Sustainable Business Systems: Stop Killing Kittens!

Posted July 21st, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

A little bit of full disclosure here: one of my previous professional lives was in IT and business operations.  In short, it was part of my job to ensure there was enough technical robustness built into companies’ operations to ensure that if there was an IT failure business could continue uninterrupted.

In other words, if one server crashed another would be able to take its place; if an ISP or telephony supplier went out of business another would be able to take over .. etc etc.

In other words, it’s about making the system robust enough to take external shocks.

Which is why I find the current “discovery” of systems thinking a bit of a laugh.  Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.  What the world’s now waking up to is, in fact, the biggest flaw in our commercial and financial systems.


It’s the system, man!

So, let’s start at the top of system theory.  It’s not rocket science, in fact it’s pretty obvious and straightforward stuff.  Everyone relies on everyone else and we’re all happy together.  Join hands, dance around, and sing “Ring a ring of roses”.

That’s not to say that these individual nodes are all homogeneous clones.  Office IT systems have all sorts of weird and wonderful beasties within it, from mail servers to gateways, printers to iPhones.  They all unite to create a whole.  You wouldn’t have all of these systems hosted one one server, that would be madness!  And for every server you had running live, you’d make sure you had at least a bare bones backup in case it went down.

The same goes for systems of business in general and subsectors specifically.  Different companies provide different services and products within a unified whole.  When one company or sector becomes dominant it works against the system as a whole because you are introducing a single point of failure … a company (or server) which is so large and important that it’s failure could bring the entire economy down.

Only the very smallest companies have al their IT systems hosted one server and one server alone.  Why is it that we think it’s the mark of a mature and developed economy to allow such points of failure to flourish?  Seems more than a little odd to me.

“OK OK,” I can hear you cry.  “I’ve got it and you’re right.  But you promised us Kittens …”

What about the kittens?

This morning, after dropping the kids off for school, I stopped off at my local shop to pick up a few supplies for the day.  We’ve lived in the area for over 10 years so they know me pretty well and before long the shopkeeper and I were chatting about old cats and how she had to put two of hers’ down within a matter of weeks.

“I’m amazed,” she said (paraphrase!), “How many people don’t think and don’t care for their pets.  The trouble is when you take them to leading animal welfare charities (the RSPCA and Blue Cross) they have to put them down.  They’ve simply got too many to cope with now.”

This, I realised, is a travesty.  There is a whole kitten and puppy producing industry out there, yet so many are produced and found to be surplus to requirements.  Is this any model for a business .. to produce something you know is not needed?

But then I thought, well this is a wonderful sustainability metaphor.  Over supply leading to waste.  You couldn’t put it in a more fluffy, anthropomorphic way.

Then I had another thought and it struck right at the roots of what we believe business to be.

Stop Killing Kittens!

There’s a myth in business that companies welcome competition.  On the whole, they don’t.  What most companies try to do is dominate and then eliminate the opposition.

This is commonly called “the buy out”.  So if you’re selling widgets and a company comes along which has an innovation which threatens you you have one of to options: compete with them, or buy them out.

The thing is that there are entrepreneurs all over the country with bright ideas about how to make a newer and better widget.  Many of these ideas should be allowed to flourish full maturity.  On the whole they don’t because those businesses are then bought by bigger companies.

Such buyouts are, in effect, killing kittens and destabilising business systems by introducing single points of failure.

The second point is more easy to understand.  If no small businesses are allowed to grow and thrive then how is resilience supposed to be built into the marketplace?  All that’s happening is that the older, stronger companies are killing off potential competitors in order to eliminate their competition.

This actually increases the likelihood of a single point of failure being created.  So our economic model encourages us to create unsustainable businesses.

The first point is just as salient.  In order for pet owners to have cats in their homes, hundreds if not thousands of cats are put down every year.  In the same way, hundreds or thousands of businesses are bought up in order to eliminate competition or acquire new technologies, services or customers.

Is this a sensible or sustainable way of doing business .. to kill the kittens in order to ensure the old, flea bitten tom cat survives?  I don’t think so.

