blogging the big picture

February 18th, 2014

Open management.

Being an advocate of open management systems, an article by Inc. Magazine: Why You Should Let Your Employees Do Whatever They Want, drew attention.

Caution, however, was raised by the tag line: “Focus and discipline are relics of 20th century business. Here’s what’s taking their place in the virtual, open source era”.  No, sadly, that would be foolish.

The author is focussed (see) on creativity, innovation and marketing, so the article’s tone is understandable.  But the message is garbled; “open source” is a reference to software used inappropriately in the sub-title.

Nevertheless, the essence of open management systems is captured when it says, “By letting your team do whatever they want, you’ll attract the best people with the best ideas.”

Yes, move to open management systems, but it is not an invitation to chaos and free loading.  Sometimes focus is important and discipline is welcome in any endeavour.

February 14th, 2014

Show love! Philanthropy doesn’t match wealth growth.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy notes that “Gifts surge from US donors“.  That’s good, especially in difficult times.  But BloombergBusinessWeek read between the lines and saw that “Billionaires’ Wealth Is Skyrocketing. Their Philanthropy Is Not“.  Sadly.

It is unfortunate because this is another sign of a widening wealth gap between the top and everyone else, between the owners of capital and everybody else.  We would not want to legislate philanthropy, aka higher taxes, but an unjust system, in which the benefits of modern technology are enjoyed by less than 1%, is unstable and prone to unhappiness.

The thoughtfulness that goes in to giving also matters.  The more globally responsible, the better.  Very local or lost causes are not priorities in a world creaking under the weight of human pollution.  Education is top of our list because it is the path to opportunity and enlightenment.  Protecting nature (from humanity) is a given.

February 13th, 2014

A minimum wage stimulates the economy?

I’ve always been against the hand of the state in private decisions and forcing a minimum wage is one of those interferences which has always grated.  However, in a world where technology is raising productivity and reducing the demand for labour there ought to be a popular desire for everyone to have the ability to work for a living.  And that means that if you work “full time” you can enjoy life.  Well that is not the case if you are on minimum wage.  In teh US, if you are on minimum wage you earn 36.0 percent below the poverty level and 62.7 percent less than median income.  That is destabilising as well as seeming immoral.

There is also a case to be made for a minimum wage for stimulating the economy because when people have spending money, they spend it and that boosts the economy.  And it is well known that distributions to people with less are spent, not saved, whereas rich people tend to hoard their capital.

It is a sad conundrum: We don’t really want to legislate a minimum wage, but if people aren’t getting a living wage even when they work full time and are employed by huge corporations, something has to be done to change it.

I can not afford to pay minimum wage for much of the work I do.  It would be nice to employ a professional on the farm but the yield from the land does not compensate for the wage cost because people want machine produced food shipped from far away instead of locally grown, clean, zero-carbon food.  So we scrape along, trying to protect nature and know that we can not afford to pay minimum wage.  But if a big agro-industrial conglomerate is employing people, it ought to be humane and that means above the poverty level.

We know the whole system is going to have to change because business sense says: “put in more machines, which are cheap and efficient and you own them”, while humane morality says “give people work on a living wage”, the supply of which is dwindling fast.  The gap between “have a lots” and everyone else is growing, but it should be shrinking.

Some truths from Barry Ritholtz in his article Taking a Closer Look at Fast Food Minimum Wages:

workersin publicprogrammes2014A full-time worker (40 hours a week) in the U.S. making minimum wage earns only $15,080 a year. For some context, median individual earnings are $40,404 a year (BLS), while the U.S. poverty level is $23,550 (HHS). Full-time minimum wage earners make 62.7 percent less than median income and are 36.0 percent below the poverty level. (The number you probably hear quoted most often is median household income at $51,017, according to the census. The minimum is 70.4 percent below that).

If the minimum wage had merely kept up with price inflation since 1968, it would currently be at $10.77. That is $22,401.60 per year, bringing wages closer to the poverty line. Beyond inflation, if it kept pace with productivity increases, it would be closer to $20 per hour; annual salary would be $41,600, higher than the U.S. median. And just for laughs, if the minimum wage kept up with the earnings of the top 1 percent, it would be higher than $22, or about $45,760.

What does all of this have to do with McDonald’s and Wal-Mart? Plenty. As Bloomberg Businessweek reported earlier this year, net total public assistance to the fast-food industry is about $7 billion dollars. (This does not include future medical costs associated with diabetes or heart disease). If the minimum wage were suddenly raised to $15, it would drive fast-food prices 25 percent higher, adding a $1 to the cost of a Big Mac.

As the accompanying chart shows, employees of the industry receive more taxpayer aid than any other sector.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek: Making the Economic Case for More Than the Minimum Wage

February 11th, 2014

Farming in the city.

It’s a cute idea and seems to have much merit.  Put a fish farm in a shipping container, plonk a hydroponic greenhouse on top and “hey presto” you have a self-contained, eco-efficient food production system that can sit in a small garden or yard behind your house or urban industrial/commercial building.

ECF Farmsystems Containerfarm claims:

Healthy Vegetables – With an ECF Containerfarm you can grow over 400 varieties of plants, including tomatoes, salads, cucumbers, basil, mint, eggplant, zucchini, gooseberry and even cut flowers.

