Biomimetic file 206: Impossible Logic

How reasoning on impossible assumptions can be a powerful rule of thought

possibleImage: Creative commons. An imaginary number* is a complex number that can be written as a real number multiplied by the imaginary unit i, which is defined by its property i2 = −1. The square of an imaginary number bi is −b2. For example, 5i is an imaginary number, and its square is −25.

Highlight: “Microelectronic devices are currently fabricated by using processes that are intrinsically two-dimensional, and the inter-connectivity required in complex systems is achieved by stacking and connecting planar layers of circuits…on the other hand biological structures arise by constrained self-assembly, and are usually three-dimensional (3D)…a new research demonstrates that biomimetic principles of design and self-organization can be applied to generate multifunctional electronic systems of complex, three-dimensional architecture…”

Insight: An important field of mathematics deals with so called imaginary numbers* with practical applications in areas such as microelectronics; as a matter of fact most of our modern devices (e.g. mobile phones) exist because of these algorithms. This field makes outrageous assumptions which defies the fundamental rules of mathematics: assuming that the square root of a number can be a negative entity. Yet, by setting accurate reasoning on this single impossible outcome, an entire field of mathematics was developed and the outcomes of the predictions are undoubtedly correct to the point of being the basis of modern electronics!

What this field of mathematics clearly demonstrates is that it is possible to come up with accurate outcomes even based on inaccurate assumptions. The key is to know (and keep track) that the assumption is incorrect but that the logic surrounding it is correct. It is a very powerful trick to reveal hidden outcomes which would otherwise remain invisible by applying conventional logic.

This mindset can be applied to business: sometimes businesses have to deal with complex happenings that don’t seem to have any apparent solutions.  Yet, looking at problems from another perspective and anticipating changes to come based on impossible assumptions can help to forge strong strategies.

For instance lets imagine the following scenario: An insurance & financial advisory company is about to launch their new offering for retirement. Like it is common practice before the launch of a new insurance package, they develop a computer model which simulates various scenarios based on in-house algorithms developed by their analytical mathematicians. One of the tests involves running a range of impossible outcomes and in this particular case one of these assumptions is that everyone in the United States lives up to 100 years hold (obviously impossible). While running this assumption into the model an unusual behavior is noticed in the algorithm and quickly rectified. Once fixed they continue to run the models based on realistic life expectancy assumptions based on real life data and the product is soon after launched. The point here is that without this impossible assumption the error would not have been noticed as the odd outcome remained too small to be seen under normal realistic assumptions…

Are you stuck with a complex problem that does not seem to have any solution? If so, perhaps try the above approach by projecting outcomes based on false assumptions; you may be surprised with the outcomes…

More information here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species or natural systems on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 205: Rise of the Machines

Why business automation is both an opportunity and a risk

Male robot thinking about something.

*Cybernetics is a trans-disciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems—their structures, constraints, and possibilities. Norbert Wiener defined cybernetics in 1948 as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine.”

Highlight:The evolution of the paradigm of modern biomechatronics and robotics can be seen in two main directions, standing as two extremities of a range of future biomechatronics systems: increasing the performance and miniaturization of the hardware platform and increasing the intelligence of the integrated system. Regarding the first direction, the current challenge is to develop sophisticated machines with a higher level of miniaturization and performance, as they can be inspired by insects…a recent paper highlight the current state of achievements in the merging fields of biomimetics and cybernetics*…”

Insight: There are functions in living organisms for which we are conscious and have control over, and others we have no knowledge and little or no control. Examples would include digestive systems, respiratory reflects and inner body vital functions in general. In a way many of these processes are on “auto-mode” like a fine tuned machine. Similarly in business there are functions which we do ourselves consciously and a few processes which have become assisted by machines. However, while to date the assistance has been mild all this is about to change fast.

The hard truth is that the vast majority of jobs out there can, now or soon, be replaced by machines. These do not only include labor intensive blue-collar jobs which require repetitive tasks but increasingly even tasks which have been considered very skilled such as head-hunting, trading or even various medical professions which are progressively threatened of being outperformed by newly developed “smart” systems and algorithms backed by rapidly increasing computer processing power. To put things into perspective the below graphic highlights clearly the trend of the development of artificial intelligence:

power_075

Source: Journal of evolution and technology. At the current rate of increase we are only decades away from computer processing power outperforming the human brain.

It is obvious that the main reasons for corporations to embark on automation are to reduce manpower costs and to boost productivity which in an increasingly unsecured global economic landscape makes a lot of business sense. Replacement of people with machines removes instantly a range of human related burdens for businesses such as poor productivity, various leaves, strikes, accidents…In fact the benefits seem too good to be true. For instance in some cases, like in manufacturing chains, the productivity can be increased by a factor of 100 or more…

Optimists on the issue often refer to a transition period which will be followed by stabilization. They claim that many jobs will be lost (perhaps underestimated) but that the replacements by machines will create many new roles. There is no doubt about this but perhaps the real question to be asked is how many? If one machine can replace 100 jobs but that only a few technicians/engineers may be required to maintain and monitor that machine, all in all it seems completely out of balance…

The very thought of massive jobs loss globally from automation alone (there are other factors which will add-on to these losses) raises very serious societal and ethical questions. If governments allow corporations to take on this path, what is the replacement solution? Are governments ready to pay people to do nothing through a minimal wage system?

It seems that overall large scale automation would be greatly beneficial to businesses but extremely harmful to societies, at least in the current political and economic settings. Like many other mega trends unfolding it is obvious that no one or entities really seem to have a clear solution and that the mind-set is a “wait and see” approach, which is not really pragmatic…

Are you thinking of automating your business? What are your thoughts on the topic?

