And We Just Keep Getting Fatter…

Its interesting to understand how the body handles sugars...

Obesity fascinates me as it carries with it a ton of social “tells” if you will about how things work within that “society” as in general “obesity” is not a [in general] a natural act. Yes you read that correctly as in nature how many “obese” animals do you see where man hasn’t lent a hand? Case in point is my back yard, as a couple months ago we had several [White tail] deer come in so the wife started feeding them. After she started so did then neighbors and so on, so now you guessed it we have chubby deer and not only a fact of the number of people feeding them, it’s more so “what” we are feeding them. As prior to dinning at the Campbell household, their staple food was “grass” which was low in caloric value and high in fiber [meaning it moved quickly through the gut further reducing caloric absorption], yet we have altered their diet feeding them shelled corn. Yes, we have introduced them to a high caloric low fiber diet which is costly so what have we also done? Well of course, tossed in a good round of carbohydrates too in the form of deer kibble further raising the caloric count!

Yet more so back to my main point as what got me on this was an Economist article titled “Fat is bad but beautiful” which discusses the rapid growth of obesity in South Africa. As even though the goes that 40% of its 50m people live off less than $2 a day, South Africa has become one of the world’s fattest countries. As an amazing Six out of ten (60% majority) South Africans are now clinically overweight or obese. Additionally a quarter of teenagers and one in six children under nine are too as the story starts out to tell us of the death of 250lb nine year old boy of heart failure. So how can a society which lives on $2 a day be obese you ask?

Well that in itself is the answer as the poor here are damned if they do and the same if they don’t. As yes fast food (including processed) is booming there because it is cheap and it is empty. What do I mean by empty, well in short nutritional value as what we’ve figured out how to do is chain together long form sugar to create carbohydrates which carry no “nutritional value”. So the question is why do this, simple its cheap in fact very cheap and that is one of the reasons the poor pay if you will as its either no food or well obesity. As the human body was not designed to take in the levels of [man made] carbohydrates which we provide to it today on top of we are far less active then our forefathers where so again as a whole society needs less calories today than in the past, yet today we have far more calories available to us than any time in our past. As its this shift in affluence and what it means to society that we will tackle tomorrow as we are what we eat, like it or not…

Seeing To Infinity and Beyond…

The ultimate Red Queen Race as the faster Opaka painted the more numbers he had to paint...

One of the things which I was going to say in the opening of this post was “I look forward to the obituary section of the Economist“, however no matter the number of times in my fretting over the words was it possible to convey the intent without sounding morbid or Goth about it if you will.  As death is a hard sewn fact of life as at some point in time we all will have to look it straight in the face at least once in our life.  However it’s not the concepts of mortality which we will be waxing about here, yet it’s the results of such [mortality] which has brought us to this discussion.

As this was the goal of a Franco-Pol artist by the name of Roman Opalka, as when he set off on his journey back in 1965.  His goal, or so it seemed at the time wasn’t about mortality either as what he intended to do is paint “infinity“.  Lofty a goal yes requiring the iron will of a monk sworn to silence for a lifetime is how he approached the self imposed task.  As when he first touched his number zero brush, yes the tiniest of brush of all the artist tools to canvas, he had committed himself as well as the entire rest of his life to a task.  As every day without fail, he repeated his obsession of touching that same brush to his work surface adding by one and saying the number aloud as if in homage to it.

Yet this was an impossible task, as in doing so infinity goes on forever, as to undertake this Opalka had to admit to his own mortality, in fact on that day [in 1965] he actually surrendered to it. From everyday there after he painted his numbers, yes it was the number one he painted in 1965, then two and so on for the next 46 years of his life without fail.    That is until he took his turn as we all do to stare down death in the face, as ironically this turns out to be the same as his numbers.  You see in 1965 Opalka started a stare down that he couldn’t win just as his stare down in 2011 with his own mortality as the faster he ran, the slower he moved just as in the Red Queen Race he was destine to lose.

