How We Need to Shift from our Environmental Scarcity Mindset

Cory Doctorow excellent Locus column ‘Cory Doctorow: The Jubilee: Fill Your Boots‘ completed by his own post introduction ‘my column on how technology could let us work like artisans and live like kings‘ hints at interesting historical facts about our current vision of world ecology.

In particular he explains how since the 1970s and the book Limits to Growth “scientists, sf writers, economists and environmental activists have wrestled with the question of abundance — how the “green left” transformed left wing politics from the promise of every peasant living like a lord to the promise of every lord living like a peasant.”

The assumption of scarcity which stems from this approach (itself closely related to the limits of our Mother Earth so visible from photos of the space missions from 1960s) coupled with the assumption that well being was necessarily related to a significant usage of natural resources led to the development of a strong culpability feeling for all of us – and the feeling that we could only expect a decrease in our comfort level.

This scarcity assumption is still the premise of many comments on environmental issues. It is an issue in some instances but overall, we seem to have increasingly decorrelated energy consumption from growth. Would it not be possible that in the Collaborative Age we manage to have abundance within the capability of Mother Earth?

The point here is that some of the 1970s assumptions that govern the way we manage environmental politics might need to be revisited in the light of recent technological developments.


How We Can Evolve To Be A Totally Different Person

Traditionally many psychological and personality tests assume that their result won’t change dramatically over a life time. New research shows that it is a misconception: during our lifetime we will change significantly and dramatically. Read the Quartz article You’re a completely different person at 14 and 77, the longest-running personality study ever has found.

The famous Myers-Briggs personality test

I have observed that the results of personality tests tend to be quite stable over 3 to 5 years periods and this is quite a common observations. However people do evolve, have different experiences, and what these studies show is that over a lifetime (50+ years) our preferences are not any more correlated with those we had initially.

“The longer the interval between two assessments of personality, the weaker the relationship between the two tends to be,” the researchers write. “Our results suggest that, when the interval is increased to as much as 63 years, there is hardly any relationship at all.”

This is great news because it demonstrates that we can change ourselves if we want to, and that there does not seem to be any limit in our capability to completely overhaul ourselves.

So, ready for change?


How to Reconcile Two Opposite Sides of Human Factor

In too many accidents the ‘human error’ is at fault. Autopilots and Artificial Intelligence are developed with the aim to diminish the frequency of accidents. At the same time, only humans can deal with certain unexpected situations and find ways to manage them. These are two sides of the coin of the ‘human factor’ and we are struggling to reconcile them.

One of the issues of the Fourth Revolution is that the border between the intelligent automation and the area which still requires active human input is moving fast. Commercial aircraft flying is already largely automated. In a few years, automobile driving will be automated to drastically lower accidents. Still there will always be some situations where humans need to take over because they go beyond what the automation can deal with. And this means that increasingly, humans will largely monitor automated systems and at the same time will be required to be able to deal with extraordinary situations.

This is because humans are expected to be able to deal with a wider, more systemic view of the situation and find a way to move forward. This type of intervention will be prone to a high rate of failure in particular if there is not too much time to analyse the situation. Still we will continue to rely on this human intervention in extreme cases, sometimes with unsatisfactory results.

Finding exactly how humans can contribute best and setting up the right ergonomics so that this intervention is effective is a key area of research.

How strange is it that at the same time we complain loudly about the fallibility of humans and still expect them to deal with those extra-ordinary situations automated systems can’t deal with!


How to Deal With Pareto in the Collaborative Age

The Pareto principle, also called the 80-20 principle is a characteristic of complex systems: a small part of the system accounts for 80% of its effects, sales or whatever is being considered. However the way it will be used needs to be considered carefully.

There are some considerations in serious papers like the Harvard Business Review that ‘AI Is Going to Change the 80/20 Rule‘. The paper explains that Big Data can be used to better understand where the Pareto distributions are and help change marketing or production parameters accordingly.

