Business, indeed daily life in general, involves the interaction of people (complex systems) either with one another (relationships, sensu lato), or with structures (economic apparatus of various forms). BUT unfortunately, there is an inherent property of large systems; the more variety you have to manage, the larger the variety you require to manage it successfully (Systems Theory 101, anywhere in the world). Because Governments and Other Large Corporations need to be Manageable in real time when they are handling large quantities of Information, they have developed structures that lack intra- and intersystem diversity.
All of which assumes that the Managers know exactly what is needed to manage the future activities of their hybrid organizations (people and their machines, where machine here means anything that is not a person). But that admirable aim can never be realized because the larger the system (Governments, Corporations) the greater chance that "things happen" that cannot be foreseen. Again, this is an inherent property of large systems, and is intrinsic in any system where stochastic processes (unpredictable in detail, e.g. weather, tsunamis, earthquakes, the stock market), mutational events, (all EMR-powered agents of change, eg., UV solar storms, ozone holes, even high-energy blue light ) or gods ( our name for the changes that occur by an agency we don’t understand, one of which is the famous(?infamous) Deus ex machina).
And so as a 71yr old Melbourne University Agricultural Scientist and ex Harvard PhD (Biology 1966) and Junior Fellow,(1964-7), I am astounded at what looks like the ignorance of seriously successful Corporate Staff of very large firms of the inherent dangers they are inviting by failing to recognize that their rush for uniformity of governance methods has opened the door to what Biologists call Ecosystem Catastrophes. In Nature these occur frequently, on nested time-scales, that range from milliseconds=>eons, and which constantly challenge the fitness of the Ecosystems to survive (eg., arrival of a large comet, the eruption 500,000 years ago of the Wyoming Volcano, now 250,000 years overdue for eruption!), the present firestorms of UV energy in the far UV (sunburn range).
The Wyoming Volcano last erupted with a force almost 600 times greater than Mt Pinatubo, and created a crater 100 miles across( it includes the Valley of the present Snake River in Idaho) and put 200 cubic miles of planetary detritus into the air. It is a supervolcano, a demon (depending on your religion or knowledge of Geology). Mt Pinatubo put 0.4 cubic miles of dust upstairs, reduced global photosynthesis, as measured in the tree ring thicknesses in the Bristlecone Pine Research Labs in Arizona, gave us sulfuric acid-droplet enriched brown haze around the sun for over a year. The impossible-to-predict next eruption in Wyoming will produce a 1000 mile radius (? diameter) ash fallout that will totally destroy the Canadian and US Granary output for X years. If X is greater than 3, perhaps a billion will die.
But it has happened every 250,000 years on average since that volcano was first created by a missile from space that hit off the coast of what is now Oregon (Oregon wasn’t there when it hit), hit so hard it penetrated the crust and opened a route into the mantle. That was perhaps 70-45 million years ago; no human ear heard the bang because we had not been invented, but it set the course of the evolution of the USA and probably the world for the next 70-45 million years.
No simple IBM type system can hope to manage the changes wrought by such a simple catastrophe; but Nature can, did, and will continue to do so as long as one factor holds true. Biodiversity must be maintained because that is where the "strength" lies to always have an "answer" ready to go. In the genes of the individuals, in the variability of the populations, in the unknowable interactions that they have one with the other, at all levels of scale.
After the success of the Abrams tanks and Bushmaster vehicles in Desert Storm, who could have foreseen that RPG's and roadside bombs of ammonium salts could wreak such death and destruction on such weaponry? Who could have hoped to foresee that in the Bosnian War, Serbian Military could make cardboard tank cutouts that would fool a fighter bomber into attacking them, while the real tanks stayed hidden underground or in caves?
Who would have predicted that a minor genetic alteration in a flu virus of birds could generate such a costly quarantine effort and lead to the loss of a lot of lives, and livelihoods? Well, probably any decent Ecology graduate student, but Army Commanders are not going to ask them very often for their advice!
Many years ago the great genius of the cybernetician Stafford Beer wrote several books including Platform for Change, the Brain of the Firm, among others. He lived in an abandoned Welsh mine at the time with his 8 children, and I think addressed the US Congress or at least its leaders.
The outcome left him a very bitter man, who, in the wake of the Allende Assassination, wrote that he forgot that Giant Systems cannibalize Microsystems if they lack the will to be cooperative, and rely instead on ruthless competitive advantage and confrontation. So it was with his miracle of Governance in Chile, where for a few short years, the Chilean Government actually delivered progress to the Chilean people, for the first time since the Spaniards annihilated the Incas by deception, European armor and horses, and outright treachery.
