August 7, 2004

I’m still reaching for the big picture here.

virtual sits atop physical
conceptualization, innovation
transactions, sales, delivery

bedrock is what? a productive relationship.

Urban Map

She feels that the “dot.com bust” marked the “end of the beginning” not the “beginning of the end”. She feels that we are entering a golden age of information technology that will change business, society, and the lives of everyday people in fundamental ways

What is need is a relativistic theory, to give up altogether the notion that the world is constituted of basic objects or building blocks. Rather one has to view the world in terms of the universal flux of events and processes. David Bohm

Complex human systems can only function properly by spontaneous order rather than central control.” (Nonetheless, corporations are mini-totalitarian systems.) Charles Koch

UNPREDICTABILITY. Planning is never a solution. It is merely a way of restating the problems we don’t know how to solve.

GROWTH. Improvizational drift. Maslow advises that to be creative in business, one must forget about the future and improvise in the present.

How Buildings Learn shows how something as solid in appearance as a building actually undergoes perpetual changes. If you coudl watch a stop-motion movie showing a few seconds a year, you’d see a lot of action. Business organizations have been running slow, too, but I sense that’s about to change, for the timing mechanism they march to is speeding up mercilessly.

Peter Merholz’s great summary of the rate of change of buildings.

Brand returns to this theme of different rates of change among different levels, this time of human civilization instead of buildings, in Clock of the Long Now. Fad changes continually; nature changes hardly at all.

Later in the day, I’m reading The Third Wave: Build to adapt, not just to last.

There are direct parallels to what I’m seeing in the business world. I am working on what the layers are and contemplating what it means for layers to be out of sync with one another — paradigm drag or bleeding edge.

The core tenet of How Buildings Learn is that buildings are not static entities. They are not art. Buildings serve people, and people’s needs change constantly. A building that can be changed is one that will survive and even grow beloved—especially if that building can be changed while it’s being built.

Brand approaches buildings in terms of six elements: site, structure, skin, services, space plan, and stuff. These are listed in terms from most permanent (where the building is located) to least (what’s inside it). He says the most successful buildings are the ones that can accommodate changes in services, space plan, and stuff. Services, by the way are the hidden elements such as wiring, plumbing, insulation, and the like. Space plan is not only how a room is used (bedroom vs. TV room), but whether the structure can accommodate expansion or change. Today’s construction often locks each room into its own purpose, and the structure isn’t friendly to changes inside a building—much less additions to the building itself.

Brand takes the view that for architecture to truly be worthy of honors and respect from the community at large, it must serve a purpose and meet the expectations of the dwellers. Here in lies his argument. Most architecture he finds must adopt to our conditions. Few architects design with the intent of fulfilling long term expectations of the building, beyond the life expectancy of it’s first or primary function it was designed to do. This he goes on to explain is the foundation why much of why we see being build fails.

The book ends up transcending architecture: it’s a meditation on the effects of time on things that humans build, and a lesson on how to design for the long run instead of the short.


This sort of reinforces my feelings about wikis, perhaps not fairly. I just lost a page of thoughts to my new wiki at seedwiki. I’ll see if I can resurrect them in even better form than the original.

Many people were relieved when the dot.com bubble burst. Back to business as usual. Enough of this virtual nonsense. No more twenty-somethings cashing in on paradigm shifts. The skeptics won’t like what I’m about to write: the bubble was just an early ripple in a sea change that’s going to restructure business, economics, trade, work, and management on a scale never before imagined.

For the better part of the last 200 years, an enterprise has consisted of several businesses lodging under one roof. There’s a customer-acquisition business, a product-innovation-and-development business, an infrastructure management business, and support services such as HR, finance, & training.

It once made economic sense to keep all these processes in-house. (It would have cost too much to manage someone else carrying them out.) The Internet has trivialized the cost of farming things out.

Outsource the non-essentials! Example: Let UPS handle our shipping. They are better at managing delivery than we are. Better to free up some cash by having UPS own the trucks instead of us. Invest the money in our core competence (what we do best). Since this is what we excel at, we should extract a higher return on our investment. Using someone else’s assets like this enables us to do more with less. Nike doesn’t manufacture shoes. Cisco doesn’t make routers. We could all hand off less-rewarding functions and be better off.

Time and time again in business history, an upstart outsider topples a market leader. Inevitably, the new leader enjoys a cost advantage in the neighborhood of 30%. How? By managing the costs of an entire value chain rather than just its “own” costs. They’re all costs to the customer, no matter who owns the means of production. Business management becomes less like Monopoly, owning and managing assets, and more like Chess, making a series of good moves.

A game of Monopoly can wipe out an entire afternoon, but a chess master can play two dozen games at once, often declaring victory in less than fifteen minutes. Few enterprises are swift enough to mix and match steps in their value chains at the speed of the top players. The chess board these losers face is always two moves behind.

It’s as if the losers’ view of what’s happening has been trapped in some terrible time-delay. You see, yesterday’s managers came up with the best ways to do things, and they handed it off to their IT departments to implement. IT translated these solutions into indecipherable code. This was equivalent to carving the way they did things in stone and pitching them into a black hole. When conditions changed, obsolescence was assured. And change is rampant.

IT is not the bad guy here. Until quite recently, computer technology was so immature that years of study and teams of experts were required to communicate with the systems. Computers required users to bend to their will, to speak their arcane langauge, and to make people serve them rather than the other way around. This is about to change.

In the near future, business processes will be exposed for all to see. They will be like a document on the web. Since there’s only one copy, everyone sings from the same hymnal. It’s quick. It will always be up to date. Write once, read many.

Granted, the views on screen will differ by individual. The business analysis will see a process flow diagram that can be manipulated to change steps in real time. The busienss manager will monitor results from an executive cockpit with the ability to what-if analyze reconfigurations of the business. The worker will see a derivative of the process in a workplace portal or portable device. The programmer, who generally won’t be that involved since changes to the process automatically change the underlying code, will see the process at the code leve.

As the inside flap of Peter FIngar and Howard Smith’s book, Business Process Management: The Third Wave, puts it, “Don’t bridge the business-IT divide, obliterate it.”

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