody unaware of this comes and invents it.”  Those “unaware of this” turn the industry trend from current paradigm to the new one.  Resolved Evolutionary Bottleneck becomes a Breakthrough Opportunity.

Laws of Paradigm Shift | FutureMapping: Fundamentals | Law of Double Negative

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