Monday, November 30, 2009
As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather reserve their money than with their persons, the state is not far from its fall. When it is necessary to march out to war, they pay troops and stay at home . . . In a country that is truly free, the citizens do everything with their own arms and nothing by means of money; so far from paying to be exempted from their duties, they would even pay for the privilege of fulfilling them themselves. I am for taking the common view: I hold enforced labor to be less opposed to liberty than taxes.
Rousseau's robust notion of citizenship, and his wary view of markets, may seem distant from the assumptions of our day. We are inclined to view the state, with its binding laws and regulations, as the realm of force; and to see the market, with its voluntary exchanges, as the realm of freedom. Rousseau would say this has things backward - at least where civic goods are concerned.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
When you're dealing with numbers, see the people behind those numbers, and understand that they're just like you. You just happen to have a college degree and you could be very, very smart. But they might be smart in other ways that you aren't. And give people full credit for being who they are. It's so important to remember that.
And it starts with, "Hello, how are you?" and listening.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Instead, technology revolution is a fitful process ("Technology revolutions always take longer than predicted, but arrive faster than anticipated."). New technologies take time to be absorbed and diffused. We are a curious species; it is human nature to tinker, and experiment, test, and play. And most inventions improve with applications, adoption, and time. Therefore, most Jump Points occur well after the enthusiasm settles and the parade has passed.
In his book, Jump Point: Now Network Culture is Revolutionizing Business (2009), Hayes writes the following:
- The convergence of personal computing and communications has created a worldwide network that allows people to connect directly to each other without middlemen, brokers, or arbiters between them. This is a lousy time to be a middleman, broker, or arbiter.
- Consumers, overwhelmed by information overload, struggle to reconcile the many competing claims for their attention in daily life. This is a bad time to be an attention-stealing interruption advertiser.
- People don't want anyone dictating when they do something, buy something, or watching something. This is an unfortunate time to be in an inflexible or time bounded business.
- People don't want restrictions on how they use, enjoy, manipulate, store, or share their property. Trying to command and control information rights is a loosing proposition.
- Consumers are acutely aware of their power to change the equations, flip the ratios, and obliterate the old market rules. Provide mechanisms for customer influence and expression . . . or go home.
- People don't trust their governments, large corporations, or political parties; they have an inherent trust in one another and in authenticity. This is a dangerous time to be untrustworthy, shifty, or phony - especially if you are a large, established institution.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Historically, reading has been the most linear of activities. People of the Western world learn to read left to right, up to down. People in the East are taught to read right to left, down to up. Either way, from our earliest days forward we have been trained to process information sequentially, from start to finish, rudimentary to complex, from point A to B to C, and so on. Essentially, we have been taught to be linear thinkers.
Consider the ideas of Tom Hayes in Jump Point: How Network Culture is Revolutionizing Business (2008):
But our information world and format is no longer linear. It is increasingly marked by hyperlinks. Hyperlinks, or simply links, are navigational elements within electronic documents that take the user form one reference or document to another. The journey of discovery from one point to another one can take us in an infinite number of directions in pursuit of a train of thought or the right information. There is an element of discovery and serendipity to the use of links. You never know where the process of exploration will take you: you may be one click away from adventure.
Since the arrival of the hyperlinked Internet, people increasingly are becoming nonlinear thinkers. Our brains have been retrained to find information and process it differently that those of the hunt and peck, assembly-line, Dewey Decimal System past. Naturally, this reprogramming shapes and informs our communications, our work, and even our world view. Instead of drilling down a single path, Web users today are more likely to let the information lead where it will. And with an array of tools to make or “tag” their paths, we are prone to set ourselves free to stumble upon new things, new ideas, and never-before-imagined places. And, we are more likely to share our findings with others, as well as take counsel of our fellow travelers. The linear world of engineering was about “search” – the future world of nonlinear engineering will be about “discovery.”
And there are broader cultural implications to this nonlinearity as well, such as a greater acceptance of ambiguity and a tolerance for failure. The social acceptance of experimentation and failure, as well as a belief in redemption after failure. That mindset comes from a core belief that trial and error – discovery – is important, and that trying is more important than dreaming. This is nonlinear thinking at work. The message for engineering – the coming market will not punish you for experimenting and failing; in fact, the opposite is true. New customers will reward your innovation and willingness to be nonlinear.
Jobs don’t just come to you. More often, you have to go to the job. Too many Americans resist that truth and instead wait for their dream jobs to come knocking at their door. They treat the idea of living in a certain city or state or country as an entitlement that they’re not willing to surrender.
