Agile Computing Authors: Pat Romanski, Zakia Bouachraoui, Elizabeth White, William Schmarzo, Liz McMillan

Blog Feed Post

Efficiency and Fragility

Efficiency brain

Money on the Brain

Americans have discovered the fragility of life, that ominous fragility that the rest of the world either already experienced or is experiencing now with terrible intensity. — Jose Saramago, Portuguese Nobel Prize Winner

In science, mathematics and systems analysis, more and more is being written about “fragility”. In fact, the brilliant Nassim Taleb’s next book is on this very topic. With our financial bubbles and torrid pace of change, it is no wonder that this term is entering into the lexicon of business and entrepreneurship. We are all searching for ways to survive chaos and an uncertain landscape.

An interesting study was done comparing the human brain with financial markets. Brain activity was graphed and its topology compared to the peaks and valleys of the stock market. The similarities were striking, but I believe their differences even more instructive. More on that in a bit.

There is a relationship between efficiency and fragility that has eluded observers for years. Is it
the case that the more efficiencies are brought to bear, the more fragile the system? Or is there a point where the cumulative benefits of efficiency cross a threshold and become more susceptible to “black swans?” We already know that quantitative advances can lead to qualitative changes. I recognized this while losing my hair over the years. Eventually the quantitative loss of hair crossed a threshold…and voila, I was bald!

Back to market efficiencies and the brain. You see the financial markets’ ability to take in
information were deemed more efficient than the brain in processing information. The brain,
while being less efficient, has redundancies built into it. If one part of the brain is damaged,
it is these redundancies that allow for the brain to keep working. The body is replete with
redundancies by the way.

But the drive for efficiency eliminates redundancies by definition. In business, the drive for
efficiencies also eliminates human redundancies. This is one reason the digital economy has
not been a great net employer. Efficiencies created in the digital ecosystem eliminate more jobs
than they create. This was one of the points in the recent NY Times piece called The Facebook

The elimination of redundancies creates more fragility. So when we see overly optimized,
efficient systems with increasing complexity, we also are witnessing an increase in fragility. So
what? As systems become more fragile, they can break quite suddenly and with little warning.

It may be the case that the drive for ever increasing profit margins works to increase fragility.
What do I mean? Increasing profit margins usually requires more and more efficiencies…more
optimization. This means less “slack” in a system. Less redundancies. This is when a company is in peril that may not be immediately apparent. A company’s fragility often remains hidden until a black swan shows up at its doorstep.

I am not suggesting mindless inefficiencies need to be part of systemic planning. I am saying
that carefully planned inefficiencies in the form of redundancies and slack can help withstand
stressing events…from brain traumas to business calamities.

We practice the above. We introduce “slack” in areas like customer service for our e-commerce
division. If we ran 100% efficiency, we would never be able to handle spikes. We cross train
so multiple people know each other’s jobs. Cross trained people may not be able to function
as efficiently as those specializing in the tasks, but we get through vacations and handle
unpredictable work flows.

There are two more elements that increase sensitivity to fragility; size and centralization. It is
now commonplace to speak of “too big to fail” but in reality, as our corporations became larger
and larger, they were (and are) subject to increasing fragility. The metaphor for this is a camel
fully loaded and one places a single extra piece of straw that breaks its back. Our corporations
are becoming “fully loaded” and just waiting for the piece of straw it break its back.

And as our political system and corporations become larger, they also are becoming more
centralized. We needed to get something notarized at our bank (JP Morgan-Chase) and they
had to call HQ in New York to notarize a simple document. That is centralization. We switched
banks the next week to a local bank…

Why does centralization create sensitivity to fragility? When mortgages are not decentralized,
local conditions are subservient to central decision making. Rules that can be applied across
the nation become a “one size fits all” solution. A bad rule propagates nationwide…and thus is
subject to exponential risk. Decentralized decision making can equally lead to bad decisions but the harm is localized instead of increasing exponentially.

Centralization and efficiency are the rationalized twins of large systems. They go hand in hand.
When things are going well, the benefits are easy to see. But when the black swan comes calling, the costs are disastrous for the system.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the host of Fox Television’s "Shelly Palmer Digital Living" television show about living and working in a digital world. He is Fox 5′s (WNYW-TV New York) Tech Expert and the host of United Stations Radio Network’s, MediaBytes, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment.

IoT & Smart Cities Stories
Dion Hinchcliffe is an internationally recognized digital expert, bestselling book author, frequent keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, and transformation expert based in Washington, DC. He is currently Chief Strategy Officer at the industry-leading digital strategy and online community solutions firm, 7Summits.
Digital Transformation is much more than a buzzword. The radical shift to digital mechanisms for almost every process is evident across all industries and verticals. This is often especially true in financial services, where the legacy environment is many times unable to keep up with the rapidly shifting demands of the consumer. The constant pressure to provide complete, omnichannel delivery of customer-facing solutions to meet both regulatory and customer demands is putting enormous pressure on...
IoT is rapidly becoming mainstream as more and more investments are made into the platforms and technology. As this movement continues to expand and gain momentum it creates a massive wall of noise that can be difficult to sift through. Unfortunately, this inevitably makes IoT less approachable for people to get started with and can hamper efforts to integrate this key technology into your own portfolio. There are so many connected products already in place today with many hundreds more on the h...
The standardization of container runtimes and images has sparked the creation of an almost overwhelming number of new open source projects that build on and otherwise work with these specifications. Of course, there's Kubernetes, which orchestrates and manages collections of containers. It was one of the first and best-known examples of projects that make containers truly useful for production use. However, more recently, the container ecosystem has truly exploded. A service mesh like Istio addr...
Digital Transformation: Preparing Cloud & IoT Security for the Age of Artificial Intelligence. As automation and artificial intelligence (AI) power solution development and delivery, many businesses need to build backend cloud capabilities. Well-poised organizations, marketing smart devices with AI and BlockChain capabilities prepare to refine compliance and regulatory capabilities in 2018. Volumes of health, financial, technical and privacy data, along with tightening compliance requirements by...
Charles Araujo is an industry analyst, internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise and author of The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change. As Principal Analyst with Intellyx, he writes, speaks and advises organizations on how to navigate through this time of disruption. He is also the founder of The Institute for Digital Transformation and a sought after keynote speaker. He has been a regular contributor to both InformationWeek and CIO Insight...
Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settlement products to hedge funds and investment banks. After, he co-founded a revenue cycle management company where he learned about Bitcoin and eventually Ethereal. Andrew's role at ConsenSys Enterprise is a mul...
To Really Work for Enterprises, MultiCloud Adoption Requires Far Better and Inclusive Cloud Monitoring and Cost Management … But How? Overwhelmingly, even as enterprises have adopted cloud computing and are expanding to multi-cloud computing, IT leaders remain concerned about how to monitor, manage and control costs across hybrid and multi-cloud deployments. It’s clear that traditional IT monitoring and management approaches, designed after all for on-premises data centers, are falling short in ...
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, discussed how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team at D...
Dynatrace is an application performance management software company with products for the information technology departments and digital business owners of medium and large businesses. Building the Future of Monitoring with Artificial Intelligence. Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more busine...