Simplicity

Edward de Bono wrote much.  His book, Simplicity, I think is very appropriate to apply to asset management and KPI decision making. The part that resonated with me is the difference between simple and simplistic.

In Infrastructure decision making a simple model is a great thing, a simplistic model is a destructive and dangerous thing. This is true in all fields, engineering, economic and social included. Simplistic by definition is overly simple. Unfortunately many of out decision makers have a simplistic understanding of both the English language and the role of infrastructure.  You will hear many people calling for a more simplistic solution or approach. They mean “simple”, but one doubts whether the inability to differentiate between simplistic and simple translates into the making of sound decisions.

Regardless, satisfaction surveys, mandated bureaucratic KPIs, single-digit comparisons to like organisations and other such endeavors are  simplistic management techniques.  They have been over-simplified and are as a consequence of no value.

Simplicity before understanding is simplistic; simplicity after understanding is simple.
– Edward De Bono

Simplistic decisions are tolerated and often demanded by our populations.  I believe this is because the general public has little understanding of the complexities of the modern world, and no desire to embrace that understanding.  While the situations and decisions can be presented simply by our leaders, there is no political advantage in straying from binary arguments, right and wrong, black and white.  The issue here is to help people understand that complex arguments about infrastructure can be presented simply, and be debated on their merits.  With this understanding, the people can call for rational debate, not simplistic decision making.  As professionals in our fields we can assist by presenting our work as simply as possible and resisting pressure to make our work simplistic.

Question for the day:  

What techniques do you use, or know of, that help you to determine whether your reasoning is ‘simple’ or ‘simplistic’?

 

 

Talking Überstructure

No I’m not talking about huge structures, but about talking with Uber drivers about infrastructure decision making, and what I have learned from them.

Uber drivers are business people, they are characterised by having a drive for improvement of their lives and are often driving as a second career or while transitioning from one life circumstance to another, new job, new city, new family, etc. They are also polite.

As professional drivers they have a serious interest in transport infrastructure, especially roads. As service providers they will listen to customers’ stories. My drivers are often surprised when I voice the opinion that we don’t need more lanes, roads and tunnels; especially if we are in slow-moving traffic. There then follows a discussion, usually around 20 minutes, that covers the underlying needs for roads, traffic loads and the factors that contribute to peak congestion, the available solutions to the problems of road transport and the contribution that smart, connected technology can make to the problems of city life.

Since my drivers are constant consumers of connected technologies (GPS, booking apps, forecasting software) they have no trouble understanding the benefits that flow from the ideals of “Smart Cities” and easily understand that improvements flow from having information sources connected. They see that transport issues are directly related to things that can be adjusted with a connected view of the world. They also comprehend that the technology needed to address these issues has been available for years, and that it is the lack of integration of business, government and social information and policy that retards us.

What I have learnt from Uber drivers is that a conversation of 20 minutes can change a person’s understanding of infrastructure needs completely, from a view that continuous infrastructure construction is essential to a view that the solution to congestion of all kinds can be addressed with understanding and leadership.

Smart cities are coming, but I’d like the benefits now. Rather than upgrading highways, I’d like to see freely available information that can be used to tell drivers that leaving 15 minutes later will get you to your destination at the same time and with less fuel and frustration. Then service providers like Uber can give me an option to have a cup of coffee before my car arrives and everybody wins.

Trumpfrustructure

President Trump’s protectionist stance has been cemented by executive order withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Protectionism has swept Europe; Trump is not an isolated believer.

Much of the world’s infrastructure is built by international firms, their success built on scales of economy and expertise.

In the new protectionist environment, major infrastructure will increase in expense and/or decrease in quality.

My question is – where are the economic advisers, educators and leaders that help people understand the facts of globalisation, rather than the beliefs about globalisation?

If you build it, they will come

Sydney, the second most expensive city in the world. The new Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, declares it “the biggest issue”.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce tells us to accept it.

But why?

I see this as a complete failure of leadership, and of understanding.

Sydney is lovely, beaches, rivers, parks, infrastructure. There are beautiful beaches for the length of the eastern coast. There are rivers and creeks everywhere. Parks abound. So infrastructure is key to the attraction of Sydney, and to the escalating costs, congestion and other trials for our leaders.

To quote “Field of Dreams” “If you build it, they will come.” And they do, by the thousands.

I spoke to a group of young people and asked them why they moved to Sydney, “because it is close to everything” they told me.

Building more infrastructure in our capitals generates more demand to live in our capitals.

Our regional centres spend year after year, planning different ways to improve the lot of their citizens, without significant success. The deck is stacked against them.

Until our secondary cities can offer proximity to services (and that means infrastructure) they will remain a “negative good” in the minds of our young people, our new people and our businesses.

Long term planning is necessary to relieve the pressure on our exploding Capitals and bring equity to our regional centres. We don’t need a way to build more free-standing dwellings in Sydney. We need to lift the service provision in other areas.

How can this be done?

3rd industrial revolution

I am sitting in the dark, the temperature is 36 degrees Celsius. I have a radio and an iPad. I’d like to say that I’m on holiday in the tropics, but I’m in my home in the outskirts of a city and the power has been out for a 6 hours now. I’m a Telstra customer, but there is no mobile or landline service – batteries not included in their infrastructure apparently. If I were part of a local generating group I would be cool and communicating. If my group had a similar power failure I would be drawing from other interconnected communities.

My question is – who has heard of the 3rd industrial revolution, and has anyone seen a recent advance toward it in Australia?

Infrastructure, Ethics and the Trolley Problem

Train track switch

Switch (courtesy Falk2)

If we have information that can lead to better decisions, can we fail to act? Can we excuse ourselves with “it’s their job”, “not my responsibility”, “I don’t want to be involved”.

Philippa Foot devised a thought experiment in 1967, routinely called the “Trolley Problem”. The experiment involves a train (trolley) heading toward 5 workers. The train is a runaway and all 5 workers will certainly be killed if nothing is done. There is a side track with only one worker and you are in the right place at the right time to make a decision. You can activate the rail switch, diverting the train and resulting in a single certain death. Or not. There is no time to alert the workers, or gain assistance; the train can’t be stopped.

As a tool to teach ethics this particular experiment is deceptively simple, should I sacrifice 1 to save 5? It does however raise numerous questions, “am I obliged to act?”, “do I have a duty?”, “is interfering wrong?” “do I act morally or ethically?”, “do I act for the greater good, the good of the people involved, or for myself?”

This dilemma is very long lived and has captured the imagination of the professionals and public. There are many variations – is it Ok to stop the train by pushing someone in front of it? What if that person was responsible for the runaway train? What if the workers could be saved by sacrificing a bystander, or a loved-one?

When anyone is faced with making a decision at a switch they can make a moral choice, an ethical choice, a popular choice, and when making that choice they can include longer time frames, wider consequences, how the action will make them feel, how others will think of them.

Questions today:  When it comes to infrastructure decision making, when our decision takers are standing at the switch, how do we know if we should contribute to the conversation? When would we join in if we do, and with what level of action?