As Empires go, we have become a stationary bunch. The British Empire, after all, was based on people trying to get away from Britain. For a long time the only universal was to be English - you had British citizens in places like Hong Kong, India, and Africa extending the influence of British commerce, international relations, and culture. They are a country open to the sea which takes you everywhere - and they took advantage of their opportunities. At heart, the English are an island people of international merchants, traders, travelers, buccaneers, and pirates - international spirits.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
We also consume the public space where many solutions to our problems rest – from health care reform to improvements in the education system to climate change. We blame others – leaders, institutions, political parties – the current paralysis is never the fault of the “Grasshopper Generation.” But think about it – the “Grasshopper Generation” has allowed money in politics to become so pervasive that lawmakers spend most of their time raising it and selling their souls. We allowed the gerrymandering of political districts. We consume the cable TV culture of shouting and segregation. We consume campaigns versus governing. We allowed a globalized business structure and culture to have no apparent home or local interests – which rarely speak out on health care reform, education problems or our financial health and future.
As Tom Friedman pointed out in The New York Times – the “Grasshopper Generation” comes up with the same answers – we need better leaders. But what is often painfully missed is that the first step in developing and finding better leaders is for the “Grasshopper Generation” to become better citizens. We have numerous problems and issues that will require thoughtful national debate and discussions – this collective conversation is the very heart of good citizenship. Health care reform is but one example – where 80% of our cost problems are probably in 20% of our population. Should we discuss the 85-year old grandmother with liver cancer who is in ICU at $10,000 per day - that we can keep alive three additional months for another $2,000,000? Is it a hard, painful, and emotional process and discussion? Is it the toxic blend and mixture of politics, medicine, religion, and economics? Yes - - but absolutely necessary – with the firm understanding that the first steps in this discussion starts as civil conversation among concerned and informed citizens.
The solutions to our problems will be painful and will require real sacrifice from all our citizenry. It will require the “Grasshopper Generation” to become better citizens – better educated, informed, willing to sacrifice, and thoughtful – with an orientation toward pragmatic and long term ideas and solutions. It may take 10 million people marching in Washington DC on a cold Saturday in March. Not as an angry mob in search of people and places to fix blame on, but as silent and concerned citizens who understand that this is our fault and our future. That all the solutions have the same path – taking more responsibility and becoming better citizens.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
According to The Economist – thinking about the crisis and potential solutions extends to the military. Students at National Defense University in Washington DC, were recently given a model of the economy and told to fix the budget. To get the federal debt down, they jacked up taxes and slashed spending. The economy promptly tanked, sending the debt to higher levels than before. The lesson: “You’ll never get re-elected and you do more harm than good,” concluded Eric Bee, an air force colonel who took part in the exercise.
The debt economy has no exceptions – everyone, from homeowners, private equity investors, our largest bankers – have taken on enormous amounts of debt. The sub-prime debt crisis highlights what Charles Dickens said about credit, “Credit is a system whereby a person who cannot pay gets another person who cannot pay to guarantee that he can pay.” Debt did not get dangerously out of scale because the system was broken. It got out of scale, in part, because the system worked.
As The New Yorker pointed out in the November 23, 2009 issue:
The government doesn’t make people go into debt, of course. It just nudges them in that direction. Individuals are able to write off all their mortgage interest, up to a million dollars, and companies can write off all the interest on their debt, but not things like dividend payments. This gives the system what economist calls a “debt bias.” It encourages people to make smaller down payments and to borrow more money than they otherwise would, and to tie up more of their wealth in housing than in other investments. Likewise, the system skews the decisions that companies make about how to fund themselves. Companies can raise money by reinvesting profits, raising equity (selling shares), or borrowing. But only when they borrow do they get the benefit of a “tax shield.” Jason Furman, of the National Economic Council, has estimated that tax breaks make corporate debt cheaper than corporate equity. So it’s not surprising that many companies prefer to pile on leverage.
