The choice after the event (post factum)

Card's author : Jean-Michel Cornu
Card's type of licence : Creative Commons BY-SA
Description : The strategies we use depend on how we feel problems and possible approaches to solve them 1. The adoption of a strategy has an impact on the moment when we are going to make choices.

First strategy: planning

One of the most frequent problem is rarity. Many things are rare: money, raw materials, workforce, etc. One of the possible approach tries to optimize our actions so we don't spoil the rare ressources and we become more efficient by making choices before the event "before the event". We talk here of planning. But to implement this strategy we need to be able to foresee the result of our choices. Huge progress have been achieved since the last three centuries in the field of forecasting and how to achieve it. First in the physical sciences with Newton, then in the humanities with e.g. Taylor's work on planning the work. This first strategy, still widely used today, is well suited to a constrained but predictable environment

Second strategy: negotiation

But in some cases, it is not always possible to predict and trying to plan can lead to an inefficient strategy. Henry Ford used to say: "People can choose any color for the Ford T, as long as it's black". But nowadays people choose in more diverse ways and it becomes difficult to make choices after the event.A second strategy was developed to treat poorly predictable situations where resources are scarce. It's negotiation. The choice is then made in the present. It is the case for example of market economy which understanding was widely developed 150 years ago. The biding of a price occurs during the negotiation between supply and demand.

There is great debate as to whether it is better to choose the planning or the market economy, not only within states but also in the functioning of communities or businesses. Is it better to predict or choose every moment according to a negotiation? The best strategy depends on the conditions in a given situation and it may be interesting to have a thorough knowledge of the different possible strategies to choose the most efficient for a given situation.

Third strategy: the choice after the event or post factum choice

So there is a conflict between strategies based or not on forecast. We can assume that there is one too between scarcity and abundance. In fact, there is a third strategy aiming to deal more specifically with the unpredictability encountered when working with individuals or in the field of innovation. This time the solution lies in abundance, or more precisely by developing an abundance of opportunities to enable to make the best possible choice after the event.

This approach is not so easy for us since we have long been used to treat rarity rather than abundance. While all of these strategies are used since the dawn of time, we only have 300 years of experience in the development of a science of forecasting founding planning and 150 years in our understanding of the market economy which has developed a society of permanent trading.
Regarding the approaches based on the abundance and unpredictability, our finer understanding is only a few decades old 2. This strategy requires abundance for choice. We believe instead that everything is rare. This is not always true. Sometimes we are "forced" to burn overproduction of tomatoes not to jeopardize our market strategy based on rarity and unpredictability... But in the context of information, abundance is more natural, because of a quality that economists call "non-rivalrous" : information given to someone is always available for those who provided it. Actually, the information "does not give itself"' but rather duplicates, leading to a multiplication and in certain case in an abundance of it. Abundance is not just a strategy to manage a situation where the best solution is not easily predictable, it has its own difficulties as scarcity, we must learn to manage the abundance even overabundance.

This particular strategy has been described in the late 1990s by Eric Raymond 3, by applying it specifically to free software, under the name of "law of Linus" 4: "Considering the numerous observers, all the bugs are obvious ''. In a more general framework, we can define the law as "Considering the numerous observers, all tracks applicable to a given problem are obvious ". It is particularly true if, instead of asking the question individually to a large number of people, we show to each all the tracks mentioned above. This allows to focus on those that have not yet been mentioned and therefore find ways that were never quoted at first.

The three strategies

Schéma sur la rareté et l'abondance

So we have three possibilities (if we omit the case of a situation that is both abundant and predictable which appears to be less of a problem or which otherwise can be approached by all strategies: planning, negotiation, choice after the event). Each corresponds to a particular context. Then planning scientific research, unpredictable by definition, is problematic. Similarly, using an after the event strategy to send a man on the Moon would mean sending as many manned rockets as possible hoping one would land safely ! Human life is rare and precious. A solution seizing abundance is surely not recommanded in this case...
The problem is that we often master a strategy or two at most. Thus, rather than choosing the best, we apply the one what we know. Even if we master the various strategies, it is not always easy to choose one. Many situations are partly predictable and unpredictable. They include some rare and some more abundant aspects.