Of course if one finds that 80% of the value or profit is generated by 20% of the sales, the tendency will be to slash the 80% of unprofitable sales and concentrate on the high value ones. But that is not necessarily the most clever decision to take.

For example, new products and innovative services will not be part of the top profitable sales. Is it a good idea to slash them if they represent the future? Also, clients that currently belong to the long tail may suddenly become part of the core business.

Therefore the trick is not just to identify what creates most value, but to know how to manage the long tail of the 80% not-so-profitable business. This part might still be indispensable to the entire setup. Don’t slash it out without thinking!


How our Origin Explains Why Actual Facts Don’t Change Our Mind

A number of older and newer experiments are described in the New Yorker article ‘WHY FACTS DON’T CHANGE OUR MINDS – New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason‘. They clearly show that even exposure to real facts may not change an opinion we would have developed beforehand.

The interesting part of the article is the reference to a study that would show that these limitations of our reason could be linked back to the context of the hunter-gatherer. The need for collaboration, fostered by evolution, may have blunted some aspects of our reasoning. That would be in particular the case for confirmation bias (the tendency to find confirmation that confirms our opinions).

There is hope still: “Humans aren’t randomly credulous. Presented with someone else’s argument, we’re quite adept at spotting the weaknesses. Almost invariably, the positions we’re blind about are our own.” The trick is to be able to get others look at our situations. And, maybe, try to get over those limitations we have inherited from our ancestors.


What the Limits of the Revolution of Generative Design Are

Generative design, coupled with additive manufacturing (3D printing) is creating new designs for mundane parts and mechanisms. Overcoming the limitations of conventional manufacturing, new shapes can be formed, optimized in weight and amount of material, to fit the same functions.

This approach is still in its infancy but we can expect to see this new line of design expand rapidly in particular in some industries where weight is paramount such as the aerospace industry. Further there are even some developments around Deep Learning Generative Design where the design is created using deep learning neural networks.

The trick however is to have identified the functions and constraints properly, because these designs will accept much less excursions and unexpected treatment. Optimization always brings less resilience. A challenge in the near future will be a proper treatment of risk and resilience in this design strategy.


What the Benefits of Self-Publishing Are

James Altucher has written an excellent post about the benefits of self-publishing in today’s world:  ‘Self-Publish The Bestseller Inside Of You: A How-To‘.

I believe all the points made in this post are worthy. I will just comment on a few:

  • Speed and control: from finishing the book to having it available in all e-bookshops globally: about 2 weeks. Of course interior design, cover design etc can take some time before. But it is much faster than any publishing route and this can be a great advantage.
  • A book is the new business card: in my businesses I do not give away brochures, I give away expert books that I have self-published. This immediately raises the recognition level of the person you are facing (and because of the implied value of a book they generally won’t bin it at the first occasion)

I would like to add one from our perspective: self-publishing also allows to produce specific, non commercial versions of our books that are customized for clients, or for testing ideas with a format that is nice to handle and give away. And this is a great help in some instance.

In summary, I am a great promoter of self-publishing and I believe this approach is definitely the way to go for anyone’s first book!


Forget Pristine Nature: How Even the Amazon Forest Was Deeply Transformed by Humans

To those that still believe that somewhere on Earth there is something called pristine nature, untouched by man: this article and the scientific studies it is based upon demonstrate without doubt that even the deepest, (apparently) wildest Amazon rain-forest has been deeply transformed by Humans in the last 8,000 years – since humans reached the Americas.

the human fingerprint can even be seen across one of the most biodiverse yet unexplored regions in the world, the Amazon rainforest.” Humans selected the most useful plants and made them reproduce with advantages, and slew some of the key animals. New tree types appeared through selection to produce larger useful fruits.

This is another proof that there is no place on Earth that has not been already shaped in one way or the other by humans. Pristine nature does not exist. We need to accept that our environment has already been engineered – for the best and for the worst. The issue is how to influence this complex environment in the direction we would need it to become.


