Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Climate Conundrum

A bit late on my monthly blog entry eh…Well, it was Earth Day the other day. What did you do for your planet recently?
The IPCC recently released a grim report on the state of the planet. Anthropological climate warming is real and if you don’t believe it, you either have your head in the sand or are just plain dumb. I may sound harsh but it is a harsh reality that we need to confront. I actually don’t know what’s worst, the planet warming, or the staggering widespread scientific illiteracy of its citizen.
This science is the same science that makes the combustion engine possible for you to go to church or drive your kid to soccer practice, or make it convenient to pick up your groceries. It is well understood. We know what will happen when we step on the gas, or let go, in a general sense – it’s not magic, it’s not political, it’s the nature of how things work, in this case, our planet. There are even school science fair experiments to show adults how it works!
I won’t pretend to do science with Google Images but here’s a simple visual compilation to consider nonetheless:

I admit it is open to correlation bias criticism – if you want real science, you should check out the IPCC report. But I’d still like to make a ‘rapid’ point with this image. In my view, it illustrates that we are messing with entropy, at least locally, in our nice little “closed” system we call Earth; i.e. we are changing the organization of stored energy and diffusing it in the atmosphere to organize information (i.e. ourselves & the World around us). Add a positive feedback loop through radiative forcing, and it’s no surprise the entropy of the atmosphere is increasing, making it naturally more turbulent in our case. A turbulent flow is by its nature irregular and random, and it can thus explain the increasing frequency of ‘severe’, unforeseen, events. It takes time for a given energy perturbation to cascade down the system to the dissipative scales. And we don’t let it…
So we are poised for radical change, but living in this Universe, aren’t we always? The typical refrain sounds a bit as such: “Either WE change or the consequences around us will impose uncomfortable change.”
There are two things we can do IMO: 1) As the refrain says, we can try to discipline everyone and rein in our enthusiasm for development, or 2) Perhaps we could use our current cowboy attitude to improvise further and steer us madly in a spectacular paradigm shift. Niels Bohr is quoted to have said that ‘an expert is someone who has made all the mistakes in his field’ – perhaps it will be necessary for us to bollix-up this planet to learn how to manage one properly? It would be unfortunate, but the path to progress is not always pretty. Good thing we are finding new planets nowadays – too bad they are so far. The race is on then?
A lot of pundits will argue that we will lose money by addressing these issues; that we will slow down the economy. I beg to differ and this seems to be supported by the IPCC report; the economy is fueled from people accomplishing things for other people. Legislation sets the rules of the playing field and the goals and to reach those goals people will come out and invest accordingly, given the rules are properly enforced. So maybe we can just develop differently?
I think governments need to ‘grow a set of balls’ and act with leadership and direction in order to set the best policies in the interest of citizens and especially, and more importantly perhaps, for the future of the species. But does that even matter?
Regardless, I feel that the World has been mostly rudderless lately, putting out fires (proverbial and literal), and letting the free market grow in whatever direction it wanted – like weeds. It’s time to roll up some sleeves and make a nice garden for ourselves. For some reason though, I have a feeling outcome #2 is more likely…
No matter the outcome, we better get used to fighting entropy, it will be recurrent in our evolution… ;-) Let's see how long we can last...

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Pitfall of Expectations

Most people naturally have expectations. They expect the sun to be there when they wake up. They expect warm water for their shower, their loved ones to be still alive in a week, milk available at the grocery store, and many other things, some of which more trivial than others, and some they shouldn’t expect at all. Expectations are necessary to function sanely on a daily basis. Otherwise, people can, in the worst case, become excessively and unnecessarily paranoid.

However, in my view, having expectations is one of the strongest relationship abrasives. One of the ultimate joys of living is having the feeling of being free (I invite anyone to contest that). When person A expects something out of person B, person B’s freedom becomes constrained, or stressed, by the expectations of person A. To put it in another way, let person A and person B both define their versions of what they want to do or what they need to accomplish in order to achieve their respective personal happiness; if both visions are mutually exclusive, then both person A and person B can carry their vision satisfactorily in freedom to the highest degree. However, if the fulfillment of person A’s happiness is dependent on actions from person B, then person B’s ideal personal fulfillment is thus limited or constrained due to person A. In a general sense, expectations are part of a selfish, delusional behavior and represent a stress applied to people’s behaviors. It should be obvious then, that in a relationship without any form of expectations, all parties will keep their freedom and thus they will all likely be happier because there will be no opportunity for deception. There can only be deceptions if there are expectations.

But here’s the catch…and here lies a paradox; I said earlier that one of the joy of living is the freedom feeling. If being free contributes to our happiness, so does social contact. We are social animals. We yearn to love and more especially to be loved. So we enter into many social contracts to fulfill our wants and desires. Since we all come from different backgrounds and [sarcasm] each one of us knows best how to live [/sarcasm], a complex gambling game sprouts up. The famous lyrics from the group ‘NIRVANA’ come to mind: “Come, as you are, as I want you to be”. We jostle, trick and manipulate words and actions in order to fit in. To win. Some push their ideas aggressively. Some play a quiet game. Others don’t want to play the game. There are winners and losers, and they’re not always the same. I feel it’s alright to know what we like and dislike. But I think it’s not alright to impose these things on others. To do so is selfish.

