Archive for the ‘Archetypes’ Category

How We Adopted Regrettable Practices

I recently finished reading Patrick Wyman’s The Verge: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years that Shook the World: 1480-1520 (Grand Central, 2021).  He chronicles the transformation of business and political processes during these two decades that provided the foundations for Western European dominance over the successive generations. Military aggression and conquest, financed by new approaches to […]

Research Questions

Research involves pursuing answers to questions.  How can I reset the clocks on my kitchen appliances?  A Google search usually provides a ready answer to this question.  One would not think of publishing an article on having answered this question, nor would any media outlet encourage such a publication. Do I have any bakers’ yeast?  […]

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Charles Dickens’ immortal phrase portrays a time of radical opposites taking place at the same time in a 1859 historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities. set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution.  Are we at a similar time of radical contrasts?  Are similar consequences likely? Current technology and economic trends […]

Stories

I have been thinking about the roles stories play in our lives.  By story, I mean an account of past events or the evolution of something.  Of course, a story can also be an entertaining account of imaginary or real people and events.  Many stories provide a combination of explanation and entertainment. Stories usually have […]

The Spectrum of Talent

Economic growth, many argue, stems from technological innovation.  Does technological innovation depend on the flow of STEM talent from our educational system?  That certainly was not the case in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Inventors emerged from all corners of society, few equipped with degrees in science and technology. The transformation from inventions to innovation […]

DoD Acquisition as a Sport

The US Department of Defense acquires systems to equip forces to assure the national security of the country.  The process of acquiring systems is termed Acquisition, which involves a very complex organizational system across the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the four (now five) military services, and the aerospace/defense industry.  It is very competitive. […]

Is Everything Connected to Everything

For many years, my research related to design, operations, and maintenance of national security and space systems.  Over the past two decades, I have added healthcare delivery, higher education, urban systems, as well as energy and transportation.  These complex ecosystems interact in myriad ways.  In particular, they interact in terms of claims on societal resources. […]

Theory to Practice

According to Wikipedia, “Critical race theory is an academic movement of civil rights scholars and activists in the United States who seek to critically examine the law as it intersects with issues of race and to challenge mainstream liberal approaches to racial justice.  Critical race theory examines social, cultural and legal issues as they relate […]

The Business of Lying

Bill Bryson’s remarkable book, Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United State (William Morrow, 2001), chronicles the history of the English language in the US.  His chapters on travel, cooking, shopping, and advertising are particularly compelling. A key element of Bryson’s story concerns how we are convinced to value, […]

Making Money Without Providing Value

What if you could make money by selling people securities, or equivalent, that have no inherent value, but people think will eventually be worth substantially more than they paid you for them?  You can potentially make money from an endeavor that provides no value to the economy or society.  You can make money off of […]

Intuitions That Mislead Us

One of my recent readings has been the late Hans Rosling’s Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. (Flatiron Books, 2018).  It is a fascinating read, loaded with valuable insights. Hans Rosling asked chimpanzees to answer 13 multiple-choice questions about the state of the world.  […]

The Wild West of Commodity Trading

I recently read Javier Blas and Jack Farchy’s The World for Sale: Money, Power, and the Traders Who Barter the Earth’s Resources (Oxford University Press, 2021).  This fascinating book reads like a novel, almost a page turner.  What will the traders do next? They chronicle the history of commodity traders of oil, grain, metals, and […]

On Being Colonized

During the Era of Colonialism (late 1400s to the mid- to late 1900s), European powers colonized most of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, Oceania, the Middle East and the Arctic, excluding Antarctica.  This typically involved oppression and exploitation of indigenous ethnic and racial groups inside the geographical area colonized.  This oppression and exploitation often is […]

Humans as Apex Predators

Simon Winchester’s latest book, Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World (Harper, 2021), caused me to think about humans’ roles in the overall ecosystem. Are we apex predators, meaning that we regularly eat many other species but no other species regularly eats us? The contrast that interests me is not apex versus […]