How Banks Are Really Replacing Back Office By Bots

In a stunning move, JP Morgan has automated a process that was worth 360.000 lawyer hours every year. This is detailed in Bloomberg’s ‘JPMorgan Software Does in Seconds What Took Lawyers 360,000 Hours‘. Of course the article does not mention in detauil how much it cost to develop this new ‘Contract Intelligence’ software, but the result is that a number of lawyers are not longer needed for basic legal checks.

robots-at-workThis requires a tremendous investment (9% of revenue according to the paper, which translates into billions of dollars) but it is clear that the standard, mundane work is getting automated fast by the most performing companies. Apparently it has also allowed to diminish human error in the interpretation of contracts and deals.

Like traders have been displaced by algorithms, it looks like banking back office is ripe for being displaced by Artificial Intelligence and bots. And this might be the direction all transaction-based companies (like insurance and other similar industries) will take soon. This will create a huge social issue, that can already be observed as to the state of employment in the banking industry.


How To Properly Apply the Open-Close-Act Facilitation Method

In my facilitating I like to use a simple process that I call the ‘open-close-act’ approach. Faced with a problem, we first open to the widest possible range of solutions before converging and deciding which way to act.

open-close-actIn this process, the first ‘open’ step is essential because people too often jump for the most obvious solution without taking the time to stand back, reflect, and spend some creative moments. The second step is also sometime difficult because people hesitate to take action.

This is very well touched upon in Seth Godin’s post ‘The simple two-step process‘: “The problem most people run into is that they mix the steps and confuse them. During step one, they aren’t open enough, aren’t willing enough to consider the impossible. And then, in step two, fear of shipping kicks in and they stay open too long, hold on to too many options and hesitate.”

This is a reason why in my method I have added a third step, which is action. This needs to be constantly reminded to participants: the goal is certainly to take action – after having undergone a proper process to determine what is the best one.


How Industrial Revolution Comparisons Are Not Comforting

In a very interesting article ‘Industrial Revolution Comparisons Aren’t Comforting‘ economist Tyler Cowen analyses the consequences of the revolution on labor and wages. In particular it shows that real wages actually went down during the period of adjustment for the average worker.

power-loomsI am fond of historical comparisons and parallels and this recommended article is a very interesting analysis. One important and interesting quote: “By the estimates of Gregory Clark, economic historian at the University of California at Davis, it took 60 to 70 years of transition, after the onset of industrialization, for English workers to see sustained real wage gains at all.” And Tyler Cowen compares the situation to the actual stagnation of wages since the late 1990s in developed countries.

One element of worry is of course that the Industrial Revolution led to the development of certain ideologies which led to revolutions and political instability and volatility – and much suffering.

Are we watching the same evolution now? This might be an issue to watch closely. I am not as optimistic as Tyler Cowen that this time we should be less extreme and more reasonable: the inclusion of developed countries in the Fourth Revolution will create substantial new sources of instability.


How the World is Not Yet Flat

Keeping all due respect to Thomas Friedman and his great best-seller book ‘the World is Flat‘, I have to observe that it is not quite the case yet. This stems from my observations as a globe-trotter and my activities as a publisher.

world is flatHaving moved from Singapore to France a few months ago I re-discover the convenience of online buying of groceries, books and all sorts of equipment. That was not possible even in Singapore (a developed country but a too small market in the midst of developing countries for most e-shops, and that also has some protectionist traits).

At the same time as a publisher I get requests from people from various countries like South Africa or less developed countries who want to get a paper copy of our books. Because e-bookstores are not convenient there I need to organize specific logistics from the digital printing shops we are using – and they are all located in western countries.

Notwithstanding the recent hints at increased protectionism, new technologies have brought an unprecedented access to information and dematerialized content. As for material goods, there are still wide differences and gaps due the maturity of distribution channels between countries.

The world will be flat when there will be an equality in the distribution of material goods globally. It is going in that direction but there is still a lot of way to go.