The Beer Game, the Power of Empathetic Thinking, and the 787

Anneliese Anneliese, at the Garden House in the 13th District of Vienna.  Viennese know how to really play the Beer Game!

One of the interesting examples at the beginning of Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline, that’s intended to demonstrate the power of systems thinking, is a game called the Beer Game.  Invented at MIT in the ’60s, Senge uses this in his classes to teach supply chain dynamics.

The basic outline goes like this: In the game, there are three parties ostensibly working together to sell beer:  a retailer, a wholesaler, and a marketing director for a brewery.  The beer in question, ‘Lover’s Beer’ is distributed throughout a network of convenience stores, and the primary mode of communication is a check-mark sheet of how many cases a retailer wants to order on a weekly basis.  Every week, a truck driver brings beer to the retailer, and every week, the retailer hands the order sheet to the truck driver.  The truck driver then aggregates those sheets through the wholesaler, which then goes back to the brewery.

Simple. An exception is inserted into the game that increases demand.  Turns out, a music video is released by a young rock band, and demand starts to climb.  The cascade of circumstances with retailers starting to order more beer, and wholesalers demanding more leads to consternation and increased production at the brewery.  The end game is that because there is a lag in the actual production of beer — it takes two weeks, at least, to brew, there is overshoot.  The effect of the video wears off, and demand levels off back at the standard, pre-video level.  All three players end up with extra stock that they can’t get rid of, and everyone is unhappy.

Senge makes very clear in his book that everyone playing is NOT allowed to talk to each other — they have an externally defined relationship with each other, and that’s that.  No one has time for anything else — classic power structure/hierarchical behavior.  The only communication that comes is simplex-type information sheets that show aggregate beer orders in one direction (from customer to brewery/wholesaler), and then, of course, the actual beer in another (from brewery/wholesaler to the customer.)  Senge, though likely not an Authoritarian himself,  is no stranger to Authoritarian v-Meme systems — he prescribes no conversation, overwork, and the vast availability inside a given convenience store as part of the game.  Fragmentation, fragmentation, fragmentation.

But what becomes fascinating is how he ends the game, which at some level is a plea for changing what engineers would know as an open-loop system (no corrective feedback possible) to a closed loop feedback system — a very algorithmic approach, where some control signal is ‘fed back’ either upstream or downstream to modulate the oversupply production.  He has the retailer and the marketing manager at the brewery sit down and have a conversation — right before, in the story, the marketing manager resigns for the overproduction of beer.

What’s even more fascinating is that Senge’s role-play of the marketing manager has the marketing manager quit to save his reputation — a status-based, lower v-Meme behavior if there ever was one.  Instead of arguing that this marketing manager has been through this boom-and-bust cycle once now (he was hired at the start of the game!) and now is Wise After the Event, the guy is canned.  What he’s doing, of course, is expressing how Senge views the world — he, like all of us, can never escape the dominant v-Memes that we have inside of our head — in this case, like the book, a plea for a combination of Legalistic v-Meme thinking coupled with a Performance/Goal-Based v-Meme evolution.

And then Senge gives us the answer, which is, not surprisingly, systems thinking.  Absolutely nothing wrong with that, at least on a superficial level.  If all three parties understood the interrelationships algorithmically in their supply chain, then these things wouldn’t happen.  We can plunk down modified versions of these forms, or set up some model for understanding slow-down and expansion of system boundaries, and we can eliminate these types of problems.  Senge alludes strongly to communication.  But don’t they already have communication?  The forms with check boxes?  Senge in his own solutions, is v-Meme limited.  And without a larger self-awareness, he can’t see where he might go.

Looking at things from a more global v-Meme perspective, Senge is arguing — rightfully so, in a limited way — that if we had just a little movement from pure, arbitrary, impulsive authoritarianism, to a generalized understanding of the algorithmic laws that govern system behavior, we could dramatically improve system performance.  We would start to see the development of the idea of consequential thought among the actors.  And with increasingly sophisticated understandings of system dynamics, we could develop an increasingly sophisticated predictive model of how to buffer what systems modelers call perturbations to the stability of the system.

But let’s reframe this debate, inserting the empathetic development of independently generated, data-driven, trust-based relationships into the mix.  Instead of title-driven relationships, where we have a retailer, we have Sue, the owner of the convenience store.  Instead of a truck driver, we have Mike.  And instead of a marketing director, we have Pierre. Mike is dropping off beer at Sue’s store.  It’s a small store, and anyone rolling in is immediately noticed — especially someone unloading beer.

