Different concepts of leadership

Christopher Columbus. Photo Credit: Public Domain

World has been always dominated by two different ideas about organization of groups of people: Either a strong leadership that drives the actions of different people or a leadership based on coordination where people provide opinions and the leader only extract the common wishes of people. In social governance the sides of these ideas are dictatorship and direct democracy. In the former one, only the opinion of a single person is taken into account. In the latter one, there is actually no leader that is substituted by a decision making methodology based on voting. North America is considered a place of democracy; however, a democratic organization in Columbus’ expedition never discovered it. Sailors, probably, would have voted to go back to Spain before reaching the coast of America.

Without considering moral affairs, both solutions could run a small society in a prosper way. Prosperity does not proceed from the decision making process but the decisions themselves. Methodology or leadership is not required in order to provide good decisions but in order to cope with increasing complexity. As societies grow both accepting the decisions of a leader and agreeing about many matters make themselves more difficult tasks. Men have developed mixed solutions where leadership is seen in different forms, and leadership and management methodologies must cohabit in an effective organization.

Governance evolves very slowly, however, business organizations evolves much faster. The number of formal management methodologies and theories about leadership is huge, although market finally selects some of them that are commonly accepted as good practices and they got to be extensively spread.

However, management consultancy is a business like another one. The success of its products depends not on their quality only but on the marketing activity too. Standards ‘de facto’ can exists due to a good marketing activity instead of the added value of the consultancy product, in a similar way as VHS video recorders overcame Betamax ones. Management consultancy can be many times driven by fashion instead of added value, and unfortunately what is fashionable is not usually driven by management professionals but communication experts.

In spite of these issues, the traditional two management visions are preserved although nowadays they have evolved in different management methodologies. A professional consultant usually knows several of these methodologies and he applies them depending on the preferences of the client organization. Clients demand consultancy products that many times are fashionable because they are not experts in methodologies and their general knowledge about it is based on the specialist press and management forums. Mass media drive fashions but we should not forget that they are private companies with their own interests and value chain.

The implementation of a certain management methodology must be considered for the long term, and it will not be changed in several years. That is the reason why managers should avoid fashions and center their decisions on the added value for their organizations. Most of them usually demand the implementation of ‘de facto’ standards to reduce the risk of their decisions.

An example of this discussion can be seen in software development. Traditional engineering projects are fully predefined and driven by an engineer that leads the project. This scheme fits well the construction of a building, a road or a bridge. Construction knowledge is in the hands of the engineer than makes decisions about the task to be made by the operators. When the complexity of the project increases the required knowledge implies the involvement of several engineers expert in different areas. The figure of project manager arises in order to lead the activity of engineering. In a large engineering project the knowledge can be very specialized making ineffective a scheme of decision making by voting, and a clear leader can help to make the process more effective. Direct democracy works well when the information about the problem is common and all people understand it equally, however, it does not fit well highly specialized groups because the success of the project may not be distributed equally among the knowledge of different experts. In this case, the project manager values how different tasks affect to the whole progress.

Software projects are different. In a software project, programmers have similar tasks related to programming, and the team can take advantage of sharing knowledge among them in order to improve their capabilities to do their own tasks. The scheme of full leadership is not efficient. Software engineering has developed different management methodologies, for instance, those ones known as agile. Agile methodologies preserve certain leadership for decision making; however, a lot of decisions are made by the team.

In Scrum, an agile framework that can be considered as a ‘de facto’ standard in software development management, the scrum masters are activators of the agile process. They are more facilitators and coaches than leaders in the traditional sense of this word. There is another role in this methodology related to management: the product owner. This role has some responsibilities related to important decisions about the progress of the project but is not a classic project manager too.

Different management methodologies exist because there are different kind of organizations with different aims and different characteristics. Successful organizations are those ones that choose a methodology that let them to cope with higher complexity, or in other words, those ones that reduces their working complexity in a more complex environment, making their processes more effective and more efficient.


Modern Robotics and Social Progress

Robot Dream Exhibition Hong Kong. Photo Credit: Public Domain

I cannot hide a little smile, when I can read at the press that “robots are coming to remove our job”. What a great discovery! Some “brilliant mind” has found that “evil” engineers are developing machines to avoid the hard work of people. Someone must think that the searching for a more comfortable life is not the sign of any civilization. Someone must think that the first civilizations do not invent livestock breeding in order to avoid the more dangerous, more laborious, less predictable, less effective and less efficient job of hunter. There is not any written record of some kind of group of hunters on strike. This is not a probable fact because unions were an invention in the recent centuries. However, there are archeological evidences that many tribes continued acting as hunter gatherers for a longer time until their disappearance. Not accepting the social technological changes is not only a matter of worse understanding of social evolution. It is a matter of driving the society to a subsequent disappearance in front of those ones that incorporate the technological advances.

