Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Creating an economic balanced scorecard

The economy is measured using three main criteria, inflation, growth and unemployment rate. However, for many years now, experts have argued that some of these measures are flawed. They explained that growth is the wrong paradigm because a) earth resources are depleting at a fast rate b) current measures of growth tend to measure good and bad growth equally. For example, growth from people buying more sports equipment and growth from more people getting sick and using more medical services are on equal footing. I agree with these shortcomings, still, in the rest of the article I want to highlight deficiencies in the inflation measure and provide an alternative for measurement.
Whenever the economic reports come out, they state that inflation was X%, but how is this number calculated? It turns out that it is based on calculating the change in price of a basket of goods. Alas, this basket of goods only covers less than half of what the average American spends money on. Specifically, it excludes healthcare and housing, combined accounting for around 46% of the economy and both increasing at 10-15% range per year. So if around half of what the average American spends money on inflates at such a high rate, there is no way on earth that real inflation numbers are just 2%. It is possible that real inflation is even worse because for some Americans another 7-8% of their income will go towards either their education or their kid’s education; higher education is more than four times as expensive as it was thirty years ago. Thus, it seems the current way of calculating inflation is flawed.
So what is the “correct” way of measuring the economy? For starters, adjust inflation measure to reflect “real” inflation. Second, if you want to keep some of the inflation paradigm, then one can borrow the idea of creating a balanced scorecard. In business, a balanced scorecard insures that a company did not measure short-term profits, but measured…focus was not only short term and financial performance.  Of course, the balanced scorecard is not without its flaws. Namely, the fact that it morphed into a plethora of things measured and where measurement took so much effort that it created a diversion from the original intent of focused performance. Moreover, a lot of the measures used in corporations were subjective and not properly quantified. 
In any case, what I am proposing is a scorecard that includes the above traditional economic measures, but also things like total waste (measures using the inverse of recycling rate in the US), and poverty rate. Poverty is never reported in economic reports, as unemployment is considered more important. This, however, is flawed logic, it does not matter if people have a job if they continue to be poor. It is often said that what you measure drives your action; reporting poverty rates might spur action towards dealing with poverty. Also, hearing the poverty rate every month, or quarter along with the economic report creates focused attention on the issue, instead of hearing about it once a year. After all, the economy is not an end of itself, as government erroneously sometimes thinks.
John Cullin suggested that we make our tools and in turn our tools make us. This is true in the case of the economy; everything in the US has become in service to the economy.  In fact we do not really need to work for 40 hrs a week, but the real reason we do it is to keep the economy going. Maybe if we measured the economy differently, we would be reshaping our tool, and then, maybe, our tool would shape us into something new. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

How to feed 9 Billion people?

How to feed 9 Billion people?

It is projected that there might be over 9 Billion people on the planet by 2050. The question is often asked: how will we feed them if we are already using up 1.3 earths? To answer this question, I want to focus on three ideas:  optimizing diet, reducing food waste, and eliminating carb addiction and over eating.

According to, the food wasted in rich countries is equivalent to the entire food production of sub-Saharan Africa. If half of this food is saved it would be sufficient to alleviate hunger in Africa even when accounting for population growth for the next 30 years. Countries like France have enacted laws that prohibit supermarkets from throwing away good produce. However, there is a long way to go when it comes to individual behavior. American culture is wasteful. It is not uncommon to see people (actors) throw away perfectly good food in commercials or TV shows. It is even very likely to see this in real life; I have seen a store in Seattle (PCC) throw away a two hour old pizza into the compost bin instead of donating it or giving it away to customers for free. What further contributes this problem is that a good number of Americans lack the meal planning skills to prevent food in their fridge from going bad. I have heard the sentiment that it is hard to cook for one person because it is wasteful. However, this is a copout. I have managed to have under 1% food waste rate, while cooking for one person, 5 years in a raw.  Forgive the rant here, but the point here is that reducing food waste in rich countries by 50% is very doable if habits and cultural values change.

