Volume 1 / Issue 13 / September 12, 2016
How will we Regenerate Complexity’s Waste?
We tap perspectives from Lean leaders and practitioners from all sorts of realms be they manufacturing, food processing or health care. Every day the list gets longer. Today, Doc Hall, Professor Emeritus of the Kelly School of business founding editor of TARGET Magazine, and a founder of AME looks ahead and shares his vision with ATJ.
His ground-breaking 1983 book, Zero Inventories, jarred the world of manufacturing with Single Piece Flow. So many of us know and respect Doc for his deep thinking and for all he has done to share knowledge through TARGET Magazine. It’s a nuts and bolts magazine for the rest of us who have to take high concepts and new technology and incorporate them into functioning processes that will work for us on a daily basis.
Doc helps to bring honest, waste-value to our lives. His current mission is to help us to live better with less on this very finite planet we call earth. He refers to his message as Compression.
ATJ thanks Doc for sharing this article in which he discusses our coming struggle with the huge wastes software can quickly generate. We are struggling with IoT, Artificial Intelligence and their unknown (as yet) impact. He looks ahead to think about the regeneration we’ll need to redeploy the wastes the software flood brings.
How will we Regenerate Complexity’s Waste?
By Robert “Doc” Hall, Compression Institute
Software systems symbolize growing complexity in technological societies. A truly complex system is not only intricate, but changing faster than we can track. (Let’s see, where did I put that new auto-generated password?) Complexity entangles our tax laws, legal codes, commercial contracts, health care, supply chains, financial prospectuses, and on and on. Even the varieties of toothpaste for sale are baffling, much less figuring out why I’m getting robo-calls from Egypt.
Software lets us do things we could not imagine 50 years ago, like Facetime with grandchildren half a world away – and porn on a phone. It also lets us “manage” messes that we could not have made without it. Human systems on which we now depend approach the complexity of nature. No one can predict everything that could happen. Coming soon, experts project that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is in infancy and that the Internet of Things (IoT) is upon us.
System complexity already pervades entire industries like automotive. For example, no one could resolve what went wrong with the mysteriously accelerating Toyotas. Outside programmers reviewing Toyota software declared it “spaghetti code,” a tangle of convoluted logic that somehow worked. No one could find a specific bug, but neither could anyone prove that it might not suddenly take on a mind of its own.
Toyota has long prided itself on quickly knifing to the root cause of problems, but this awakened them to complexity – to root causes “buried in complexity impenetrable by PDCA logic.” Toyota has long known that physical complexity (tangled flows, clutter) is a hiding place for waste. Perhaps we should add software complexity to the list of seven wastes (or is it eight or nine wastes?).
‘Shelfware’ is one type of software waste. We have bought it, but never used it. Worse is software that we use to make many errors. Is training inadequate, software too complicated, or the whole process in need of simplification? Pubic debacles illustrate the hazards of software complexity. For example, on August 8, 2016 Delta Airlines’ scheduling system went dark due to failure of an automated switch to connect computers either to the grid or to backup power. The mess rippled through the global commercial air system. United and Southwest systems crashed earlier. Systems experts deem such debacles to be inevitable, implying that waste is inevitable. Why?
Airline systems are overgrowths on legacy systems – patched, enhanced, app connected with almost “anything,” and slowly infected by complexity creep.Security from hacking is paramount, so the system cores are not duplicated in parallel. This minimizes opportunities for hackers, but leaves the system vulnerable to local crashes.
And why does this happen? Because once a software system becomes big and messy, we are inclined to keep tweaking it rather than go through the pain of a complete changeover. How many lean initiatives have foundered because a company was consumed by a high-priority system changeover? Then how much waste did this new system bake in, rendering it impervious to future improvement because the software was considered too complicated to modify?
Humans need to ask questions that no software system may ever be able to ask: Are we running the software, or is it running us? Is the improvement we seek from it going to add to our capability, or are we replacing old waste with new, more complex waste?
True, software lets us do things we could never do otherwise. It can create product features impossible without it, and automated equipment can attain both quality and productivity that human effort cannot match. But we don’t need to be cool just to be cool – not without thinking through the consequences.
However, our deepest questions should probe beyond efficiency and competitiveness. Are we doing the right things for the long-term benefit of all our stakeholders? And one stakeholder should be nature, a system too complex for us to ever fully understand. Wrestling long-term effectiveness enters a different realm of complexity, but one on which our future may really depend.
If you are environmentally minded, you try to minimize environmental damage both from your operations and from the use of your products. However, if you dig deeply, we are already damaging the planet at a rate the earth cannot absorb – polluting, overusing resources. To get into balance with nature, we have to cut back, not just expand at a slower rate; become really good as nature sees it, not just less bad.
One term for this is Regeneration – letting nature regenerate itself. To do that we need to regenerate how we think. And to do that, we need to regard our business system of competition and success as an overgrown, complex system from which we need to escape. Blow up our legacy with new thinking. Discover new possibilities that we could not see before.
This is mind blowing, of course. How can you avoid going broke while helping people live as well or better while consuming a lot less? Why not adopt a community, a community that wants to live better by using less? How can you assist? By thinking of yourself as in a service business, not as being able to prosper only by selling more stuff. One can even imagine performance incentives tied to reducing a community’s fuel consumption and to reducing the traffic in its streets. Thinking about business models goes nearly upside down.
A forte of such a company is apt to be education of the public, or more likely, co-learning with the people in the communities they serve. This is very different from building a market. It is a role in building a movement. This kind of thinking requires us to learn about nature’s complexity. To do that, can we simplify overly complex human systems? Can we reshape our “complex business ecology” to be compatible with nature’s ecology? That requires a revolution in thinking. How about continuous regeneration, not just continuous improvement? For example, to contribute to making a community more symbiotic with nature, a transport company might help design equipment that would assist in restoring soil, wetlands, or woodlands. (For example, eliminating vehicle use in nature preserves might help. From nature’s view of waste, doing nothing may be a big improvement.)
To think in such a way, both companies and the communities they serve would engage together in Vigorous Learning, where “vigorous” implies learning anew from reality on the ground, questioning the commercial mythology of our past. Maybe we can add another waste to that old list – waste as nature sees it.
A Delta Switch failure
Check out ‘Vigorous Learning’
If the compression topic interests you, contact Robert “Doc” Hall, at the Compression Institute. There you can tap into far more background.