Efficiency comes at a price

We’re being offered an adventure right now. Whether we like it or not.

Our “normal” world has dissolved and all of us, businesses, and individuals, find ourselves at a threshold. James Campbell, he of the hero’s journey left us with a wonderful body of work, and a way of thinking about our journeys.

Source: Wkipedia

We are at a threshold, and we have two options. To answer the call to adventure, or to refuse the call.

Setting off

There are many who have no choice other than to accept the call, either through necessity, because we have been displaced or our business in one of the roughly 20% of SME that, according to news report this morning the banks will not help, or because of conviction, like the hordes of volunteers and businesses that despite their own hardships are helping others.

The NHS, who despite being a vast bureaucracy, have come out dancing.

They are crossing the threshold, setting off into the unknown. They will face a wide range of challenges to which they will have to rise (or may fall) or suffer the temptation to turn around and try to go back to a place that no longer exists.

They are to be hugely admired, and supported as they travel this road. They will reach a time when everything seems dark, but the vast majority will come through and find themselves in a different place, with new perspective and a way forward. It will not be easy, but as in any adventure, we have to keep going.

Staying put

There are others who will refuse the call.

We can already see who some of them are. The Banks seem to be behaving as we expect, having to be asked to delay dividends at this time (why did they have to be asked?) and who are applying “normal world” lending criteria to business despite being underwritten by government. Despite all the pretty advertisements, it is clear that little has changed in their culture in the last ten years.

Those who have an extraordinary sense of entitlement. Those on vast salaries, from contracted sports stars to managers running organisations they have no real stake in.

Those who feel helpless, let down by the system.


I find it difficult to believe that the difference is between good and bad people. I know many of those in “staying put” organisations who are kind, thoughtful and generous. They are there in numbers, so what makes the difference?

Those with real talent who are victims of circumstance and inflexible, automated sytems. Universal Credit, which I’m sure will work one day but right now, one day is a long way into the future.

Over the last thirty years, we have developed systems and protocols, amplified by technology, that have transformed efficiency.

In every area, from production to services to government. It has left us with two groups of people, those who design the systems for their own benefit, and those who service them.

Efficient systems are designed on a presumption of relative certainty and predicatability in their environment. They make assumptions about cause and effect, from the way we behave, to the way economies behave. They worship probability.

When conditions are right, they work incredibly well, even to the point where we give the systems dominace in many areas of decision making.

I hadn’t set out to bash the banks, but Fintech does create such perfect examples. Anybody who has tried to get a business loan (or a personal one) knows the routine. The account manager you are talking to has virtually no leeway, “it’s up to credit” – aka, an algorithm). The salesman grom whom I bought my car has more discretion.

The same is true of insurance, as anybody who gets a renewal knows. When we do a comparison, find comparable cover much cheaper, and contact our provider, we know the routine. An immediate slight reduction, and then a blank. The algorithm rules.

We end up with a system predicated on a tight range of normal.

That’s a problem when normal goes absent.

AI doesn’t do Intuition

One of our stunning abilities as humans is intuition. Knowing without calculation. Part instinct, part experience.

The firefighter who senses building collapse. The athlete who knows when to push. The artist who places the next brush stroke in just the right place. The doctor who senses what tests have missed.

It’s why we call in the Military at times like this. They know that every battle plan goes to ratshit the moment contact is made with the enemy, and train accordingly. The Royal Marine’s train to “adapt and overcome”.

AI is poor at adapting in short time frames.

Humans have evolved this way for a reason. It’s why we’re still here, and will continue to be here when what is going on is history.

By comparison, AI is staggeringly fast and accurate at what it does, but blindingly stupid when it comes to what’s important.

Probabilities never made a devent human decision. We don’t marry on probability, or make any important personal decision. We make judgements.

Dealing with what we are right now, in times of turbulence, relying on AI is a liability. It is a powerful technology with huge potential, but when serving humans, rather than systems, it has real limits.

What might it mean for us?

It’s a wake up call.

We have become a little blind. We have jumped on the efficiency bus based on short term benefits. It’s made our lives easier when things are normal, reduced prices and generated huge corporate profits, which in turn are very selectively distributed.

We’ve lost sight of the longer term, and the needs of those who follow us. It is quite simply unsustainable, and in many ways, we should be grateful for this reminder. It is, I suspect, the first of many adjustments we need to make.

We need to be awake to it.

