Archive for January, 2011

From Post Offices to Social Media #SM

January 30, 2011

Let us examine how Nature’s Model as presented a week back, is applicable for understanding changes happening in any social phenonemon and its transformation. For the sake of discussion let us take the most common social phenomenon ‘communication’ (the complex phenomenon that distinguishes human beings from other animals) and let us trace its development and transformation from the system of Post Office to the current status of Social Media. The central question in this quest would be: how did it all come about? Did it come about by some external forces or by some extremely clever and futuristic thinking of some bright individuals or did it come into being on its own “self-movements” and the gradual development of the enveloping field that motivated the ‘self movement’ the eventual collapse to take place. Once we trace the development through the model we would then try to draw an outline, however faint, of the next possible phase that would inevitably replace the present phase of Social Media.

To reiterate, the essential features of the Nature’s Model are the following:

1. Any phenomenon takes place under the interaction of a pair of opposites. “Self-Movement” occurs when two opposites interact. For movement to take place it does not need any external force.

2. At the inital phase of development we innovate to give the new development a push.

3. During the development state we improvize to sustain the process till it reaches the highest possible potential. The quantity of improvizations changes the quality of the transformation.

4. There is always a field or flux enveloping the development process.

5. Soon the development reaches its maximum potential limited by the field and remains steady for a while.

6. This steady state is quickly transformed into a rapidly ‘collapsing phase’ where the field triggers the collapse. 

7. The system collapses quickly and tends to come back to the intial phase of its development but one level higher that is inherently more complex than the previous phase giving birth to a new system. 

 

With these features in mind we set out to examine the transformation that has taken place in ‘communication’ starting with our ubiquitous Post Offices.

System 1: Post Offices

Purpose: How two people communicate in details with each other in a written format?

The pair of opposites for ‘self movement’ to take place: Service Provider and the Consumers (one service provider vs millions of consumers).

Innovation during the Initial state of development: Set up of costly infrastructure by the Service Provider.Only a few service providers could afford to set up the infrastructure and therefore ruled the market through monopoly.

Improvizations: differential trariffs, telegrams, book posts, air-mail, postcards, inland letters, speed post.

Field Strength: The growing strength of the enveloping field that leads to collapse: Time delays in communication, Costs controlled by service provider and Growing Cost of operation of the service provider trigger the collapse of State 1 to State 2, which is one level higher and more complex.

 

State 2: Land phones (a level higher than State 1 and more complex)

Purpose: How two people communicate quickly over long distances in the spoken format?

Interaction of the Pair of opposites leading to self-movement: Service Providers (usually one) vs millions of Consumers. 

Innovation during the initial state of development: Set up of costly infra-structure, signal processing, cabling, routing, etc. Only a few service providers could afford to set up the infrastructure and therefore ruled the market with their monopoly.

Improvizations during development phase (change in quantity leading to qualitative differences in service and utilization): Differential tariffs for local and long distance calls. type of signal processing, interconnectivity, etc.

Growing Field Strength to dislodge a stable system into a quick collapse: Cost to the consumers, unreliability, inability to communicate through written format, loss of mobility and precise connectivity and complete monopoly of the service provider trigger the collapse of State 2 to State 3, which is one level higher and more complex.

 

State 3: Mobile phones (a level higher than State 2 and more complex built on the back of internet technology, the transition technology between Phase 2 and Phase 3, which I have intentionally not described since we would discuss the social media which is intenet based technology).

Purpose: How two people communicate quickly over long distances in the spoken format with mobility and precise connectivity?

Interactions of the Pairs of opposites leading to self-movement: Service Providers (many) vs millions of Consumers. Note the change from usually one Service Provider to ‘many’ Service Providers in this phase of development.

Innovation during the initial state of development: Set up of costly infra-structure, costs sharing and collaborating between different service providers, better signal processing, cartel, advertisements, etc..

Improvizations during development phase (change in quantity to qualitative difference in service and utilization): different strategies to pull customers, dropping prices in response to competition, mobile phone designs (one device multiple functions, like camera, sketch pad, dictaphone, etc), text messages, design and development of user interfaces, different types of services, touch screen, later provision of web facility, 3G with voice and image facility, conference calls (from one to one to one to two), number portability etc.

Growing Field strength to dislodge a stable system into a quick collapse: Inability to network with different people in a cost effective way. harmful radiations that affect health, cost of service, inabilty to strike parallel dialogues simulataneously with many people, inability to collaborate, inability to learn from a wide variety of people, ineffectiveness of branding and advertisement through word of mouth….

 

Phase 4: #Social Media or #SM (a level higher than Phase 3 but more complex)

Purpose: How two or more people can interact, share, learn, collaborate, express themselves in variety of ways.

Interaction of the Pairs of opposites leading to self movement: Consumers to Consumers through participatory approach. Interesting to note that there is no governing body for the Internet system. The consumers create provide and consume the content.

Innovation during the initial state of development: Set up of various forums, platforms and complex network of networks for people to get together and communicate in various modes and methods. The cost of set up of such infrastructure is extremely small when compared to earlier forms of communication where the service providers effectively barred the entry of competitors through the high cost of investments needed for setting up the infra-structure.