Perspectives on Work

I recently finished James Suzman’s fascinating book Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots (Penguin Press, 2021).  He chronicles humans’ work practices over many millennia.  The meaning of work has changed dramatically over this period.  Perspectives that we take for granted emerged much more recently than one might have […]

One Overarching Goal

Many problems and potential fixes are being considered and debated to address the pandemic, associated economic slump, and economic and social inequities. Climate change is hovering in the wings.  How do all these potential initiatives fit together? I think we can integrate all of these ideas by thinking about how they all support pursuit of […]

Too Many Stakeholders and Too Many Ideas

There are many complex contexts that involve a wide range of stakeholders with a broad array of ideas for improving the context of interest.  Such contexts can range from neighborhoods to wards to cities to states and countries.  I am involved in one right now with 200+ ideas; a few years ago, I played a […]

Transform Work to Transform Culture

Most organizations want members of their workforce to be more collaborative, share information, and make better and faster decisions.  These pursuits are often termed workforce culture transformation.  For very large organizations, for example, elements of the federal government, this can be a daunting aspiration. Consider experiences with two examples of transforming work.  Over the past […]

How to Be a Republican

I grew up in New England in the 1960s and 70s.  My whole family was Republican.  We supported John Chafee, Edmund Brooke, Eliot Richardson, and Nelson Rockefeller.  Social liberals and fiscal conservatives.  These types of Republicans are long gone.  Nixon, then Reagan, and recently Trump discovered that courting southern whites could win elections.  Social liberalism […]

Brick by Brick and Other Innovations

I recently read Robertson and Breen’s Brick by Brick: How Lego Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry (Crown Business, 2013).  As my children, grandchildren, and I have been long-time Lego fans, this book was fascinating.  It led me to think about innovation more broadly. But first, let’s consider the Lego […]

The Invention of History

I have just finished reading Robin L. Fox’s The Invention of Medicine: From Homer to Hippocrates (Basic Books, 2020).  I found it interesting that numerous medical treatises were attributed to Hippocrates many centuries after his death.  It seems that the content of these treatises was more credible if attributed to Hippocrates.  I have read of […]

The Old and New Normal

The old normal involved lots of bus, metro, and uber rides to meetings with sponsors, colleagues, and friends in pursuit of new opportunities, progress on existing opportunities, and just plain socializing.  Transit time was at least an hour per day and sometimes two, sitting in a bus, train, or car catching up on your email […]

An Agenda for Change

What needs to change to transform our society in the ways needed to achieve new levels of equality, performance, and value creation?  I have nine suggestions in two broad areas.  In general, we need to move from status quo practices to best practices as shown in the table below.   Function Best Practices Status Quo […]

Frustrations With Change

There are several forces currently driving change in our society: Pandemic impacts that have completely upset the status quo Economic impacts of the pandemic that have left many in dire straights Disproportionate effects of economic, educational and social inequities These forces have led to an overwhelmed healthcare system, enormous unemployment, and intense frustration on the […]

A Wicked Problem

Wicked problems defy formulation and resolution.  They involve conflicting values, concerns, and perceptions that lead to conflicts, strong positions, and perhaps even hatred of the “others” who have opposing views. We are faced with roughly 50% of the country being in fundamental conflict with the other 50% of the country.  Actually, Biden-Harris won 51.3% of […]

Knowing and Being

This book provides a great tour of philosophy, primarily German, in the early decades of the 20th century. Eilenberger, W. (2018). Time of the Magicians. Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer, Heidegger and the Decade that Reinvented Philosophy. New York: Penguin. Darwin’s Origin of the Species (1859), Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (1905), and Freud’s Psychoanalysis (1917) had upset […]

Understanding and Managing Complexity

If you think the complexity of the current situation – pandemic, global warming, and race relations – is overwhelming, I have a suggestion for coping with the complexity.  The just published issue of The Bridge (https://www.nae.edu/Bridge.aspx) provides a wonderfully broad and intriguing set of perspectives of how complexity is manifested throughout our society.  We cannot […]