 A new monopolies and mergers law

So I’d like to propose a new twist to corporate law, one which I hope will bring a new resilience into corporate activities.  The proposal is very simple … to allow new companies to register as independent companies which may not be bought out for a given period (say, 5 or 10 years).

The principle is sound.  Some US states already allow “B corps”, businesses whose corporate governance can take more into account than just shareholder value.  This is just an extension of the principle and says a company, on establishment, may be protected from predatory action for a number of years.

To be clear, I have no problem with entrepreneurs nor do I have an issue with those who wish to set up a business to be sold to a larger concern in the future.

But I do question whether this should be the norm for a small or micro business.  why can’t these enterprises survive and flourish in their local communities .. why should the norm be that they become an arm of some huge Murdochian (TM) empire?

That helps no-one .. it doesn’t help the social community and it doesn’t help the business community.  If we want a sustainable business environment we have to face one simple fact … we have to let the kittens live.

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On the proper way to limit overpopulation 3

Posted May 25th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

This is my third attempt to find a solution to the problem of overpopulation on this Earth by birth control; I hope that this time it will be perfect. I don’t repeat some of the arguments which I have provided in my previous articles, I’m going to give fresh thoughts instead. These might be like a spark to someone who is a decision-maker in birth control.

In my previous articles I didn’t mention compulsory education and liability for military service as ways to increase the average age of begetting the first child – but of course, I believe that it would help the cause. I didn’t mention freely available condoms or contraceptives either – because it seems that their effect would be too slim in a country like China. My birth control solution prefers keeping out of the danger zone – which means there shouldn’t be too many children even if mankind could afford that, because we don’t know when will be a food crisis. If we don’t regulate population size by law, population will fill the available space, thus we reach the danger zone. In order to avoid this, a population control law is needed.

An ideal, long-term population control law should ensure that there will be two children per couple on average. Why don’t we create a simple law then which would say that a person can have two children but not more (except if others have less than two)? We could try that, but I suspect that those would proliferate who beget twins or triplets in the second pregnancy so the law wouldn’t be sustainable in evolutionary time. It wouldn’t be liberal either if somebody had no chance to have many children. Based on the same arguments, previously I thought that only one or zero child should be allowed for sure, and there should be some competition which decides who will get the right to have more children. But then I realized that the competition I described was too severe, too unjust in some cases, causing too much disagreement, so I began to search for alternative solutions.

In order to lessen the disagreement, it is clear that the law should be more liberal, because those people disagree who feel their liberty endangered. Deciding by competition is liberal – in theory. But some people may want more liberty in practice. The less talented may want less competition, the more talented may want more competition, both wanting liberty. Being liberal in practice and giving the right not to compete would stop almost all competition, because all the less talented would quit the competition leaving the more talented with nobody to compete with. Thus the rate of competition should be common in a community, and it should be determined by common agreement. I think it is probable that the people will choose less competition, but how to implement it? How to implement no competition in a world with many twins and triplets?

Here’s the idea roughly: Everyone should be allowed to have one child (except in extreme worlds with many triplets), and everyone should be allowed from his ancestors to inherit the right to have more children if that ancestor had not exceeded the limit. So in practice every couple should be allowed to have two children whose ancestors all had two children. If the ancestors had less children, the descendants may be allowed to have more children. If the ancestors had more children, the descendants should have less children. But some people, like monks or old bachelors could even make their testament so that it would give their begetting right to another person, a group or the entire community for competition. By the way, this decision right could not be surely granted to bachelors in a real two-child-policy with triplets. Not allowing bachelors to choose spiritual descendants in their last will might be unjust, because the bachelors and monks may also try to make this world better… So this two-child-policy clone is my latest idea, and needs elaborated, but I think you can understand the point.

In my three articles we have seen three possible solutions to the problem of limiting the number of births by law. All of them were for a simple cause: keep the average number of the children per couple at 2 (in the long term). The three solutions differed by the suggested rate of competition – and the conclusion is that countries should decide which rate of competition they choose. I hope countries will not choose war in the long term.

The latest version of these three articles can be found on the blog here or visit my profile on The Environment Site, user fekarp.

Written by Arpad Fekete, This article is in the public domain.