I am not probably the most intelligent man in the world and I cannot see where the “evilness” of engineers can be found. Is the transformation of jobs into less dangerous activities for people evilness?  Is the transformation of jobs into less repetitive and more creativity activities evilness? Is a more effective and more efficient exploitation of natural resources evilness?

Christian-Jewish civilization is based on the premise that hard work is the result of the original sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis). For that civilization, hard work is a divine punishment. Then, it cannot be a social value. Perhaps, the “brilliant mind” behind the “evilness” of engineering is looking with religious eyes, because he sees it as a way to avoid a divine punishment. Suffering for a great cause can be considered an extremely great act of mercy; however, making people to suffer for something that can be easily avoided is only an act of masochism.

I do not want to be misunderstood. Effort and hard work related to achieve our own or even social aims must not be avoided. It should be promoted. What must be removed is the work that limits our capability to improve if there is a technological way to do it. Ancient Romans dedicated their lives to the defense and expansion of their empire while the repetitive work of cultivating their fields was done by slaves. War is a job harder than agriculture; however, the result of the war could not be put in the hands of slaves. There will be always many activities that will have to be done by ourselves, although those activities can be even the hardest ones.

I am conscious that people are not worried about the loss of jobs but about the loss of personal incomes, but this problem is not linked to engineering but linked to politics. It is a common social error in our days to translate the incompetence of political world to accept and to drive changes to the engineering world that is prepared to them from its beginnings. Engineering always provides solutions to problems, while politics creates them when politicians are not able to agree.

I can ask to myself if ancient Romans would have substituted their slaves for robots. That would be a great social problem. Before slavery all enemies were assassinated, in fact slavery was a social advance because it let to avoid the extermination of many people. The problem of robotics deployment can be not related to people jobs but to the change of the political order and the sharing of political power among rival political factions. Technology never is evil but people controlling it can be.

Robots are not the problem, are the solution. Robots are enemies of neither capital nor people. I would like that politicians against robots defending the “jobs of people” or a “stable economy” counted the number and quality of jobs before the use of computers and after it. Computers have provided more jobs, better labor conditions and higher benefits for companies. The arguments about the evilness of technological advances from any political side are neither reasonable nor defendable.

Fundamental Science and Economic Innovation

Elliptical Galaxy NGC 1316. Photo Credit: NASA and ESA. Public Domain
Elliptical Galaxy NGC 1316. Photo Credit: NASA and ESA. Public Domain

Is to look at the sky the best way to solve the problems of the current world? My answer would be: It depends on how we are looking at the sky. It is very different to look at the sky praying to the gods asking for more rain than to look at the sky gathering measurable data in order to understand better how nature is working and to take advantage of it to improve human lives.

Science provides us with more power to improve our lives. Waiting for the rain is the way as pre-scientific societies were ruled. Looking at the stars with a telescope was the way as societies were advancing through centuries towards the current welfare of their citizens.

Bertrand Russell, the philosopher and mathematician, noticed that the essential novelty of scientific technique is based on the use of natural forces through ways not evident for people without the proper education, but found from a deliberate search. Deliberate search is the basement of modern technologies that let us to increase the productive capability of the economy to the current levels of economic development.

We cannot expect that most people understand the benefits of fundamental science, because the benefits of science are not evident for people without the proper education (as Russell said), and most people are not physicists or engineers. In a democratic society is a responsibility of the rulers to raise awareness about this fact, and the best way to do it should be acting as an example of respect for scientists and their knowledge, instead of antagonizing the work of scientific elites with common people.

Economic innovations cannot be seen as competitors of fundamental science, because this is very far from reality. The most important advances in human societies are the result of great advances in science and in our understanding of the universe. The discovery of America was the result of accepting a not flat model of world and current global economy is a result of a new model of the universe.

Modern satellite communications depends on the acceptance of Einstein’s relativity theory and this theory proceed from paradoxes detected looking at the stars. The abandon of the previous Newtonian universe model has produced a great change in the capability of the world to commerce and economic production, although many people cannot understand easily this fact. In Newtonian gravity a static universe should be infinite, however a static infinite universe would be an unstable solution and over-dense regions of the space should collapse, however, looking at the sky scientists did not find evidence of it. On the other hand, Hubble found that spectral lines of distant galaxies are redshifted. This fact joined to Einstein’s assumption of a constant light speed for any observer in a homogenous and isotropic universe is an indicator that the universe is expanding. Einstein’s model fits the observations and it solves the Newtonian paradox.

This is not evident for the not educated minds although many not educated minds can be using social networks, internet, and satellite communications expressing their opinions about anything for people in the other side of the world.

There is a strong link between fundamental science and economic innovations that cannot be hidden only in order that people without the proper education can manage a large part of the innovation budgets.

When political decisions taken from political motivations far from scientific reasons define the budgets dedicated to promote practical innovation and fundamental science, the future welfare of citizens can be put at risk instead of assured.

