Coevolving Innovations

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Industrial Ecology in 2015 0

Posted on August 16, 2015 by daviding

Up to a month before the biannual conference of the International Society for Industrial Ecology, I hadn’t heard of this field.

Industrial ecology is the study of the flows of materials and energy in industrial and consumer activities, of the effects of these flows on the environment, and of the influences of economic, political, regulatory, and social factors on the flow, use, and transformation of resources.  (U.S. National Academy of Engineering, 1994)

The first international conference of the ISIE was held in 2001, in the Netherlands.  The organization has recently described the progress in the field:

In the early days of industrial ecology, investigation of the soundness and utility of the biological analogy and efforts at eco-design were prominent. In the past decade, input-output analysis (especially multi-regional IOA), studies of resource criticality, integration of social science and operations research, agent-based/complexity modeling, urban metabolism and long-term socio-ecological research have become central to the field.

The influence of industrial ecology is significant and growing, and the analytical tools that are central to the field, such as life cycle assessment (LCA) and material flow analysis (MFA), are increasingly used in other disciplines. Both LCA and MFA are used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report to examine the embodied greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings, transportation, and other sectors. Additionally, industrial ecology specialists comprise the core of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) International Resource Panel. They have authored five of the Panel’s seven reports since 2011. (ISIE 2015)

The way I came to Industrial Ecology was by another route. While doing research in June, I encountered a 2001 book, Construction Ecology: Nature as a Basis for Green Buildings, edited G. Bradley Guy , Charles J. Kibert and Jan Sendzimir.  Here’s an extract from the table of contents.

  • 1. Defining an ecology of construction: Charles J, Kibert, Jan Sendzimir and G. Bradley Guy

Part 1: The ecologists

  • 2. Material circulation, energy hierarchy, and building construction: Howard T. Odum
  • 3. On complexity theory, exergy, and industrial ecology: James J. Kay
  • 4. Applying the principles of ecological emergence to building design and construction: Timothy F.H. Allen
  • 5. Using ecological dynamics to move toward an adaptive architecture: Garry Peterson

Part 2: The industrial ecologists

  • 8. Construction ecology and metabolism: Stefan Bringezu

Part 3: The architects

  • 10. Ecologic analogues and architecture: Sim Van Der Ryn and Rob Pena

The book followed from a “Rinker Eminent Scholar Workshop on Construction Ecology and Metabolism” at the University of Florida in 1999.  I was intrigued that of the four “ecologists”:  (i) I’ve met all four in person; (ii) two were ISSS presidents (i.e. Odum and Allen); and (iii) two were speakers at the ISSS San Jose 2012 meeting that I organized (i.e. Allen and Peterson).  Howard Odum and James Kay has both passed, so I’ll have to read their legacies to learn. Tim Allen is in Wisconsin, and fortunately welcomes researchers who want to visit him.

One way that I learn rapidly about a field is to attend a conference where current research is presented.  The ISIE runs its conferences biannually.  The choice to go was either then almost immediately (i.e. July 2015), or in two years (July 2017).  The 2015 theme was “Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology” where “plenary speakers and panels will give reviews – both retrospective and prospective – of different aspects of industrial ecology”.  For a beginner, this was enticing.  A quick check of airfares made the trip feasible, so I went (with a fortunate routing through Austria for Purplsoc bringing down the cost even more).

DI_20150707 031044 ISIE plenary RolandClift ChrisFrance ChrisKennedy

On the Tuesday morning, ISIE 2015 started with plenary talks more on the history and basic concepts, and then two panels (of which I chose the one with industry speakers):

Purplsoc 2015 digests and presentation 1

Posted on August 10, 2015 by daviding

The pattern language community — followers of Christopher Alexander’s approach — is distributed globally.  I participated in PLoP 2014 at Allerton Park, Illinois last September, and then attended AsianPLoP 2015 in Tokyo last March.  I had been eyeing the PUARL (Portland Urban Architecture Research Laboratory) conference for fall 2015, but then heard that the event was being incorporated into Purplsoc for 2015.  I originally couldn’t justify a trip to Europe for the Purplsoc (Pursuit of Pattern Language for Societal Change) 2015 conference, but then its timing turned out to be back-to-back with the ISIE conference.  So, just 3 weeks before the conference, I booked a triangular routing to arrive just in time for the start on July 3, in Krems, Austria.