“The lack of money is the root of all evil” – and using the tax code to formulate public policy (i.e., support development and home ownership) and modify economic behavior probably goes a long way in supporting Mr. Twain’s observation. The hurdles are both political and psychological – tax breaks have been around for a long time.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Modeling and decision science is a delicate balance of the core subject matter and material – combined and blended with deduction, insight, and inference. It is having the ability to recognize the difference between too simple and simply wrong. In the November 2009 issue of Harvard Business Review, Thomas Davenport outlines his thought on balancing decision tools with human intuition in the article entitled, “Make Better Decisions”:
Warn managers not to build into their business analytical models they don’t understand. This means, of course, that to be effective, managers must increasingly be numerate with analytics. At as the Yale economist Robert Shiller told the McKinsey Quarterly in April 2009, “You have to be a quantitative person if you’re managing a company. The quantitative details really matter.” Make assumptions clear. Every model has assumptions behind it, such as “Housing prices will continue to rise for the foreseeable future” or “Loan charge-off levels will remain similar to those of the past so years.” (Both these assumptions, of course, have recently been discredited.) Knowing what the assumptions are makes it possible to anticipate when models are no longer a guide to effective decisions.
Practice “model management,” which keeps track of the models being used within an organization and monitors how well they are working to analyze and predict selected variables. Capital One, an early adopter, has many analytical models in place to support marketing and operations. Finally, cultivate human backups. Automated decision systems are often used to replace human decision makers – but you lose those people at your peril. It takes an expert human being to revise decision criteria over time or know when an automated algorithm no longer works.
Monday, November 23, 2009
“Blood in the street” investing has come to the sleepy agricultural sector. Both increasing biofuel production and demand coupled with poor harvests in 2006 and 2007 illustrate the dangers and perils of food shortages and commodity hyperinflation – especially when the poor in the developing world spend between 50 and 80 percent of their income on food. But risk and danger always breed opportunity – investment banking firms like BlackRock and Goldman Sachs are showing increased interest in overseas agricultural development.
In the November 22, 2009 issue of The New York Times Magazine, in the article “Agro-Imperialism” – author Andrew Rice addresses what a Thomas Malthus like Year 2020 might look like:
“Beware of 2020 and beyond, because we think there could be genuine food shortages by that period,” Susan Payne, the chief executive of Emergency Asset Management, told the audience during a talk on Africa’s agricultural potential. She showed a series of slides citing chilling statistics: grain stocks are at their lowest levels in 60 years; there were food riots in 15 countries in 2008; global warming is turning arable land into desert; freshwater is dwindling and China is draining its reserves; and the really big problem that contributes to all the others – the world’s population is growing by 80 million hungry people a year. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that in order to feed the world’s projected population in 2050 – some nine billion people – agricultural production needs to increase by an annual average of one percent. The means adding around 23 million tons of cereals to the world’s food supply next year, a little less than the total production of Australia in 2008.
“Africa is the final frontier,” Payne told me after the conference. “It’s the one continent that remains relatively unexploited.” Emergent’s African Agricultural Land Fund, started last year, is investing several hundred million dollars into commercial farms around the continent. Africa may be known for decrepit infrastructure and corrupt governments – problems that are being steadily alleviated, Payne argues – but land and labor come so cheaply there that she calculates the risks are worthwhile.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Michael Porter is the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor of the Harvard Business School. Porter is one of the leading authorities on competitive strategy and competitiveness of nations and regions. His undergraduate degree is in aerospace engineering from Princeton University. In an October 30, 2008 BusinessWeek article entitled "Why America Needs an Economic Strategy," Porter writes the following:
We need a strategy supported by the majority to secure America's economic future. Yet Americans hear the same old divisive arguments. Republicans keep repeating simplistic free-market thinking, even though the absence of all regulation makes no sense. Self-reliance is preached as if no transitional safety net is needed. Some Republicans even argue passionately that the country should have no strategy because that would be "industrial policy." Yet the real issue is not picking industry winners and losers but improving the business environment for all American companies, something we cannot do with identifying our top priorities. Overall, Republicans seem to think business can thrive without healthy social conditions.
Democrats, meanwhile, keep talking as if they want to penalize investment and economic success. They defend unions obstructing change in areas like education, cling to cumbersome regulatory approaches, and resist ways to get litigation costs for business in line with other countries. Democrats equivocate on trade in an irreversibly global economy. They seem to think social programs can be achieved only at the expense of business.
To make America competitive, we have to get beyond this thinking. Political leaders, business leaders, and civil society must begin a respectful, fact-based dialogue about our challenges. We need to focus on competitive reality, not defending past policies.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
The study of networks is a relatively new discipline or, rather, multidiscipline. It is a hybrid science, combining, among other things, mathematics, physics, engineering, biology, sociology, and economics. At its core is an understanding that we are all connected to a vast network of life. Our natural ecology is a network, the human body is a network, and each of us is part of a social network of interdependent relationships.
The eight principles of the network from Jump Point: How Network Culture is Revolutionizing Business (2008) by author Tom Hayes are as follows:
- Networks are made of connected "nodes."