Crossing the Information Chasm

Facebook, Twitter, and other emergent platforms have resulted in the Balkanization of the world of information.  There are large subpopulations that believe the moon landing was faked, climate change and the pandemic are hoaxes, and the presidential election was fraudulently stolen from Donald Trump. They only pay attention to information sources that support these views.  […]

Changing of the Palace Guard

It is interesting to live in Washington, DC and observe how sponsors and colleagues are reacting to the changing of the palace guard.  Most of these people are at least one level below the political appointees of the palace guard and will not be leaving.  They seem relieved, not existentially but practically.  Their new superiors […]

Problem Solving in Complex Adaptive Systems

It is important to distinguish between understanding complex problems and solving them. Solving problems in complex adaptive systems can be quite difficult and often intractable. Climate change, global warming and their consequences provide a compelling example. The science seems clear in terms of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. The relationship […]

Designing as Dialogues in Contexts

Subramanian, E., Reich, Y., & Krishnan, S. (2020). We Are Not Users: Dialogues, Diversity, and Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. The authors’ central argument is that we have a much deeper relationship with the things we create than just being users. Social media provides compelling examples of how the usability of the interface, while important, […]

Investment Strategies

How do people envision the future?  How do they consider uncertainties? How do they think about investing today to have a better tomorrow? People seem willing to invest in their personal futures, e.g., retirement. They seem willing to invest in their children’s futures, e.g., education. The further they look into the future, the more difficult […]

Transforming Anger

It is so very easy to get angry about the current situation in the US.  Pandemic, recession, hurricanes, flooding, fires, earthquakes, protests about racial injustice, attempts to pack the Supreme Court and undermine elections are all woven together over the past six months.  It is almost a perfect storm of calamities. My anger is not […]

Unfortunate Themes

Here is my recent reading/watching list: Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America by Kurt Anderson (Random House, 2020) The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket by Benjamin Lorr (Avery, 2020) Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell (Little Brown, 2019) The Social […]

A Reformed Optimist

“Everything will work out in the end and, if it doesn’t, it is not the end.” This was a theme in the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012) but attributed to Paul Coelho and John Lennon much earlier. I am an inveterate optimist, but I am reconsidering my inclinations.  Look how we have handled […]

Death by Complexity

Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies (Cambridge University Press, 1988) presaged Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking Press, 2004).  Both books provide vivid explanations of how societies fail and why. Societies create mechanisms to deal with new challenges.  Walls are built to thwart Mongol hoards.  Regulations are created to […]

The Game of Life

I have just finished reading a wonderful book by Maria Konnikova, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win (Penguin Press, 2020).  Konnikova is a PhD psychologist who researches decision making and risk.  She decides to study this in the domain of poker.  She begins as a total novice and […]

Wrenches in the Works

It is very difficult to foster change and innovation in complex social systems.  You need to understand key stakeholders; their perceptions, concerns, and values; and how to gain their support for central elements of the changes being entertained.  It can take much time and work to build a coalition capable of moving forward. Examples of […]

A Real Deal

We have in the US over 400 years of injustice in our country. Native Americans, African-Americans, and more recent immigrants have all been abused. We have taken advantage of them for the benefits of mainstream Americans at the time. What was this mainstream?  Initially it was immigrants to Massachusetts and Virginia. Over time, we added […]

The Nature of Evidence

Show Me the Evidence was a popular book by Ron Haskins and Greg Margolis published by Brookings in 2014. The central idea was that economic and social policy should be based on credible data rather than just opinion and advocacy. This seems reasonable, although ideology has of late disrupted these intentions. Can this idea be […]

The Academia-Industry Interface

Academia scales down problems to make them rigorously tractable for the methods being researched. Industry scales up the methods, often sacrificing rigor, to assure results are applicable to real problems. While these may seem like mutually exclusive strategies, that need not be the case. What are needed are intermediaries who understand both sides of the […]

Betting on Change

We expect that the pandemic will lead to a new normal that will be significantly different than the old normal.  Perhaps there will be opportunities for innovations in the marketplace.  What changes deserve our bets? We can assume that people will always want pasta, potatoes or rice, as well as beans, broccoli or mushrooms. But […]