“What’s up, Mike?” Sue asks.  “Anyone around selling more beer than usual?  Any promotions, or specials from the head shack?” “Nothing this week, Sue,” he replies.  “Anything unusual on your end?” “Well, I’ve been selling out quicker from this beer — Lover’s Beer.  Kinda weird — it’s not that good,” Sue replies. “I don’t like it,” Mike says.  “But kids nowadays…I’ll see if I can get some more of that.” “Sounds good,” Sue says. Mike goes back to the distributor, and passes the information on about things he’s seen on the route.  A couple of weeks pass, with the same pattern of beer lag that is seen in the original game.  Mike returns to Sue’s store. Sue says “Mike!  I’m selling out of that beer!  Gotta have some more of it, and you’re not bringing any more.  Here’s another order!” And then Mike demonstrates the power of empathetic connection, and the elevation of responsibility that comes when people are connected.  “You know, Sue, I know you want some more.  Seems like they’re backed up at the brewery.  But I’ve been driving a beer truck for a long time, and the last thing I want to do is show up with 40 cases of that crummy stuff and you not be able to sell it.  I’m gonna sit on your order until we can at least fill your backlog.”

One can easily imagine the ripple effects that come with similar dialogues between the truck driver, his other customers, his boss, and Pierre, the marketing manager.  Pierre’s job is to pay attention to who’s out in front of his product placement efforts.  He’s likely seen the video, or heard about it, especially if he’s developed empathetic relationships himself across his network.  If everyone is a sensor on his network, and engaged in duplex, empathetic communication, the aggregate intelligence regarding the extent of the perturbation is quickly known.  The system itself — profoundly dependent on empathy and empathetic relationships — doesn’t have to fix itself to some arbitrary time constant in the system — like the week between ordering, or the two weeks necessary to brew more beer.

Independent relationships can transcend these externalities, and with that changing time scale, adjust themselves to deal appropriately with the effect of the release of a music video.  The entire knowledge structure becomes much more rich, with a much better definition of metacognitive unknowns, like “we just don’t understand much about young kids today!” This is, of course, what I believe Senge, had he had the concept of the dichotomy of relationships, would say.  What is created with just a little empathetic, duplex communication, and a good dollop of independent relational generation, is a far greater, more sophisticated and robust learning organization than one that just learns algorithmic modes of prediction.

Ordinary folks might just call it friendships, or common sense.  But one can see that those labels are misleading.  The actual sophistication embedded in the system, and emergent in times of change, with rapidly changing time scales, is actually a mechanism for maintaining information coherence across all affected parties.  And I’d argue is a much happier solution to the Beer Game than just a fragmented network of titles.

If you think that this example only applies to small-scale situations like beer at a brewery, the whole Boeing 787 supply integration chain is filled with similar stories.  Back in 2004, when Boeing was gearing up to design and manufacture their first composite airliner, the top management staked out Boeing’s new role as solely a systems integrator of parts around the world.  Boeing would sit in the middle, the airplane would be a virtual one first, with an entire digital model sitting out in cyberspace.  Companies from all over the world would be able to bid on whatever parts they thought they could manufacture, and then those parts would converge on the Everett, WA plant, and the new facility in Charleston, SC.

It all SOUNDS good (high status, accepted mental model), and system-y, until one starts to really unpack the reality of the scenario.  And then one starts to realize how deeply flawed and arbitrary the whole idea is. To start, the 787 Dreamliner has around 2.3 million parts.  With an Authoritarian v-Meme set, once the design is made, then parts must be right.  But anyone with just a lick of skepticism would realize that getting 2.3 million parts correctly designed and up on the web for bid is nigh on impossible.  There is no way, in an open loop format, that you could drive the error rate low enough that the plane could fly.  When you add on the issue then of a manufacturer making the parts, and having them all be correct, you can quickly see that the whole airplane would, sooner or later, run into a complexity crisis.

And it did.  From rivet availability to deburring the backs of rivet holes, errors that ended up having to be fixed far downstream in the process from where they originated kept cropping up and delaying first flight — for three years.  Even now, with the relocation of 787 construction to a non-unionized workforce in South Carolina (no Legalistic v-Meme scaffolding!) 787s are rolling off late and losing money — about $10M an airplane. Clearly, higher-level, empathetic emergent dynamics are necessary to create contemporary, high tech products.

In closing, I’ll tell you I was recently at a large American Society of Mechanical Engineers meeting in Montreal, Quebec.  Speaking were several industry leaders, who were, in various ways, addressing this complexity crisis.  When asked what was the source of most of their pressing problems, all said the same thing — “social”. It’s not just about beer.

What is the Sixth Discipline? Looking Back at Senge and Systems Thinking


Fish Creek at high water, Lochsa River tributary, Idaho


Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke

By far, one of the best management books to appear out of the late ’90s is the text ‘The Fifth Discipline — the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization’ by Peter Senge, a Senior Lecturer at MIT and co-faculty at the Complex Systems Institute.  Senge, if not the inventor of the concept of ‘systems thinking’ was certainly one of the first authors to attempt to mainstream the idea into modern world business culture.