- Nodes connect directly to each other.
- Some nodes have more connections than others.
- The more connected a node is, the more valuable it is.
- Information in a network moves like a virus, from node node.
- Nodes spread information according to self-interest.
- Big networks contain smaller networks.
- Networks want to grow; the bigger, the better.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Life is a constant struggle and movement from the hypothetical to reality. It starts at the moment of birth with the understanding that anything and everything is hypothetically possible. Over a lifetime, the hypothetical gives way to reality. The seven-year old just starting to play baseball enjoys the hypothetical opportunity to play in the major leagues. For the vast majority, the reality of ability, interest, and circumstance changes one’s outlook from 100% hypothetical to 100% reality. Nothing is more hypothetical than birth and nothing is more real than death. What you end up with is a gradual movement from one to the other.
Engineering follows the same path, from the theory of the hypothetical to the reality of the practical. The first semester of engineering coursework is 100% hypothetical – mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, etc. – the hypothetical foundations of engineering. Gradually the coursework moves from the hypothetical to reality. The development of a practicing engineer parallels the same path – less hypothetical and more reality. Over a 60-year career, we should probably think more about this imbalance – where more reality is needed earlier and more hypothetical is needed later. This would especially be true in industries and fields with rapidly changing technology – where retraining and constant introduction of the hypothetical, theory, and new knowledge are critical drivers of success. Changing demographics may also dictate the need for additional “theory training” as the date with 100% reality gets pushed farther into the future.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
- What decision needs to be made?
- When does it have to be made?
- Who will decide?
- Who will need to be consulted prior to making the decision?
- Who will ratify or veto the decision?
- Who will need to be informed of the decision?
If good decision-making appears complicated, that is because it is and has been for a long time. Ideally, decision-making should occur in the middle ground, between reliance on technical knowledge on the one hand, and on the bruises one has received from having tried to implement and apply such knowledge on the other. To make a decision, if you can't find people with both qualities, you should aim to get the best possible mix of participants available. Ultimately, you are attempting to have the decision worked out and reached at the lowest competent level.
Monday, November 16, 2009
But the most telling and important information comes at the end of the article in which Faris notes:
Yet the secret to the Netherlands' success isn't the strength of its barriers. "It looks like science and engineering," says Piet Dircke, an urban-water-management consultant at Arcadis. "But the main lesson to learn from the Dutch is funding." The country is divided into water boards, elected bodies with the ability to levy taxes whose sole responsibility is to provide safety from the waves. First formed in the Middle Ages, the water boards are the country's oldest form of representational government and a major factor in its flood-proofing prowess. "The value of a dike is only seen when it fails, " says Huizinga [Vice Minister for Transport, Public Works and Water Management]. "The water boards mean that there is always the money to maintain them."
That's the significance of Dutch history for the talks in Copenhagen, where the allocation of adaptation funding for the poorest countries is shaping up to be a major point of contention. While the Netherlands can afford to keep its citizens dry, countries like Bangladesh - equally threatened by global warming - simply can't. The World Bank has estimated an annual cost to developing countries of $75 billion to $100 billion to adapt to rising sea levels. But rich countries have been reluctant to commit the funds. In the run up to the talks, the Dutch were among the first to stress the importance of adaption. They, more than anybody else, should know what that will take.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
He is the rare businessman with legitimate worldwide celebrity. (His quirks and predilections are such common knowledge that they were knowingly parodied on an episode of The Simpsons.) He pals around with U2's Bono. Consumers who have never picked up an annual report or even a business magazine gush about his design taste, his elegant retail stores, and his outside-the-box approach to advertising. ("Think different," indeed.) It's often noted that he's a showman, a born salesman, a magician who creates a famed reality-distortion field, a tyrannical perfectionist. It's totally accurate, of course, and the descriptions contribute to his legend.
During the same week, The Economist ran an article entitled "The Cult of the Faceless Boss." Bosses that keep their heads down - the faceless CEO versus the imperial boss. The current financial crisis has produced a wave of popular fury about over-paid executives and their unaccountable ways. In this sort of climate it is not just the paranoid, but the faceless, who survive.
