Efficient and sustained improvement at scale requires a strategy based on science


Promise Theory (PT) is a theory of cooperation that includes a basic algebra of cooperation- a significant achievement. Here’s the link to the book, Thinking In Promises: Designing Systems for Cooperation.

PT has a couple of central tenets:

  • PT has several central tenets:Networks achieve linear scalability when individual agents in the network and are responsible for making promises, and then endeavoring to keep them. According to PT, only the agent responsible for an action can initiate a promise for that agent. Promises assigned to one agent by another are called ‘impositions.’
  • Promises are statements of intent, not guarantees.

Promise Theory is the basis of the Eight Open Patterns of Business Agility in general, and Leadership Invitation in particular. The Open Leadership network periodically offers a class in Promise Theory.

This video provides a brief introductory lesson in PT:


Authority duplication is an important aspect of improvement at scale


Authority and authorization is widely misunderstood, and understanding it is central to improvement at scale. So let’s address it directly.

We hold that authority is a conferred right to do specific work. This definition originated in the Group Relations Community. This definition means that authority is something that is conveyed from sender to receiver. So authority is the right to do specific work. This includes the super-important work of making decisions that affect others. Those who make or influence these decisions are part of the wider leadership system.

The idea that authority figures “transfer away” their decision rights when they authorize others to make decisions is somewhat in error. Here are a few important distinctions: 

1. Generally, authority is conferred or sent conditionally (not absolutely) and this means the sender is not giving up or losing anything at all, because

1a. Authority that is conferred may be revoked at any time by the sender (the authority figure)

2. When authority is conferred, what is conveyed is a copy of the original.

3. When this copy is sent, there is at least the potential for a “lossless,” high-resolution (digital-like) copy of that authority to be conveyed. A perfect copy.

This last point is an important one. When the 8 patterns of Open Business Agility are evident in the behavior of executive leadership, it is possible to convey “lossless copies” of authority from an executive sender to an operational receiver. 

This has huge implications for success at scale: if authorization can be conveyed as a lossless copy, it means that the receiver can represent the full intent of the executive leadership team in that domain or area of activity. This has the potential to greatly improve the speed and the duration of business-positive change at scale.


The book SYSTEMS THINKING by Jamshid Gharajedaghi discusses decision systems and introduces the concept of “duplication of power” in Chapter Three. This is an important book for executives who are leading change. Another important book that covers authority and authorization in some detail is the book INVITING LEADERSHIP by Daniel Mezick & Mark Sheffield.