What is systems thinking?  In short, it is the process of realizing that things and outcomes are hooked to each other, and that only by understanding and considering more complex patterns of cause-and-effect, can we develop a more profound understanding of our current situation, as well as future outcomes.  Intrinsic in this is the practice of drawing system boundaries.  Though it may be true that everything in the world is hooked to everything else, determining effective action relies on accurately sizing and including the components of the system one can have effect on.

The book has much to like — in certain ways, Senge has written the management version of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, or Russell’s Principia Mathematica — attempts at a completeness of categorization of ways of thoughts, though to be fair, Senge declares multiple times no such aspirations as did Wittgenstein and Russell.

It is an extremely useful read.  Senge lays out many Authoritarian v-Meme modes of thought in contemporary business, and then proposes more complex, algorithmic Legalistic v-Meme patterns in kind of a mix-and-match style throughout the book.  But there are contradictory modes.  Senge, while talking about the organization, spends virtually the whole book talking about teaching the individual.  There is not a single mention of empathy in the whole book, though he alludes to lots of empathetic concepts.  With many of his examples, he compacts and conflates lots of synergistic higher v-Meme behavior, and even alludes quite often to spirituality — which sounds good.  But what does any of it really mean?  There is no real pattern except the selection based on his authority.  And there is precious little attempt to apply systems thinking to systems thinking — a meta-level version of understanding why we do what we do.

That said, understanding his perspective is extremely useful for moving past his ideas and developing more complex, synergistic paradigms.  In many ways, The Fifth Discipline stretches the paradigm of the individual and algorithmic thinking as far as it can likely go.  No one has described a Legalistic v-Meme version of Flatland better.  There is talk of evolution, of course, as well as structure.  And lots of talk about how imposed structure will change organizations.  In a very important way, The Fifth Discipline prepares one for the next step — toward realizing the unending progression of enlightenment proposed through understanding empathetic development and Integral Theory.

What’s at least as interesting is how Senge himself demonstrates how his own social structures limit his own writing.  Senge, as a Senior Lecturer at MIT, is inside his own modestly rigid hierarchy.  The people he largely uses for his business examples are high-status, aspirational and enlightened authoritarians from contemporary business practice in large organizations.  His own thought patterns, also aspirational toward higher connection and empathetic development, must be placed inside the Legalistic/Algorithmic box.  Heuristics, combined heuristics, and Guiding Principle v-Meme thinking are arbitrarily mashed down into the mix, but there is little discrimination or understanding between the separation.  Senge talks a lot about intuition, but intuition without appropriate scaffolding leads to more impulsive thought.  How one gets to profound, intuitive thought is explored somewhat through analogies, and to be fair, he understands clearly the value of experience and goal-based thinking in organizations.

Senge talks quite a bit about  spirituality, and as a personal thing, I am not a big fan.  We do not need the Divine as a way of progressing our organizations and their empathetic development.  It’s not that I am a cold-blooded, chronic rationalist.  It’s just that one of the keys to accepting that one is on some path to higher enlightenment is that our understanding and embrace of metacognition has to be constant.  There will always be information and ways of knowing that we just don’t know — yet.    It was Buddha himself, when asked the famous question “Is there a Buddha higher than Buddha?” that he answered, “well, maybe.  But it’s not me!”

The quote by Arthur C. Clarke at the beginning of this post is particularly insightful.  Whenever we try to perceive things too far above our own developmental v-Meme level, it’s going to appear as magic, or whatever more acceptable term we’d like to apply.  The key is to understand that it is not.  What is required is an embrace of the fundamental humility that we simply have not arrived — and never will.

Star Trek — Good Scaffolding, Bad Scaffolding, and Knowing it When You See It.

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Secesh River, Secesh Roadless Area, Payette National Forest, Idaho

As I discussed in the previous post, v-Meme Scaffolding is important — without it, we open our organizations and our messages to corruption — some of it virtual, some of it quite real.

It might be helpful to understand an example that, over time, have been highly resonant  of both well-scaffolded messages, as well as organizations.  One of my favorites is the original series of Star Trek.  Almost everyone can recognize the four characters below:

Slide03Bridge Crew of the Starship Enterprise, from the Star Trek, the Original Series

For those that forget, we’ve got Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Commander Scott.  No question that these four are a high performance, if not just a little sexist team.  Lieutenant Uhura at least made it on the bridge — a major first — but she was sentenced to answer the phone.

Still the personalities, and their different levels of empathetic interaction, are highly instructive on how they were effective.  Consider the basic plot of the show — the Enterprise is thrust into a situation where there are major metacognitive unknowns — whether it was an unknown alien civilization, or trouble with Tribbles.  There were always Survival-level stakes — the Enterprise was in constant jeopardy of being destroyed.  Yet time and again, this integrative v-Meme team would think their way through the situations, and largely remain friends.