When selfishness and its ramifications are fully understood and accepted, the veil of expectation falls and relationships become less strained. Controlling one’s expectations, and even abolishing them altogether, is, in my mind, the true moral high ground of altruism; not giving $50 to a charity and patting ourselves on the back and boasting about it at some cocktail.

In conclusion, here is an analogy that my mother presented to me as a child: “Relationships are like a bird. The bird can chose to land in your hand, but if it doesn’t you shouldn’t waste your time chasing it, you will just scare it away more. Once it’s in your hand, if you leave your hand wide open and do nothing, it might likely fly away. Alternately, if you close your hand tight to trap the bird, it will probably chirp madly and try to bite you; it won’t be happy. But if you cusp your hand lightly and show the bird some affection and devotion, it might stick around a bit longer.”

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Management Paradox

There are ultimately two types of management: autocracy and democracy. All other forms of direction, government and decision-making processes are, fundamentally, derivatives of these two classes, or a grey-zone intermixing of the two (you can read about the semantic subtleties on Wikipedia or elsewhere...).

For autocracy, you have a central figure, or leader, that decides for the group according to his/her own beliefs; for simplicity, let’s assume this leader essentially ignores all other viewpoints and ideas.

For democracy, you have a decisional process that encompasses the group; there is deliberation with all members on the issue at stake and a consensus is reached. The ‘amount’ of majority required to declare a ‘consensus’ can vary from system to system and is categorized by arbitrary labels.

Both forms of leadership are problematic in their absolute form. The underlying duality is caused by an opposition of efficiency (time of decision) vs. accuracy (quality of decision). Autocracy is a much faster decisional process but can be blindsided by a lack of perspective that democracy can provide. The simplest compromise is to literally “meet in the middle”; by creating a hierarchy composed of a leader surrounded by ‘experts’, or counselors. This can be loosely defined as an ‘Oligarchy’. Without doing a scientific survey, one can presume that a majority of political systems and private management structures fall in a form of oligarchy. Furthermore, an oligarchy can function within a democratic system. But oligarchy is closer to autocracy than democracy. It is a compromise, thus it is imperfect.

That’s what our political systems are today: compromises (or opportunism in the case of totalitarian tyrannies). So how do you reconcile timely decision-making processes with a more democratic approach? The simple answer currently is that you cannot. Democratic deliberation is a time-consuming process. You have to be ready to spend the time, and resources (referendums are expensive). (Note: this could change in the future given emerging big-data capabilities),

The complex answer requires an understanding of decision-making at a smaller scale. When a boss and two of his employees face a problem, it can be resolved in three different ways:

1. The boss can dictate how to solve the problem without consulting his employees; this is essentially autocratic behavior. The boss is acting based solely on his own preconceptions, beliefs education and experience; he is acting according to his ego. This is a typical response of men that are given or achieve roles of power, but do not originally possess strong moral ethics, or at least a sufficient ‘compassionate’ sense. Ego is an emotional response to power and although successful in varying frequency, it can lead to inaccurate, brash and often damaging decisions for the employees or even damaging to the ‘whole’ or the ‘future’. The boss may be convinced that he is using a ‘flawless’ rational thought process, yet the output is severely hampered by data gaps. The reason for this is a lack of perspective. It is practically impossible for a single person to know absolutely all variables of a complex problem. Analogously, it is for a similar problem that more than one camera are used at sports events.

2. In the second scenario, the boss can leave the decision entirely to its employees and then let it happen without any questions. This could be considered as a purely democratic process, but is in fact not perfect because the involvement of everyone (including the boss) is not achieved – in a large population, this could actually be considered anarchy. The pitfall is that the employees may come up with a solution that is ultimately detrimental to the company, or even to themselves (to the whole, or future) because they lack information/knowledge/wisdom that only the boss has (the leading figure is usually not in that position because of sheer luck! and even then, there is an upper layer of information that remains inaccessible).

3. The third decisional process can be presented as the boss discussing with his employees and reaching a consensus or compromise. In this scenario, the employees can propose solutions, but the boss may put their ideas in perspective and explain why he thinks it might work or not. It is a highly logical, inclusive, rational process granted that all the information is “put on the table”. In a small group, this is probably the best way to solve problems.

It should be clear from these three scenarios, that what plagues both democracy and autocracy is information alienation. On one hand, we have a boss, or manager, that may lack some hands-on ‘nuts-&-bolts’ detailed information; he is disconnected from the ‘reality’. On the other, we have employees that may lack ‘big-picture’ or larger-scale mechanism knowledge; they are disconnected from the whole. It is only by bridging the two parties together that a truly best solution can be achieved with greatest confidence. This is what I would call complete information consolidation (CIC). I believe that CIC management is the next step in the evolution of governance of our civilization and businesses. The challenge is to achieve complete bilateral information transparency across the system’s hierarchy and protect the integrity of this information. It is a big challenge, but I believe it can be accomplished.