Improvizations during the development phase: integration of various modes of communication — emails (various), short messages with searchable tags (Twitter), photos (Flicker), blogs (posterous), wikis (e.g. Wikipedia, Ning), niche groups, networking and job searches (e.g. Linkedin), sharing and dialogs between group of friends (e.g. Facebook), question and answer groups (e.g. Quora), audio and video (Skype, Youtube) — all enabling dialogs (both prolonged and short) and all rolled into one (e.g. E2.0 like Traction) and digital book publishing platforms (Amazon). The ongoing development is fast and furious and not yet mature enough. 

Growing Field strength to disloge the system into a quick collapse: Most of the social media is about networking amongst known people and group of friends and professionals. Less opportunity to collaborate for making a living and does not provide an efficient method of offering one’s services around the world in a reliable fashion, more specific local needs, inability to cater to physical needs, …. As the strength of the field grows it would trigger the collapse of the present stable state of affair with Social media (or #SM) to give brith to the next phase, i.e. Phase 5.

We have, in brief, looked at the transformations and traced the development of our communication system from the good old Post Offices to present day use of Social Media by applying a the underlying rules of Nature’s Model.

The nature of the development is quite fascinating. In brief, the interesting changes are the following:

a) From a single service provider we slowly moved towards having multiple service providers to having millions of service providers. .

b) In the early stages of development consumers were the underdogs. From that position they have now moved on to occupy the role of the virtual service providers.

c) Furthermore, the role of the consumers have changed from being a mere consumer of the service provided to that of being both the provider and the consumer.

d) The cost of providing the service to that of consuming the service has come down multi-folds to something quite insignificant thus making it affordable for millions of people.

e) From strong central regulation to virtual deregulation with no centralized governance.

f) It is providing for the first time in human history the opportunity to millons of people to dream of engaging into dialogs with total strangers, getting to know them and collaborating over brief duration of time to create new businesses (I term them as social businesses) at fraction of the previous costs enabling them to make an independent living without having to depend on jobs that were only created by the thinking and policies of the industrial age.

g) Again for the first time over the last 400 to 500 years of history, the relevance or importance of nation states is being fragmented into more community based living and working (including virtual societies and communities) who are trying to customize their offerings for the consumers by dipping into the pool of the best available global resources. It gradual development in Phase 5 would give a bodily blow to mental abstraction that we hold in our minds that wealth and happiness of a nation rests on existance and effectiveness of large corporations built and managed with the old industrial mindset and globalization. 

h) So far corporations existed with the mantra of competition. Within the next few years they would have to think totally differently for the survival and sustainabilty. They would have to somehow network with communities to produce, provide and consume the offerings (products and services) they would care to produce. The competion they would have to contend with would be from the consumers who so far were more than incapable to fight the might of the corporations or the producers.

h) We would also be moving away from the present economic models of capitalism and socialism to give birth to a different type of economy that would be more participatory in nature catering to the specific needs of the local communities.

i) As the new participatory economy develops the economic cycles that we have of boom and busts or recessions and inflations would minimize to a great extent since the money that would be produced in society would be based on value and not speculation on some financial bubbles. And it is also expected to level out economic disparity within communities and nations.

It clearly showed how Nature’s Model helps us to not only examine the nature of the phase of a current development and what decisions we might take at different stages of its development but also helps us to understand the nature of the successive states that would appear in ever increasing levels and nature of complexities and what triggers such possibilities for self emergence.

The model also informs us that older modes of communications would virtually be wiped out with time. It would then be useless trying to fight hard to retain old positions in the face of current development. Organizations that are determined to fight back with the natural process are bound to be extinct or decimated to inconsequential existence. The best response they have up their sleeves is to adapt and to reinvent themselves in light of new changes that appear on the scene.

 

 

 

CBM – Useless – Why? Useful – How?

January 29, 2011

Introduction

Condition Based Maintenance as the name implies is a tool and strategy to improve Maintenance. The basic philosophy is that we respond as per actual needs and not carry out activities as per a given plan or idea that forms in our heads. It does not depend on abstractions of any sort.

No doubt it is a fantastic concept.  I hesitate to call it a tool to solve our problems. What is the minimum it might achieve when used properly? It is known to reduce maintenance downtime by 50% (since we can plan the activity) and reduce surprise failures by 25% from a previous level of maintenance when CBM is not taken up as a strategy.

 

This is not a mean achievement. This is the minimum CBM can do. Properly utilized it has the potential to do much more. But as I look around I see industries after industries failing to achieve this minimum level of benefit.

 

Why does it not Work?

 

Naturally, it is time that we ask why?

 

First reason that comes to my mind is the level of difficulty to master the different techniques of CBM, which are becoming more complicated by the day. Whether there is a need for such complication is not known to me. But it takes time and effort to master the most valuable techniques we have and most industries aren’t quite willing to spare the time, effort and costs in order to achieve that mastery. The point is we master the techniques or the functioning and design of the machines. Obviously, it must be both. Without a clear understanding of the laws by which machines move it is not possible to make any headway through the use of techniques. Mastering techniques is more of mastering information. There is lot of information. But information alone can’t help us. Bits of information must be stitched together to weave a story. It is story that makes meaning and the story can only be told if the machine or the system is understood better. Unfortunately, machines do follow the laws of nature and the problem is we have till date understood a small and rather insignificant part of the inner working or Nature.

