🌀🗞 The FLUX Review, Ep. 09

July 1st, 2021

Episode 09 — July 1st, 2021 — Available at read.fluxcollective.org/p/09

We’re a ragtag band of systems thinkers who have been dedicating our early mornings to finding new lenses to help you make sense of the complex world we live in. This newsletter is a collection of patterns we’ve noticed in recent weeks.

“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.”
— Gloria Steinem

📝 Editor’s note: Next week we’ll run a shorter holiday edition, since many of us will be taking off for the US’s July 4th holiday week.

🌘🌖 Process engineering and shadow processes

How do you get things done in an organization? There’s the official process: Do what this doc says. Apply this policy. Then there’s the real process: Who do you need to talk to to really get things done? What can you skip? What is critical to do but undocumented? 

This distinction is inevitable. The official process is a legible distillation of an organization’s embodied learnings. Like any attempt to make complex human processes legible, it will not capture everything.

Despite the inevitable incompleteness, having an official process can be incredibly powerful. For example, if an organization struggles to make timely decisions, writing a decision-making playbook can be a good investment. There will still be uncaptured subtleties, but the official process will make the big picture more coherent, easier for newcomers to understand, and perhaps even easier to evolve over time.

However, such official processes are only valuable when they reasonably approximate the real processes. If that playbook veers too far from what the organization is actually doing, it might become a source of friction. Suddenly shadow processes emerge to work around the official process. These shadow processes represent the actual animating forces of an organization and consequently tend to win. Eventually, the official process becomes a forgotten artifact that we occasionally remember — “Oh yeah! We do have one of those ‘playbooks’!” — but rarely use.

For those of us working within an official process, we are better off understanding the effect of the shadow processes rather than trying to eliminate them. Where do these shadow processes fill in the gaps in the official process? Where do they supplement it? And where do they outright contradict it?

Learning about the shadow processes that are at odds with the official process can be an opportunity to learn where the current process doesn’t work, an invitation to adapt the process to integrate them or make them unnecessary. Leave room for the shadows. They can guide you toward a more effective organization.

🛣️🚩 Signposts 

Clues that point to where our changing world might lead us.

🚏🥵 Ground temperatures hit 118 ºF (48 ºC) in the Arctic Circle

The ground temperature at the Siberian city of Verkhoyansk hit a blazing 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius) last week, thanks to air temperatures of 86 ºF (30 ºC). This led to worries that permafrost would melt, destabilizing buildings and infrastructure in the area — plus, the methane released from the melting permafrost might speed up climate change even more.

🚏🍟 Workers transformed an abandoned McDonald’s into a food bank

A McDonald’s restaurant in Marseilles, France shut down in 2019. When COVID-19 hit the next year, a team of volunteers and former employees turned the restaurant into an unofficial food bank, dubbed L’Après M, or The After M. The city government just purchased the building, making the food bank legal, and is thinking about long-term uses for it as a community center.

🚏👩🏻‍⚖️ Microsoft is growing its legal team by 20%, foreseeing a wave of regulation

Microsoft president Brad Smith announced that the company would be growing its legal and corporate affairs group by 20% in the coming year, with more growth to come in the next few years. Smith added, “This reflects a conclusion that this decade will bring expanded tech regulation around the world… As I sometimes put it inside the company, the 2020s will bring to tech what the 1930s brought to financial services.”

🚏💨 An atmospheric carbon dioxide removal plant is being planned for Scotland

A “direct air capture” facility that could remove one million metric tons of CO2 from the air every year (as much as 40 million trees could absorb) is in the works for Scotland. The proposed plant would suck in air with a fan, extract pure CO2 using a variety of chemical reactions, and pump the greenhouse gas deep under the seabed off the coast.

🚏🚗 Cars are selling for thousands of dollars above their sticker prices

The ongoing microchip shortage is reducing the supply of new cars rolling off the line, and as a result, both new and used cars are getting a lot more expensive. Many US auto dealers are charging thousands of dollars above their cars’ MSRPs, and even used cars have hit record-high prices. The latter trend has been exacerbated by the fact that rental car companies sold off cars last year to save money but now need to snap up used cars to refill their fleets.

🚏🎸 Fortnite is creating a bizarre party space to watch a virtual concert in

Fortnite’s stated goal is “to create the entertainment experience in the future,” and the latest concert experience sure sounds futuristic. Players’ characters traipse around surrealist deserts, fly on hoverboards over fever-dream-like city, party inside the corpse of a giant monster, and more, all while watching the band play on TVs scattered across this weird digital world.

🚏💸 A crypto “stablecoin” fell to $0.00 after getting hacked

SafeDollar is a cryptocurrency that tries to use decentralized finance (DeFi) algorithms to keep its price at exactly $1. But hackers recently exploited a glitch that let them mint an infinite number of SafeDollar ($SDO) coins, stealing $250,000 worth of coins and sending the coin’s price plummeting to $0.00. It’s not even the first DeFi stablecoin project to see such a collapse: the Iron project’s Titanium token fell over 99% after a hack earlier this month.

📖⏳ Worth your time

Some especially insightful pieces we’ve read, watched, and listened to recently.

  • What Will Climate Feel Like in 60 Years? (Univ. of Maryland Center) — An interactive map that shows what American cities’ climates might be like in 2080: New York will feel like modern-day Arkansas, Denver will feel like today’s Texas, San Francisco will feel like today’s Los Angeles, LA will feel like the southern tip of Baja California, and so on.