Making History

I recently encountered an amazing app and I am dumbfounded as to how it works.  It is called My History. You can watch any sporting event from the past, for example, the Colts-Jets Super Bowl of 1969. If you watch with the My History app, the Jets do not necessarily win. Their upset quest is […]

Robber Barons

Unregulated capitalism developed a strategy in the 19th century, if not earlier, of the big players putting the small players out of business, either by acquiring them or cutting prices below which the smaller players could not survive. Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and Carnegie excelled at this, often financed by JP Morgan. Once the small, possible innovators, […]

What Happened Versus Why It Happened

How can we address alternative facts?  I think we should differentiate realities that can be empirically verified versus assertions about why these realities have occurred.  Succinctly, we need to differentiate data and evidence from various pundits’ interpretations. I am constantly amazed at the wealth of pundits available who will comment on anything.  There are thousands […]

Quality of Service Continues to Erode

I recently read about a passenger’s experience with American Airlines.  A six-hour flight from Newark to San Francisco had evolved to a 53-hour trip.  Due to several cancellations, American had suggested that the passenger buy a second ticket.  He waited and eventually made it – two days later.  Airlines ticket prices and fees continue to […]

Advocacy Driven Decision Making

Within much of engineering, and particularly, operations research, the goal is often the “best” decision that maximizes or minimizes a well-defined criterion or objective function.  One can then, for example, employ mathematical programming to calculate the lowest cost routes for delivery trucks.  Often one can even mathematically prove that these routes are best. Over the […]

Ten Years of Fundamental Change

After 163 posts of over 90,000 words — a 360-page book if published traditionally – we have reached the 10th anniversary of this blog.  So, what has happened?  Here are a few highlights, none of which this blog influenced. On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama won the presidency with 365 electoral votes to 173 received […]

Uncle Donny’s Picnic

When we last saw Uncle Donny, he was focused on making Monopoly great again, with rather mixed results.  Donny and Uncle Vladmir were mainly focused on making Monopoly great for them.  Neither of them is ever concerned with making things great for anybody else. Uncle Donny, it seems, lives on golf courses.  The picnic was […]

Information & Control Versus Computation

A recent book, Possible Minds (Brockman, 2019), provides 25 essays on the future of AI, building upon Norbert Wiener’s 1948 classic Cybernetics: Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine.  A key distinction among these pundits is between information and control versus computation. This distinction is intriguing. My roots are definitely in the information […]

Nature Shows

I have, of late, taken to watching quite a few programs of this genre.  The cinematography tends to be wonderful, especially with my high-definition television.  These shows are quite compelling to watch. One thing that immediately strikes me is how the world’s species are focused on eating each other. The dynamics of the food chains […]

What My Cognitive Assistant Knows

I posted a piece on Emily, my cognitive assistant, last March. Several readers have asked me what she really knows.  Beyond deep understanding of health and well being, driverless cars, and complex systems in general, what does she know about me? She has complete access to everything I do via computer or other digital devices. […]

Understanding Organizational Failure

When do organizations fail?  It is typically when their financials go south.  Their deficits are unsustainable.  Cash is draining from the enterprise.  Their strategies for stemming the tide are too little, too late.  Why do organizations fail?  What causes these financial outcomes? The story that led to these consequences almost always started playing out much […]

Strategic Thinking

I have started and led several companies, as well as research centers at universities.  Often, things get started with a serendipitous opportunity.  Suddenly, you have a paying customer or a willing investor, and soon an employee or two.  You begin to formalize things.  People ask about your strategic plan.  Winning another contract or securing another […]

Stories of Compliance

My post “Cultures of Compliance” in September 2016 led to quite a few responses from readers.  I noted then that a culture of compliance laced with administrative incompetence is particularly lethal.  Many readers’ responses built on this theme.  In this post, I highlight some of the stories they related. Many stories related to food, primarily […]