The second avenue for feeding the growing population is reducing red meat consumption. I single out red meat because it takes up a lot agricultural land, is a major contributor to global warming, consumes large amounts of water for its production, and is a contributor to poor health. Red meat includes pork, lamb, and beef. Of those three beef is the largest offender. If beef consumption is reduced to half its current levels in the US, that would free up 4 times more resources that can go towards food production in general, or more specifically towards poultry production. Chickens, not only have a much higher feed conversion, and produce no methane, but also take a much shorter time to raise and use very little water. Imagine there were 3 times as many chickens to feed the world than there are today, wouldn’t this feed the extra 2 billion people who will be here in the next 30 years? The naysayers might consider this an unreasonable proposal, but the facts point to the opposite conclusion: red meat consumption has gone down over the last 20 years. Moreover, Italians eat half as much beef as Americans; if they can do it, Americans can do it. Finally, Americans do not know their history and assume that red meat eating at these levels is the way things have always been. However, meat eating was somewhat of a luxury until factory farming started. In fact, beef consumption was 50% lower in the later 30s than when it peaked in the 70s.

I am not naïve here and do realized that meat consumptions in the developing countries is on the rise too. If the developing countries follow the West in their diet change, then it would be disastrous for the world. Nevertheless, what I am proposing is not, no beef, or red meat, but instead red meat accounting for no more than 20% of the meat consumption. It means, that these countries would have to find a symbol of success other than eating red meat on a regular basis. They would have to challenge their own social norms, something easier said than done, given the all bombardment of advertising by McDonald and Burger King telling them that eating burgers will make them happy.

The third and final idea is related to reducing food consumption in the US, thereby freeing up resources that can go towards feeding the poor in the US and the growing world population in the next thirty years There are two aspects to this: 1) Americans eat 30% more calories than they need. 2) Related to # 1, Americans are addicted to carbs, thus they eat more than they need. For the first aspect, one solution might be forced portion control. I know this idea will not be popular because Americans do not like the government to tell them what to do, but imagine no bottomless mimosas, no bottomless buckets of popcorn, no 20oz coffee or soda cups. Again, people are ignorant of history, but a regular coffee was an 8-10oz coffee in the early 90s, then thanks to Starbucks, 12oz replaced 8oz as the standard. As for sugar addiction, I remember when I used to be on a low fat diet, eating white pasta and bread, and putting three spoons of sugar in my coffee. I was hungry all the time and used to eat almost twice much as I do today. Once I got rid of the sugar and refined carbs, my constant hunger was gone. Imagine if every American got rid of the bad carbs, they would need to eat way less.

       It might be that these ideas do not fully answer how to feed the extra two billion people, but they do get us half of the way there.  Moreover, they require very little in the way of financial investment or technology. Instead, they reply on humans making very different choices than the ones they are making today. Of course, we all want a technological fix that does not require us to change our habits and cultural values, however, given the failure of innovation after innovation (read GMOs and glyphosate possibly being cancerous), it might be the case that changing values and habits might be our only choice. 

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

The problem with walkability!!!!!

I “love” my neighborhood, I am a 12 minutes walk to the café where I write my PhD dissertation. I am 10 minutes away from Safeway and 14 minutes away from Fred Meyer. The bus comes every 15, almost until midnight and it takes around 30minutes to get to downtown. The walkability score is 81. Great!!!! Not so fast. What is wrong with this picture is that if I has a job this would be problematic. Enter the self-sufficient neighborhood.