 

The second reason is improper understanding of the word ‘problem’. Most practitioners aim at finding problems. Is there something called a problem? Most fail to realize that the word problem is an ‘abstraction’ of the mind. It is rather funny that we even give names to different problems. We say mechanical problems, electrical problems, quality problems, operation problems etc. We don’t stop at that. Then we further classify the problems as bearing problems, coupling problem, unbalance problem, etc. That makes it pretty useless. Why? We are always looking at a part of the system and never the entire system as a whole. All problems are systemic. There is no such thing as a problem. The machine does not know of one. Nature does not know of one. How come we know of problems? And that is precisely the problem. And more we trying to qualify and define a problem more complicated it becomes, which itself becomes problematic.  

 

The third important reason is the application of the concept. To start with we buy some equipment. We then buy some software to go along with it. Have a list of ways we can detect possible problems. And lastly pick up some young boys & girls who have very little experience with machines and operations. Then we start with rotating machines. And then we tell that the objective is to find when a bearing would fail. It simply does not work. Why? This is simply because the ‘map is not the territory’. Having the infrastructure in the form of instruments, software, and people forms the ‘map’. The territory is improving Reliability of the system, Availability of the System and the Overall Performance of the System. Or in other words improving the system is the territory to be won. That is not what actually happens. The work design is grossly wrong leading to unacceptable results.

 

How Useful is it?

 

What happens when we correctly apply the deep conceptual understanding of CBM in a proper way? I would like to highlight three important cases from the real world. I would show you examples from process industries like steel, cement and chemical because in these industries the concept of ‘territory’ is vital for the survival of the industry. .

 

Case 1 – Chemical Industry

 

In a chemical factory, they were having 24 breakdowns a month. Obviously this was a pain. Pain was not only in trying to restore the system back but the pain was in loss of costly material and the time it took to restart the system. This was making them uncompetitive.

 

When they applied CBM in the proper way the results were amazing.

 

  1. Breakdowns reduced from 24 failures a month to 1 (one) failure a year.
  2. The annual consumption of spares reduced by 50%
  3. Productivity improved by 30%
  4. Profitability improved by 20%

 

Case 2 – Cement Industry

 

One of the well known Cement factories in India had a full fledged sophisticated CBM system in place. In addition, they were the first plant in India to have achieved the coveted Japanese TPM award.

 

But even after all these they were having around 57 breakdowns a year. After proper implementation of the CBM concept, the results were more than wonderful.

  1. Number of breakdowns reduced to 1 in a year.
  2. Longest kiln run hours in India
  3. Maintenance costs reduced by 2/3
  4. Profitability up by 15%

 

In fact they still win the international prize for the best overall maintenance performance amongst cement industries in the world. This is the 10th consecutive year they won the prize. That is not a mean achievement.

 

Case 3 – Steel Industry

 

In a Steel Industry their profitability was affected by the consistently poor performance of their equipment. The Availability stood at a maximum of 88%. Breakdowns were heavy and frequent. Their Yield was no better than 92%, 5% short of the best international standards. The Reliability was as poor as 33%.

After proper implementation the results were astounding.

 

  1. Availability went up from 88% to 99%
  2. Yield improved from 92% to 99.7% (presently the world standard)
  3. Reliability went up from 33% to 96%
  4. Profitability went up by 6%

 

The important thing is that they have been maintaining these standards for the last 6 years with the minimum of investment in CBM.

 

Conclusions:

 

  1. Techniques & sophistication are secondary. The concept is primary.
  2. Take time to learn the methods of knowing and reading reality.
  3. There is no such thing as a problem
  4. The map is not the territory.
  5. Understand the ‘whole’ and not try to improve the system by parts.
  6. Design the work system correctly to achieve the end.
  7. To gain results invest in talent and less on techniques.
  8. Solve all problems in one go to get ongoing benefits for years to come.
  9. Learn from failures.
  10. Induct people who learn from failures and have good idea of machines and systems.
  11. Monitor what is going right not what is going wrong.
  12. Aim at improving the Reliability Availability and Performance of the System to maximize your gains.

 

It is most interesting to find that the same concept of CBM can be applied to almost anything an organization does or any issue an organization is faced with.  The effectiveness of the concepts of other strategies for organizational improvement fade in comparison to the improvement concept embedded in CBM concept. Why? Because it is based on how Nature behaves not what we think the way it must behave. That is a natural advantage.

 

Should we go for it?

The Latent Anger

January 28, 2011

The Throne

January 24, 2011

On more time — How the heck do we read Vibration Signatures! Part 1

January 23, 2011

Ask that question to any vibration specialist worth his salt and he would immediately tell you that it is easy.

He might start something like this: “The frequencies tell us what the problems are and the corresponding amplitudes inform us how serious are the problems”.

He would then fish out a chart that shows us what might be the possible faults at the various frequencies and another chart that might give some indication about the severity of the problem by indicating the possible amplitudes up to which the problem can be tolerated.

This is the easy way but often proves difficult to apply to understand vibration signatures. At one point or the other analysts do get into tremendous difficulties to make the right sense of the situation and find the right way to improve the system. Why is that? This is because there are no universal laws that might be applied to all vibration signatures. It is important to understand that all signatures reflect the general and the particulars. It means that every system and therefore every signature from a system is unique. Hence trying to make sense of a signature through some universal rules is bound to make things very difficult.