Business as Usual

All enterprises face a fundamental tradeoff.  Do you invest in getting better and better at the products and services you already offer?  Or, do you invest in creating innovative new products and services?  The obvious answer would seem to be some mix of both. However, getting the mix right is rather difficult.  This difficulty is […]

A Real Train System

What if the US had a modern state of the art train system like other developed countries?  The trip from New York to Washington would take one hour rather than three plus hours.  The trip from Atlanta to Washington would take three hours rather than thirteen hours.  This would be a great boon to personal […]

The Fragility of Optimized Systems

Delta Air Lines designed and optimized a system to pack the seats on their flights and extract maximum revenue from passengers by charging for every element of an airline trip. The process is called revenue maximization. A senior Delta executive once told me, “We try to pull feathers until just before the goose honks.” Delta’s […]

The Academic Job Market

Engineering and science account for roughly three quarters of all PhD graduates, with half of these degrees awarded to US students and the other half to international students. Many of these graduates aspire to tenure-track faculty positions at universities. However, the percentage of faculty openings that are tenure track has been steadily decreasing for quite […]

Complexity: Absolute or Relative?

I spent the last few days in Santa Fe, absorbed in discussions of complexity, with particular emphasis on healthcare delivery.  I have delved into this topic for quite some time. Three decades ago, we published our studies on the complexity of troubleshooting – figuring out the source of unfortunate symptoms, e.g., why your car won’t […]

Why You Hate Your Airline

The October issue of Consumer Reports outlines “Secrets to Stress-Free Flying.”  This 14-page article provides an interesting history of the airline industry, including the forces that drove your once loved airline to become an object of intense scorn and hatred for most passengers. Over recent years, the airlines have refined their strategy for making record […]

Cultures of Compliance

I have encountered many organizations, mainly in government and academia, where compliance with policies, procedures, and norms became the primary organizational objective. Producing useful outcomes became secondary, almost a nuisance because production took resources away from compliance. This becomes an almost insurmountable problem when the organization is laced with administrative incompetence. Perhaps well-intended but fundamentally […]

The Allure of Quests

I really enjoy stories, and particularly movies, where an older man and younger woman are on a quest – perhaps to solve a mystery, right a wrong, or flee an evil force.  They are thrown together and their shared aspirations drive them closer as they work together to pursue their quest.  They learn from each […]

A Student’s Questions

One of the PhD students in the School of Systems and Enterprises asked me a few questions after reading my March 15th blog post on “Thoughts on Teaching, Classrooms, and Computers.” She wanted to know what I would do if I was now a PhD student. Before getting to her specific questions, I need to […]

The Quartet

In “The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789,” Joseph J. Ellis chronicles the planning, drafting, and ratification of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights in 1789.  The title refers to George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison.  These four men, with support from Robert Morris, Gouverneur Morris and Thomas Jefferson, led […]

The Big Short

Just watched this movie this week, after having read many of the books published on the Great Recession, as well as having served on a National Academy study committee of what happened.  During this study, I had a chance to chat with the second most senior executive at one of the major banks involved, one […]

Leading a University Research Center

University research centers are delicate organizational systems.  They bring together faculty, research staff, and graduate students for several reasons.   Centers are often formed as a result of a large NIH or NSF grant or because of a large gift or grant from industry or wealthy alumni.  So, there is money on the table and researchers […]

Pundits’ Performance

There is a wealth of self-proclaimed pundits providing pronouncements on sports, politics, the economy, and so on.  There seem to be unlimited numbers of Democrat and Republican strategists.  Some are wizened pros that have been through many campaigns, some successful and some less so.  Many are quite young.  Despite having seemingly no credentials, they are […]

Major Airlines Announce Zero Fares

New York — Major US airlines announced today a new pricing model for air travel. Zero airfares. Free. The airlines have decided to unbundle all aspects of air travel. Customers will only pay for the services they desire. If they avoid all services, they will fly for free. The airline CEOs as a group issued […]