On the Friday, the program started with some plenary session keynotes:

  • Hermann Czech, “Remarks about the Truth and the Whole” [digest]
  • “Opening”, with Peter Baumgartner; a delegate of the Mayor of the City of Krems; Monica Kil; Christian Hanus; Hajo Neis [digest]
  • Wolfgang Stark, “Performative Patterns for Innovation: The Power of Tacit Knowing in Social Systems” [digest]

Saturday morning started with a keynote.

The rest of Saturday morning had parallel streams.  I was in the Pattern applications and practices session.

  • Hajo Neis and Perrin Wright, “Up and Out: Oregon Tsunami Wayfinding Survival Language” [digest]
  • Taichi Isaku, “The Cooking Language: Applying the Theory of Properties and Patterns into Cooking” [digest] [slides on]
  • Hiroshi Nakano, “Japanese Spirituality and Pattern Language” [digest]
  • David Ing, Service Systems Thinking: From Environmental Structure to a New Generative Pattern Language [abstract + presentation slides]

By Saturday afternoon, some of the parallel sessions were being juggled.  I attended:

  • Wolfgang Rang, “Early Experiments with A Pattern Language” [digest]
  • Thomas Hruschka and Wolfgang Stark, “EcoBusiness Plan Vienna: An Organizational Pattern Language for Networking Sustainability In and Between Companies” [digest]

To close out Saturday, there was a plenary panel:

  • “Christopher Alexander’s Ethics: An Ethic of Design”, with David West, Peter Baumgartner, Christian Kohls, Helmut Leitner, Hajo Neis, and Till Schummer [digest]

Sunday morning opened with a most impressive plenary keynote:

  • Howard Davis, “Pattern Languages and the New Productive City” [digest]

The Sunday parallel session on Pattern languages for societal change had one impromptu workshop set up, before the scheduled one.

  • Hajo Neis, Takashi Iba and Helene Finidori, “Pattern Languages 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0″ [digest]
  • Norihiko Kimura and Takashi Iba, “The Fundamental Behavioral Properties” [digest]

Unfolding values in places, spaces and paces: Service systems thinking and architectural theory 0

Posted on July 01, 2015 by daviding

Prior talks on Service Systems Thinking have focused on basics.  For this year’s Symposium on Service Systems Science at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, I decided to step up the emphasis in a short presentation on some selected ideas:

  • An unfolding is a process which gets you from one stage or moment of development to the next moment of development, in the evolution of a neighborhood or in the evolution of a building;  and
  • Value is dynamic, with access consciousness ex-ante and ex-post, and phenomenological consciousness in lived experience

From the 8 practices employed by Christopher Alexander on the 1985 Eishin project, I focused on one:

  • Find systems of centers in (i) the notions in people’s minds, and (ii) the places in the land. Combine them.

These ideas are at the core of how systems thinking is intertwined with service science, and pattern languages.  Jim Kijima and Hiroshi Deguchi arranged for a videographer this year, so there’s a record of the presentation.

Audio [20150228_1430_Titech_Ing_UnfoldingValuePlacesSpacesPaces_128kbps.mp3]
(45MB, 46m51s)
Video (47m01s) nHD
H.264 MP4 [640×360
454Kbps m4v
] (160MB)
1754Kbps m4v
] (679MB)
WebM [640×360
247Kbps webm
] (87MB)


The video is available on Youtube, or downloadable as audio or video.