The Conference Junkie: Preaching to the Converted

Posted April 20th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

At the recently concluded Charities@Work conference, JP Morgan Chase’s VP and National Director for Employee Engagement and Financial Education Michael Carren challenged the attendees to return next year with a colleague.

What he said isn’t atypical for a conference. For organizers, these forums—especially annual ones—mean new business opportunities and a bigger, better event the following year.

And when one of the organizers says this, the reaction is usually one of ambivalence: Sure, of course you want to increase your attendance.

But for once I agree.

As I go from conference to conference this year (Count stands at 11 so far including two that we’ve organized), alternatively presenting, speaking on a panel or simply attending, I’ve realized that, no matter how good the events are, they’re all suffering from the same problem.

That is: We are preaching to the same crowd.

We’re talking about CSR, business ethics, social responsibility, life skills, business skills, leadership skills and so much more…we’re learning from each other’s experiments and sharing our challenges.

But are we extending the dialogue to our colleagues when we return to our desks?

After all, we are returning to a bulk load of work and an endless cycle of deadlines and deliverables. We are not sharing what we learned with our colleagues, and we are certainly not using the key takeaways to crowd-source solutions within our organizations. Even if a small percentage of us is taking the time to spread the wealth, are we doing it effectively?

Are we delivering the message across departments? Across management hierarchies? Are we making it make sense?

Because if we were, the attendance demographics would change every year: Networking breaks would have newer faces, fresher perspectives, evolving challenges. Every lunch/dinner break would mean meeting people with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

But that isn’t happening.

I know. Most of us don’t have the time.

“We’re Not Sitting At the Same Table”

At the Business Civic Leadership Center’s (BCLC) annual conference earlier this week, I happened to share a table at lunch with Microsoft’s Senior Director of Global Community Affairs Akhtar Badshah and Ann Cramer who is the director of IBM’s corporate community relations. They shared similar sentiments: Why this continued disconnect? Why do the marketing, legal, compliance, community relations, and HR teams remain so misaligned on what CSR means for their roles, and their impact?

Referring to my recent workshop with the students at the University of Minnesota on CSR and job hunting, I asked Cramer what could help reduce this disconnect. Her answer resonated: We’re not talking enough, we’re not educating ourselves enough, we’re not sitting at the same table, she said.

Never Too Late for a New Year’s Resolution

So why not share some of the wealth and use next year’s budget to send someone else from your company to some of these conferences, especially the ones that have become permanent dots on your annual calendar?

Even if just a handful of new attendees get the message and are able to contextualize it to their daily job, that’s a win in my book—and I’d wager in your company’s long term growth as well.

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On the proper way to limit overpopulation 2

Posted April 19th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

In a previous article of mine, I discussed how to limit overpopulation in the proper way if we speak about evolutionary time. My conclusion was something like the following: we should limit the number of the births, and we should do this by not allowing some people to reproduce – at least until they get richer – while encouraging others – the more useful for the community – to have as many children as they can. I based this position on the want of peace, and on the supposition that in these times biological evolution favors those who want children, and in a one-child-policy state those would multiply who beget triplets, which has to be avoided. But let’s refresh our thinking with new ideas, let everyone think on this important issue, and I give fuel to the thinking process by this new article.

I already got severe feedback and criticism for my previous article, and I think they liked the overpopulation topic but they didn’t like my actual solution. Someone thought it may be unjust to favor the rich or to determine the reproduction rights by human judgement, and someone thought my solution may be impossible to be realized in practice, at least in these times. I consider these criticism right, but I have to say that my solution would be better than nothing, and faith in the cause might make wonders. At the same time, I admit that a more realistic alternative should be given than my suggestion, moreover I criticize my previous suggestion further.

At first, we should examine the suppositions on which I based my suggestion. The first such is that biological evolution favours triplets. This isn’t necessarily true if biological mutations are not random and the world is governed by a good spirit. The works of such a spirit could drive evolution in an entirely different way than darwinian evolution predicts. Moreover, in our times even humans could intervene by technology to prevent the multiplication of triplet-begetters. (By the way, I don’t think that it would be beautiful.)