Patterns of Change

Invention or ideas lead to innovation and change, often championed by someone other than the originator – think of Carnegie, Morgan, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt.  The change agent builds an empire around the innovation, typically aspiring to monopolize the commercial value of the innovation.  The empire becomes exploitive of customers, employees, and the environment.  Eventually, the […]

How Great Companies Transform — Then Fizzle

From many years in Atlanta, I have known many UPS executives, including CEO Mike Eskew who led the transformation of UPS from a package delivery company to a global supply chain services company.  I use a case study of this transformation in my classes and workshops on enterprise transformation.  It is one of my favorite […]

Transformation as a Wicked Problem

In 1973, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber published “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” in the journal Policy Science (volume 4, pp. 155-169).  In this article, they characterized “wicked problems” as follows: —  There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem —  Wicked problems have no stopping rule – there is always a […]

Levels of Change

Fundamental change is pervasive across every level of life.  In this post, I compare four levels and time scales of change including evolution (millions of years), history (thousands of years), industry (centuries), and technology (decades).  This comparison leads to a few overall observations about transformation and a few insights into how people think about fundamental […]

He Still Looks Like Him

Last Sunday, I had breakfast at the Beachcomber, which is right on the beach at Crystal Cove, just south of Newport Beach, California.  The waitress mentioned that many celebrities eat there often.  She talked about a particular performer, her favorite, and said, “He still looks like him.” I asked what she meant by such an […]

Moneyball and Football

I have been thinking about how Michael Lewis’ Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, might be applied to American football.  On-Base Percentage was found to be the best predictor of success for baseball.  What might work for football?  I tried a variety of statistics and found that a team’s total number of turnovers […]

Transforming Public-Private Enterprises: Healthcare

Healthcare presents a major challenge for the U.S.  We pay twice as much per capita as any other country; yet achieve much poorer results in terms of health and longevity.  The current system can be characterized as a federation of millions of entrepreneurs with no one in charge.  Even assuming that everyone is well intended, […]

Transforming Public-Private Enterprises: Introduction

It is difficult to transform a large enterprise.  Leaders of many private sector enterprises have told me that their toughest job is managing the enterprise they have while trying to create the enterprise they want.  Not surprisingly, the failure rate is very high, as illustrated by 200% turnover in the Fortune 500 in the past […]

Change in Science, Technology, the Arts, and Humanities

How does change differ within various aspects of society?  Are differing changes somehow related?  C.P. Snow has argued that there is a chasm between the arts and humanities, and science and technology (Snow, 1965).  However, all of these endeavors are inevitably influenced by the times in which they are pursued. Consider the late 18th and […]

Types of Change

It is typical to think about change in terms of intentions and consequences.  We intend to exercise more or eat better to achieve the consequences of weight loss and improved fitness.  The President intends to move the country towards greater use of renewable energy sources to achieve the consequences of greater energy independence and decreased […]

Transformation Archetypes — Part 4

A year ago, I bought an iPhone.  About six months ago, I switched from a PC to a Mac.  A few months ago, I began to use texting and now frequently rely on this means of communication.  Now, I am writing a blog.  My colleagues think that I have a chance of actually making it […]

Transformation Archetypes — Part 3

The Renaissance is typically associated with great works of art and architecture.  As noted in Part 2, Filippo Brunelleschi was an early Renaissance artist and architect.  His dome of the Florence Cathedral was a major engineering feat.  Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was a scientist, engineer, painter, and sculptor, with works ranging from The Last Supper […]

Transformation Archetypes — Part 2

A confluence of forces also led to the Renaissance, the highly creative period between the Middle Ages and the Modern Era that began in Tuscany in Florence in the 14th Century.  The origins of the Renaissance are often traced to the writings of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) and Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), and the art of Filippo […]

Transformation Archetypes — Part 1

Last Wednesday, I was at the White Mountain School in Bethlehem, NH.  The invited lecturer in earth sciences was Mariko Yamasaki of the USDA Northern Research Station at Bartlett, NH.  She noted that all the forests in New England “from the notches south” have grown over the past 150 years.  Before that, from 1620 to […]