Fresh fish – 75 tilapia perch grow in a Containerfarm. At the end of the season each fish weighs about 500-600gr. They are delicious fresh from the grill stuffed with rosemary and lemon.

Good for the environment – ECF farms are extremely economical in water consumption, minimize transport distances and cold chains and work without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Water, love, organic fertilizers and organic feed, that’s it.

In the middle of the city – Vegetables and fish produced directly around the corner. Eco-friendly and transparently grown, without transport kilometers and cold chains.


EU Commission: German start-up offers eco-efficient urban container farming

February 4th, 2014

A “Tidal Wave” of Cancer.

Those are the words used by the World Health Organisation to describe the trajectory of the growth of new cancer cases.  They predict a jump from 14 million a year now to 24 million new cases per year by 2035 – about 2.5% growth a year (compounded).  That better be faster than the growth of the population (which needs to shrink drastically).

But the point of the descriptive language is to get attention to the causes which we can influence.   The WHO’s World Cancer Report 2014 said the major sources of preventable cancer included:

  • Smoking
  • Infections
  • Alcohol
  • Obesity and inactivity
  • Radiation, both from the sun and medical scans
  • Air pollution and other environmental factors
  • Delayed parenthood, having fewer children and not breastfeeding

So, the point is to look after ourselves and live less virtual, more natural lives.  Cancer, and other big killers, might be a bit random, but you get more out of life if you can run without wheezing …

runner's knees

Apparently this runner’s knees are over 70 years old!


January 27th, 2014

It’s easy to ignore what you put in your mouth.

The Ecologist Guide to Food, written by Andrew Wadsley, is to be published in mid-February.  I reckon I know about what I put in my mouth.  After all I grow a lot of it in the garden.  But I happened to click over to the book promotion page and was reminded how easy it is to be ignorant of the food pollution we create.

Before you even get to the food, there’s the packaging, which consumes tonnes of oil to produce and is then chucked in the land fill.  And then the food is filled with interesting bits from MSG to E43.  And even fresh ingredients come with unpleasant invisible coatings of herbicide and pesticide.

The online magazine promoting the book, Forked, offered other reminders (like the article linked below) to be aware of what you put in your shopping basket and mouth.  So don’t be “Forked”, think about what you put in your mouth.

Forked: Deformities, sickness & livestock deaths: the real cost of glyphosate & GM animal feed?


January 23rd, 2014

US college degrees cost more than a house.

This YouTube video of Marty Nemko debunking myths of big incomes that come from going to college, landed in an in-tray almost unnoticed.

It’s from 2011, and is still valid.  The data is unattractive.

The alternatives to college that he advocates, like community college, part-time, apprenticeship and work to learn, make better sense for more than 2/3 of matriculants.  Nearly 40% of students will never get increased productivity or net-earnings from their time spent at university.  But, at least they’ll learn to party…

January 21st, 2014

Winning without trying.

Sun Tzu’s philosophy was to avoid conflict if possible.  He recognised the waste of resources and the cost of the risk that aggression creates.  Many modern managers think that he was all about fighting, but his philosophy was much ore about fighting without fighting, as Bruce Lee said, and if you have to fight, do so with the least cost and greatest chance of victory.  Sound like common sense, right?  Yet business culture has yet to understand the logic.

Deepak Chopra presents the philosophy with a more spiritual perspective in The Law of Least Action.  The insight shared is that universal laws of nature underpin the behaviour of everything from atoms to planets, and even humans in between.  While the busy manager or professional might have been taught a military discipline of focussing on objectives, following procedures and getting things done, the reality is that pushing against the universe results in wasted efforts and, often, failure.  That is not to say, “Sit on your hands”, but rather to be aware of situational dynamics that are signals to alter strategy or tactics.

Read Chopra’s article for the scientific logic.  Here are his tips for implementing it.

Tips for promoting least action:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Promote an open environment for the exchange of ideas
  • Allow free communication at every level of work and management
  • Support the whole group emotionally
  • Ask for honest feedback
  • Make every worker feel valued

Tips for getting out of the way:

  • Stop using undue pressure
  • Don’t promote stress as an incentive
  • Don’t use intimidation
  • Don’t isolate management from workers
  • Let go of old, familiar ways of doing things


January 20th, 2014

Don’t Just Sit There!

Do you spend a lot  of time at a desk or behind a computer?  Check out this excellent pdf poster from The Washington Post, and it’ll help you think about some uncomfortable habits.

The health hazards of sitting



January 20th, 2014

85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world

Working for the Few - Oxfam reportThat’s a shocking fact.  The timing of that headline is appropriate as the rich gather to enjoy the luxuries that Davos, in the Swiss Alps, has to offer the World Economic Forum.

Anyone reading this is unlikely to be one of those 85 people, but you are definitely in the top 10%.  And everyone at the WEF is probably in the top 1% (the richest 70 million).

Ironically WEF 2014 intends to focus on Achieving Inclusive Growth  and Sustaining a World of 9 Billion.  There is little awareness among any participants of the kind of whole system change that is required to achieve those objectives.  Testament to their naive, self-importance is the fact that they do not realise today’s world of 7 billion is unsustainable despite the decadence (aka decay) that surrounds them everyday and the daily news of climate extremes, biodiversity loss, injustice and greed at among the top 1%.

There might be ignorance and selfishness but we can try to make a difference in our own little space by voting with consumption and investment for a more equitable humanity.

The Guardian: Oxfam: 85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world