But the article points out that "the best ambassadors for business are the outsized figures who changed the world and who feel no need to apologise for themselves or their calling. There is no long-term comparative advantage in being forgettable." As stated in the article:
Facelessness - or at least humility - is also the height of fashion among management consultants and business gurus. Corporate headhunters are helping firms find "humble" bosses. Jim Collins one of America's most popular gurus, argues that the best chief executives ae not flamboyant visionaries but "humble, self-effacing, diligent and resolute souls." Business journalists have taken to producing glowing profiles of self-effacing and self-denying bosses such as Haruka Nishimatsu, the boss of Japan Airlines, who travels to work on the bus and pays himself less than his pilots, and Mike Eskew, the former boss of UPS, who flew coach and shares an administrative assistant with three other people. I can only be a matter of time before somebody writes "The Management Secrets of Uriah Heep": "be umble, be ever so umble."
Yet there is surely a danger of taking all this too far. A low profile is no guarantee against corporate failure, as the former bosses of two companies lauded by Mr. Collins, Fannie Mae and Circuit City, can tell you. In general, the corporate world needs its flamboyant visionaries and raging egomaniacs rather more than its humble leaders and corporate civil servants. Think of the people who have shaped the modern business landscape, and "faceless" and "humble" are not the first two words that come to mind.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Fundamentally there are four basic types of organizational complexity. The first is the dysfunctional. Examples include the duplication of activities due to mergers or reorganizations, and ambiguous or conflicting duties. This type of complexity is simply bad. The second is designed. Complexity for the sake of competitive advantage. The supply-chain and mass-customization of Dell is an example. Complexity becomes part of the business plan. The third is inherent. The difficulty of getting the work done – like open heart surgery. The actual surgery requires time and high levels of skill, but is not complex. The logistics, planning, and insurance forms/processing – that is the complex part of the process. The fourth is imposed. Largely beyond the control of the company – events shaped by industry regulations, non-governmental organizations, and trade unions.
There are three basic strategies for dealing with complexity. The first is reduction. An example of reduction is to simplify the organizational structure to make accountability clear. Review job descriptions and job classification categories might be another. Outsourcing of non-strategic activities could also be considered.
The second is channeling complexity. Some people and groups deal better with complexity than others. You may want to direct certain activities and processes to certain people and groups. Strengthening the central planning function is an example. The central team can create templates to help the different operating units with their planning efforts and assist in preparing other materials for planning and budgeting discussions.
The third is absorbing complexity. Accept it and make it part of the business plan. Absorbing is broader and deeper than channeling – giving a much more widespread group of managers the skills and attitudes they need to work with complexity. What are needed are ambidextrous people that have the ability to keep the business ticking on a daily basis while looking for ways to expand it and improve it.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The Pacific Fleet’s area of responsibility encompasses about half the Earth’s surface, stretching from the waters off the West Coast of the U.S. to the western border of India and from Antarctica to the North Pole. There are few regions as culturally, socially, economically, and geopolitically diverse as the Asian-Pacific. The 36 nations that comprise the Asia-Pacific region are home to more than 50 percent of the world’s population, 3,000 different languages, several of the world’s largest militaries and five allies with the U.S through mutual defense. Walsh is in command of five aircraft carrier strike groups, 180 ships, 1,500 aircraft, and more than 100,000 sailors, Marines, and civilians.
Admiral Walsh is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He attended graduate studies in the International Relations curriculum at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, as part of the Admiral Arthur S. Moreau Scholarship Program. Walsh graduated first in his class and received a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy, entered the Doctorate Program with distinction and subsequently received a Ph.D. He is representative of the new breed of high ranking military leaders – like U.S. Central Commander, General David Petraeus, who is a graduate of the United States Military Academy with a master’s degree in public administration from Princeton University and a doctorate in international relations from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton.
Walsh is a naval aviator with the handle “Sponge.’ It was given to him early in his career by fellow officers because he absorbs all the extra jobs that no one wanted. The idea of “absorbing” is critical in the context of leadership. Leaders, like Walsh, must absorb a huge amount of information and insight with the goal of looking deep, focusing on the things that move and change. As Larry Page, co-founder of Google, has pointed out, “If you look at people who have high impact, they have pretty general knowledge. They don’t have a narrowly focused education.” Leaders that can absorb ideas in a holistic manner and across traditional boundaries and barriers. They have both horizontal and vertical thinking and absorption skill sets. Their absorption skills allow for thinking outside the conventional mode that results in a cognitive reframing of what is possible. Leaders like Walsh and Petraeus understand that the quality of any outcome depends on the quality of your strategic thinking. Absorptive leaders realize, “I use all the brains that I have, and all that I can borrow.” Absorptive leaders have an ability to get into listen-only mode - - where listening is about learning. Where absorptive listening never allows asking the usual questions. Both Walsh and Petraeus face an environment and world that is only revealed in quick glances – no sooner known and explained, the event has changed – the known way becomes an impasse. This results in a constant struggle for absorbing. The absorptive and strategic leader must consider all the options – not just the obvious ones – and to retain these in his or her mind. Absorptive leaders have a wide-ranging curiosity and willingness to embrace change combined with an intuitive ability to see and absorb a problem or issue in a larger context and a willingness to rejigger their organizations continually to grapple with ever shifting challenges and circumstances.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
In the world today, the most important thing is making people feel secure. We're in a moment when people don't want to take risks, they don't want to gamble. In my business, it you stop being creative and innovative, you're finished.