More information here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species or natural systems on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

bluestrike logo

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 200: Entropy

Why maintaining order is key to business integrity

smoke_texture2788Picture source: creative commons. *In physical terms, entropy is a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system. ..In other words entropy measures the lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder…

Highlight:”Researchers from the Universidad de Guanajuato have developed new types of fuel cells partly inspired from processes found in species…One of the key findings shows the best flow field to minimize the entropy* production…”

Insight: Entropy is omnipresent in nature, it is a general observation rule that natural systems tend to stabilize overtime at the lowest energy levels. For instance plants would grow where they get the most exposure to sunlight, birds would adopt flight patterns that are most efficient. As a matter of fact, deviation from order is a path to species extinctions…

In business, disorder (high entropy) is often synonymous with poor performance. Once a business operations become in a state of disorder, chaotic outcomes can quickly escalate leading the business in a state of crisis.

A personal case I came across was the visit of a Japanese car parts manufacturing plant in Cambodia, I was amazed by the level of order in the manufacturing chains, everything seemed to be perfectly in place and following very precise procedures. On the other hand, not long after I visited a steel processing plant in Indonesia and was struck by the level of disorder in all aspects of the company. After a bit of background study on these two companies it turned out that the first had seen record breaking profits while the second was in financial difficulties. while they may be other factors involved, order in operations (and overall management) was certainly a key contributor to the success of the first company …

The below indicators are key to assessing the state of disorder and should act as red flags that a company is in a “high entropy state”:

  • Escalating systems failure rates;
  • Poor safety records;
  • high employees turnover.

Do you operate a business that involves complex chains and processes? If so do not overlook the need to keep operations in order as it will reflect positively on outputs and safety records…There are various external certification that can facilitate (but not replace good governance) the maintenance of order such as certain ISO standards (e.g. 9001, quality control) which in today’s competitive market are no longer an option but a must to remain trustworthy, attractive and competitive…

More information here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species or natural systems on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

bluestrike logo

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 196: Exponential Disruptions

How an Understanding of Exponential Behaviors Can Benefit Businesses

main-qimg-7c47724e131d532d5b6986453f82b291

Exponential growth occurs when the growth rate of the value of a mathematical function is proportional to the function’s current value, resulting in its growth with time being an exponential function. Exponential decay occurs in the same way when the growth rate is negative

Highlight: “Population growth or decay tend to follow exponential curves…Researchers at the University of Michigan have explored reproduction patterns in micro-organisms to further understand this remarkable outcome…One of the research finding is that  in a population the effective intrinsic rate of increase actually changes as the density of the population changes… a new biological concept was used in developing this theory — the carrying capacity…”

Insight: In nature it is not uncommon to encounter systems behaviors which follow exponential growth patterns. Examples would include certain populations growth or decline. The point is that what starts as a small insignificant trend can sometimes escalate tremendously fast to become a major dominant outcome.

This behavior is important in the business world as well for instance when anticipating changes, managing risks or making strategic decisions. While most tend to plan based on linear  uninterrupted flow assumptions, anticipating such possible patterns and incorporating them in planning is crucial because they have the potential to completely alter all other plans.

There are complex mathematical models which can incorporate, to some extent, this type of behaviors in planning strategies but perhaps an easier way around it is simply to accept that it is a possible outcome and to have a plan B ready in case. Plan B would typically drastically differ from plan A in that the exponential outcome would have completely reshuffled priorities.

For instance lets say that a new product is being tested on the market and it turns out that its sales significantly grow following exponential curves. Thereafter, this new product  suddenly becomes the company’s main sales strategy and requires full attention over other aspects which were until then prioritized. This type of situation, while seemingly a great news for the company, can in fact turn out disastrous if unplanned and managed inappropriately because the new focus could turn out to be destructive to other operations…

Are you already established and planning for new releases or changes? If so perhaps anticipate potential exponential outcomes and prepare yourself accordingly in order to prevent this disruption from creating an hazardous unbalance in your business…

More information here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species or natural systems on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

bluestrike logo

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 189: Lifeline Reserves

How being financially prepared can be crucial to businesses in times of need

honey-pot-ants
Image source: Honeypot ant, strangeanimals.info

Highlight: “Many insects, notably honey bees and some wasps, collect and store liquid food for use at a later date. However, these insects store their food within their nest or in combs… Honey ants are unique in using their own bodies as living storage, used later by their fellow ants when food is otherwise scarce… When the liquid stored inside a honeypot ant is needed, the worker ants stroke the antennae of the honeypot ant, causing the honeypot ant to regurgitate the stored liquid from its crop…”

Insight: While it is common sense that businesses should put money on the side for times of difficulties (like individuals should), the preparation is often obviously not enough.  Indeed, it has become almost common practice, especially for large corporations, to deal with financial difficulties in the easiest way possible: through moderate and sometimes massive manpower cuts. This practice is commonly simply the result of failure to anticipate business slowdowns which are in fact inevitable.

While it is sometimes indeed inevitable to lay people off in order to keep the business afloat, the practice is exaggerated and often unjustified. A common excuse sounds something like: “we are worth billions in assets but we don’t have enough cash flow right now to pay salaries!”. What businesses should do instead is perhaps to set aside special accounts with high interest rates to prepare specifically  for times of economic slow down; that is readily available cash money on the side (not only assets such as properties that take time to liquidate).

With such simple measure in place it becomes much easier to absorb economic difficulties while maintaining the workforce through a financial storm which usually only last a matter of months. Also worth highlighting is the fact that the damages resulting from manpower losses verses financial savings gained from manpower cuts is often underestimated as corporations often struggle to recover and need to reinvest heavily in hiring and training of new staff; not to forget the damages induced to the brand.

Do you fear for your workforce future? If so perhaps consider setting up special manpower bumper accounts as a lifeline for the workforce…

More information here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species or natural systems on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

bluestrike logo

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/