Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Windows vs. Apple

I was thinking about a conversation I had with Sud a while back about his Asus tablet.  He mentioned that one drawback was that Android apps aren't as stable, on average, as Apple apps are because of the variety of hardware they have to run on.  There's nothing new about this issue.  In fact, it's been a central point of contention between Mac and PC users almost from the beginning.  However, this morning was the first time I connected these different business models to our tight/loose distinction.

Apple has almost always retained tight control between its operating system and its hardware.  It had a very brief run in the 90s where it licensed its software to run on non-Apple made computers but it quickly reverted back to its standard model.  For years, this was a major bone of contention with investors and was often cited as a reason Apple never commanded much of a market share.  Yes, Apple computers were rock solid stable, at least compared to their PC counterparts.  Moreover, they had far more intuitive and aesthetically pleasing user interfaces.  However, the draconian control Apple exercised over its operating system left no room for outside innovation and it left its users with precious few choices.  A Mac computer would only work with an official Mac keyboard, mouse, monitor, etc.

Windows, on the other hand, went a completely different route.  They didn't bother with hardware at all, investing instead in an operating system and software that could run on as many different platforms as possible.  The operating system was butt ugly, far less intuitive to use and buggy as hell.  However, it was much cheaper to buy a PC and put up with those quirks than it was to buy an equivalent Mac.  Moreover, PCs gave users far more options for buying peripheral equipment.  Windows may not have been as innovative as Apple, nor as reliable, but Windows nevertheless commanded the lion's share of the PC market and threatened to bury Apple on more than one occasion.

Today, though, things are considerably different.  Windows still has a larger market share, but Apple has carved out a much bigger piece of that pie for itself.  The turnaround point seemed to come from Apple's entry into digital music and, later, into the phone business.  In fact, Apple trounced Windows in the MP3 player market.  From our perspective, it might be interesting to study why these niches provided an advantage for a tight organization like Apple as opposed to a loose organization like Windows.  At the same time, it might be useful for our theoretical work to explore how these forms of tightness and looseness compare to those we've been studying with religious groups.  I have a gnawing sense that there are important differences, but at the moment I can't unpack what these might be.  If they are equivalent, though, then it provides one of the few examples we've come across so far in which looseness has a significant competitive advantage over tightness.  This might help us shore up that part of our model.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Too Many Questions

On my way to CrossFit this afternoon my mind wandered back over the confused terrain of the concept map Ian and I tried to craft the other day.  Unfortunately, my thoughts started to settle into something coherent just as I got to the box so all I had time to record was a rather enigmatic text to Ian saying that I thought we were trying to squeeze too many questions into a single map.  It's many hours later and I'm not sure I can unpack everything that I was thinking at the time.  Nevertheless, I'd like to write something down before even more is lost.

In our concept map we were trying to fit theology, the tight loose distinction, environmental context, differential success and demographic variables.  Actually, we were trying to fit in even more, but these are the ones that stuck with me.  The paths of our attempted maps ended up going nowhere.  For instance, we might start by asking how theology supports, promotes or maintains tightness and looseness.  This, then, would be a causal chain, the end result of which would be two distinct kinds of groups.  These groups would, in turn, interact within their environmental context and some groups, by virtue of being either tight or loose, would be "more successful" than other groups.  This would be reflected in measurable demographic variables such as membership numbers, rates of growth or decline, amount of money sequestered, etc.

We'd draw something like this on the board and for the briefest moment it would all seem straightforward and clear.  However, these maps never held up to closer scrutiny.  We might recognize immediately that demographic variables also contribute to differential success.  For example, some groups are, on average, past reproductive age so any opportunities for bringing new bodies into the group must come from recruitment efforts.  This means that the measurable outputs are themselves contributing factors to the very phenomena we want to study.  Even worse, theology can drastically affect how a group feels about recruitment or how successful it might be in its endeavors in ways that are divorced from the way theology contributes to tightness or looseness.  If the outputs that we're proposing to use as a proxy for differential success are the result of multiple causal chains, how can we tease out the role of tightness and looseness?

And so we'd erase a new section of the chalkboard and start the whole process over again.

What occurred to me this afternoon was that at least part of the problem stems from trying to use a single concept map to answer several different questions.  Eventually, we might be able to do this, but at the moment I fear it's muddying the waters.  Our time might be better spent working out simpler maps.

For example, one of the first questions we've asked ourselves is, what are the environmental conditions that favor either group tightness or looseness?  Conceptually, this is a relatively clean question and one we're already addressing with our modeling project.  If the Templeton grant comes in and we are able to recruit an historian, we could bring a host of historical information to bear on this question as well.  In the meantime, we can survey or otherwise census local congregations for where they fall on the continuum between tight and loose, get their demographic information for some number of years so we know whether they're growing, declining or holding steady and, finally, look to see how individual members are faring.  In other words, we have a number of potential sources of data that can tell us how different groups are doing, or are likely to do, in different environmental contexts.  I haven't tried to sketch this out as a concept map, but I'm willing to bet it would be a lot cleaner than anything we left on the lab board so far.

But where does theology come in?  Well, it potentially comes in at a number of different places and we'd have to take up its role on a case by case basis.  Each case, though, would pose a different set of questions with potentially a different set of maps.  The one I'm working on right now is the role of theology in supporting, promoting and maintaining tightness and looseness.  Essentially, this is an exploration of proximate mechanisms and, as such, should probably be held apart from the question of differential success, which speaks more to ultimate causation.  Trying to mix the two, at least at this point, seems quixotic.  Although they are intimately related questions, they are nevertheless different and the metrics we use to assess one set of questions don't relate in a direct way to the metrics we use to assess the others.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Elusive Concept Map

I didn't get as much time to think about the concept map that Ian and I were working on earlier today as I had hoped. I thought perhaps I'd have some epiphany while helping Zack and Jenn move, but nothing magically came to mind.

That isn't to say, however, that I haven't given it any thought. What I've come up with so far is that we're either missing some key piece to the puzzle and/or we've become confused somewhere in our definitions and assumptions.

From what I recall of our conversation, we were trying figure out the connections between: our tight/loose conception of groups; theological constructs that support tightness and looseness; the environmental contexts in which these constructs play out; and how these all play parts in differential success of groups. Somewhere in all this we tried to squeeze in demographic variables, too.

It seems to me that we need to sort out a few things before we can hope to put all these pieces into place. For instance, how are we defining groups? Once defined, how narrowly or broadly are we going to conceptualize the environmental context in which groups operate? What exactly do we mean by differential success? I also wonder if Hodgson and Knudsen's framework might be useful to us here. Of course, it might not. After all, we started to approach the question of what the replicator in our map might be and rapidly changed the subject to whether or not the group was growing, shrinking or holding steady in terms of numbers of bodies. Nevertheless, bringing Hodgson and Knudsen's categories to the board might help us better understand our own. In addition to the replicator/interactor distinction, we might also want to consider things like how habits fit into the tight/loose distinction.

I don't know. These are just more or less random thoughts I wanted to get down before I fall asleep and forget them all. At this point I don't have any answers to the questions I'm raising. I just sense that we're missing something fundamental and I'm hopeful that looking at the whole mess from the ground up, piece by piece, might help us figure out why we're having such a hard time putting this all together.