Walkability is great concept, but assumes the reliance on either walking or using public transport to get to work (when the public transport score is added to walkability), but if I had a job, which I will have when I finish my PhD, then I will probably have to get on public transportation or drive to get to work. Not a unique experience as most Americans still commute to work. What is wrong here is that the majority of office work is located in downtown areas. The current trend of mixed-use buildings, at least in Seattle (where I live), tends to focus on having ground level shops and restaurants and does not take into consideration office space. Perhaps an extension of the idea of walkability, a self-sufficient neighborhood would entail that there will be office space in most neighborhoods. People would not only be able to run their errands while walking, but it would be possible for them to walk to work. If over the next 15 years, a third of the US population worked in their neighborhood that would reduce CO2 emissions tremendously. Moreover, it would contribute to their health, as sitting in traffic is one of the most stressful experiences.  In fact, that is when/where many people get their heart attacks.


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Human knowledge is not doubling every two years!!!!

It is often suggested that human knowledge is doubling every two or three years. I want to challenge this suggestion based on my knowledge in the fields of leadership, change, organization development and innovation.
I had a chance to review (an unpublished literature review) over sixty articles covering the concept of leadership for creativity and innovation. I covered the time period 2007-2014. What struck me was that articles prior to 2008 were riddled with methodological problems: they lacked controls, the measurement instruments (surveys) were claimed to be valid, when, in my professional opinion, they were not, and there was no real conceptual clarity. Thus, when we say the number studies has quadrupled since the field started in the early 80s, that is meaningless, because the quality of the studies was very lacking.
Another area where I contest the notion that knowledge has doubled is related to book publication. It is often cited that there are 300000 published every year. However, a much smaller portion is new knowledge in the form of nonfiction books. A closer examination of this sub-genre will show that there is only a small amount of new stuff under the sun. For example, an author publishes six books, but four are variations on the same theme. As a result, we do not really have six times more knowledge, but maybe something like two and a half.
Another salient problem is proliferation of concepts. What I mean by this is that several authors writing about the “same” concept independently not knowing that other authors have talked about the “same” subject. Often the other authors have a different academic background, and use different labels for the same phenomena. For example, the concept of wicked/tame problems (originally from urban planning), adaptive and technical challenges (Leadership studies), and critical/routine decisions( leadership studies). All of these are very similar, but perhaps slightly different phenomena. Thus the claims for a significant increase in knowledge is not warranted.
Some suggest that knowledge is doubling based on the increase in internet traffic; however, this is very misleading. For starters, porn, and cat videos which account for 80% of web traffic do not contribute any new knowledge. Second, a 4K video, while using four times more bandwidth when compared with a 1080p counterpart produces little additional knowledge.
Data is doubling every two years, but information is not. What would it take to truly double knowledge? First, making sure that the studies do not become routinized. In other words, making a concentrated efforts to think outside the box and make truly original contributions that matter. Second, going outside “our” field to make sure that we do not reinvent the wheel, only in this case using our own jargon. Third, making sure that we are actually measuring knowledge and information and not data. Data can be counted in bits, but knowledge has to be measured using other means.


Monday, September 05, 2011

An exploration of servant leadership


In this paper I look at servant leadership and explore how servant leadership as described in Peter Block's (1996) Stewardship and Robert Greenleaf's (2002) Servant Leadership: A Journey fits within certain theoretical frameworks. Namely, adaptive challenges and adaptive leadership as described in Heifetz's work, as well as the triple bottom line, the meta- theoretical paradigms, systems thinking, and Vroom-Yetton model of situational leadership.

First, I must describe servant leadership. However, before I can proceed, I want to point out that the treatment of servant leadership by Block and Greenleaf are similar but at the same time, have clear differences. Also, Block the recent author of the two, appears to be influenced by the writings of Greenleaf. In both authors' work, the leader becomes a servant leader by being in service to others. For Block the leaders and everyone in the organization are in service of those on the front line, i.e., those who produce the final product, sell it, or those who are in service of the customer in general. Greenleaf's view on the other hand, is more expansive; he not only writes about the leader being in service to the individuals in the organization, but also about the organization itself being in service to the larger community, "the organization as servant." Here, Greenleaf focuses on the role that trustees can play in various organizational settings as a way to ensure such a service is delivered to society as a whole. I have been privy to attending a part of a Board of Trustees meeting for AUS in which the board members and the board as whole acted in a servant capacity, trying to make sure that AUS is committed to its mission of service to the student and local community. During the meeting, several student were questioned about their programs and the larger role that their programs play in the community.