For more information: The case of groups between 100 and 1000

Handling questions with a large group can be approached with a strategy of abundance. When the group consists of a number of members between a hundred and one or two thousand, we must use methods that take into account people who have a reactive attitude, not just those who are proactive. In this case, it is possible to apply the "law of Linus" and enjoy the abundance of views to "open possibilities" and discover a lot of approaches to a particular issue. This is especially true in the case of a group and not just a gathering of people who communicate with each other. It then becomes possible through exchanges between members, to find ways which nobody would have thought at first without hearing other members' ideas. If in addition we give the group an overview of the proposals already made, this allows everyone, from his own point of view, to identify new tracks not yet proposed. Step by step, individual contributions are increasingly influenced by those of others, and it often happens that new tracks are found which can not be attributed to only one contributor. This approach is the basis of "collective intelligence".
If a choice has to be made afterwards (and only afterwards) among all the solutions quoted, it can be facilitated because solutions coming afterwards are often more interesting than those found earlier and which are related to persons. Thus, when it is just about choosing among original ideas of members, each member is endeavoured to defend his idea not to lose face and if possible gain the esteem of the group.
But if the most interesting tracks can not be attributed exclusively to one of the contributors, then the question of choice really focuses on the identification of the solution (or better of the solutions). It does not prevent divergent advices but it simply avoids to focus the debate on the defense of "one's own" idea. Moreover, in many cases, it is not necessary to choose among all the tracks mentioned, but simply to maintain to present the diversity of possible approaches. This is the case for example with the collective construction of a guide showing how to set up a project. It is then not necessary to select a single solution. Instead, it is often more interesting to present several approaches from which the reader can choose according to his particular context.

Moreover, still in the case of groups between one hundred and one or two thousand members, the number of people taking a proactive role, let alone those involved in the coordination of the group is reduced: usually one or a few people. We are no longer in this case in the context of abundance and strategy "a posteriori" is not adapted to the coordination groups as it is for the work done by the group. Coordinating a large group between 100 and 1000 (unlike very large groups where the number of proactive persons itself is abundant) is forced and managers have less room for error. They must address planning or adaptation strategies at every moment to take into account the rarity of available coordination resources.

In brief

There are several strategies depending on the environment:
Planning: In a predictable situation where resources are rare, it is necessary to plan to optimize and not waste them;
Negotiation: when the resources are rare but when the situation is not predictable, the negotiation allows to make a choice in the present for lack of being able to make it in advance;
The choice after the event: when you can have an abundance of resources (large group, abundant information) but the situation is not predictable, then you'd better create an abundance of choices and choose after the event among all the possibilities;
Often we do not choose our strategy but use the one that we master, whatever the context. It is important to adapt to our environment to choose the best strategy.

Sometimes the situation can be predictable for some things and unpredictable for others, some resources may be abundant and other rare. In this case, we need to adapt and even juggle strategies.
For example, in a large group beyond a hundred people, it is possible, thanks to the sufficient number of members adopting a reactive role to bring out the maximum number of points of view and to choose after the event those that you want to keep: "given the high number of observers, all tracks applicable to a given problem are obvious". But if the group is smaller than one or two thousand people, the number of members who are proactive and a fortiori the number of people involved in the coordination group is low. Coordination of groups less than a few thousand must therefore use planning strategies and / or negotiation.

  • 1 These ideas were presented originally in CORNU, Jean-Michel and FONDATION INTERNET NOUVELLE GÉNÉRATION (eds.). L’abondance comme moyen d’information. In : CORNU, Jean-Michel and FONDATION INTERNET NOUVELLE GÉNÉRATION (eds.), Internet. Tome 2, services et usages de demain [online]. Paris, France : FING, Fondation internet nouvelle génération, 2003. Les Cahiers de l’Internet (Imprimé), ISSN 1635-849X, 3. Available from:
  • 2 Forecasting has become a science since Newtonian mechanics and negotiation since the development of economics with Adam Smith. Issues related to abundance and unpredictability have mainly been developed when all the components of the theory of complex systems started to be gathered in a coherent whole with the Palo Alto approaches or else with Edgar Morin.
  • 3 RAYMOND, Eric S. and YOUNG, Robert Maxwell. The cathedral and the bazaar: musings on linux and open source by an accidental revolutionary [online]. Sebastopol, Calif., Etats-Unis : O’Reilly, 2001. ISBN 0-596-00131-2. Available from:
  • 4 Loi de Linus. Wikipédia [online]. [Accessed 30 January 2014]. Available from:

Mot clé: #choix28