And so striking this balance, the equation works quite simply like this: To succeed at the high end of the movie business, you must be original and unique. Now if you were putting an equation up on the white board and you wrote "original + unique = what," the answer would have to be "risky." And if you said "risky = what," the answer would be "some failure." If you don't make failure acceptable, you can't have original and unique.
And so in a world that brutally punishes failure, we work so hard to provide for our 2,000 employees the understanding that they are expected to take risks. There will be misses, and it's O.K. We're prepared for it. They're not as good as hits, by the way. But we don't run the enterprise thinking that every simple thing will be a hit. It can't be. That's what I'd call a gravity-defier.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Satellite imaginary can reveal, with surprising precision, the properties of the soil, the quantity of crops being grown, and the levels in those crops of chlorophyll, various mineral, moisture, and other indicators of their quality. If recent forecast weather data are added to the mix, detailed maps can be produced indicating exactly how, where, and when crops would be grown. The service usually costs less than $5 per hectare for a handful of readings a year, and can increase yields by as much as 10%.
Such precision farming using satellite-based intelligence is in its infancy. Even so, it is catching on quickly. Five times a year, for example, a satellite-surveillance service provided by a cereal-growers’ co-operative called Sevepi (based in Dovains, France) e-mails its members a map of their fields, divided into three or four color-coded zones per hectare. For each zone, one of about 50 fertilizer formulas is recommended. On top of this, if the stems of the wheat are tall and rain is expected, an appropriate dose of growth-regulator is recommended for each zone (long fragile stems snap more easily in down pours). Farm vehicles equipped with GPS systems automatically mix and apply the prescribed dose to each area.
RapidEye, a German satellite operator, began selling data in March that will help forecast harvests. The company’s data, which cover both Europe and the Americas, break field productivity down into patches just five meters square. Inexpensive data on the productivity of land is valuable to governments, too. Insurance companies have also shown an interest in the technology – with the focus on studying satellite data with a view to selling crop-insurance policies to governments of countries that might be threatened by famine. Along with crop analysis, RapidEye sees the technology as being valuable in land cover analysis, change detection, infrastructure monitoring, feature identification, and risk management.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Saturday, November 7, 2009
"There are three kinds of scenes, one called the tragic, second the comic, third the satyric. Their decorations are different and unalike each other in scheme. Tragic scenes are delineated with columns, pediments, statues, and other objects suited to kings; comic scenes exhibit private dwellings with balconies and views representing rows of windows, after the manner of ordinary dwellings; satyric scenes are decorated with trees, caverns, mountains and other rustic objects delineated in landscape style."
Business theater can combine scenes from both the tragic and comic. As described by Andew Ross Sorkin in his book Too Big to Fail: The inside story of how Wall Street and Washington fought to save the financial system and themselves (2009) - - defrocked Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, John Thain, of Merrill Lynch preferred his business theater to look like the following:
Thain hired celebrity interior decorator Michael S. Smith (whose clients included Steven Spielberg and Dustin Hoffman) to renovate his office, the adjoining conference space, and the reception area, including repainting, carpentry, and electrical work. Thain didn't pay much attention to the details, focusing mainly on the fact that Smith had happily brought over his favorite desk from his old office at the NYSE. But Smith billed the firm $800,000 for his services and submitted an itemized list of goods that included an $87,000 area rug, a $68,000 credenza, and a $35,115 commode. The executives in the billing department who cut the checks, however, were so aghast at such profligacy that they made copies of the receipts, which they would later used against him.
Business theater at its best - set design by Vitruvius and a play of Shakespearean quality.
- Go easy with the atomizer; many people are highly allergic to perfume and cologne.
- If you bring a child, make sure etiquette is part of the experience. Children love learning new things.
- Unwrap all candies and cough drops before the concert begins.
- Make sure cell phones, beepers, and watch alarms are off. And don't jangle the bangles.
- The overture is part of the performance. Please cease talking at this point.