From Environmental Structure to Service Systems Thinking 1

Posted on June 29, 2015 by daviding

Christopher Alexander’s work described the architecting of built physical environments.  The 1977 book A Pattern Language bears the subtitle “Towns, Buildings, Construction”.  This approach was developed in the context of architectural programming and problem seeking originating the late 1960s.  It was complemented by methods described in The Oregon Experiment, and theory in The Timeless Way of Building.  Appreciating the philosophy embraced in the practice of building environment structure leads to a lot of reading.  The challenge has been made harder by Alexander continually evolving his vocabulary and definitions throughout his career to 2012, with his last publication of The Battle for Life and Beauty of the Earth.

Service Systems Science inquires into a world that is not necessarily physical.  Is it possible to remain relatively true to the pattern language approach developed by Christopher Alexander, and extend that into a new domain labelled Service Systems Thinking?

The 21st Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs — known as PLoP, organized by the Hillside Group at Allerton Park, Illinois for September 2014 — was an opportunity to test out the idea of Service Systems Thinking amongst practitioners who have grappled with applying pattern languages to software development for over 20 years.  My contribution of writing to the Narrow Road to the Deep North (奥の細道) writer’s workshop led by Richard P. Gabriel and Jenny Quillien turned out to stretch the normal process of critical review.  The accepted paper was incomplete, overwhelming in length (since workshops usually review submissions of just a few pages), cross-disciplinary in nature, and written at level beyond an undergraduate audience.  Since preceding presentations at other conferences had been workshop presentations of 3 to 5 hours in length, a written work turned out to be an ambitious effort for both the audience and the author.

PLoP conferences produce proceedings, where authors take the comments from the reviewers to revise the writings.  The timeline for completion was by January 2015.  In months between the Allerton meeting and the deadline, I managed to complete a coherent manuscript which was scheduled to be formally published by the ACM.  Self-publishing on the Internet is now easy, so it’s easy to distribute the author’s version of the work.

So, the manuscript for “From Environmental Structure to Service Systems Thinking: Wholeness with Centers Described with a Generative Pattern Language” has been available for some months.  At 32 pages (including a long list of references), this work comes with an apology.  If you would prefer the precision of reading, this article should be seen as a beginning, not an end.  If you’re not a fan of reading, perhaps watching some of videos might be less painful.

Much of the best work is done by amateurs (1890) 0

Posted on April 02, 2015 by daviding

The origin of “much of the best work” is “done by amateurs” dates back to 1890 in photography.  At that time, glass photographic plates was the norm for large images, as compared to the Kodak box camera released in 1888 with flexible roll film returned to the company for processing and reloading.


Much of the best work one sees is done by so-called amateurs. In fact, good work can only be done by amateurs in the true sense; i.e., those who love their work, and the secret is thoroughness. One must be thoroughly interested in the work—make a thorough study of the subject, and have nerve enough to keep the holder out of the camera unless the light is satisfactory and the composition thoroughly good. The “you press the button and we do the work” method is often effective, but for plates of any size more often a waste than a gain.

Very frequently we see picture makers who carefully read and observe the instructions sent by the makers with each box of plates, and the result is favorable. I envy them their pictures and the ability to stick to instructions, but I can’t do it myself. I confess to having little interest in a picture after the first batch of prints, or even after the negative has shown its quality—for the chemistry and other details of the subject exhaust most of my zeal.

It has been my pleasure to incite some hundreds of persons to try the various branches of photography, pure and simple, while I have done some work in every branch from wet-plate to photo-engraving, and the criticisms here made apply equally to myself.

I am a “hit or miss” portraitist, but am dead sure on some other branches said to be more difficult.

Most people fail in their efforts in some direction, as is quite natural. Those who stick to one class of photographs usually make a success.

I like to watch others work, and my experience is that failures are due to lack of thoroughness at some stage. [….]

J.W. MacMurray

Source:  MacMurray, J.W. 1890. “Thoroughness.” In The American Annual of Photography, edited by C.W. Canfield, 4:38–40. New York, NY, USA: The Scovill & Adams Company.

The 1890 author is fully identified as Major J.W. MacMurray, USA in the table of contents [p. v].   It is likely the same Major J.W. McMurray who was appointed as a Military Professor at the University of Missouri in 1872. The interest in photography might be associated with drawing in engineering in the U.S. Army at that time.