My second supposition was that begetting triplets and twins should not be common. Here comes the question: why? Is it not good to have brothers or sisters? The only drawback of begetting triplets or twins is that it is in conflict with the one-child-policy. But in these times the one-child-policy can be applied, and the triplet-begetters are not a huge obstacle to it. So my new suggestion is that in these times we should apply the one-child-policy, and allow begetting triplets and twins, but if the triplet-begetters proliferate in the uncertain future, the people should choose my original solution.

So my new conclusion is that we should apply the one-child-policy in these times in the countries which are overpopulated, but I have not yet discussed what is the proper way to apply that. My main argument is that the one-child-policy should be made more liberal, allowing the fortunate ones to have as many children as they can. This way everyone could hope that one day he or she will be allowed to have more children. Thus everyone should be allowed to have one child or to give one multiple birth, but everything beyond that should be governed by ever changing state laws, depending on the current population, which should make it possible for the very rich, and maybe for the generally rich to have as many children as they can, provided that they support the state with their money. This would be very similar to the one-child-policy laws already living in China.

Written by Arpad Fekete, this article is in the public domain just like the article it refers to.

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Technology. Good or Bad?

Posted March 24th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

It is a common attitude in the environmental movement that technology is something to be avoided. I have read posts and articles by multiple people that advocate the throwing away of technology, but the truth remains that we are tool making creatures. We have close animal relatives who use tools to this day and they still manage to live in harmony with nature while using appropriate technology. Primates use sticks and rocks, birds use sticks and otters use rocks. When we observe this in nature we can conclude that using tools and technology is neither good nor bad. It is the use to which they are put along, with the way they are implemented, that makes their impact good or bad. However some people think we should just to get rid of it all.

Unless we want to return to the trees it is impossible to remove all technology. The fire we use for heat, the shoes we wear on our feet, and the clothes that cover our bodies are all examples of technology. The use of tools is a part of our existence as human beings. They have been a piece of our lives ever since our ancestors started their first intentional fire. Technology flows through our history like the golden threads of a beautiful tapestry. We have let the tapestry get dirty and now it needs cleaning up.

The dirt on our tapestry is the result of technologies use by humans. When we were a young species we didn’t know how to clean up the messes we were leaving behind. We didn’t understand that pouring stuff in the water would kill us later. We didn’t understand that planting the same crop in the same place each year affected the quality. We certainly didn’t know that burning wood was putting pollution into the air. However we have learned better. But, in the course of learning, we let people take control who didn’t care. They used the methods and products for their own selfish needs and didn’t care about the effect on other people.

It is this lack of caring that lies at the core of our environmental problems. So many of our problems from war to racism to abuse to crime find fertile ground here. It is fed by the economic system which encourages the amassing of personal profit at the expense of others. In order to prevent further environmental degradation we need to change this. Only when we have truly modified our mentality and approach to life can lasting changes be made. Any changes we make in the meantime will certainly suffer from that short-sighted approach to life. Technology will always be a part of us but we have to approach it in a rational and compassionate way.

This post has been written by Dee Neely, a member of our discussion forum.

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Competitive Intelligence: What’s Unethical About It?

Posted March 21st, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

Where would you draw the line at collecting intelligence about competitors?

A new survey by consulting firm Fuld & Co. shows that while financial services firms and tech companies might be the most aggressive in collecting intelligence, other industries aren’t that far behind. As reported by the WSJ, “104 business executives were presented with hypothetical scenarios that gave the executive an opportunity to collect intel about a competitor, but straddled the ethical line. Participants could rate the scenario as “normal,” “aggressive,” “unethical” or “illegal.””

The results seem partly on target, but mostly worrying.

For example, “One scenario asked whether it was all right for the executive to remove his identification badge during a trade show, which would make it easier to speak to competitors without them knowing his identity.”

The result: “Most industries rated removing the ID badge as aggressive, while health-care and pharmaceutical executives thought it was unethical.”

But the report didn’t restrict the questions to public forum etiquette. “The executives were asked if it was alright to sign up for an interview at a rival company’s job fair to see what they could learn from a recruiter.”

Result: “Every industry thought the tactic was unethical except for government, which merely found it aggressive.”

