While the hearing remains inconclusive, there was little mistake that the US is entering yet another cycle of active state intervention into business. It is strange that issues being put across the table confused data privacy issues, responsibilities of a tech company management, geopolitics and business ownership.
Our institutions today are highly complex and sophisticated. Even the concept of ownership in a business is made so complicated by unbundling of the various rights that are traditionally attributed to owners, then dishing them out to various parties.
I wrote about how people can’t solve problems that they are not willing to have. Yet one has to master the art of picking the right problems to work on as well. There had been times in my life when I wasn’t sure which problem to pick on dealing with and my attention became so diffused I wasn’t actually solving any problems but simply touching and going.
A lot of that life was during my previous career. We were often under a lot of pressure to do many things and deal with lots of problems with limited resources. And the result was the need to frequently and quickly get through a problem, declare it solved, and then go on to another one. There were long term issues, and shorter term ones. And one must learn to be able to prioritise them, as well as to properly trade-off resources across the long and short term challenges.
That prioritisation eventually becomes another challenge in itself. And this sort of self-referencing issue keeps popping up over my professional life. I discovered the importance of setting up buffer time for planning, to set aside budget for solutions to manage budgets and to ensure sufficient rest to be able to actually be producing more. Often times, we don’t recognise that the problems we pick naturally lend themselves to some peripheral problems that we need to deal with. That problems actually comes in a package when we are picking them.
There is a collorary to our economic system in nature. It’s not considered a single subject or discipline but involves a mixture of physical geography with ecology, biology and so on. Nature is truly circular to the extent that the outputs of one system feeds into the input of another and the overall grand scheme of things is in a kind of dynamic equilibrium that eventually shifts over time.
For a while humans have mimicked nature in creating circularity in our economy. And then we gave up because it was easier to scale things up and create wastage in order to fulfill profit motives. The unequality in an economy, the more wastage is produced because production gets inevitably skewed towards satisfying a demand that is aligned more to the distribution of “means” rather than a distribution of “needs”.
Nature behaves differently because the currency of nature is multi-dimensional and rich. There is no “monetisation”; nature do not base its value on a single commodity. You can’t exchange one calorie for another easily within the diet of most animals.
Real circularity involves richness that the industrial capitalist manner of approach cannot replicate.
The first makes assumptions explicit. The second hides the assumptions and takes them for granted.
In my work as a strategy consultant, I make extensive use of scenarios, and often we might not consider the likelihood of scenarios while constructing them. It matters because it helps us to immerse ourselves into a reality such that our construction of the reality is not affected by how likely we think it would be. It is more important to be able to extensively work our the implications of our assumptions at that stage.
Only after the scenario modelling is complete, it makes sense to step back and examine the assumptions, perform sensitivity analysis and consider how the outcomes are sensitive to some of the assumptions.
And then what? Then we consider likelihoods of those assumptions manifesting.
Following my observations on Google’s mutated identity, there’s more news of the company’s “decay”. The focus here this time is something else; about the shift in the company culture that results in a bureacracy that plays it safe. There’s a common strand around the fact that Google has changed. And part of the change involves becoming removed from the needs of the user and a bit less grounded on realities.
Indeed, reality is about what the market wants when your company is small and just leading parts of a large market – usually a small part. Yet when a company grows, the insides of the company and the decisions of the management often can be more real than the user. In fact, your boss is likely going to have way more influence over your fate than the users have over the fate of the company. At least in the short term.
So should we have a cultural metric that is about how much a company revolves around serving the user? Maybe. But it is only possible from the top-down. The management have to model and lead that. Yet the management is usually selected by shareholders and at some point when the company grows big. At some point, the short term interests of the shareholders can conflict with that of the user. Moreover, the business model of Internet companies like Google is “ads” – which means users don’t even contribute directly to the revenues of the company!
It can be pretty hard for me not to think about energy. It probably has to do with my job but the topic itself is fascinating. In some sense, ‘energy’ could be a subject itself that draws on science, mathematics, economics, engineering, law and many more disciplines to help us make sense of it. While we learn a lot about it in science, most of those fundamentals just remain where they are in our minds and do not connect with the wonders of modern technology and everything that we are so immersed in.
Electricity of course is the most fascinating of it all. It is the energy form that we have been able to manipulate with great precision and even enable energy to take on so much more new roles in life that it would not have been conceived to take on centuries ago even when electricity was first discovered. Electricity of course is a form of energy manifesting and needs to have various mediums, and the best carrier of electricity remains to be chemical batteries.
There are many other energy carriers as well and typically these are fuels; they are released through combustion. That produces heat energy which then can be transformed into kinetic energy, and in turn that tends to be then transformed into electrical energy with appropriate mechanisms such as some kind of motor and generator.
