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A Level, B Level & C Level of Activity

This is taken from Doug Engelbart’s IMPROVING OUR ABILITY TO IMPROVE:  A CALL FOR INVESTMENT IN A NEW FUTURE http://dougengelbart.org/pubs/augment-133320.html

A Level 

A level activities are the organization’s primary activities, such as marketing, sales, accounting, research etc.  

B Level 

  • B level investments are predictable. 
  • B level investments have specific objectives and tend to proceed in a straight line from specification to final delivery. 
  • Typical approach is narrowing the problem in order to make it more tractable. 

C Level 

At the C level we are trying to understand how improvement really happens, so that we can improve our ability to improve.  

  • Different groups exploring different paths to the same goal constantly exchange information about what they are learning. 
  • The dialog between the people working toward pursuit of the goal is often just as important as the end result of the research. Often, it is what the team learns in the course of the exploration that ultimately opens up breakthrough results. 
  • Context is tremendously important, breakthroughs come from taking on an even bigger problem, moving up a level of abstraction, to look at the more general case. 

The teams working at the C-level are working in parallel, sharing information with each other, and also tying what they find to external factors and bigger problems. Put more simply, C-level work requires investment integration – a concerted effort to tie the pieces together.  

That is, by the way, the reason that the teams that I was leading at SRI were developing ways to connect information with hyperlinks, and doing this more than two decades before it was happening on the web. Hyperlinks were quite literally a critical part of our ability to keep track of what we were doing.  

Thinking back to our research at SRI leads me to another key feature of development work at the C level:  You have to apply what you discover. That is the way that you reach out and snatch a bit of the future and bring it back to the present:  You grab it and use it: Application of the knowledge that is gained, as a way of not only testing it, but also as a way to understand its nature and its ability to support improvement. 

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