  • Stack-Ranking is a Destructive Employee Practice (Evonomics) — Examines why teams that try to maximize their amount of individual talent often underperform, using a star-studded European football team as a case study.

  • What Research Says About How to Make Hybrid Work Succeed (Charter) — An economics professor argues that hybrid work could actually be a “sweet spot” if done right: with all meetings clustered into days when everyone’s in the office, and with WFH days reserved for focus time.

  • The Intelligent Forest (Noema) — An ecologist explores how and why unrelated species in a forest share resources and rely on each other, then muses on how this collaboration hints at a deep intelligence within ecosystems.

  • Why Americans Are Dying From Despair (New Yorker) — Atul Gawande unpacks the underlying economic factors, including precarious employment and the structure of the American healthcare system, that are driving the rise in suicide and alcohol-related deaths among white Americans without a college degree.

  • Our New Postracial Myth (The Atlantic) — Ibram X. Kendi argues that America is all too eager to declare victory over racism, instead chalking persistent racial inequities up to class and education, then concludes that “the postracial idea is the most sophisticated racist idea ever produced.”

  • How Did Neanderthals and Other Ancient Humans Learn to Count? (Nature) — Examines new evidence that ancient humans started using numbers tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought, and digs into the debate about how this numeracy developed and whether it’s an innate human ability or a product of cultural evolution.

🌀🖋 More from FLUXers

Highlighting independent publications from FLUX contributors.

The Surprisingly Nuanced Morality Around Privacy Technologies by FLUX’s Stefano Mazzocchi is a nuanced, insightful story about how the US Census Bureau deployed differential privacy techniques for the 2020 Census. Stefano intuitively describes the value of differential privacy, introduces the concept of “epsilon,” and discusses the real-world consequences that need to be considered before choosing an epsilon value.

📚🌲 Book for your shelf

An evergreen book that will help you dip your toes into systems thinking.

Given the approaching holiday weekend, we’re turning to something lighter this week: we recommend A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016, 462 pages).

A Gentleman in Moscow, while not explicitly about systems, is a lighthearted exploration of how we interact with the outcomes systems produce. It chronicles the fall of a fictional count from his aristocratic life to a life of house arrest in a small room in a grand hotel named the Metropol. The count’s ability to interact with various systems that surround his time at the Metropol and adeptly navigate them to his advantage makes for a delightful and engaging story. Given the year-plus much of humanity has spent in pandemic-induced “house arrest,” this novel is an uplifting reminder of how to make the most of a difficult situation. 

🕵️‍♀️📆 Lens of the week

Introducing new ways to see the world and new tools to add to your mental arsenal.

This week’s lens: Unknown Unknowns.

Popularized (or made undeservedly infamous) by Donald Rumsfeld’s speech, this lens provides a way to draw distinctions between the kinds of knowledge we might have in a given situation.

This lens separates our tacit understanding of something from our conscious awareness of this understanding. For example, we both know that “2+2=4” and we’re aware of knowing that, so it’s a known known

Things that we know that we don’t know are the known unknowns. We can then often turn these into known knowns by learning more about them, such as learning the name of an unfamiliar street. 

The unknown unknowns are the things that are most hidden from us: these are things that we don’t know and aren’t aware of not knowing. We must first encounter these, recognizing that there’s something there, before we can turn them into known unknowns. Emergence, polarities, and vertical development reside in the realm of unknown unknowns. 

Finally, the unknown knowns are the bits of knowledge we carry with us without being aware of them. For example, we might not be cognizant of beliefs about ourselves that hold us back from living our lives fully. We might do something because it works in practice but not understand why it works. 

When we find ourselves in complex situations, it might be worth doing a quick inventory of our knowledge using this lens, paying special attention to the lower quadrants — and looking for ways to increase our awareness to help us navigate them.

🔮📬 Postcard from the future

A short ‘what if’ piece of speculative fiction about a hypothetical future that could result from the forces changing our world.

// The Q4 2025 Annual Meeting for the Organization of American Social Clubs

Order, order! Okay folks, settle down — and to our remote friends, please be sure to mute. I’m happy to report that the Organization of American Social Clubs has reported its highest membership ever in 2025. Looking back, it’s been a crazy past five years. 

The physical isolation of the first 14 months of COVID during 2020/2021, combined with “Zoom fatigue,” led to a massive wave of social isolation. When lockdowns started to ease in the middle of 2021, people surged out of their homes, thrilled to be in the presence of other people again. (Others have written extensively about the baby boom of 2022.)

And that’s what made the COVID Delta-variant lockdown in late 2021 so hard for many people. While only 3 months in length, the whiplash of going from attending baseball games and barbecues to sitting inside alone as the days got shorter and winter settled in hit a lot of folks hard. Which is why in mid-2022 we saw a massive surge of interest in social clubs. People wanted to socialize with others, and they would take any reason they could find to gather. Churches, reading groups, hiking clubs, model trains, guerilla pothole repair, it didn’t matter. People were hungry for connection. 

There was the inevitable surge of apps and technologies that the tech world built to try to capture this energy, but, much like crypto NFTs finally found sustainable value in commoditizing time with celebrities, the successful digital tools were the ones that built on a core existing value: groups that provided real social connection to their members.

Which brings us to today, in late 2025. We are thrilled that we can help people find that very precious thing, a shared bond with other people.