How did that work?  First off, we have Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott, head of engineering.  Even though he had an informal nickname — ‘Scotty’ — he was pure Authoritarian.  The Captain was the captain — I have yet to find a single instance where Scotty calls Kirk ‘Jim’.  He’s two v-Memes removed from Captain Kirk, and when the Captain tells Scotty to turn the Warp Drive past maximum, Scotty might say “I don’t know how much longer she can take it, Cap’n!” — but he turns up the dial anyway.  He follows orders.

Next up the v-Meme ladder is Mr. Spock.  A Vulcan, and the chief science officer, he is the master of logical, algorithmic thinking.  He is famous, of course, for mastering his emotions, and viewing this as a pathway to superior status.  Yet time and again, algorithmic thinking, while leading to reliable results, fails the validity test.  The one answer he comes up with might be part of the solution — but not all of it.

For that, we need the more complex, empathetic profile of Captain James T. Kirk.  Ever the integrative, multiple-solution, performance-based thinker, he’s not afraid to assert his authority in times of crisis.  But he also demonstrates a broad range of both emotional empathy, as well as rational empathy.  His ability to trade places with the alien mind enables him to very accurately guess what his adversaries are going to do — and saves the Enterprise from getting blown up on numerous occasions.

Finally there is Dr. McCoy, the deeply empathetic communitarian.  McCoy often speaks as the voice and liaison of those lower in the service hierarchy than any of the bridge officers, and is prone to using a combination of humor and grumpiness — emotional affect — to convey his points.  As a doctor, he processes data for diagnoses of difficult problems.  But he also takes his role in promoting psychological well-being very seriously — and demonstrates a deep sense of emotional empathy.

One of the easiest ways I’ve noticed to diagnose the v-Memes operative in any work environment is how people use titles, as well as the degree of dependence.  Star Trek is no exception.  Scotty NEVER calls Captain Kirk by his first name — typical of a true authoritarian.  Spock mixes it up — calling him Jim in more relaxed situations, as well as Captain when the phasers are firing.  McCoy is famous for almost always calling Captain Kirk by his first name.  Note that this would be extremely consistent with their representative v-Memes.

Additionally, v-Meme conflicts are also well-represented with the characters.  McCoy and Spock are often in conflict — rules vs. exceptions for individuals.  McCoy basically never talks to Scotty — the 3 v-Meme gap would mean they would have a hard time understanding each other anyway.  Captain Kirk sits in the middle of all of them.  Yet even the two level v-Meme difference between Kirk and Scotty pops up every now and again.  In the famous episode ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’ — Scotty and the engineering crew end up getting into a bar fight with some Klingons on a space station.  When interrogated about the brawl, Kirk asks what happened to get things started.  Scotty then goes on to explain that the Klingons had called Kirk many names — but Scotty told the Captain he had specific orders to not get into a fight from him.  So he let it pass.  It was only when the Klingons started insulting the U.S.S. Enterprise — the core sense of Scotty’s identity — that the fists flew.

The original Star Trek premise also promised its viewers a much more egalitarian, evolved, self-aware world — truly embodying the Global Holistic v-Meme.  What is interesting is that after the series ended, a fan community sprouted up, complete with costumes, and Trekkie conventions.  William Shatner even made a movie about it — called Get A Life!  What’s fascinating is that Shatner starts out being very cynical about all the folks participating — but is won over when he recognizes and realizes the higher ideals that this group of geeks are attempting to embody.

I doubt Shatner or the most of the Trekkies have ever thought much about empathetic development.  But it is fascinating that when people come together, under a set of higher guiding principles that everyone has to follow in order to be part of a larger group, that beautiful things can happen.  Even if they involve adults playing dress-up.

Takeaway:  Balanced Teams have balanced v-Memes — and real leaders use this stuff to understand both strengths and weaknesses of how individuals in their organizations work — and process knowledge.  The Original Series Star Trek is a great example that’s easily recognizable of v-Memes on display — and who you want to do what.

Knowledge Structures and Scaffolding — How to Fill in the Stretch Marks as you Evolve


Braden at Loon Lake, outside of McCall, ID

One of the big problems when reading posts like the previous, about empathetic ladders and knowledge structures, is it looks like it just might exist to make fun of your authoritarian friends.  That’s not the intent, because really successful messaging, or social/relational structures, have a diversity of both v-Memes and ways that knowledge is represented that reinforce each other.  It’s nice to come up with a magic ‘super bullet’ that creates all the meaning anyone could want.  But it’s not often easy.

Now what does THAT paragraph actually mean?  What it means is that if you’re working at a Communitarian level, and you’re not wallowing around recognizing everyone as an individual all the time, you’ve also leavened in some Performance-based, Goal-oriented thinking.  And you probably have a good Legalistic rule set that governs your operation, as well as appropriate Authority, and some Tribal knowledge.  And there’s also likely a bathroom on every floor of your workplace — because to Survive, we all have to go sometime.