Another difference between the treatment of the subject by both authors is that Block is more concerned with democratic leadership and flattening the organization than Greenleaf. Still, Greenleaf does touch on the subject, but does not go as deep as Block. It would seem that Greenleaf takes democratic leadership as a matter of course in servant leadership. He writes about the concept of first among equals(primus inter pares) as a way for the leader to operate in teams. This position seems to be at odds with Block's view which calls for true equality in work teams. Each of the position has its own merits, however, that is the subject of another paper.

An area of similarity between the two authors is the relationship of servant leadership to community building inside the organization. Both authors seem to think that there is a link. It would seem that Block's ideas in this book about the relationship between community and servant leadership serve as a precursor to his book Community:The Structure of Belonging book. Both authors think that servant leadership and the environment that it creates in an organization is more conducive to creating a communal experience within the organization.

Servant leadership has its roots in religious tradition. Here two stories stand out, the story of Jesus Christ washing the feet of the disciples, an activity only reserved for the most lowly servants of the time. The other story is the story of a leader of a religious order named Leo, who traveled with a group as their servant, while unbeknownst to them he was the leader of the religious order to which they belonged. As the story goes, the success of the group was highly dependent on the presence of this servant to the degree that the group fell apart once he left the group(Greenleaf, 2002).

Servant Leadership and Systems thinking:

In our systems thinking class we studied how theories can fit into one of the five meta-theoretical paradigms: classic, dynamic, cybernetic, field, and evolutionary. Looking at the treatment of servant leadership in Greenleaf's book and his proposal that the organization becomes a servant fits within a field paradigm in that it expands the horizon of the feedback from within the organization to the larger external environment. Also this fits within the views of open systems theory in that it deals with the boundary of the organization as if it was a permeable membrane.

An evolutionary paradigm in many cases is equated with self organization. Block, and to a lesser degree Greenleaf, use the ideas about servant leadership as a vehicle for or in combination with distributed democratic leadership in which decision making in the organization is more collaborative and shared. Such a treatment belongs closer to an evolutionary paradigm, but does not necessarily mean self organization. Even though the choice to re-organize in response to changes in the external environment might be there, that does not mean that this will happen; individuals might be married to their old paradigms and positions which prevents them from seeing or accepting the change that is required. Also as with any re-organization, certain individuals might lose their power, therefore they would rather keep the status quo.

Looking at the story of Leo through the lens of systems archetypes, one can see the evidence of the addiction archetype(shifting the burden) in the story; here the group became dependent on Leo to enable them to do the work. Service in this form has the potential of being its own undoing. This story was mentioned in Greenleaf's book, but the issue of dependency was never dealt with. Interestingly, Block's book went to great lengths in discussing the need to avoid creating dependency and how it would be antithetical to the principals of democratic leadership. He went as far as equating it with patriarchy and treating others as children, not as adults. Still he came short when trying to prescribe solutions. The solution here might come from systems literature, the burden has to be shifted back, the intervenor has to gradually allow others to take responsibility.

Donella Meadows is well known for writing about systems intervention points to improve performance in a system. In her book Thinking in systems(1977), she lists her intervention points in order of difficulty, with numbers being the easiest and paradigm shift being the hardest to achieve. The proposed shift in thinking about leadership from being the one who is served to the one who leads by serving others would constitute a paradigm shift.

It follows that as a system or organizational intervention, a shift to servant leadership should be only considered after other interventions have been exhausted or at least the organization has moved from the the first six intervention points(numbers, buffers, negative feedback loops, positive feedback loops, information flows, and rules of the system.) The other intervention points are more conducive and can be implemented at the same time as servant leadership.

