Untangling: What comes first, economical concept or capability?

An innocent looking question with far reaching consequences. 

The question comprises two parts. ‘What comes first’ brings up what is most important (salient) to people in work they do with others in an organisation. The second part brings up the relationship and dependency between an economical concept and a capability.

The answer is that economical concepts come first and are primary for people in-front of the model theoretical curtain. Without knowing what Customer Retention is and that it is important, a retain customer capability cannot be described. Keep reading to find out why. 

The untangling series starts here: The wonderfully convoluted worlds of Capabilities, Processes and Services

It is easy to talk about capabilities as if they exist in their own right and we can touch them. The capability language used feels remarkably similar to other languages used in daily work. Lets’s look at the sentence: “If we are not capable to set the right price then we are in trouble” and break it up into key parts.

This short example reveals something important. A capability cannot be identified and defined without the economical concept being defined first. This is same for  capabilities that relate to strategic, aspirational, economical, operational, processual, or functional concepts. A capability Is a dependent entity since it cannot be defined and exist unless the sources, possessor, and result entities exists as well.

This has serious impact on the development of capabilities and creation of capability maps. What the capability depends on should be defined first, otherwise a capability map may become unworkable and unacceptable. The also means that capabilities depend on underlying logic that link concepts together. This dependency may explain why many maps with functional capabilities looks similar to process maps.

Interesting questions to reflect on:

At the core of (business, operational, etc.) Interweaving is the recognition of what is most important (salient) to people in work they do. The primacy of strategic, aspirational, economical, operational, processual, and functional concepts needs to be recognised and considered early, before capability maps are created.

A well functioning capability map or capability architecture rely on being clear on strategic assumptions, hypothesis, and choices. Marketing & sales frameworks, and underlying logic all need to be well thought out and the directions ironed out. From there, capability models can be derived.

Maybe a company wants to differentiate themselves by focusing on Customer Retention and therefore need to be capable to Retain Customers.

The following influence logic originates from Evert Gummesson, the inventor of 30 relations in Total Relationship Marketing, and the paper “Exit Services Marketing – Enter Service Marketing”. Based on this kind of analysis, internal concepts and priorities can be developed as basis for desired capabilities.

This is one example of an underlying logic, but which logic should a company believe in to deliver above average rent or sustainable competitive advantage? A company take advice from research, their past experiences, guru’s, and management consultant, but in the end they survive on their on choices and logic.

2nd part - saliency

When working with capabilities it is vital to be clear on what is salient to people. What concerns them directly, are primary and what are technical, theoretical and secondary? It is easy to encounter model technical advice such as “you should have 2 levels of capabilities”, “business capabilities should not depend on different products.”,  or “it would be better to model it as a single abstract capability, then split into 2 or more sub-capabilities or assign it to different processes, products or business units”. Is it really such model theoretical concerns that matters the most to ordinary people? 

Is it more important for an analyst, architect or Interweaver to know and advocate meta models and theories such as …

From LEADing Practice

Or is it the product & services logic that advice and determine how to look at and define capabilities? 

More on saliency in coming articles.

The short Answer

Economical ideas and logics come first and are primary for people in-front of the model theoretical curtain.


/Anders W. Tell

/WorkEm Toolsmiths