I call this v-Meme Scaffolding, and without it, evolutionary philosophies often run astray.  Let’s talk about how this works on a practical level.

In the Industrial Design Clinic (IDC), the program I run for students, the main thing I’m trying to do is evolve them socially so they can be solid, goal-based thinkers.  Since the students work on mechanical design projects, we follow a very standard Design Process.  It’s actually a heuristic — a rule of thumb path that most of the students follow in order to complete their projects.  And it goes like this:

1.  Scoping (myself and the company).

2. Specification writing, including development of a House of Quality/QFD.

3. Preliminary Design Development, and Review.

4.  Final Concept Selection and Development.

5.  Manufacturing/Benchmarking/Testing.

6.  Customer Delivery and Celebration.

A graphic of this process is below:


At some level, this looks like an algorithm (Legalistic/Absolutistic v-Meme), but it’s really a Performance-based heuristic — students roughly follow this trajectory through completing a project.  At the same time, they have to select, mix and match various algorithmic ways of knowing (calculating entropy, or enthalpy, etc.) as well as develop independent relationships with people both inside and outside the university who can actually help them — like our staff machinist, or a technical sales person who might sell a particular kind of specialty adhesive.  Trust me when I tell you the students don’t like getting on the phone — but they have to practice that relationship development, or they won’t get the project done.

So under this heuristic are those algorithms.  As well as lots of engineering specifics (Authoritarian v-Meme) — we can’t reinvent the strength of steel every time we need to do a calculation.  And then there are the important parts of Tribal knowledge — students are, for example, expected to understand the Guest-Host relationship concept (read about xenia here — the ancient Greeks live in my class as well!)  so that everyone has an enjoyable lunch.  Sponsors and students both need to have fun, as well as not commit unforgivable sins.  Finally, students need to know how to deal with the university motor pool if there’s a car accident.  That’s part of their fundamental university Survival knowledge.

At the same time we’re making sure to fill in the scaffolding with all the appropriate levels, I also make clear to the students that all of it is subject to update — that’s the beauty of getting up to the heuristic level.  Procedures and algorithms may change.  Specific knowledge of what hotel to stay in when visiting a particular client also may vary.  Knowledge isn’t always in flux — but sometimes it is.  We keep track of this on a class Wiki, so the students always know how to fill out the relevant university travel forms.  We do work in a bureaucracy.

Scaffolding inventories are great things to do to improve messages or organizations.  For example, with organizations, one could start with understanding what are your rules that govern various functions in your organization.  Do your rules follow accepted ethical standards?  Are there ways to change the rules?  Does it devolve to one person’s singular authority to change them, and is that appropriate?  Could someone with performance or community considerations tell their supervisor and have them listen?  What are the actual channels for empathetic communication in your organization?  Is all communication meaningful, or is it simply pro forma because HR is worried about getting sued?

And on and on.  No matter where you start, however — your organization can evolve.  Scaffolding inventories help make sure that as you evolve, you fill in the stretch marks.

Elephants, Rhinos, UAVs and Interdisciplinary Teams — Does Any of this Empathy Stuff Really Matter?

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Liverpool, England, in front of the Hard Days Night Hotel.  Not surprisingly, Liverpool has a thing for the Beatles!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, I know by looking at my statistics,  that you likely have not read all the posts.  After all, I am aware that while a lot of my readers are fond of me — I was the professor that helped get them ready for the work world, or a business associate with my Industrial Design Clinic, and we enjoyed educating students together — I also know that I am not an internationally recognized expert on organizational development, or empathy, or philosophy.  I haven’t cut it yet in the status-based lower v-Memes.  I’m not bothered by this —  those that know me personally know that I’m not much of an Authoritarian or Legalist.

But you’re probably thinking — “well, Chuck, that’s nice.  But why should I really care?  And how does this really matter?”

Here’s some insight.

Last week, I was in Liverpool, England, at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) at a conference for UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — think quadcopter or fixed-wing drones) applied to environmental science and problems.  The breadth of application of UAVs to problems in the environmental arena was immense.  The keynote speaker, Tom Snitch, talked about his program, which involves using relatively low-cost drones to monitor elephant and rhino poaching in Africa   Others talked primarily about the use of LiDAR mounted on a UAV, which is basically using light like radar waves to map vegetation and landscape features.  Others used UAV-mounted regular cameras to create high-resolution photo mosaics of landscapes that are much more high resolution than available from satellite images.  And so on.

