Category Archives: risk management

Makers – Making Trouble?

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Anyone following any kind of technology news can’t escape the growing interest or hype in 3D printing. The ‘Maker’ movement is being propelled by the lowering of entry costs of systems which can combine easy-enough-to-use design software with easy-enough-to-use 3D ‘printers’ which can sculpt an object, usually using lasers, according to the design you ‘draw’ with the software. The printed object is becoming price competitive to low volume alternatives provided by traditional large scale industrial processes.

There are a number of heavy evangelists promoting the concept and it is taking on a kind of cool-tech arts & crafts guild image. Chris Anderson, the foresight focused founder and ex-CEO of Wired recently left that organisation to pursue his dream of the Next Industrial Revolution where Atoms are the new Bits. It sounds great to me and for those as old as me to remember, very Jetsons. I can see some of the tremendous opportunities and give full credit to people like Chris who are willing to craft a new personal brand around this concept.

Chris’ move (at least as it’s been reported) reminds me a little of when Shai Agassi left SAP to set up Better Place. I don’t know about the timing of the Maker movement over the Electronic Refuelling movement, but if things proceed, I hope Chris can learn something from Shai’s own journey. After evangelising the concept around the world, setting up a company to show that it was possible, and raising hundreds of millions of dollars, Shai was fired by his board.

Perhaps unlike the electronic refuelling idea, the consumerisation of technology has a more inevitable momentum behind it. On a positive note, there is already a growing market for small, industrial ‘craftshop’ businesses using the technology to provide widgets designed by people who can’t afford the whole at-home-printer set up or who don’t think it is quite easy-enough-to-use. Already you can find small shops willing and able to print you a gun, a bike, an action figure, and even a car.

The big question for me, is – why are we so excited about the Next Industrial Revolution – when we haven’t completed the last?

A couple of weeks after reading Chris’ article about the brave future awaiting us, I read an interesting assessment of Boeing’s Dreamliner aircraft issues by Paul Marks, New Scientist’s chief technology correspondent. Paul’s opinion was that the complex federated supply chain model used by Boeing was always going to be a high risk because of the lack of end to end quality assurance running through the vast network of suppliers to suppliers to suppliers to assemblers etc..

Ironically, the Dreamliner was slated to be the first, best, biggest, brightest plane every built completely off a shared digital design. It is a great example of a Global Maker. Thousands of ‘makers’ working together, sharing the same software designs and ‘printing’ parts to fit together perfectly like a great Lego set.

While the Dreamliner project did struggle with many technical challenges, the biggest challenge was, and remains, with the human system – not the technology. The people running the workshops have multiple agendas and mixed incentives.

It seems to me that we have here a perfect snapshot of a point in the evolution of society and technology. Unlike Chris Anderson however, I believe that the Next Industrial Revolution will occur in the way that distributed networks of people work together to achieve results which have higher quality and are more resilient than anything they could print for themselves.

Clearly, we still have some ways to go. Viva la revolution!

Resilient Infrastructure – A Win,Win Response to Natural Disasters

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Photo: Sunrise7

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Photo: bert knot 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the past month, Australia has experienced record breaking heat waves, bush fire disasters, rainfalls and flooding. Certain parts of the east coast have now had their 6th hundred year storm in ten years. Whatever the causes of this cycle of natural disasters, it is perfectly clear that severe weather will continue to have an extreme impact on national security, the economy and the safety of people around the world.

In Australia, as in many countries, government administration in the areas of emergency management, national security, health and the economy remain largely silo based. Disaster preparedness and recovery are seen as costs rather than investments. As a result, budgets are always under pressure and the traditional likelihood vs impact risk analysis approach is used to justify low levels of preparedness on the grounds of economic pragmatism.

In Japan, a country which also has a history of recurring cycles of natural disasters of wildly fluctuating magnitudes, attitudes are very different. Rather than treating each extreme event as a unique, once off, never to be repeated disaster, people accept the inevitability of natural disasters and act accordingly. As a result, preparedness is accepted as a core aspect of engineering and social planning.

Following the recent election in Japan, the government has announced an economic stimulus package which includes a significant investment in ‘nation toughening’ projects. These projects follow previous infrastructure investments which have not only raised the level of resilience but also facilitated economic growth and supply chain improvements.

In Australia and other countries, government investment and incentives for large scale private/public resilience and preparedness projects would deliver a win, win result. At a small scale, a national network of community ‘bushfire bunkers’ could stimulate regional development and offer protection for those whose evacuation routes have been closed. At a larger scale, flood management infrastructure can be developed which incorporates improvements to transport and irrigation systems.

After another month of ‘surprises’, it’s time to start expecting the unexpected and explore the opportunities for ‘nation toughening’ projects in your country.

Jumping out of the goldfish bowl – part 1

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In yesterday’s post, I presented a goldfish bowl-half empty view of the prospects we face to internalise insights from cognitive science and develop new behaviours to better deal directly with our complex environment.

Now, I’d like to start considering more of a goldfish bowl-half full view and ideally, get some ideas on how we can escape the loop of forgetfulness (or denial).

To start, and in keeping with the historical references behind some of these ideas, let’s begin with Heinrich Hertz’s introduction to The Principles of Mechanics in 1899.

The most direct, and in a sense the most important, problem which our conscious knowledge of nature should enable us to solve is the anticipation of future events, so that we may arrange our present affairs in accordance with such anticipation. As a basis for the solution of this problem, we always make use of our knowledge of events which have already occurred, obtained by chance observation or by prearranged experiment…… When from our accumulated previous experience we have once succeeded in deducing images of the desire nature, we can then in short time develop by means of them, as by means of models, the consequences which in the external world of models, the consequences which in the external world only arise in a comparatively long time, or as the result of our own interposition. We are thus enabled to be in advance of the facts, and to decide as to present affairs in accordance with the insight so obtained….

The images which we may form of things are not determined without ambiguity by the requirement that the consequents of the images must be images of the consequents. Various images of the same objects are possible, and these images may differ in various respects. We should at once denote as inadmissible all images which implicitly contradict the laws of our thought. Hence we postulate in the first place that all our images shall be logically permissible – or, briefly, that they shall be permissible.

You hear in these words, some of the fundamentals of science, the principle of rational analysis and decision making behaviours and, by extension, the fundamentals of risk management.

What happens when nature is found to be contradictory to current knowledge? What happens when our knowledge of previous events does not prepare us for the future or leads to assume incorrectly that we are ‘in advance of the facts’?

Clearly, in some situations, the quality of our evidence may be poor and a lack of logical consistency might be proof of poor data and rightly ignored.

Scientific discovery often introduces new evidence which contradicts the ‘facts’. Over time, experimentation and consistency of evidence leads to new ‘facts’. The more counterintuitive, the harder it is to accept these new facts. In 1899 Hertz wrote about ‘mechanics’ – the ideas of that time are now taken for granted and we have moved on to grapple with quantum mechanics.

If we are to accept the growing body of consistent evidence regarding the psychology (and possibly the underlying physics) of our behaviour, we will need to find a way to apply Hertz’s framework to a world which we are beginning to realise remains largely unknown from the past and contradictory to our present common sense.

Instead of expecting tomorrow to be like yesterday, we will need to learn how to expect the unexpected.