Is there any other way to get out of such difficulty?

Yes, the other way is based on the following premises:

1. The vibration signature shows a snap shot of the patterns the system generates. This pattern represents the present state of the system. Hence the frequencies and the amplitudes are all related to each other and have developed over time. Therefore it makes little sense to see or examine them in isolation.

2. What we are looking at are not looking at data (like frequencies and amplitudes) but observing movement and motion of the system. This is an important point that is often overlooked by analysts. The pattern would tell us about the movement of the system. From studying the movements we would understand why such movements are taking place and what is to be done to stabilize or improve the system.

3. Such movement might be noticed in 3 distinct ways. This is because essentially three types of movements are taking place simultaneously. They arise and abate simultaneously. These are — the slow cycles (characterized by the low frequencies), the cycles that move at a medium speed (understood by the medium frequencies) and the cycles of movement that are quite fast, where changes take place quickly (reflected by the high frequencies).

4. The slow movement determines and affects the movement of the other two movements, namely the medium and the rapid. This slow movement is generated by the rotation of the machine/system. Hence such a frequency is always known as the ‘fundamental frequency’. 

5. Now comes the crucial law — Interdependence and the Principle of Opposites. Any movement is only possible if there are two opposing forces or aspects. One is always trying to win over the other or their interaction would produce an in-between state. Such opposition or contradiction of the opposites not only produces the movement or breakdown but also affects the medium and fast movements. This is the way they are all related.

Let us take an example to illustrate the principle. For our purpose we take a fan, say a ID fan. As the blades rotate two forces immediately come into play — the force that makes the blades move (the primary motive force) and the wind resistance that opposes it (called the aerodynamic force). So long the primary motive force is stronger or greater than the aerodynamic force the fan would continue to do its job effectively. As soon as the aerodynamic force starts winning over the primary force, the effectiveness of the fan starts to decreases causing problems and wastage of energy reflected in the medium frequency movements and extremely slow movement (slower than the primary one).

Now let us consider the movement of the bearings (assume anti-friction bearings). As soon as a bearing starts moving two forces immediately come into play. The balls or rollers want to move in a particular direction (decided by the geometry of the bearing and the primary motive force which gives rise to the centripetal acceleration acting towards the center) as opposed to trying to fly off in a tangent but bounded by the outer race of the bearing. As the balls move against the inner race the opposing force that comes into play is frictional force, which we try to reduce through proper lubrication. And as the balls tend to fly off (which it actually does when the balls enter the non-loaded zone) it hits the walls of the outer race and tries to damage it. The only thing that prevents the damage is the extent of the space provided as running and radial clearance and the relative wear of the bearing running surfaces. Hence if the radial clearance is more than necessary the outer race of the bearing would tend to get damaged faster. This would be reflected in the medium and high frequency movements. Higher the rate of damage to either the inner or the outer race more would be the reflection we would find in the rapid cycle movement of the signatures. Similarly as the ball or the roller presses on the inner or outer races as the case might be the material or the lubricant film opposes the movement. If the centripetal force wins over the upward force exerted by the lubricant film or the bearing material itself then the bearing surface gets damaged in no time, which is then reflected immediately in the rapid movement phase (the high frequency signals).

Now let us consider the interactions between the fan blades and the bearing. As the blades develop unbalance the centripetal force in the bearing becomes higher and exerts more force than the lubricant film can exert back thus damaging the bearing. This would be immediately reflected both in the slow movement (the fundamental) and the rapid movement part of the signature (the high frequency zone). Such development of relationship through interactions is governed by another principle. It is called the Quantity to Quality. That is as the quantity (say for example, the amount of unbalance) increases the quality changes accordingly (the degree of damage). Beyond a certain point the system would suddenly collapse. 

Hence we can summarize the two principles involved in reading movements in Vibration Signatures as:

a) The Principle of Unity in Opposites

b) The Principle of Quantity to Quality

 

The change in state can be aptly described by the following diagram that reflects ‘movement’.

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Uncertainty.PPT (212 KB)

Hope we are now clear about how the three types of movement (slow, medium and fast) are related to each other and how the interaction of the movements produce the pattern of the system, which we call the signature.

In the next parts we would develop the ideas in more details with examples and add more principles as we go along.

Nature’s Model to Harness Uncertainty for Performance

January 21, 2011

Uncertainty & its Importance

In business, as in life, we are always faced by uncertainty. That not only puts us into a tight fix but also makes our lives extremely difficult to live. This is because it is difficult to make sense of what is going on around us, how the future would unfold and what we are supposed to do now. It is difficult to think why things are the way they are and what steps might prove appropriate to tide over uncertainty to survive and improve performance.

Higher the degrees of uncertainty bigger are the risks and the problems. Over the years we have therefore searched for models, theories, ‘five best ways’, best methods practices, rules of thumb and techniques to tackle such uncertainty so as to act in a sensible manner. But we are always unsure about the effectiveness of our decisions and actions. Only after an action is taken we might get to know through hindsight whether it proved effective or useless.