While I’ll let you get over the fact that this scenario suggests our government has a completely different outlook on ethical behavior, overall the report seems to give health care and pharmaceutical brownie points for being squeamish about their approaches.

One factor detailed by the Journal: The level of regulation weighs heavily on the consequent level of squeamishness.

While each industry seems to be toeing its own line of ethics vs. competitive intelligence, risk for most means higher profits, and as Larry Kahaner, author of Competitive Intelligence says in the report, “The more money that’s involved, the less squeamish people become. “If companies have gotten away with stuff over the years, they don’t clean up their act.”

Is it then okay to assume that the surveyed companies probably have some sort of written guidelines on intel collection?

A third, says the report, neither have guidelines nor do they share them with employees. What you don’t know doesn’t hurt. Right?

–By Aman Singh,

Aman Singh is the Senior Editor, Corporate Responsibility with and the author of Vault’s CSR blog: In Good Company. Her area of work includes corporate social responsibility, diversity practices and sustainability, and how they translate into recruitment and strategic development at companies. Connect with her on Twitter @VaultCSR.

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On the proper way to limit overpopulation

Posted February 22nd, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

There are people who say that there is no overpopulation, and there are people who say that there is overpopulation but we shouldn’t do anything about it. I say that there is overpopulation and we should do something about it, but this article of mine is not about convincing people of this approach. I search for the answer to this question instead: how to limit population size in the proper way if we want to? I share my best current thoughts about the topic, allowing you to evaluate and rethink them.

Overpopulation was not a big problem in the ancient times, because wars, famine and diseases kept population size in its natural limits. The rise of civilizations and technology seems to have changed this situation, because we can feed many of the hungry in Africa, and we can cure most of the diseases, and we do it, because we are humane. Even wars cannot control population growth properly now, because we should not risk a nuclear war. If these three things – war, famine and disease – are not available to control population size, what other options do we have?

Some thinkers may come up with the advice „Go back to nature”, which would mean we should force mankind back to a state similar to the one which was prior to civilization. There are two problems with this approach. The first is that most of us don’t want to lose the advantages of civilization, for example comfort, security, power and information. The second problem is that the „Go back to nature” principle cannot be brought into effect in practice. At least it cannot be brought into practice in our times.

We can see one thing in common in war, famine and disease: all control overpopulation by increasing the number of deaths. As we don’t want this, we have only two options: the first is to find another planets to live, the other is to limit the number of births. As finding another planets to live seems to be a hard-to-believe option, we have to think on the possibility about limiting the number of births. After a so long introduction we can continue with the main thoughts of my writing.

The question is how we could limit the number of births in a sustainable, liberal and ethical manner. If some people may voluntarily choose not to have children, or to have less children, because of environmental thinking, then it is probable that in evolutionary time those would proliferate who don’t care for the environment as much and cannot control their instincts. Thus this solution wouldn’t be sustainable in evolutionary time, and it wouldn’t be just either. We have to compete for the rights of reproduction, because this is the law of natural selection.

There are some laws which control the way how we compete for reproduction, for example the law which says „Do not kill” or the one which says „Do not steal”. Other laws may be created to limit birth rates, like the one-child-policy in China. I can see two problems with the one-child-policy: firstly, it’s not liberal, and secondly, it doesn’t seem to be sustainable in evolutionary time, because those would proliferate who beget triplets. The conclusion from this is that birth control laws should work as evolution works.

We have come to the conclusion which we may call the principle of birth control: The more able, the more useful and the more fit for life should be encouraged to reproduce, and the less able, the less useful and the less fit for life should not reproduce or should have only one child. Implementations of this principle may differ in time and place, whether is should be measured by money or something else, how liberal it should be, whether punishment is necessary or is reward enough for the children of the compliers, and whether or not those may be encouraged to have a sexual relationship who should not beget children. After all, the principle remains the same, unless we can go to another planets to live. This principle would make the lives of the children better, because they would get the wealth they need. This principle would also help to reduce the monetary differences between people, because the money which would be inherited would be distributed between the children.

Until now, I couldn’t find a better solution than this, so I encourage people to start thinking about how to implement it.

Written by Arpad Fekete, a member of

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