But in such a potentially synergistic, systemic world, those connections were few and far between.  The key element in all this was the structure of the combined UAV – sensor system.  In a room full of passionate, sophisticated people, the basic structure of a UAV system was ‘take a store-bought UAV and mount a camera on it.  Figure out how to trigger it and capture the location of the image and bring that back to the ground for post-processing.’  The design structure of any system that does that — regardless of the complexity of the design of either the UAV, or the measuring instrument (like the LiDAR unit) — is three fragmented, non-synergetic blocks in a row.  Learn how to fly the UAV, bring back the pictures, make your map.

It’s pretty obvious that this maps to the non-empathetic structure of researchers in the academy.  Three blocks put together, basically in what we call open loop feedback (read ‘no feedback at all’) .

What is interesting as well is to see how this social/relational structure will attempt to solve their problem.  How will they evolve?  In a fragmented social structure, the first (and likely subsequent) iterations will likely involve more pictures (read more fragmentation) and more detail.  More computer processing, with more sophisticated on-the-ground mapping algorithms for more complex assemblages of images.  Greater accuracy in the GPS units used.  Paying more money for UAVs with greater flight stability.  And so on.

Notice how NONE of these things engage in any meaningful feedback between the elements.  How could they?  How could the people engaged in the task develop any synergies at all, given the social structure of the typical academic enterprise?  Synergies with this given social structure are likely to come (not surprisingly) when the resolution of pictures taken on the ground get down to pebble size.  Fancier cameras.  More stable UAVs.

And that’s exactly what is happening.

What would be required for synergies?  The short answer is a different social/relational structure.  We might start with the old ‘multidisciplinary teams’ axiom.  Perhaps if we added someone who was an expert in flight control and dynamics, they could stabilize the UAV better.  Someone in cameras could invent a camera with greater resolution.  And so on.

What’s the takeaway? If we pursue a similar, fragmented non-empathetic structure, we can see that multidisciplinary teams approach doesn’t really add much to the synergies of the device.  At first blush, the different component providers don’t need to do much understanding of each other — knowledge can be passed in fragments, like ‘well we’d like finer resolution.’  And things would march down exactly the same path.  Perhaps a little faster, but likely much more expensive.  More people on the project definitely means more dollars.  Higher resolution equipment is going to climb up that marginal cost/performance curve that every product possesses.

What happens, however, if we pursue a different structure — where we now have a multidisciplinary team, with pairing between different components of the entire UAV system?  The mapper says to her partner, the camera designer ‘I want finer resolution.’  In an empathetic exchange, the camera designer would hopefully ask ‘why?’  The mapper would then explain that things aren’t going so well on the boundaries of images, and she figured that finer resolution was the answer.  The camera designer then might say ‘well, you can get finer resolution, but if you still can’t improve the auto-stabilization and orientation of the UAV, any more pixels are just going to get lost in the noise.’  So after understanding the problem with perhaps a little math, they make a decision to engage the flight control person.

The flight control person goes through an empathetic exchange with both the mapper and the camera person.  It turns out that the real problem with getting the pictures to overlap is that the UAV turns a little in the wind, and that makes the photos not line up on a nice, even grid.  So the real answer is to put two GPS units on the UAV, separated by a meaningful distance, so that the UAV can be flown with both a static coordinate, as well as an angular direction orientation.  Then mapping can commence so that you don’t have blurred pixels on the boundary, and so on.  The social structure, as well as the degree of empathetic connection, all has to change.  And in the world of empathetic connection, there’s going to have to be a whole lot more of it.

Or if nothing else, it gets discovered that we can’t yet orient the UAV at a given angle.  So we don’t waste money on more and more expensive cameras, or mapping software — because we really can’t do better than the fragmented system.  Either way, the performance of the system goes up.  Money is saved from not pursuing something not feasible (or too expensive), or mapping accuracy is improved.

And we can also see how trust is brought into the picture.  If one component expert doesn’t know the other component expert, how does one know whether they can believe them?  Only through an evolved working relationship can the mapper be sure if the flight control UAV expert is telling the truth — whether it be that you can orient a UAV, or you can’t.  Empathetic connection is the primary tool for assessing someone else’s metacognition — if they know what they know, as well as what they don’t know.

The non-empathetic, multidisciplinary effort yields results similar to the fragmented academic social structure.  Just as Conway would have predicted.  And the understanding of the level of empathetic connection leads the project manager on the same path as has been discussed in this blog.   😉

Takeaways:  Sophistication of individual knowledge doesn’t do you that much good if you can’t work at the boundaries (or even in the guts of these systems) with other experts to optimize and synergize shared results.  And empathetic connection between teammates is the pathway toward getting a better shared result, without having to go outside and pay a ton of money for experts who may or may not know what they’re talking about.  A little bit of empathetic relational development goes a long way.  Change the social structure if you want to change the performance.

Further reading: This piece on Tom Snitch’s work in South Africa regarding using drones for prevention of poaching elephants and rhinos shows, better than anything, that it is often social factors and trust that limit all our efforts.  It is indeed all about empathy.