Use of Models

To lessen the risk of such uncertainty we tend to use models. There are different types of models. Most models present us with calibrated yardsticks that try to tell us what is going wrong with the present operation and how much off we are from the ideal target or plan. There are some that try to tell us what and how to predict the future while others tell us what is the ideal thing to do (does not quite matter what we do — growing a business or raising a child) and how that might be done best. And there are models that inform whether we are on the right track and how to monitor so that we don’t slip or accidentally fall off the edges. There are still others that tell us what others are doing and how we might catch up with the best in the field. The range and gamut of the models are mind boggling. For an organization juggling with so many models some of which might be in conflict with each other and tending to them can prove to be a bewildering task with the limited manpower they always like to have.

In spite of so many well meaning models for monitoring, growth and performance enhancement we have seen businesses fail miserably, economies collapse all of a sudden and nations going bankrupt overnight. That is unfortunate. But why is that?

Why Models Fail?

Is there something common that runs through all these models? Most models that we presently have are a sort of idealistic abstractions of the human mind. That is we first think of an ideal that we hope to achieve and then find ways and means to achieve that without considering the ground reality the organization, society or a person is in. We then try to impose that ‘ideal way’ to deal with a current situation with all the techniques and methods outlined in such and such model. The focus is to neatly fit the model onto a given reality without even trying much to understand what gives rise to that reality.  Naturally, the model would refuse to fit.  But we don’t give in. We then measure what or how much of present situation goes outside the boundaries of imposed model and try to trim the excesses or eliminate them so as to forcefully fit the model or framework to comfort us that everything is going smoothly as it should if the model is to be applied.

For example, most economists think that having a huge population would only make a country poorer. The leaders in India were concerned. They found that on an average most Indian families have around five children. That they thought is way above the ideal level of two children. The current reality wasn’t quite fitting into their economic model. So they went about sterilizing people by force. People reacted to this and in the next election overthrew the government. If they took time and effort to understand the underlying reality of the present situation the solution would have been rather different. Indian parents tend to have more children, especially boys, as an insurance to support them in their old age. If only the leaders understood this reality the huge sums of money they spent on ‘mass sterilization’ would have been well spent to start old age pension and medical schemes. That would have been more beneficial to assure Indian parents to limit the size of their families.

Similarly, great efforts are underway in the Indian manufacturing sector to enhance quality and systems mostly through Japanese models of improvement. There is nothing wrong with the models as such only that these are applied to completely different context. As a result they simply produce poor cosmetic output that does little to help a business in the long run. The workers don’t understand what is going on and why they are being asked to do things which they think are queer. The underlying reality is that the workers are mostly poorly paid and undereducated. So, would it make more sense to put efforts to educate the workforce rather than thrusting upon them methods which they can’t make any sense of? For example, if the worker does not know how to estimate the volume of fluid he regularly handles how can one stop him from wasting material? 

So, ‘idealism‘ is a basic flaw in all the existing models that we have seen till date. It is this all pervading idea of idealism that transforms all these models into highly abstract and arbitrary ones. Hence, these models suffer from the disease of an ‘absolute idea‘ and everything is forced to fit into that ‘absolute idea’. It simply does not matter whether we are fitting that ‘absolute idea’ onto nature, societies and organizations or onto our personal lives without taking into account the current realities and how these have come about.

Therefore, we are confronted with the classic ‘To be or Not to be’ case. The question is whether we construct a theory in our minds based on some ‘abstract ideal‘ and apply it to a given situation or do we gain insights and understanding of a given situation and then think of what best can be done or achieved under the given circumstances and what might be the consequences of our designed actions? In other words, do we arbitrarily foist our ‘idea’ on the world to forcefully bring about a change or do our minds reflect the world and translate the reflection into actionable thoughts and designs to adapt and change the world or ourselves?

Obviously, the first method hasn’t worked well enough and clearly isn’t going to work at all. The alternative is to look at the other approach.

Nature’s Model – The Alternative View

The difference between the two approaches lies in the perspectives they take. The ‘Absolute Idea’ model is a static framework to achieve an ideal irrespective of the given circumstances. Since the alternative approach is grounded in understanding ‘movement‘ it is then akin to developing a model based on the reality and modulating it as changes take place. The advantage of doing so is obvious. Nature moves. So having a model that faithfully reflects and replicates that movement is advantageous than having to fit a pre-formed ‘idea’ model to the reality of movement, which simply wouldn’t match. We would call this the ‘Nature’s Model‘, which is a context specific model that can be applied to various issues as opposed to ‘Absolute Ideal’ model, which is an ‘idea’ specific model looking for applications. 

What would this ‘Nature’s Model’ involve? When we consciously contemplate about the world around us, we see an immense and amazingly complex series of phenomena, an intricate interrelated web of seemingly endless change, cause and effect, action and reaction — in short we see ‘Uncertainty’ enveloping us. The motivation to construct a contextual Nature’s Model is based on our desire to obtain insights into this bewildering labyrinth of uncertainty, to understand it in order to harness it for the collective good without unintended consequences to Nature and our future generations. We would then look for laws which can separate the general from the particular, the accidental from the necessary, and enable us to understand the underlying themes that give rise to the phenomena that envelope us. We would do that by considering motion or movement as the basic underlying characteristic of all phenomena.

