Tag Archives: Elon Musk

Hindsight is Foresight Foregone

It’s not that we can’t see the future; it’s that we don’t bother.

Granted, none of us can predict it, nor do I presume that some magic algorithm applied to some special pile of Big Data can ease the Fog of the Future.

In part, it’s laziness. Here in the USA, we’re predisposed to the here and now and me, and the rest will sort itself out.  As indeed it does.  But often not as we hoped.

In part it is because we know from abundant experience that too many pious prognostications by proselytizers of progress have turned to sink-holes of time, effort and money.  So why bother.

In management we have evolved the discipline of ‘risk management’ which is part institutionalized experience and part pseudo-science.  ‘Risk management’ is somewhat of an oxymoron like ‘military justice’, ‘artificial intelligence’ and ‘virtual reality’. It trades on a figment of truth to create the illusion that it is more than it is.

Risk management has some level of foundation in its effort to deal systemically with known and knowable risks, but today’s world is increasingly subject to unknowable risks for which there is no statistical basis of quantification of either loss, cost of prevention or remediation.   But that’s not the real problem.

Many in my profession of accounting and auditing gravitate to the  ‘risk management’ mantra, and strive to incorporate it into their mission statement. After all, if you can’t be a ‘risk taker’, being a ‘risk manager’ or a ‘risk something’ is the next best thing. It’s sexier than mere accounting and auditing.  And besides, there’s plenty of precedent for the need for ‘risk management’ given the losses that businesses have incurred for themselves, and more frequently for others in their carefully contrived relationships.

But, truth be told, even the growing cadre of risk management acolytes have trouble peddling their wares to the C suite where hype and hope too often trump (no pun intended) reality and even the crudest calculations of probability.

Let’s take a few examples out for a test drive:

  •  Does anyone see any problem with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk and Larry Paige and the other space cadets filling the skyways and byways with their latest magical brain-farts without benefit of adequate regulation and incubation for proof of concept within laboratory controlled settings, much less in the free-fire environment of that freaky place we call the ‘real world’?
  • Is the latest episode of the Theranos melodrama really a surprise?  Or was it the highly probable outcome of a flaky premise sold to incredibly greedy people willing to believe and suspend critical judgment?
  • And let’s not beat unduly on Theranos. It’s just one of a number of Unicorns in the magical kingdom of Silicon Valley and other tech redoubts where people with more money than brains can throw it at the wall, hope that something sticks in the lottery of high-tech chance,  and praise themselves that their failures are really essential tuition and down-payment for future greatness.  In their magical kingdom, failure is virtue.  In the real-world, failure gets you fired.
  • Where is China going, and where is it taking us?  The West lost that gambit four decades ago with an essential, but ill-conceived opening of relations.  The drive of corporate greed for access to a billion consumers overtook any attempt of western governments to modulate the normalization in a manner that would minimize the foreseeable disruptions we have experienced economically and strategically.  Accordingly, China has grown into an unruly adolescent (in modern world terms, its considerable historical lineage notwithstanding).  Given its desperate economic and environmental constraints, and it’s likely belief that its salvation is in expansion, military conflict with its neighbors and the West seems inevitable in the near to intermediate term.  Trump and China should easily understand each other: a coercive bully that believes he\it has a right to dominance on its terms without obligations to others. I suspect that this is in part an act China has found it can get away with because, unlike with Trump, no one has yet drawn a firm line in the land, the water or the air that they are prepared to defend (although we are beginning to with questionable allied support). Corporate executives are now marveling at how they could possibly have lost their technological edge (which they often willingly gave away in many cases for access to that one-billion consumer market)  and now are losing the market itself in a tightly controlled totalitarian environment where the ‘rule of law’ is more a farce than even a mere political fig leaf of cover.  Who’d a thunk?
  • Was the Shell Oil retreat from the Arctic really a surprise,  or merely unfettered stupidity colliding with reality?  When we have so much evidence of failure to properly engineer and install  and monitor and regulate and mitigate such ventures in much less hostile and much more stable environments, what would make any prudent executive or government think that Arctic exploitation would be just another hole in the ground?  Did BP’s experience give anyone in Shell’s HQ pause for concern?
  • How about them GMOs?  Scientists are complaining that the average clod on the streets is unjustifiably suspicious of the risks of GMOs.  But when we look at the recent history of our ‘conventional’ food supplies, the engineering of obesity, the evisceration of regulatory oversight and quality control, is there not reasonable cause for concern by the public of what will next be foisted upon them in the guise of progress at their ultimate risk and cost?  This is actually a case of the person on the street exercising ‘risk management’ in the suspicion that those in the Corporate suite will not. At least, not in the consumer’s behalf.
  • And then there’s fracking; a mindless grab for resources beyond any exercise of prudence, with costs to society measured only in financial terms to date, with studied ignorance of the collateral environmental, social and economic costs beyond the measure of defaulted securities.