Military Science.

The instructions in Military Science, and the drill of the soldiers, which had been suspended in consequence of the retirement from service of the later professor, will be resumed under favorable circumstances, Major J. W. McMurray, of the First Regiment of Artillery, having been detailed by the President as Military Professor in the University.

Sustainable scale of an organization: A case study at IBM? 4

Posted on January 26, 2015 by daviding

How many employees can IBM sustain?  At Dec. 31, 2013, IBM reported 431,212 employees for the company and wholly-owned subsidiaries.  In February 2014, there were projections that 13,000 to 15,000 employees would be released within the year.  The estimate for 2015 of 26% further reductions calculates to leave about 300,000 IBMers worldwide.  This leads to three questions about the current situation (and potential other cases with similar circumstances).

  • 1. How many employees, worldwide, can a company sustainably afford?
  • 2. Where should global resources be geographically deployed?
  • 3. Can science guide us on sustainable ranges of scale for organizations?

The domain of business is a social science, so corporate decisions lead to paths where alternatives (i.e. the path not taken) can never be tested in reality.  Thus, much of the thinking below is speculative.

1. How many employees, worldwide, can a company sustainably afford?

Let’s look at history, published in annual reports.  IBM reported 412,113 employees at Dec. 31, 1989.  Under John Akers as CEO, the organization was trimmed down to 301,542 employees by the end of 1992.  Lou Gerstner joined as CEO in April 1993, and job actions were announced by July.

The employees to be cut, mostly from overseas operations, will be given incentives to leave, but just what the financial package will be has not been determined. The $8.9 billion charge includes funds to pay for 25,000 additional job cuts under an early retirement program announced this year that has drawn 50,000 participants — twice as many as expected — and for 35,000 job cuts over the next 18 months.  [….]

Of the $8.9 billion pretax charge for streamlining I.B.M., $2 billion is to pay for the additional 25,000 workers who took advantage of the company’s early-retirement program that began in 1993. Some $4 billion will go to pay for the 35,000 workers who will be trimmed over the next year to 18 months. The remaining $2.9 billion will go to retire surplus factories, equipment and office buildings [Lohr, 1993].

At the end of 1994, IBM reported a population of 219,839 employees.  With a successful recovery by March 2002 for the handover from Gerstner to Palmisano, IBM reported that its employee population had grown to 319,876.

Employees and revenue per

Figure 1: Employees (IBM and wholly-owned subsidiaries) [left axis], and Total geographic revenue per Employee (IBM and wholly-owned subsidiaries) [right axis], from IBM Annual Reports

From my experience in IBM Canada Plans & Controls in 1985-1987, I know that headcount in World Trade countries was justified on affordability.  The affordability was expressed as additional revenue per additional employee.  At the end of 1992, 301,542 employees were producing $214,077 per employee.  At the end of 2001, 319,876 employees were producing $245,095 per employee.  At the end of 2013, 431,213 employees were producing $226,803 per employee.  While this doesn’t necessarily look so bad, let’s recognize inflation, and adjust to constant dollars.

Revenue per employee, constant dollar

Figure 2:  Employees (IBM and wholly-owned subsidiaries) [left axis], and Total geographic revenue per Employee adjusted to U.S. CPI-U (1982-84=100).

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a Consumer Price Index based on 1982-84.  At the end of 1992 when Lou Gerstner was soon to become CEO, 301,542 employees were producing 152,584 1982-dollars per employee.  At the end of 2001 when Sam Palmisano was about to become CEO, 319,876 employees were producing 138,396 1982-dollars per employee.  At the end of 2013 following two years with Ginny Rometty as CEO, 431,213 employees were producing 97,735 1982-dollars per employee.  On a constant dollar basis, this could be interpreted as a 30% drop in productivity by employees between 2001 and 2013.  In order to maintain productivity per employee, either the revenue should have continue to rise, or else the number of employees should drop.

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