The complexity conundrum

It’s a rare occurrence, but once in a while, night-time TV truly inspires. Last night was such a night; I was watching ‘Particle Fever’, a documentary on the search for the Higgs boson at CERN. Perhaps it doesn’t make fascinating TV for those who are interested in the drinking and flirting habits of teenagers on Greek islands, but I find it infinitely more interesting. After all, this is about pushing the boundaries of fundamental science, the search for the nature of the universe (or multiverse) and, most importantly from my perspective, the way people pull together to realize phenomenally complex technological systems.  Continue reading

Oops – sorry! Cellphone X-Ray application

Vice’s Motherboard reported on X-Ray technology being brought to your smartphone. Yes, that’s right: using the Wifi functionality of any modern phone, you should be able to ‘see in’ a room you’re not in yourself. Well, one day. Not just yet, as the technology is still in its infancy. Clever use of radio reflections, and Motherboard immediately ties some obvious applications to it: firefighters looking into burning buildings, law enforcement checking out what’s behind the barricaded door.

Civilian applications should be possible too, they argue. Such as seeing if someone is hiding in a public restroom in a secluded and eerie spot late at night, waiting to jump and rob you as you come in. Right, I suppose that would be useful. But I can see an application in which our natural eyesight is severely lacking at this point, too. What about a mobile Wifi-based radar that alerts me when I’m about to bump into someone in the street? The odds are huge these days, with the majority of the population staring at their little screens while they are about to walk right into some busy traffic. How useful would it be to have an alert on your cellphone screen to warn you against the upcoming collision? Park distance control meets Wifi on your cellphone. That app is going to be downloaded a lot more than any law-enforcement-I’ll-break-down-your-door-if-you-don’t-reflect-my-radio-waves app.

We need more energy than we can imagine

In terms of energy, the focus of the general public these days seems to be on two things: a transition to ‘green’ sources, and energy preservation. I do not contest the former, but I find the latter really, really strange. I think that energy should be so cheap and abundant that our use of it can increase more steeply than any scenario currently predicts. This seems to be the only route towards a truly sustainable society.

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It’s the economy, stupid!

It’s the economy, stupid” It sounds like a tagline that could have been launched by some Wallstreet brokers in the 1930s to get the people to go with the program and increase domestic consumption – or any other measure intended to ‘fix’ the economy. It wasn’t, of course. It was one of the three pillars of the Clinton presidential campaign in 1992. That doesn’t change the belittling ring it has to it. Especially if you imagine it is a pedantic 13-year old saying this to his younger brother. I think there’s something else really wrong with this statement. Continue reading

Science and complex problems: holistic grazing continued

Recently, I regurgitated something the Internet mustered up on Holistic Grazing. Allan Savory put forward the theory that productive and sustainable land management can involve periods of heavy grazing and trampling by large numbers of cattle. By doing so, the vegetation is ‘reset’ periodically, the land’s water retention capacity increases and as a bonus, you get to harvest animal protein (milk and meat) from the cattle. Before long, James McWilliams responded in a Slate article that he finds Savory’s claims outrageous and unsupported by evidence and that holistic grazing would never work on a significant scale. So there’s scientific progress for you: one person says “A”, another person says “not A”, and in the process of bickering we hope to gain some new insights.

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And now for something completely different!

Yesterday, I started my own company: ViCSIS. That’s right, I joined the growing hordes of self-employed professionals. The change isn’t that big – since I got my PhD, I’ve been working on projects that fit in this style of working anyway, so it was just a matter of time.

Have you always wanted to do that strategically important project, but did the daily work of running business as usual interfere? Do you keep wondering what the innovation strategy of your department or company really is and how to make it work? Do you find yourself working closely with other companies, but have you simply never gotten around to working out consistent cooperation or supplier strategies? Contact me and let’s get started!

Science has the answers, so don’t expect one: holistic grazing

Recently I was informed about a very moving and inspiring TED talk by Allan Savory on holistic management: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change?

(To make it clear: ‘holistic management’ is in this context not a way to lead organizations in a wholesome way, providing the best chances for every individual to gain an optimal spiritual balance and peace of mind while performing his/her duties that no longer feel as such, but become a true joy and a source of fulfillment in life – or some management fad along those lines, which would be the result of crossbreeding a commercial organization with a 1960s hippie commune. Holistic management refers here to the way we use the land we live on in such a way that it produces food for the human population and at the same time does not deteriorate into an unusable state.) Continue reading

We understand as we build

It is ironic and mundane at the same time that for all our scientific progress over the centuries, mankind still has only a basic understanding of the thing that enables this understanding: our brains. I am certainly no neuroscientist, so of all people, I certainly cannot claim any advanced understanding of the odd (and tasty, according to many foodies) lumps of fatty tissue that reside inside our craniums.

Perhaps we are incredibly inapt at understanding how brains work due to the way we tend to organize things. All things really – companies, cities, machines, households, education, healthcare, science. Because organizing things usually comes down to breaking it down into parts, then deciding what each part does, and then assuming (hoping, trusting) that when we put the parts together, the whole system functions as intended. Continue reading

If innovating isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong

A couple of weeks ago, Rob Adank and me drove to a meeting in Rob’s car. We talked (it’s amazingly difficult to play a game of tennis while driving) and somehow, our conversation found its way to Apple and Microsoft. Alright, I confess, I’m probably guilty of that. Like hordes of people, I am mildly fascinated by both companies: by their vast success, in which they are comparable, and the way they do things, in which they are completely different.

Well, you may contest the notion that these companies are so different. There’s something to be said for either view. In any case, Rob talked me into co-authoring a column in which we go into one notable similarity between the former CEO of each company. Both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are known for, let’s put it mildly, giving their people a hard time. Continue reading