There are a number of simple questions that executive management could ask itself and save a lot of grief when contemplating a new venture or circumstance, or coping with an existing or intractable situation  (like Palestine):

  • Has the situation ever happened before, and what can we learn from it.
  • Are there any parallels, if not direct precedents, to this situation that can give us a clue of dynamics and outcomes?
  • Do we understand the context (historical and present circumstances) of our intended act, and do our assumptions take that context into account?
  • Have we tested our assumptions about what should happen if we take this action?
  • Have we defined performance standards for our expectations that will give us quick feedback if we’re going off the rails of our expectations.
  • Have we asked ourselves how the opposition/competition/stakeholders/regulators are likely to respond, and have we taken appropriate steps to address reasonable concerns.
  • What could possibly go wrong, and what’s the worst that could happen….?
  • ….and if it does, what are we prepared to do about it?

These are so simple, they don’t even deserve to be sexified as ‘risk management’.  They’re basic management, or even common sense.  Yet the frequency with which they are ignored and often even disdained by the supposedly educated meritocracy has numbed us of any sense of amazement.  Rather, it has implanted a cynicism and contempt and suspicion of all forms of authority: legal, moral, scientific, political, religious, social that accounts more for the rise of Trump, Sanders and Br-Exit than any conventional political explanation.

We could go on, but I’ll trust the point is made, if not accepted.  In the corporate, government and personal world, risk-taking trumps risk management more often than not, and often with predictable consequence.

It’s not that our capacity for foresight is so bad.  It’s that we don’t bother to seek answers we know we’re probably not going to like. And when they’re thrust upon us, we often find ingenious ways to ignore them rather than to deal with them.

So, to say that hindsight is 20/20 because we have the benefit of knowledge that is not previously available is at best half the truth.  As often as not, we just don’t give a damn.

*  *   *

Word of the day:  de-escalate.

Onward

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Never Argue with a Madman

“Never argue with a madman.  Bystanders won’t be able to tell the difference.”    Author unknown.

I happened upon that piece of wisdom some years ago on a poster entitled “Corollaries to Murphy’s Law”, and filed it for future reference.  You may have noticed (or more probably not) that I have not posted in this blog since July.  There is a reason for that.  I have watched the ongoing tragicomedy of our times unfold. I recalled the above wisdom and struggled with the question: how does one make a rational comment about the rabid irrationality that is consuming our society (the term ‘civilization’ seems inappropriate); and to what point?

Here’s a sampling of what troubles me:

There’s the Republican Clown Circus, vying for leadership of the most exceptional country on the planet.  If I were foreign friend or foe, I’d tremble at the thought of any one of them being within reach of the ‘football’ that carries the secret codes to microwave the planet.  Any of them!

Following close behind is the Republican dominated Congress where actors of less inflated idiocy incubate, waiting for their turn in the big show. If there was an appropriate application of law, the Republic leadership and its minions would be charged under RICO  or treason for criminal conspiracy to destroy the government of the United States through concerted efforts masked as group insanity.

Lagging behind but not far, is the Democratic Party which champions Bill-ary; the political equivalent of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner.  Bill-ary: a person few really trust, but too many are willing to accept in order to make h(im)er the first so called female to inhabit the White House as ‘precedent’.  Forget that much of Obama’s presidency has been in one way or another involved in cleaning up messes that had their origin during the reign of Bill.  Forget that Hillary accomplished nothing of significance as First Lady; merely polished her credentials in the Senate as knee-jerk hawk to prepare  for her ‘inevitability’; and also merely put a smiley face on the nation’s reputation while racking up her frequent flier miles as Secy of State.  Can the Dems not do better than this?  Can women not do better than this?

Probably not, because what sane person of ability would aspire to positions which merely set them up as targets for media businesses masking as journalistic enterprises, driven by profit to create and sustain the public circuses that feed the profits.  Only the truly craven for whom the mask of insanity is now a tolerated facade for a public so cynical that it too has forsaken any pretext of reason for the easy gratification of raw emotion.

Nor is the political world the only circus in town.  We are watching multiple spectacles in the business world.  Unicorns, those precious mythical tech companies with inflated expectations and equally inflated valuations of $1 billion or more, are multiplying like rabbits.  I’m particularly fascinated by the melodrama of Theranos, waiting for that to unfold or implode, and wondering how all the big names on its board of directors will acquit themselves in the end. (Hint:  plausible deniability usually works, but has its limits.)

Then there’s the juggernaut of Elon Musk.  His accomplishments are more substantive, but when the media recently reported his concern that a Third World War might foreclose any hope of humans venturing to Mars, I had to wonder about his judgment.  Elon, you are far brighter than I, but I would venture that if the Planet has a Third World War, getting to Mars will be the least of our concerns, and could probably be the best thing to happen for Mars.  In fact, if we do it right, we could conceivably sanitize this planet for the next visit of interplanetary microbes in the cosmic evolutionary process.   Clean slate; fresh start.  Humanity’s final gift to the universe.