It was a simple lesson, and re-applied in Allende's assassination; Beer quit the game and vanished from sight.
Well, I am no Beer (though as an Aussie, I like mine, especially Negro Modela from Mexico, which is so much better than Corona, with or without lime in it! But I have a message for you. Continue to manage your security, your infrastructures and your systems by non-diverse systems and you will all experience the meaning of Biological Catastrophe. It is not a matter of if; it is only a matter of when.
Can you avoid that? Of course: install Cooperation, not Confrontation and its softer sounding but equally ruthless euphemism "Competition". In Nature, Mr. Charles Darwin got it wrong. Natural Selection never occurs at the level of the individual and only rarely at the level of the species. It is Ecosystems that are exposed to the forces of Natural Selection, and as they wade their way through time and catastrophes of various magnitudes, their species-composition alters back and forth, within the limits set by the population genetic variance, and the cultural parameters that "nurture" sensu lato, permit.
E.g., some rules deal with a lot. There are only 7, and cannot be more than 7 in this Universe, ways that crystals can be produced that have at least one symmetry, despite the fact that thousands of minerals exist.
There are less than 10 body shapes for trees, no more than 3-4 for herbs, and the structure of roots is so significant that they have remained unchanged for over 280 million years. Now that is the design of a successful structure.
Our economic, transport, banking, communication and military defense structures are open to IT attack, or a burst of EMF radiation that lasts for a few weeks and could kill our satellites. Or to solar windstorms stripping off the protective shields that control the impact of massive sunspots upon us.
Every time the poles reverse ( about once every 250,000 years and, alarmingly like the Yellowstone Volcano, also 250,000 years overdue), I am advised that mammal extinctions rise sharply, with a correlation coefficient of 0.98 (data provided by Prof Gordon Sanson, Monash University; maybe hearsay...but knowing Gordon, not likely to be in error!)
Have we all managed to make it this far in the last 500,000 years because we are in a strangely long interval between polar reversals, or supervolcano eruption? That would be ironic, would it not?
That our progress from hunting ape to man that started perhaps 3 million years ago and ends with us as we are, which saw us safely through at least 7 Ice Ages in the 750,000 years of the Pleistocene, saw the Aboriginal Australians survive on the driest, most-forbidding continent outside Antarctica for at least 60,000 years and probably twice that, is due to a "Lucky Break" of 250,000 extra years between world-wide catastrophes, generated by two items whose triggers we do not understand? Nor do we know what has its finger on these triggers, and therefore we are on no position to predict when they will fire again.
We need to learn the real meaning of co-operation, and real fast; co-operation can shield you from hackers, confrontation can’t. Perhaps co-operation can allow human survival when Yellowstone blows; competition will fail utterly. We should be able to survive global warming easily, but we better get it right that the melting of the ice is driven not only by elevated carbon dioxide, but by elevated UV, which it is apparently not fashionable to consider.
The survivors of the next two decades will be those who adopt my business motto, “stolen” more or less with her permission from Tamara Griffiths of the Moonrise Sanctuary in Bunyip, Victoria. You may decide what Tamara is like ( and probably get it wrong) if I tell you her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org Co-operate, don’t Compete: it is Biological Stupidity to Compete, and despite the Ecology Textbooks with chapters saying Competition is significant in Nature, in fact competition only occurs in Nature in very simple interactions. Living together (symbiosis) and /or sharing the same table (commensalism) are much more successful strategies and very widespread. Symbioses between fungi and algae seem certain to have been behind the evolution of the land plants which took an inconceivable 2.5 billion years to get out of the sea successfully and onto the land.
It is Biological Endpoint for 1-2 billion humans if we don’t Co-operate. Will you, I wonder? Co-operate and survive? Or continue to believe you are secure and safe when nothing could be further from the truth?
Vaya con Dios!
Dr Teri O'Brien BAgrSc., and MSc.(Melb); Ph.D (Harvard Biol. '66 and Junior Fellow 1964-7; first Aussie elected to the Society of Fellows at Harvard), D.Sc.(Monash), Foundation Fellow, Australian Institute of Biology (inactive list)., Sole Trader Tericati, an Aussie ABN, and devoted to the idea that Co-operation is a Hell of a Good Idea if we want to come through the next few decades with anything like a happy future for our living children.
61(0) 401325307, where it is presently 3.00 am 20.04.2008 (or in the USA 04.19.2008! I rather enjoy the fact that the USA is behind us!) In the same way that I enjoy the fact that a minor Mexican beer, Negro Modelo, is streets ahead of Fosters in my book.
God does have a sense of humor; She is occasionally hilarious.
But not always.
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