Carriers of energy are themselves interesting and fascinating because there are losses that results from going through the carriers and the various different forms of them. They also come in different forms, shapes and stability, influencing their functionality. Coal is a solid fuel; oils are liquid while natural gas is gaseous. Their state allows them to be conveyed differently and also affects the cost of transporting them.
Last century, the world was afraid of running out of them. Because they are commonly known as non-renewable energy. We use them faster than we can replenish them. Fossil fuels are created through millions of years. This century however, we begin to realise we will end up changing the climate of the world even before we run out of fossil fuel so we’re in a race to phase it out as quickly as we can. Alright it isn’t actually a race because many countries, organisations, assets are stubbornly using it.
But the point of this piece here is to help us recognise that fossil fuel does not have the monopoly in carrying energy and there can be more ways for us to obtain and use energy. Ways that can lead to sustainability and circularity in the world.
When is it good for something to be structured and when is it good for it not to be? It’s not entirely clear. I think humans do enjoy a bit of both. At some level, the world is structured but it is also messy and complex. There is land and sea, forests and deserts. But there are also ecosystems and lots of freedom to roam within the realms you find yourself in.
What happens when an environment is too structured? Problem solving becomes playing games, more about figuring out the rules and toying with it than to really deal with problems at hand. This is how the big companies develop more bloat and bureacracy with politics.
And what if the environment lacks structure?Outcomes become less reliable. The randomness can create uncertainty and encourage inefficiency. Yet at the same time it can build resilience.
What do you want for yourself? For your kids? For your staff? How would you structure it?
It begs the question if a company or a brand’s identity is meant to hang around and if so, what kind of values should persist as it grows. Or as the market changes. The idea that Google can quietly push out something and slap a Beta sticker to insulate themselves is attractive when their market share is still not exactly dominant in a new space they are trying to enter. Moreover, the pool of audience they had targeted; the ones who would try something new or be eager to take the tech guinea pig role might no longer be enough to feed the company’s need for growth and scale.
So certain aspects of the company changes and one could say the identity is forgotten but it could also mean they have allowed it to be forsaken in order to pursue something else.
The question is what defines the company’s identity? Is it a way of doing things? That’d be too dynamic. Is it the targeted group of customer it serves? Then it’s growth is constrained to the size of that group. Or the pursuit of the company? But surely the world changes and that pursuit gets altered.
In any case Google is long past their “original identity”; and practically all of those dimensions I mentioned above have changed for them. It is up to them to tell the story of their identity’s evolution and redefine what they really want to keep or discard.
I loved my laksa example when it comes to talking about scale and growth. How long do you think a concept or idea needs to gestate before it experiences mass adoption and succeed? And does success mean growth and scale? Or can success mean mastery towards perfection?
Take Toast Box; they took the simple breakfast fare of the Southeast Asian chinese, created a system to deliver it elegantly, and scaled in it a big way. But how long did it take for the kaya toast and half-boiled eggs to gestate in the cultural environment before they were ready for this Toast Box model?
When something is gestating, there is growth as well. The growth may be of a different quality and require a different environment. Just as the pre-mature foetus won’t be able to survive the environment outside the womb independently. This may sound like the “infant industry” argument but perhaps different – I’m advocating that we don’t apply the same standards to evaluating business growth across all kinds of businesses or business ideas.
At the end of the day, it is a question of what capital is seeking. To replicate and produce more of itself without care for the impact to the world, or making a difference along the way
Lululemon had a “We made too much” sale ongoing. It is nothing new. All fast fashion brands tend to make too much. Because the strategy for fast fashion and the culture we created is to push out the latest design into the market, make it as widely available as possible in the shortest time pricing with markups that makes construction contractor mouth water and then just deal with the leftovers later.
So how do they deal with leftovers? Sometimes they discount, which is not the most common approach because discounting damages their relationship with customers. Customers would begin to expect cheaper price later and most of them would learn to wait. That is bad for margins and future profit. So the fast fashion brands dump their clothes into other markets which don’t carry their first-to-market goods, and then eventually just dispose of the clothes.
Precious cotton and fabrics that can be used to clothe someone else goes to waste. The world is not better for it but certainly there are people made richer by this model. And so it goes on. The focus on sustainability within the fashion industry is just beginning and hopefully gets to a level when it can start snowballing properly.
So what is the alternative? How about slow fashion that focuses on classic, proven designs, that uses materials in a sustainable way? Where the cost is towards improving material traceability, better sourcing and exploration of newer, shorter supply chains? Instead of fattening corporate wallets and perpetuating the fast fashion culture?
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