Another link between Meadows intervention points and servant leadership is that once it is “implemented” other intervention point have to be adjusted as in any system, the various components are interconnected and therefore interdependent. Specially, the systems rules, and information flows, and the power of self organization.

Servant Leadership and Adaptive Challenges

I must provide an explanation of adaptive challenges and technical issues. In Heifetz’s (2000) work, there is a distinction between adaptive challenges and technical issues; technical issues are issues for which the solutions exist and in which an expert can be brought in to administer the solution. Adaptive challenges, on the other hand, are problems for which no solution exists. I can see two relationships between adaptive challenges and servant leadership. First of all, applying servant leadership in and of itself is an adaptive challenge; there is no clear cut solution for how one as an individual or the organization at large can let go of self interest and be in service to others. To have everyone become a servant would "require changes in people's values, attitudes, or habits of behavior"(Heifetz, 1995, p85).

Secondly, adaptive work has the mindset of service. In his book, Heifetz (1995) describes the role of a doctor who is dealing with a cancer patient who needs a change of behavior. He writes: "The doctor's authority still provides a resource to help the patient respond, but beyond her substantive knowledge, she needs a different kind of expertise—the ability to help the patient do the work that only he can do"(Heifetz, 1995 P87). Heifetz makes the same point about the creation of dependency was reached by looking at servant leadership from the systems thinking archetypes. If dependency exists and the servant leader leaves the system or abandons the work, then the organizational adaptive work comes to a full halt.

In servant leadership literature, there is an emphasis on being a servant versus doing servant leadership. By looking at servant leadership as an adaptive challenge, some of this dichotomy is resolved; adaptive challenges include a technical component: The being includes the doing and transcends it. This applies as much to individuals seeking to be servant leaders as it does to organizations.

Servant Leadership and the Triple Bottom Line

The triple bottom line is about organizations measuring their success not only by using financial measures, but also by how well they treat people and the environment. Some have understood people to include both employees and the larger community, while others have a more limited sense that included one or the other but not both. The triple bottom line provides a more systemic view of the organization that fits squarely within the assumptions of open systems theory; the organization is both adapting and influencing of its external environment: resources, people and ideas flow in and out of the organization. Also by measuring impact on the environment, and the community the organization takes responsibility for its actions. Finally, measuring the impact of the business on the employees is a better indicator of performance than financial measures alone, which usually have a lag or delay and are therefore insufficient as a sole measure of organizational health.

The environmental aspect of the triple bottom line seems to be absent from either authors' work. This lack of concern environment could be either done on purpose to keep the focus on democratic values. Also at the time of the writing of either book, environmental awareness was not as high as it now. Finally, the organization can really afford to ignore the environment as it is a commons, and commons usually have no feedback loop to indicate their level or quality.

Unlike the case with the environment, where there are no immediate consequences for acting in an environmentally irresponsible manner, dealing with the employee can have immediate impact on the bottom line. Both Block and Greenleaf seem to agree on how organizations and leaders should treat their employees. Both agree about the lack of success of top-down command and control leadership and the success of democratic leadership.

As far as the role of the organization as servant, Block seems to favor more money making, this can be inferred from his focus on serving the front-line employees such as production and sales people. Greenleaf, on the other hand suggests that the organization should take on some of the role played by government. The argument here is that American large businesses have the needed resources to act in a manner that is similar to government , and at the same time are nimble enough to have good chances of success, unlike the bureaucratic government.

Servant leadership and the Vroom-Yetton Situational Leadership Model

According to the Vroom Vroom-Yetton model, leaders should act in a democratic, autocratic way, or somewhere in between depending on the situation. The choice of the way to act depends on the following factors: Quality of decision, volume of available information, level of information structuring, acceptance of stakeholders, the need for participation in the decision making, and potential conflict over alternatives.

Of this list two things are relevant for use in servant leadership, acceptance of stakeholders and the need for participation in decision making. If the leader is acting in a servant capacity, then she is more likely to be interested in serving others first(being a servant,) not leading others first(doing servant leadership.) It follows that this would lead to more acceptance of stakeholders and of the leader. Also because the leader wants to serve, the leader is in service to what the group wants to do. That would not be possible without participation.