- Note to lovebirds: When you lean your heads together, you block the view of the person behind you. Leaning forward also blocks the view.
- Thou shalt not talk, or hum, or sing along, or beat time with a body part.
- Force yourself to wait for a pause or intermission before rifling through a purse, backpack, or shopping bag.
- Yes, the parking lot gets busy and public transportation is tricky, but leaving while the concert is in progress is discourteous.
- The old standby: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Augmented reality (AR) also might be an addition to the 2012 version of your phone. Augmented reality really starts with the understanding that virtual reality (VR) never quite lived up to the hype. What was always missing was a convincing sense of immersion. Virtual reality doesn’t feel like reality.
Rather than trying to create an entirely simulated environment, AR starts with reality itself and then augments it. Fundamentally you are overlaying digital information on top of the real world. Using a display, such as the screen of a mobile phone, you see a live view of the world around you – but with digital annotations, graphics, and other information superimposed upon it. The data can be as simple as the names of the mountains visible from a high peak, or the names of the buildings visible on a city skyline. At a historical site, AR could superimpose images showing how buildings used to look. On a busy street, AR could help you choose a restaurant: wave your phone around and read the reviews that pop up. In essence, AR provides a way to blend the wealth of data available online with the physical world - the bridge between real and virtual.
The driving technology behind some of this is the emergence of mobile phones equipped with GPS functions, tilt sensors, cameras, fast Internet connectivity, and crucially a digital compass. The combination of all these functional elements enables a handset to determine where it is, its orientation relative to the ground, and which direction it is being pointed in. The camera allows it to see the world, and the wireless Internet link allows it to retrieve information relating to its surroundings, which is combined with a live view from the camera and displayed on the screen.
A good example of AR can be viewed at - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b64_16K2e08
If in 2012, you still drop your mobile phone/computer/sensor assistant into the toilet - - Best Buy’s Geek Squad suggests a bowl of uncooked rice. First, take out the battery and memory card. Then, leave the back of the phone off so the rice can get into the small places. For best results, leave the phone under the rice for several hours. Then make sure all the rice is out of the cell phone. Next use a hair dryer on a cool setting to ensure there is no water left before putting the battery back in.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Of the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500, only 32 make things you can hold. The other 68 traffic mostly in ideas, not resource processing. Don’t get me wrong – there’s still a lot of money in commodities, but the highest profit margins are usually found where gray matter has been added to things. A few decades ago, the most value was in manufacturing. Then globalization rendered manufacturing a commodity, and the price fell. So the value moved to things that were not (yet) commodities, further away from hand-eye coordination and closer to brain-mouth coordination. Today’s knowledge workers are yesterday’s factory workers moving upstream in search of scarcity.
Chris Anderson, in his book Free: The Future of a Radical Price (2009) discusses this further with the following commentary:
These days that scarcity is what former U.S. labor secretary Robert Reich called “symbolic analysis,” the combination of knowledge, skills, and abstract thinking that defines an effective knowledge worker. The constant challenge is to figure out how best to divide labor between people and computers, and that line is always moving.
As computers are taught to do a human job (like stock trading), the price of that job drops close to zero, and the displaced humans either learn to do something more challenging or they don’t. The first group typically gets paid more than they used to and the second group gets paid less. The first is the opportunity that comes with industries moving toward abundance; the second is the cost. As a society, our job is to move toward abundance; the second is cost. As a society, our job is to try to make the first group bigger than the second.
Abundance thinking is not only discovering what will become cheaper, but also looking for what will become more valuable as a result of that shift, and moving to that. Its engine of growth, something we’ve been riding since even before David Ricardo defined the “comparative advantage” of one country over another in the eighteenth century. Yesterday’s abundance consisted of products from another country with more plentiful resources or cheaper labor. Today’s also consists of products from the land of silicon and glass threads.
Abundance wins and some engineers and engineering organizations will be losers. It is a zero-sum game – a participant’s grain is exactly balanced by losses of another participant. Abundance will always be on the winning side of the equation. As for engineering – we are like the wild salmon. We are in a constant struggle to keep moving upstream away from abundance and toward scarcity. This is fundamentally about the forced movement from the commoditization of abundance to the scarcity of new ideas, innovation, new attitudes about old problems, etc. The Brain-Mouth Era – where lifelong learning, multidisciplinary education, and constant re-training make for strong swimming salmon on the long and difficult journey upstream.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Take a small and simple bit of jargon - signage. To someone involved in, say, a city transportation department, that little word carries big meaning. It means the whole subject of signs: deciding where they go, how they should look, what they should say, ordering them, paying for them, installing them. A lay person might ask: Is that even a word? And the answer is yes. It is a word to the specialist who understands it, and it's an exceptionally useful and meaningful word - a brief way to say much.