Understanding the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Shootings — Empathy Disorders and the Effects of Societal Racism (Part II)


Ranger Peak, crest of the Bitterroot Mountains, Idaho, from the Beaver Creek fire lookout

If we can’t control individually the empathy-disordered in society, what can we do?  All civilizations have battled with this problem for thousands of years.  Dependent on the level of societal evolution, different cultural solutions have evolved that manage these people.  I remember (wish I could find the reference!) a conversation with an anthropologist about 15 years ago on Hutterite community size in Montana.  One of the primary drivers behind keeping bruderhöfe or colonies at around a 120 member size was that this was the size where one could keep track of potential child molesters.  More members than that, things would fall through the cracks.  I’m sure that no Hutterite explicitly leads with that information for community size inside the faith.  Such knowledge is encoded, along with a substantial list of behaviors and Bible study, to manage their 12-17% of high conflict personalities.

In short, we are not the first community of humans to deal with this problem.

So what societal change should be considered in the case of the EAME shootings? For those interested in activist social change, the real question that should be debated is ‘what are the system boundaries, and what are the timescales for enacting real change on this issue?’  This debate, held in an open, heterogeneous society, is going to be noisy.  If you ask most evangelical Christians, they will tell you that no prayer in schools is the root of the problem.  Psychology Today ran an article blaming it on anti-intellectualism.  There are a thousand different ways of looking at the elephant.

But the problem with most of these ways is that the majority offer no realistic way to change the elephant.  Without some change in the bedrock culture, based on the social physics of the systems, nothing will change.

How do we speed up change?  Societies themselves have emergent dynamics.  We are not the same society we were 200 years ago, when African-Americans were slaves.  We are not even the same society in 1963, when the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, undertaken by four Ku Klux Klan white, male members, killed four African American girls aged 11 to 14.  Viewing the preceding link indicates a long history of this type of activity.  This society, with its different level of empathetic connection, is in the process of creating different emergent behaviors — systemic change that occurs because of the force of history and these events.  In 1963, similar events caused the South to double down on segregation and, for example MORE symbols of hate.

But things are not the same today.  There are different sets of emergent dynamics in our society that will create changes of behavior in those societies through actions of individuals.  The Principle of Reinforcement says that societies affect the people in them, and the people in them affect societies.  But what should individuals do?

Creation of successful change requires defining the problem by considering what the system boundaries are that change can be effected in.  Psychology Today, in discussing anti-intellectualism in American culture, says we should draw boundaries around the whole society.  Maybe, but fundamentally impossible in the short term.  The evangelicals want to get everyone into church.  Once again, maybe — but likely out of their locus of control.

Gun control is another solution that might have prevented the massacre.  Dylann Roof would not have been able to kill the 9 without easy accessibility to firearms.  That might prevent the means of such individuals such as Roof from acquiring firearms.  But the current climate in the country and the power of the NRA makes such change extremely unlikely in the short term.  Plus, it would not eliminate the types of psychosocial forces that have contributed to similar, tragic events such as the Oklahoma City bombing — a crime that was pulled off with bags of fertilizer and a Ryder Truck.

One of the campaigns that emerged out of the tragedy was a united effort to remove the Confederate flag from its pole over the Confederate soldiers’ memorial in front of the South Carolina statehouse.  The call to remove the flag, first by a large cross-spectrum of center and left concerns, was joined, after reconsideration of toxic comments after the tragedy, by Nikki Haley, governor of South Carolina, and the two Senators, Lindsay Graham and Tim Scott.  The flag removal will be scheduled for a vote in the state legislature.  As I mentioned in Part I, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show questioned the toxic bullying and racist reinforcement by the plethora of monuments to the Confederacy across the South, including naming highways after Confederate generals.

Social physics and a deeper understanding of the queuing behavior of psychopaths suggest that this might be a powerful tool for stopping people like Dylann Roof.  Various pathologies in the empathy-disordered community respond powerfully to authority — remember that psychopathy itself is a collapsed Authoritarian v-Meme response to existence.  When the governor and two senators come out and start calling for de-sanctioning government use of racist symbols like the Confederate flag, that matters.

And it’s an action that will require an about-face from leadership across the South.  The Confederate flag is either displayed or it’s not.  There’s not a middle position on it.

As this entry is being written, we are seeing more and more calls from the business community to take down the Confederate flag and remove it from prominently displayed public spaces.  Of note, the current CEO of NASCAR, Brian France, grandson of Bill France, a prominent George Wallace supporter, banned the Stars and Bars from its races on June 27, 2015. Walmart, Sears, and eBay all banned flag sales on June 24 — just three days earlier.   Business concerns are typically more empathetically connected to customers than bureaucracies or institutions, as what their customers think directly affects their bottom line.