There might be a potential paradox here with regard to stakeholder’s acceptance. If servant leadership increases acceptance of stakeholders or makes it appear that stakeholders will accept the decision because of the leader, not the decision, then the model would require the move in the direction of less democratic leadership. In other words, if the acceptance of stakeholders is dependent on who is proposing the decision, and the servant leader has a good amount of ethos with the group, than the group will accept the decision without being consulted with because of the leader. The paradox then is that the leader would not need to consult with the group and would make the decision on their own(moving to AI or AII,) thereby rendering a disservice to the group. The solution then is that the focus should be on the importance of stakeholder’s acceptance of decision regardless of who the leader is.

Conclusion-Implications for Social Change

I have shown how servant leadership fits withing open systems theory, and an evolutionary/self organizing paradigm. I have linked servant leadership to the paradigm shift in meadows' point to intervene in a system. Furthermore I pointed out the potential issue of creating of dependency when applying servant leadership and how that can possibly be solved using prescriptions from systems literature.

I identified two links between servant leadership and adaptive challenges and have resolved some of the issues of treating being and doing as opposites in an either/or dichotomy. I also discussed the potential reasons for the lack of environmental responsibility when looking at servant leadership from the lens of the triple bottom line. In order for servant leadership to be holistic, it has to expand its view to include the environment. Finally, I identified a potential paradox when applying the Vroom-Yetton model of situational leadership to servant leadership. Awareness of this paradox would result in better use of the model.


Block, Peter(1996). Stewardship:Choosing Service Over Self-Interest. San Francisco, CA. Berrett-Koehler.

Greenleaf, Robert(2002). Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness 25th Anniversary Edition. Mahwah, New Jersey. Paulist Press.

Heifitz, Ronald(1998). Leadership Without Easy Answers. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press.

Holman, Peggy et al(2007). The Change Handbook: The Difinitive Resource on Today's Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems. San Fransico, CA. Berrett-Koehler.

Meadows, Donella(2008). Thinking in Systems. White River Junction, VT. Chelsea Green

Thursday, March 05, 2009

New quotes

I have come across the following quotes and thought some of them interesting:

"Considering the amount of stupidity out there it is amazing that humanity has come so far"

"Understanding reality is overrated"

"I will make the world a better place or die trying"

"He battled with stupidity and lived to tell about it"

"Dealing with stupidity on a daily basis, can leave you psychologically damaged if not completely insane"

"A man can meet his destiny on the road he took to avoid it"

"You can't outsmart stupidity"

"Reality is even worse than you think"

Friday, December 12, 2008

Jordan when oil runs out

I was thinking the other day about how the gulf states will probably be screwed when the oil runs out. I based this line of thinking on the fact they still depend on foreign labor and the fact that their local labor is largely incompetent.

That is when I started to ponder what would happen to Jordan 25 yrs from now when there is no more oil. The picture did not look good, despite all the talk about nuclear energy and using tar sand(which is very bad environmentally), I do not believe that we are doing enough or perusing the right combination of energy technologies. I talked about this a lot in previous posts.

The other area that got me worried is the fact that we have 13% unemployment while more 400000 Jordanians work abroad, mainly in the gulf states and send money back home. This money almost makes up one sixth of the Jordanian economy. What would happen 20yrs from now when these jobs and money are no longer there.

Jordan has to think long an hard about this and find a way to create jobs at twice the normal rate. Personally, I think that we can do it(yes we can;) A couple of weeks ago, there was a first page news paper article about factories in the QIZs closing or giving people the pink slip because of the situation with the global economy. It got me thinking about the fact that we import cloths from Turkey and China while at the same time exporting the same to the US. If the US as market is closed at the moment why not use this production capacity to satisfy the local market, instead of importing.
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