That's good jargon - a specialized term for a similarly specialized audience. The challenge for the engineer is imparting specialized knowledge and insights to the rest of the world. That means translating good jargon into plain English for a lay audience. The following passage, taken from an employee newspaper brief, shows what happens when specialized jargon is not translated:
Recent enhancements to the Voluntary Personal Accident Insurance and Accidental Death and Dismemberment plans include increased coverage for paraplegia and hemiplegia insurance and the addition of spouse vocational training benefits and double benefits for dismembered children.
The insurance jargon would be OK if the readers were insurance specialists rather than lay readers. The writer, from the company's human resources department, has probably been exposed to this sort of language so much that it sounds like English to him or her. But it doesn't to others. How might this passage have been written with the lay reader in mind:
The company has increased insurance for accident victims. The new plan increases benefits for employees who suffer paralysis of both legs or of one side of the body as a result of an accident. It also provides for spouse training and doubles benefits for children who lose a limb.
A buzz word is a word that taken alone might be both clear and meaningful but slips into meaningless "buzz" when accompanied by other buzz words. The phrasing is usually noun heavy, as in "process capability results." Try this little game with buzz word phrases. Put together something that sounds like it means something - "system remediation integration." Then mix up the same words: "remediation integration system" or "integration system remediation." Each combination will be equally highfalutin - and equally meaningless.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Engineering has a tendency to only focus on the "How" questions of an issue or debate, while ignoring the critical who, what, and why components of an argument and discussion. Want to add a green roof - we can show you the how. Want to debate and discussion the core issues of a critical public policy position - we pass on that one. With our fixations on the how, we are missing other important trends and issues. The infancy stage of sustainability is still about looking at "why" and in some corners making remarkable leaps to the "what" that the engineering community needs to fully understand and appreciate.
Consider the outlook of Bryn Davidson, the executive director of the Dynamic Cities Project, a Vancouver-based nonprofit that helps communities adapt to the challenges of oil depletion and climate change. He writes the following:
Ultimately, sustainability means coming to terms with natural biophysical limits. So we have to get past the idea of planning around extrapolation of past trends. The future may be different than the past is the first thing that we need to come to terms with. This is where the idea of peak roads comes in: If we can say to ourselves, "We have as much road capacity today as we will ever need," then we can start to ask what that means in terms of how we should actually start designing our cities. This shouldn't be thought of as a default "anti-roads" statement. But our numerical models show that we simply may not have enough fuel (and biofuel, and electric cars) to use more road capacity that what we have today.
Peak oil meets peak roads. The path of "getting better versus getting bigger." Mad Max meets Alice Waters meets Al Gore meets Bryn Davidson. I am not sure this philosophy was in the book when the engineering community started reading, "Sustainability: Good for Us and Society." It is important we follow all the debates and discussions with respect to the formulation of public policy associated with sustainability. The engineering profession must always be on guard to the potential damage that can be done by Utopian fixers ("Utopia is not a place one can live."). Like they say "the proof, as always, is in the pudding."
Sunday, November 1, 2009
The most important leadership lessons that I have learned have to do with understanding the context in which you are leading. Universities have enormously distributed authority and many different sorts of constituencies, all of whom have a stake in that institution. You're always interacting with them learning from them and directing your energies toward helping pull and push them in the direction you wish to move.
I spend a huge amount of time reaching out to people, either literally or digitally, and with alumni networks all over the world, so that I can connect. Leadership by walking around - that's a digital space now, it's virtual space. An enormous amount of my job is listening to people, to understand where they are, how they see the world so that I can understand how to mobilize their understanding of themselves in service of the institutional priorities.
A component of leadership is related to entropy. That's the idea that all things run down, that order is inevitably lost. But if entropy exists, so does its opposite. It is possible to create order. It is possible to take things to a higher state. It is called negative entropy.
An example of negative entropy is connectivity. The connectivity potential is illustrated with the telephone network. Building transferable knowledge and connectivity - negative entropy - is what humans are doing. And the information potential of a network grows faster than the number of connections. It grows exponentially with the number of combinations. Robert Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet, suggested that the value of a network was the square of the number of connections. We are only two years away from having three billion human beings connected to the Internet. Square three billion - it's a big number - making a large network staggeringly valuable.
By "walking around" the digital landscape, Dr. Faust is fundamentally attempting to create negative entropy.