Birds of a feather flock together

Aquila Audax. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Aquila Audax. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In Spain we have an old proverb: “God creates them and they come together”. In English the most similar proverb is: “Birds of a feather flock together”. The English version has got a reference to the race; however, the Spanish one has not. It is more generic, and it can be applied to any human characteristic.

The meaning of the proverb tries to show that individuals with a certain characteristic finally will be together because they will have finally similar preferences. I like the Spanish version because it is not related to the DNA, and it is more useful to analyze classic problems of people classification with computer algorithms.

We are living in a world where the classification of individuals is commoner than most people think, and computers are usually following that popular principle.

While in occidental societies any classification from race would be not considered politically correct, many IT systems could be following that directive automatically.

One of the most common and simple classification algorithms is known as the algorithm of the nearest neighbor. Many computers try to classify any new object searching for the nearest object in the space of characteristics, and then it is automatically classified in the same group as the nearest object.

The validity of this method depends on how many characteristics are involved and defining the space of characteristics, and how they are measured in order to provide a mathematical distance.

Some years ago, I was working in a company as innovation manager. Human resources department hired a new girl to work with them. She was living in same street I was living and I grew. One day we meet in the bus stop. As she was a work colleague, I said her hello. She asked me why she never saw me before. My answer was that I always studied in private schools far from that street and later I went to a far city in order to work after the university. It seems that the nearest neighbor algorithm does not fit well this situation.

Social networks are getting information like location every day about people and then they classify people from those properties in order to provide advertising; however, I was a living example that this is not a good way of classification.

If DNA is not politically correct, and neighboring location is not good enough, how can we make a good classification?

First of all, the nearest neighbor algorithm cannot be taken in a literal sense. A good classification is searching for neighbors in the space of characteristics where physical location can be only one of them as most. The same sentence in a mathematical context can be very far from the meaning of that sentence in a social or political context. A problem arises when you are using mathematics to analyze social situations. Something that is very common with social networks. We can see that the solution can be very different if the project is driven by a mathematical scientist or by a politician due to the different use of the language.

On the other hand, we need to improve the algorithm. There is another algorithm more complex that can be used instead. It is known as k-nearest neighbor. The algorithm is similar, but now we are searching for the group that has k elements nearby. Although it is better than the simple nearest neighbor, it is prone to the same errors.

A good classification depends on how the space of characteristics is defined and how the information is gathered and distributed. This can be more important than the algorithm itself.

Automatic IT systems for classification are not only a matter of IT algorithms implementation but a matter of system design mainly. Artificial intelligence provides techniques to cope with more complex situations; however, it cannot be good enough if the system is not properly designed in terms of selection of characteristics and the required information.

Computer scientists have spent several years analyzing classification problems with mathematical optimization algorithms and the introduction of AI techniques as neural networks, however, these techniques will not provide a good result if the system never was properly designed selecting the proper characteristics required to solve the classification problem. A good system would be got from a good IT engineering instead of only good programming. System architecture is at least as important as computer algorithms.

Motivation in Business Strategy

Brain Training. Photo Credit: Public Domain
Brain Training. Photo Credit: Public Domain

Sun Tzu thought that a war must be won before the fight: “In war, the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas, he who is destined to defeat, first fights and afterwards looks for victory”.

The planning of activities, as many other common activities in the business world, proceeds from the military activity. Although this kind of thoughts is useful for the business world, it is very important to establish a difference between business competition and war. There are several things to be considered:

  • The aim of a strategy for war usually is the total defeat of the enemy; however, the aim of a business strategy is to improve the positioning of the company.
  • In a classic warfare scenario there are two factions, while in a competitive market the number of competitors can be huge. Business strategy usually is more complex than warfare strategy in a conventional scenario because of the number of involved organizations and the links among them. On the other hand, it is true that modern geopolitics is making more complex day by day too.

Competition is a thing that is not very easily simplified. We cannot eliminate easily a competitor when he is better than us although that fact would make our life easier.

Classic business strategy is many times inspired by military one. This must be done being very cautious, although many principles of military strategy could be useful for business activity.

Sun Tzu said for instance that a way in which a ruler can bring misfortune to his army is “by attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army”.

This sentence is very interesting to start a discussion: Is business activity similar to govern an army, or similar to govern a kingdom? Many businessmen would say that it is different to both activities, and they, probably, are right. Sun Tzu’s previous sentence can be applied to business. A business cannot be administered like a nation because while they are in a competition while public administration is a pure monopoly, however this fact does not imply that a business must be governed like an army because workers with labor contracts have not the same compromise with the organization than a soldier who has made a pledge of allegiance.

One of the main problems in many businesses is to get people be involved in the strategic decisions of the company. A citizen is like a shareholder of a country that has the right to vote about how the nation must be governed; however, a worker has not that legal capability. The directorate must create a working environment that let the worker to feel he is contributing to make something great providing value for him and for other ones.