Why would we consider ‘movement’ to be the basic characteristic of any phenomena? This might be best answered by the words of David Bohm the celebrated physicist and philosopher:

“In nature nothing remains constant. Everything is in a perpetual state of transformation, motion, and change. However, we discover that nothing simply surges up out of nothing without having antecedents that existed before. Likewise, nothing ever disappears without a trace, in the sense that it gives rise to absolutely nothing existing at later times. This general characteristic of the world can be expressed in terms of a principle which summarizes an enormous domain of different kinds of experience and which has never yet been contradicted in any observation or experiment, scientific or otherwise; namely, everything comes from other things and gives rise to other things.” 

The fundamental proposition of Nature’s Model is that everything is in a constant state of movement and developing new states. Even when it appears to us that nothing is quite happening, in reality, matter and things are always changing. Molecules, atoms and subatomic particles are constantly changing place, always on the move and always developing new states — always in a state of becoming something else than what it were. Thus Nature’s Model is essentially a dynamic interpretation of the phenomena and processes which occur at all levels of both organic and inorganic matter to help us take critical decisions about adapting and/or changing and living moment to moment to survive and perform.

Richard Feynman had this to say, “To our eyes, our crude eyes, nothing is changing but if we could see it a billion times magnified, we would see that from its own point of view it is always changing: molecules are leaving the surface, molecules are coming back.” It is the flux of movement that surrounds us creating the ‘uncertainty’ that we hope to harness for our betterment. 

However, this idea of motion and change as the fundamental characteristic of Nature is not new to human understanding.

Aristotle wrote: “Therefore…the primary and proper meaning of ‘nature’ is the essence of things which have in themselves…the principle of motion.”

This is not the mechanical conception of motion as something imparted to an inert mass by an external “force” (Newton Laws) but an entirely different notion of matter as ‘self-moving‘. For them, matter and motion (energy) was one and the same thing, two ways of expressing the same idea. This idea was brilliantly confirmed by Einstein’s theory of the equivalence of mass and energy.

The germ of this ideas of self movement and self creation or self organization can also be found in ancient thoughts of Hindus through their metaphor of Shiva (chaos), Vishnu (order) and Brahma (self creation) and in Chinese thoughts captured through their metaphor of the Yang-Yin and the Buddhist thoughts of Flow, Change and Interdependence of all matter and phenomena.

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Therefore, the model presented reflects this reality of movement and change in Nature. Matter flows from one state (State 1) to another state (State 2). The path is both linear (ordered) and non-linear (chaos) to reach its highest potential. This is done through a series of internal self-movements and self creation (or self organizing) through a number of internal contradictions or paired opposites helped by a series of interdependences. While this goes on, the quality of the state of matter continually changes. Once it reaches its highest potential (when the number of interdependences are the highest the system becomes too rigid to hold on by itself and loses its resilience to changes) there is a sudden change and collapse of the state (releasing energy) and the highly interdependent state changes to a new state which rushes back to the previous state from where it started out but at one level higher and more complex in nature and behavior. A number of such spiral transformations of ‘uncertainties’ are going on simultaneously in a system at any point of time. It is a combination of slow gradual changes, medium short term changes and quick and rapid changes.

How is the Model Useful?

But what useful thing can happen by understanding movement and change of state? It simply helps us to think about the decisions we might take to flow with the changes and not resist them to self destruct ourselves or make things better.

So when the system collapses our decision would be to innovate and restructure the system based on its present level of complexity and behavior. We would have to carefully look for the smallest favorable movement the collapse has brought about that might take us forward or change course in a new direction. For example, if the new state of communication is ‘social media’ then businesses might do well to think how to innovate to change their brand images through social media. There would be little point in sticking to the older forms of brand building exercises, which are bound to prove futile or counterproductive with the sudden change of state of communication.

Similarly, when the system starts its upward movement our decision would be to institute a number of small changes to help the growth and development towards the new state, if desirable. Such an effort would be a summation of numerous micro changes to boost self organization or self movement to its desired potential (the maximum the state might reach before it collapses again and tries to go back to its previous state).

But when the state matures to its highest potential then our efforts might be directed to maintaining the state as long as viable without being blind to the fact that all that stability that we enjoy would soon collapse to a new state. Hence our decision might be to maintain stability and prepare for the collapse at the same time. 

So our decisions would change as per the circumstances we are in. Broadly there would be four states — initial, growth, stability and collapse and creation of a new state. In each case the type and quality of decision to be in the flow would be different. Accordingly the quantity and quality of our efforts would also change depending on the state we are in.

However, it is important to assess the situation as accurately as possible. This can be done through insights that can be gained through our observation of the reality. Gaining insights of the reality (mistaken as uncertainty) has another advantage. Gaining insights from the present movement would also help us to assess how the movement would change within a given time and space and whether it distorts them. Having said that we must implicitly assume the fact that accuracy of such assessment might be off by a wide margin since it can not be predicted accurately. Nonetheless it would be useful to have a general idea of the movement and about what time the collapse might take place.

It is important to remember that our insights would always be context specific and therefore ever changing. Previous insights wouldn’t hold true as soon as the context or the movement changes. That calls for mechanisms to have snapshots of the present reality and monitor the changes with respect to previous states. It would always be a work in progress.