Of all of this struck me hardest in reading Opalka’s obituary is the finality of the world yet the reality it’s packed with infinite possibilities.  How such a thing can exist as one has to ask as how can a mere mortal man who is privileged to walk this earth for only a blink of an eye really in the greater scheme of things even think to take on the task of capturing the forever fleetingness of infinity…

Work Expands to Fill the Time Available for Completion…

An interesting axiom which is heard a lot especially in beginning management course’s as it is typically meant to drive the distrust of the workforce in a new manager’s mind.  As by common nature all people are lazy (save for management of course) and therefore if you’re not on them every lick of the way, watching prodding and pushing.  They will surely take advantage of your good nature and trust.

Yes this was actually part of my rote introduction to the world of “management” that people were lazy and unless a stern eye is held on them at all times, you will find them at the water cooler or coffee house while their assigned tasks go undone.  So who came up with this phrase anyway, as are people really like this?

Well the overall concept of a “lazy” workforce harkens back to the start of the industrialized era, however the quote “work expands to fill the time available for completion” was coined by Cyril Northcote Parkinson a British civil servant as part of a humorous interjection in an Economist article published around 1955.  While this was a statement of the “obvious” it is yet profound in importance and has since become known as “Parkinson’s Law” after Cyril and was based upon his observations of the British Civil Service workforce.

Another interesting fact is Parkinson making these inferences was not speaking of the “working” or “blue-collar” class as alluded to in my first paragraph and in popular myth.  Instead he refers to management, yes you read that correctly, management as being the culprits as he goes on further to define two sub rules of the law, being:

(1) Officials want to multiply subordinates, not rivals

(2) Officials make work for each other

In short, Cyril put forward that another concept in that “bureaucracy is governor of business” in that the role of management (unchecked) is to create busy work.  How much busy work do you do in a day, that’s what I figured a lot and this becomes the “true” issue.

As once upon the time while working for a subsidiary of a very large company there was an economic down-turn and it was decided that unless you faced the customer you where gone.  So in short all support roles ended and guess what?  The business kept running and in fact without the busy work it ran better than before.  This was an eye opening experience for me as this was a clear example of what Cyril was getting at.  As bureaucracies had put in place bureaucracies of their own expanding the foot-print of the work without the corresponding added value.

As how many times in your day is it said “if we just had that report or filled this role to create that report our life would be better”?  Well I’m betting quite a bit because it’s a common fallacy in business today, as instead of pushing accountability.  We in turn are pushing excuses and deferral of problems rather than taking ownership and commanding control of the issues…

The World Markets Non-Zero Sum, Well…

All Systems Will Find Equilibrium

One of the things which tickle my fancy is when author’s write and say the world, activity or geography  isn’t “Zero Sum”, as the basic law of physic say matter cannot be created nor destroyed .  Well, in actuality it’s simply popular high school science slang for the “first Law of Thermodynamics” which states that the amount of energy in a closed system will not change.  In essence ENERGY can neither be “created” nor “destroyed”, however “energy” makes up matter but can exist in its own right.   So the amount of matter in the universe now is not necessarily the amount there was a second ago or a thousand years ago, however neither is the energy as they live in a symbiotic dance.

So when I read in the Economist: The red menace, reconsidered the author calls out “One reason for this is that innovation is not a zero-sum game. One company or country can benefit from the development and marketing of a clever invention, while the robust diffusion and adoption of such inventions can also benefit many others”.  This in a way makes me shutter as they clearly do not understand the concept and ramification of a zero-sum game, as the story based on the review of a new pop-culture business book from Adam Segal and published by W.W. Norton titled “Advantage: How American Innovation Can Overcome the Asian Challenge”.

As Segal in his work, discusses the rote reality of Asia educating a “physically” vast number of human minds to set them forth into a unified direction to drive innovation.  This concept is supported in the book by the quote “South Korea, China and India are pouring tens of billions of dollars into scientific fields that range from genomics to nanotechnology. They are producing staggering numbers of engineers and scientists, who in turn are publishing lots of papers and acquiring ever more patents”.  However to counter this, Segal also proposes that: “he [Segal] remains skeptical about the foundations of Asian innovation. He points to troubling evidence that challenges the quality of the many patents, papers and engineering degrees seen in India and China”.  Unfortunately Segal’s age may impede his points of reference as in my childhood, “made in Japan” was a joke for poor quality, however in adulthood (some 30 years later) “made in Japan” became a moniker for just the opposite as in providing high quality.