A concerted movement to remove governmentally endorsed racist symbols of slavery is a good step toward resolving systemic racism in our country.  The Confederate flag is not a symbol of lost nobility.  And the propagation of these symbols through government means conveys a legitimacy these symbols do not deserve.  It also serves as a bullying tool for empathy-disordered leaders in power — not just as a ‘dog whistle’ for the systemically powerless like Roof.  In the past, various white leaders have denied the obvious meaning of the flag.  But African-Americans know — which actually makes it the perfect tool for bullying.  When your target knows they’re under your thumb, while everyone else thinks the bully’s a great guy — hey, what’s not to like?

And if other countries can teach us anything, let’s just put it this way — there’s a reason the Germans banned the swastika after WWII.

At the same time, I think it’s very important to allow individuals to choose what symbols they want to use.  Banning the display of the Confederate flag by individuals, as opposed to governments, is a whole ‘nother ball of wax.  And gets back to individual suppression of speech from an entirely different direction.

Takeaways:  Societies must always struggle against the empathy-disordered, both the powerless and the powerful.  De-endorsing powerful, divisive symbols is one meaningful way of doing this.  At the same time, societies should be aware that institutional speech and individual speech are fundamentally different in intent and amplification.

Further Reading:  If you’re having a hard time believing that more memorials to the Confederacy are being built, read this.  Mind-boggling.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian Tragedy — the Short Version


I’m posting my op-ed from the Moscow-Pullman Daily News today as the short version of a longer analysis I’ll write later. Takeaway:  Reinforcing social paradigms from authorities (as predicted by the Principle of Reinforcement) define what the empathy-disordered in a society will think, since they lack core integrity.  Symbols — especially endorsed symbols — matter.

Joy Cometh in the Morning Chuck Pezeshki, Reality-Based Lefty June 26, 2015

It was with tremendous surprise that I greeted the news that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott announced support for lowering the Confederate Flag in front of the South Carolina State Capitol building Wednesday morning. Some people have criticized the potential meaninglessness of the gesture in removing the flag in the wake of the horrific Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting, that took nine lives a week ago Wednesday.

But it’s not just symbolic. It’s a huge step toward correcting a psychopathic bullying culture that has institutionalized racism across our country. Some might question the above statement. Here’s how it works. Displaying the Confederate Flag underwent a resurgence of popularity in the early ‘60s in the South, in direct opposition to the Civil Rights movement and desegregation. And while it’s questionable whether every white guy on the street knows exactly what the Stars and Bars stands for – there’s a great book by Tony Hurwitz called “A Confederate in the Attic” that proves that – there’s no question that the Southern Racist Intelligentsia know exactly what it stands for. And while I haven’t done a survey, I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of African-Americans knows what it stands for as well.

The long-standing position of the Southern Racist Intelligentsia is to psychopathically deny the intent and value of the flag. They say it stands as a testament to a lost, yet noble cause. They point to some bizarre construction of a noble heritage. You can almost hear the music from the movie, “Gone With the Wind” in the background. It’s all a nonsense myth, of course. But it’s devious, constant abuse. As Jon Stewart from The Daily Show noted after the killing, black people have to see the flag, and drive on highways named for Confederate Generals all the time.

It’s the best kind of abuse; the kind where the target knows exactly who wants to get them, while all the other folks (mostly white folks) get to go on about their business and ignore the crime in front of them. It would be one thing if those were the only people in the mix – the Southern Racist Intelligentsia and the African-Americans.   Over time, the African-American community would rise above, and the abuse wouldn’t affect them.

But enter Stage Left – the low level, empathy-disordered who actually believe this stuff. They’re poorly integrally defined, which means they’re empty on the inside, except for a profound sense of victimhood and blaming. And they absorb all the constant positive reinforcement for hating African-Americans from the bombardment of the messages from the Southern Racist Intelligentsia. They’re mentally ill, all right. But it’s more useful to think about them as being the mash in a whiskey still, fermenting their hate. And as they boil away, exacerbated by hate radio, secret clubs that give them distorted meaning, and the chronic grinding of poverty that we’ve grown to accept in America, one drop comes out the top.

And that one drop of poison is Dylann Roof. That’s how you get a shooting of an 87 year old grandmother reading Bible verses, along with eight others, in an historic church. It’s a system effect.

There are other big picture issues to consider, such as gun control, or how we perceive and develop our society. Psychology Today even had an article saying that the shootings were the result of anti-intellectualism in our society. All this may be true. But an enormous first step is the calling for removal of the directly racist symbols of the Confederacy. It’s time to realize that the Myth of the South was just that. We need to dismantle the psychopathic bullying infrastructure, whose construction continues today. And maybe we can take one step forward toward dismantling racist attitudes across our country. As Psalm 30:5 so eloquently said: weeping may come at night. But joy cometh in the morning.