Limitation & How do we overcome that?

There is one inherent danger in gaining insights. Gaining insight starts with observation. And that is where the potential difficulty lies. Observing is a state where the confluence of  time, space and observer’ mind take place. And there seems to be no guarantee that the mind of the observer would faithfully reflect the state of the reality. The mind of the observer might change the reality instead of faithfully reflecting it leading to distorted understanding and insights. Such irrationality of the human mind is expected due to the interaction between the characteristics of the mind and reality. One way to get over this difficulty is to cultivate the discipline of an open, supple but critical mind. The other way would be to expect and allow failures, be responsive to it and instantly learn and correct the mistake so that reality is not reflected in a distorted manner. Of course the best way forward would be to follow both ways.

Conclusions

We might now conclude that ‘uncertainty’ is only a delusion. Movement is real and that is the truth behind every phenomenon that we encounter. There is nothing like an ‘Absolute Idea’ or ‘Absolute Ideal’. So, by understanding and gaining insights from ‘movement’ we can change and adapt to the flow of movement in forms of appropriate decisions and actions. But that would call for understanding the laws of Nature to interprete reality as accurately as possible. That is what Nature’s Model hopes to achieve. The leverage that might be gained is enormous. Since the model replicates the movements in Nature it can be easily applied to a host of issues in organization development, business performance, economic viability, sustainability, personal growth and development, design and thinking. One model serves different roles and purposes. Aren’t we fortunate? Perhaps!

The Anonymous Letter

January 19, 2011

Robots Run the Asylum

January 17, 2011

Winter was mild and cool

Time for fun& play

But old Mr. Ram was hard at work

 

25 years back on a fine summer day

Mr. Ram opened his factory

So that it never shuts down

 

Within last 5 seasons

Mr. Ram bought or built 6 more factories around the globe

So that his businesses never close & monies flow

 

Last autumn, when leaves were losing colors

Mr. Ram turned 72

He suddenly became young at heart & more adventurous

 

So, on a fine winter morning

He vowed never hit the streets to the airport again

Except visit his oldest factory once a day

 

50 years back

He was the brightest management student around

Now he thinks all management theories are nothing but junk

 

So he decides to muddle the mud on the shop floor

With his own ideas tinged by ‘creativity’

Rejecting all that he passionately knew

One Sunday evening when the moon shone bright

He had one of his brightest ideas

Why not have three Works Managers instead of one?

 

Next morning when employees trooped in grudgingly

They saw the notice board in awe

Henceforth each one would handle 5 bosses

By afternoon, when the sun shone dimly on the wintry sky

Managers were crest fallen – not knowing what to do

Employees smiled clearly knowing the path ahead

 

By Friday evening the air was chill

Productivity went through the floor

Lunatics ran the asylum

 

Darkness fell, stilling everything around

Motion came to a grinding halt.

Robots moved everywhere not knowing where to go

Designing Our Future — Distributed Living

January 15, 2011

This video of around 27 minutes gave me a great insight about how we would be living in the future and what type of design would shape it.

The video talk offers two central concepts, which are the emergence of ‘distributed energy’ and ‘distributed information’.

This two when coupled forms a new emerging social pattern. That means that we are slowly and steadly drifting towards a new state.

How is that?

So long large electricity companies held the monopoly over energy. They produced it and then distributed it to thousands and millions of people. So we had a small group of producers and a large base of consumers. And consumers paid for their consumption whatever the producers demanded from time to time.

Similarly, schools, universities, publishers, newspapers, television companies and large organizations produced information and then distributed it to the public for consumption. The schools, universities and other organizations that held exclusive rights to the information decided on how such information would be distributed, when it would be distributed, how would it be distributed and how would people pay for consumption of such privilaged information.

All this is about to change. Changes are taking place in the way we are now creating and distributing information. Now individuals create information and share them with others who return the favor through their own contribution to the general pool of available information resources for the consumption of others. It is needless to mention that internet and social media brought about such dramatic changes in our modern lives. And it is has worked wonders. It has virtually wiped out all traditional newspapers in the US and elsewhere. We no longer look up an Encyclopedia for information. We click on Wikipedia for information. And most of the information is free, easily available and mostly accurate. I have virtually stopped visiting my favorite library for quite some time. I get what I want to know on the net. And if needed, buy books through online portals just with the same effort and ease I take to book my air, train and movie tickets. 

Post offices are no longer important source of distribution of information. We exchange information at the click of a button and email them all over the world in seconds. We are slowly making landline phones redundant. Mobile phones are now being used more for data usage & transfer rather than as a phone devices. We can now do all that talking for free through Skype and other similar platforms. 

The power of individual leadership is now unleashed. One can choose whom to follow, whom to have a discussion with, whom to turn to for advice in case of need and whose articles are worth the wait, time and effort. In short we can choose our teachers and choose what to learn. We are no longer dependent on old archaic structures that try to shove down our throats information which we care least about.

The power to do something now rests on the consumer not the producer.