So as in the moment, Segal could be correct in his observation, however he is clearly missing the potential of what is coming down the road and the fact that once the “snowball” gains momentum there will be no stopping.  However the question is should it be stopped?  Also, people typically relate “Zero Sum” with having a “winner” and “loser” in simplistic terms is not far off, however culturally apply connotations to the words “winner & loser”.  Whereas in fact it’s really a study in the concepts of “equilibrium”, as in the world of physics we all remember the formula E=mc2 which in short says Energy = Mass.  As where ever man creates an inequity within the equilibrium of a system, it will seek to reset itself and does anyone need to be reminded of the mortgage debacle….

How Many Leaders Does A Company Need…

Without question we as working stiffs, all know the top dog in any company is the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) as they set the direction the rest of us follow right?  So when we look south of the “big chair” are we all a leader in some form or just another bunch of followers?

To answer this question many social & behavioral scientists have looked at the social dynamic of flocking or schooling animals to understand how at a high level, “group think

Shoaling the Future of Work

adds to their efficiency.  Here a recent article in The Economist titled “Follow My Leader” profiles the work of Dr. [Ian] Couzin’s of Princeton University who is studying the actions of shoaling* in schooling* fish by modeling their actions in a virtual setting and comparing this to the real world.

What he has found is interesting in that the larger the “shoal” the more efficient it is and that fewer leaders are needed.  In fact Dr Couzin found that adding leaders actually reduced the efficiency of the “shoal” by inducing confusion into the group.  This in itself is rather interesting as it explains a number of various dynamics, let’s take the explosion of manufacturing in China as a working example.

Here the rapid growth has been fueled by a “top down” culture of “do as I say” rather than that of cross collaboration found in the American and Western European cultures.  However it also fits the closest with Couzin’s model as the goal of the “shoaling” fish are to first “feed” and second “avoid predators” in order to re-feed** with the end goal of replication.  Note in this model there lacks the requirement for collaborative improvement of systems.

While there is likely a sub component of this to be found in the feeding “loop” it is reactive in nature only.  As if the food supply moves, the “shoal” will move as a “reaction” to the lack of food. As the “shoaling” fish are not collaborating to “out think” the food source as that is not their primary goal.

What does this explain about the current manufacturing environment and its future?  In simple terms, manufacturing unlike in the past operates at higher efficiencies if removed from the collaborative aspects of product creation as the flow down of collaborative aspects only serve to add what I refer to as “crowd confusion” as the typical plan, do, check, act is more of a rote hierarchical undertaking much like the reactive nature of the shoaling fish who move with the food rather than in advance of it.  In short, the ROI for collaboration is not returned to the system, when the goals of the system are well defined and not subject to conjecture***.

In retrospect this also matches with (Robin) Dunbar’s work around the “Dunbar Number” being 150 persons in a group means saying only one leader is needed for every “150 persons” as an optimal configuration.  In fact the Gortex ™ company will build a new manufacturing plant rather than expand staff when it reaches 150 persons at a site as this eliminates the need for middle management altogether.

While still in its early stages, Dr Couzin’s work promises to add new insights into the future of organizational efficiencies and without question is worth watching…

*Note: In biology, any group of fish that stay together for social reasons are said to be “shoaling” or a member of a “shoal” and if, in addition, the group is swimming in the same direction in a coordinated manner, they are said to be schooling. While different, these terms are sometimes used rather loosely and interchanged incorrectly.

**Note: The cycle must start with “feeding” as without that there would be no reason to avoid being fed upon and also worth noting a portion of the shoal will not avoid predators and therefore support the “feeding” as the start of the causal loop.

***Note: Fans of Darwin may argue if there is never a change in the system, then the system will likely die off as only the strong survive.  However in its most basic form this argument actually supports the counter as think of primordial man spending the time to “collaborate” the activity of fleeing a predator as the time spent would mean they would be eaten and not re-feed.  As collaboration in this case only has a positive ROI in the “feeding” sub-loop of the overall “feeding” phase.