Strategic Thinking: Form, Content, and Context
Updated: Oct 1
This is about the difficulty of pinning down which strategic thinking is correct and which is not.
“If one kilo of rice costs one million pesos, then two kilos of rice costs two million pesos.” Everyone agrees.
Notice that while one agrees with this statement quoted, no one agrees that one kilo of rice costs one million pesos. As everyone observes, there is no store of any kind anywhere that sells one kilo of rice for one million pesos.
What everyone affirms in the statement quoted is the form of the statement taken apart from its content. The form, meaning the arithmetic involved. If one is to one, then two is to two.
The issue of form is not the same as the issue of content.
If I am going to Spain, then I will need a passport.
I am going to Spain.
Therefore, I will need a passport.
If I am going to eat, then I will need food.
I am going to eat.
Therefore, I will need food.
If I am going swimming, then I will be wet.
I am going swimming.
Therefore, I will be wet.
All of these arguments have the same form but not the same content. The first is about travel to Spain. The second is about eating. The third is about swimming.
When one communicates, three dimensions are involved with the medium of communication. The first is form. The second is content. The third is context — that which Croesus should have known.
Logos is the Greek term for “word.”
Apparently the Ancient Greeks have thought words are, somehow, names of forms — “forms” themselves being synonymous with “ideas.” Thus the derivative of the term “logos” which is “logoi,” meaning form. Ergo, logic being the study of forms.
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
The study of forms of arguments like this has led Aristotle to invent the discipline of logic. Nowadays, however, logic takes on a mathematical form. Thus, Mathematical Logic that is sometimes referred to as Modern Symbolic Logic — as distinguished from Aristotelian that is sometimes referred to as Classic Logic.
Similar to catching some fish and declaring the fish caught as either juvenile or adult, when one communicates, what is communicated can either as acceptable or not. That is how one considers which form, content or context is acceptable or not.
Form is measured in mathematical terms, ergo the expression “mathematical logic.”
Content is measured in terms of observation, meaning the use of one’s senses. This is the domain of science so far as generalisations are concerned.
The measure of context, unlike the other two dimensions already adumbrated, is not as easily pinned down.
One observes a table. Observed is that a pen is on the table. In addition, a phone is on the table. In addition, a laptop is on the table. More. The many truths about the table can be taken altogether as the whole truth about the table.
Part of the whole truth about the table is that it is in a room.
Observed of the room is that it has a ceiling fan. In addition, there is a swivel chair in the room. In addition, there is a person in the room. The many truths about the room can be taken altogether as the whole truth about the the room.
The whole truth about the table is part of the whole truth about the room. The whole truth about the room is part of the whole truth about Metro Manila. The whole truth about Metro Manila is part of the whole truth about the Philippines, the whole truth about the globe, the whole truth about our universe.
This works conversely.
What is indicated here is that nothing, whether some object, some event, or some generalisation, among others, can be taken in isolation. This leaves everyone with an infinite array of levels of emergence from which anyone can choose from by whatever standard. That is what context is all about.
The most that one can say about context is that there is some harmony or coherence that binds everything into some single unit. That is all of it.
This is the catch. What may be coherently “music” for some may be coherently “noise” for others.
More. Competing perspectives of individuals can, at times, become incommensurable. It can happen that the standard one uses to identify what is correct and what is not is internal to one's mental model in a way that comparison of the competing mental models themselves becomes untenable. This is what happens, for example, when it comes to the alternative geometries one can work with — Euclidean geometry being only one among many.
Strategic planning involves analysis of context. Analysis of context involves an infinite array of levels of emergence from which anyone can choose from by some standard. The trick involves how to identify the standard which which one chooses the standard — standard about standards.
Discoveries about our universe by science are made every now and then. This means invention of tools that can be used to better observe events take place every now and then. This means new data are generated and new perspectives are developed with which one can view old data.
What can be “true” at one time may not be “true” at another time. Ergo the use of the term “theory” rather than the term “truth” to refer to the principles of science. Thus, theories are expected either to be revised or rejected in favor of better theories as science develops, as time goes by. What this means is that even the standards of science are underdetermined.
With the infinite array of constantly changing perspectives to choose from, choice of which to use, one way of the other, becomes extremely difficult.
“If Croesus goes to war, he will destroy a great empire.” Croesus is happy thinking that he is about to destroy his adversary’s empire. Croesus goes to war and, in the process, he destroys his own empire.
Easy to illustrate when something goes wrong. That is not the issue, however. The issue is with what is anyone to measure the correct context with. So long as this issue is unresolved, strategic thinking is going to be both interesting as well as frustrating.