There’s the media-cracy; that contorted and perverted lens through which we gaze to try to comprehend what’s happening around us, because we’re part of the global village for better or worse, and first-hand knowledge of what’s happening in our neighborhood is largely irrelevant when all the strings are now pulled by distant puppet masters. Journalists complain about being the public’s and politicians’ shared pinata.  Most of what passes for journalism today would not have survived the editing of my high school journalism teacher.  Not for grammar or word-smithing, but for objectivity, quality content and service to the reader.

And what rant regarding communal in(s)anity would be complete without a nod to our current penchant for mass killings.  It seems that every time one occurs, which is almost weekly lately, the press reports a surge in gun sales.  Like 300 million guns on the streets and in the homes of America aren’t enough to do the job of protecting us from ourselves?  And where are all those ‘good guys with guns’ that the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre promised would protect us from civil mayhem?  My guess is that deep down, even a lot of his card carrying members don’t want to live in a society where every day is High Noon at the local mall, and the family has to pack for protection.

As for mental health care being the cure for gun violence, there’s a simple solution:  Start with the folks who rush to the gun shops after every scare headline in the tabloids. Then round up the publishers and producers of media whose sociopathic inclinations motivate them to create chaos for profit. ( I won’t mention names.)

But if society is to screen likely suspects for mental illness to preempt further violence, it would seem appropriate to put the executive leadership of the NRA at the head of the list, because the idea that we need more firepower in the general populace to prevent violence of the people, by the people, against the people…. is certifiable lunacy.

Onward

20160123

Mission to Planet Earth

“We choose to go to the Earth in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Yes, I tampered with John F. Kennedy’s Moon speech of 1962 in Rice Stadium. Forgive me.

But somehow it seems appropriate as we begin to view Climate Change with the same trepidation that we once bestowed exclusively on the Soviets.  Well, at least some of us are, and the numbers appear to be growing.

President Obama has finally come out of his bunker on the issue, but in stealth manner he continues to conceal his strategy. And it’s not just climate. It’s energy as well. While we gloat at the prospect of challenging Saudi Arabia’s role in the oil market and contemplate the inflow of foreign currency and favorable balance of payments, we ignore that pumping more fossil fuels only hastens our date with climate destiny, as the depletion of non-renewable energy resources hastens our date with energy destiny.  But this is all old news and boring.

So, let’s put a different trajectory on the issue. How about if we decided to put humans on earth in fifty years.  Yep, you read that right.  What if we set a goal to rehab the planet to significant impact within fifty years not only to bend the carbon trajectory but to create a sustainable economic dynamic.  After all, we may drop in on Mars in twenty years just for a visit, but it won’t be ready for condos and golf courses and real estate flipping for at least a century or three.  So, let’s fix up home base in the mean time.

The inspiration for this cerebral methane emission (CME) is the observation that the current community dialog on climate change and energy transition focuses primarily on the negative economic impacts of climate change prevention strategies and related alternative energy transition strategies.  People on the right are afraid of change to their cherished routines and power positions, no matter how unsustainable. People on the left are afraid of change, the future of which they can’t know with certainty.

There’s gobs of money to be made in re-habing the planet.  It might even generate enough wealth on Earth for us to afford Mars, although in good conscience I would not wish that on the Martians at this point in our sociopolitical evolution. (Trust me, they exist.  They’re elusive, like Big Foot, but they’re watching us look for them, and hoping we move on to another neighborhood.)

As previously stated, there’s gobs of money to be made, but this time we’ve got to do it smartly. Not just plunking down a shopping center hither and yon, or growing a subdivision in a corn field ‘because the land is cheap’. Climate Change and Energy Transition present us not only with a compelling need to change, but a unique opportunity to translate wisdom gained from our cumulative random mistakes into a consensus to do better.  And if this sounds like an advocacy for Big Brother Socialism, it isn’t. It is advocacy for making an enduring democracy with private enterprise in the forefront, and intelligent government as a catalyst and facilitator, as it was in taking us to the Moon.

Elon Musk, whose ventures range from PayPal to SpaceX, has expressed his desire to die on Mars.  Frankly, one can do that on Earth at a fraction of the cost.  And why invest in Mars to tame a vast desert for human habitation when we have so many advancing deserts on Earth to play with.  Maybe we could practice here first to get our act down!

Then there’s water.  Why are we searching for it on Mars, when we need to find it on Earth?  Ask Texans outside of the Houston Space Center, or Alabamans, or Arizonans, or Indians, or…you get the idea.

(btw, water just found a piece or Kansas. Seven inches in one day.  Takes the edge off last years drought, if you ignore erosion, flood damage and contamination.  Not to worry. It’s not climate; just weather.)

Apparently, the brain trust has decided that Mars is a priority because Earth is ultimately doomed.  I accept their judgement because they should know. They’ve done so much to assure its fate.

But in their logic is the seed of a solution. If we can facilitate and accelerate the departure of the privileged 1% to their perceived safe haven from Earth’s impending collapse, we may have just enough time to turn things around here.

Don’t forget to smile and wave goodbye at the departure gate.  We wouldn’t want them to have second thoughts.

It is time to stop treating the planet like everything else in our modern existence: disposable.

“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

Onward.

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