Here are my three things to consider:

  1. Reflect. If your work is determined by algorithms, consider what it might look like in a few years. Algorithms don’t do joy, love, empathy or intuition, but you do. Leverage it.
  2. Simplify. This crisis has exposed all sorts of supply chains, from the logisitical to the emotional. Keep your supply chains short. Know who you are dealing with, and understand what their agenda is.
  3. Balance. The very best of human is being brought out by this crisis. The lockdown has given us a channce to see what quiet feels like, and to enjoy the absence of frantic. Remember what it feels like. You may have to go back to an environment that wants the old normal back, but you can plan an escape route to what matters to you.

Just as we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, we musn’t let effective be the enemy of the effective.

Efficiency is a short term measure. It carries a long term price.

I also blog more specifically on this at www.originise.net


When I lived in Switzerland, there was a joke. 

The logs at the top of the pile needs the ones at the bottom to be really, really, stable.


As we get past the initial disorientation of what’s going on, past the stockpiling (interesting that the British do toilet rolls, whilst the Americans seem to do guns) and the bravado, past the hysteria of the tabloid press and into something of a pattern, the unexpected consequences begin to become clear.

  • Who is important to the functioning of our society. The Key workers.  The natural Givers.
  • “Our people are our most important asset” gets seriously tested.
  • The amount of froth in our economic coffee. The staggering amount of largely pointless activity that consumes attention but leaves no lasting trace, from coffee shops to celebrities.
  • The fragility of international supply chains, and the comfort of buying from people who we know.
  • The immediate effect on our CO2 emissions. We’ve talked about in worthily for ages, then this comes along and we get real action. James Lovelock’s Gaia theories stock just went up a notch.
  • The boundaries of AI becomes clear. The data on which most practical applications rely is historic. It didn’t see this coming, and I suspect if we asked it what to do, we wouldn’t like the answer much.
  • The exposure of the takers in the economy. The sheer amount of wealth they have gathered will shield them, but their credibility is severely dented, and their future authority in question. Logs on the ground look much like each other.

It’s easy to say that in retrospect that this was coming was obvious. Like all Black Swans, it may be true, but we didn’t act as though we did, and that’s what matters.

Equally, it’s instructive to notice the number of pundits who say they saw it coming. It may be true, but if they couldn’t make their voice heard, it’s of no moment today.

We will continue to work at understanding what is going on whilst the Givers do their utmost to mitigate the effects on us and the takers pick from the debris, but we have no idea of what next year will look like. 

So, what do we do?

I’m writing my thoughts on this at www.originize.net in the full knowledge that none of us know what to do until we get to a point where things begin to settle (if they do) and right now, I think it comes down to one main action:

Generous self reliance. 

Our institutions, public and private, are struggling to keep up with the pace of change. It doesn’t make them bad, just arthritic. 

Those making a difference are individuals, from the doctors following their calling despite self evident risk, to the companies moving  production to ventilators for no profit, to the local groups organising supplies to the vulnerable, to those continuing to empty bins and stack shelves for around the living wage. 

Whether we’re comfortable with it or not, for the next little while, we are reliant on them and their goodwill. We should be truly grateful. 

I suspect that in the vast majority of cases, the people leading these efforts have made their own decision. They are clear minded about what is important to them, and acted in line with that. 

They are reliant on themselves first, and use that to give. 


It is those I want to associate with as we go forward.

Value and Values

Value is one of those terms that we slip so routinely into our narratives that it’s easy for it to become invisible. And yet, it’s fundamental in every aspect of our lives. What we value goes a long way to determining who we are.

Before the current global difficulty, notions of value had been taken over largely by business. Shareholder value. Added Value. Retained value. Hard measures of extrinsic worth. Financial wealth.

Now, the real, deeper meaning of value is rising to the surface, buoyed up by what feels like an existential issue. Who we value more than what we value.

The notion of “key worker” is giving a refreshing perspective on value. Doctors, Nurses, Teachers, Bin Collectors, Shop Assistants. Not much sign of hedge fund managers, HR managers, Advertising Managers.

Whilst every single one of us is uniquely valuable, at times like this it is the ones who put themselves out, and at risk, to look after others that stand out.

It’s also true I suspect that if we look at how we reward key workers, we take advantage of their commitment. A case where value and values sit at odds with each other.

Extensive research has shown that the easiest way to demotivate someone who has a vocation for what they do is to tie them in to performance based appraisal and reward systems.

We have done this to teachers, doctors, nurses, and many others who do what they do because it meaningful to them, and routinely risk themselves in service of that.

We are paying givers poorly in a system that reward takers. If that doesn’t shame us right now, it should.

What we will go through for the next few months gives us an opportunity to reflect on this, and address it.

Clever investment managers will find a way to profit from this crisis, but it’s probably not best to call them when you get the virus.

We can do better than this.

Value and Values are different.