If we choose to look carefully the same thing is happening in the energy sector. Centralized energy production and distribution are giving way to consumer driven energy production and distribution. First in the line were the industries. They went off the grid to have their own source of power. And they had a good reason to do that. It costs them lot cheaper than taking power from the grid. They did not stop at that. If they were left with any excess power they wheeled it back into the grid and sold the units they contributed. This further lowered the energy cost of manufacturing. Just to give an idea most were producing and consuming electricity at half the cost. With such an arrangement the consumer now becomes the producer and the consumer at the same time.

Others have been quick to follow. Individual homes are setting up their own power back up sources. At the lower end they store power in batteries and use it during power cuts. At the higher end consumers are producing their own electricity from alternative sources of energy — wind, sun, tides and wastes. It covers almost the entire requirement.

We see similar changes taking place in the water supply systems. Earlier it was the Government’s responsibility to provide its citizens with fresh, clean potable water. In many countries like India the system is broken. The onus or responsibility can no longer be taken care of by Government authorities. Hence people are now having their own water supply systems that provide them with clean potable water. The consumer has taken up the responsibility. And it is no longer centralized.

Where is all this leading to?

We are moving away from centralized systems to decentralized or distributed systems. The inherent contradiction between the producer and the consumer has automatically paved the way for people to assume the role of being both a producer and consumer at the same time. And there is something more. After consuming whatever is needed the excess is shared with other consumers in exchange for things others are willing to contribute and potential consumer are willing to accept.

Now we have a formidable combination of three important emergences, which are a) distributed energy b) distributed information c) contribution economy.

As we combine these three emergent properties new design possibilities open up that would have the potential to change the way we choose to live in the near future.

I would like to draw a potential scenario as follows:

1. Individual houses would give way to high-rise landscaped building complexes almost resembling a ‘village’ of yesteryears but far better and more complex.

2. Such complexes would produce their own energy from alternative sources — solar, wind, waste, hydrogen cells, tidal and geothermal depending on the location and the circumstances.

3. And they would produce their own information — for building or supporting education systems, training and developing others and offer services to others. 

4. They would create and maintain their own water sources and harvest whatever is available to make their system self sustaining.

5. They might choose to produce their own food sources and means of entertainment.

6. They would take support of effective alternative health systems that are way cheaper than traditional systems.

7. They would create their own local economies to make their ‘villages’ sustainable.

8. The occupants would produce and consume their own energy, information, water, food etc and combine them in novel ways to sustain their economies.

9. They would share the excess of what they consume with other neighboring ‘villages’ and also borrow from them what they need.

10. The possibilities are endless… a whole new world would open up.

The possibility of such new design is emerging. And the advantages of such designs are many, some of which would be the following;

a. Carbon free. It is estimated that 60% of the energy a nation consumes goes in housing and transportation.

b. Sustainable and more natural living under more natural habitats.

c. Save the bother and expenses to commute to work.

d. Moving away from monopolistic economies

e. The common man decides the way they live, produce, consume and work.

f. Act local and think global — drawing on resources all over the world to meet specific local needs of the economy.

g. Contribution economy — something quite different to both capitalistic and socialist forms of production and consumption.

h. Other advantages would be evident as we go along.

The best thing such designs offer would be to create self-sustaining societies that would primarily be sustained through social contribution of distributed energy and distributed information and sharing of resources. That is probably the beginning of a viable ‘Contribution Economy’. An appropriate term for all these put together might be ‘distributed living’.

However it is also evident that all societies would not progress towards this concept of ‘distributed living’ simultaneously. It definitely depends on the present conditions and the collective consciousness of our existing societies that grossly differ in terms of their social behavior that arises from their individual social context.

The first baby steps towards such design for a new way of distributed living is underway in some European societies (I just shy away from using the word ‘nations’ since this concept is becoming redundant in the modern context of distributed living). Such baby steps would set the trend for others to follow suit.

This is truly the century that throws up the distinct possibility of architects, designers, engineers, design thinkers, system thinkers and leaders to join hands to create a Brave New World.

It remains to be seen how we grab this upcoming opportunity and go forward to save us from natural extinction as human species towards which we are now headed for.

But I am sure of one thing. We now need more leaders at small group levels than ever before.

Where are they hiding?

 

Brain fires up to create Insights

January 14, 2011

To gain insights we don’t need too much of data. The size of the data does not matter. The data distribution remains same and it also does not matter much the way we observe it. That is good news for lazy people like me.

The firing that takes place in the brain during an insight is similar to the patterns we see during forest fires, epidemics, earthquakes. All these have similar distributions — very low activity for a period of time followed by an avalanche like activity that produces critical insights.

But we must not be led to believe that the patterns form fractals. They don’t. This is called the fractal – power law fallacy. Then what is it?

Amplify’d from www.technologyreview.in

In recent years, neuroscientists have noticed a remarkable pattern in the way neurons fire in brain samples. This activity seems to occur in avalanches which vary in size with a distribution that is scale invariant.

Scale invariance is a somewhat counterintuitive phenomenon. It means that the scale at which you examine data makes no difference to the distribution you observe. In other words, the distribution looks exactly the same whether you look at it close up or from far away.

Scientists have seen this kind of behaviour, called criticality, in all kinds of systems: the size of earthquakes, forest fires, epidemics and so on–all have the same kind of distribution.

It occurs in systems that are delicately balanced between inactivity, where the changes are always small, to a state of overactivity where any change tends to be runaway.

Read more at www.technologyreview.in