Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The utility of strategy

Strategy, a long term view of evolving uncertainty, has been misunderstood. Blue chip consulting firms and investment banks - sultans of PowerPoint and handlers of boardroom dramatics, have been leading firms in the wrong direction for decades. Business schools, filled with those adept at finance and accounting, have been drilling the wrong stuff into the brains of every budding graduate. The economy is suffering from ”stratgeists” and not from the lack of them.

Strategy, however, is a useful construct, not for individuals or organizations but for society. For the society, it provides guidance to nourish a stable, productive and improving population, able to propagate the human genes, across space and time. For individuals and organizations, with limited decision and harvesting horizons, strategy provides negative value. This inherent conflict – the whole benefiting from longer horizon thinking but not the parts, means that the former is likely to lose. Utility maximization for an individual or organization, is inherently constrained by limited time horizons and tacticians, indeed, add more value.

Strategy has to be redefined – it is not about entering new markets, culling dogs and embracing stars, maximizing equity value, next quarter’s earrings or next year’s bonuses. Strategy is a notion that may help assess and improve humanity.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Is living longer, better?

Statistics have been clear, humans are living longer (1). India, projected to be the most populous country in the world as the Chinese have been systematically controlling the birth/death ratio for long, cunningly culling the variety that could create more, has been able pump up nearly 20% of the world population to longer life expectancy. In India today, one is expected to live till 65 and the world at large to 71. The more important question is whether living longer is better.

Biological systems are preprogrammed to maximize life span. The basic equation is driven by reproductive requirements and those living longer are more likely to transmit their DNA to the next generation. Nature, with little flexibility to adjust to technological advances, seems to have gotten it wrong. Living longer is the biggest liability in the modern world, controlled by humans, who do not think straight. Today, over 80% of the healthcare costs of an individual is attributed to the last year of her life. For the individual, waiting to fade away in dignity, extension of life is likely utility destroying.

There could be an optimal life span for a human driven by the status of technology and the availability of resources. Moving outside such bounds is unlikely to be good and this has policy implications for medicine, education and societal formation.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Living on the edge

A recent article published in the open access journal ZooKeys (1) shows that the 10 Km wide asteroid that impacted the Earth, 65 million years ago – famous for removing the dominant species at that time, nearly terminated the weaklings, the mammals, as well. The paper portrays a picture that is striking – the placental mammals that dominate the world today – from mice to women – just got lucky. They do not seem to posses any significant advantages but the conditions afforded by the trauma, removed all competition, allowing them to thrive.

If mammals were any wiser, they would analyze this event in depth. Dinosaurs had technology – largely supported by biology but the discontinuity made the status-quo technology, a liability. Humans, apparently, on top of the food chain today, seem to be proud of their technology as well – most of which are finely tuned to current conditions. Their societies seem to have morphed into systems with little networked flexibility. Any minor perturbation could send them galloping back 50,000 years – hunting for food and sex, aided by a volatile organ, an evolutionary mishap, on their shoulders. Technology would not matter in such a discontinuity.

10 Km wide space debris are like pebbles in a system, teaming with primordial matter, sprinkled across an irrelevant planetary system at the boundaries of a less than ordinary galaxy, in a bubble universe, member of an infinite multiverse. Such an event is a near certainty for a planet that is in a straight jacket in limited space-time.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

BELLA rules

Recent news that the Berkeley Lab has achieved an energy of 4.25 Giga Volts in a miniature accelerator, 9 centimeters long on a desktop, continues on a profitable path to next level of discoveries in Physics. Traditionalists, steeped in the philosophy of “size matters,” have been on the wrong track for over 50 years. They dug tunnels and abandoned them in Texas and they dug longer on the other side of the pond, that could prove pretty much anything in the midst of mind-numbing noise in the data. Size and volume do not matter, insights do.

It is ironic that scientists bow to engineers in an effort to make fundamental discoveries. Engineers, bored out of their wits, need no invitation to build ever bigger guns. This combination is deadly – it is costly and it takes away any possibility of fundamental discoveries in Physics – Not the Nobel seeking ones, but real ones. Einstein's obscure paper on LASER would have given a favorable direction 100 years ago for the brilliant minds of this century. But in the midst of mediocrity, some even nourishing visions of accelerators, the size of the solar system, it was all about size. BELLA thinks differently – and that ultimately could make a difference to the “dark” ages of Physics – where anything inexplicable is tagged with “dark.”

Few provide insights – but many publish, build and run experiments.