Saturday, March 26, 2011

China and why American Food Prices will increase

The story on this blog seems like an opportunity for a high school student to build a system dynamics model to test different policy decisions before food prices actually start rising dramatically.

“Can the United States Feed China?”

Combining an increasing population with environmental damage might create an overshoot and collapse scenario in China.  Over the next ten years, China will add the equivalent of the population of America.  At the same time, as stated in the Sustainablog ( the available land and water in China is shrinking.

This affects America because China will want to import more and more grain and that will cause prices for food in America to increase.  Besides bread and cereals, grain is also used to produce meat, milk and eggs so those prices will increase. China holds $900 billion in American debt that they could use as leverage to make America supply more grain.

One policy decision might be to reverse desertification like they are doing in Africa.  The feedback loops are going to have different time delays and so there are short term and long term policy decisions that might be considered.  A model builder would have to learn how to calculate the time constant for each feedback loop.

Monday, March 21, 2011

America is not Bankrupt

Politicians are lying! America is not bankrupt. America has sufficient cash flow to pay our debt and America is paying low interest on new debt issued. Anyone who says America is bankrupt is lying. They are attempting to make people feel afraid. Politicians are attempting to maintain their positions of authority and wealth by spreading fear. When 2012 arrives, the fall election will be a defining point in American politics. Are you going to believe the politicians who paint disaster or are you going to believe in abundance?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Change in the Hands of the People

The tools for change are in the hands of the people of America. In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya the people decided they were not going to be afraid anymore. In America, the people also need to decide we are not going to be afraid anymore. Some are beginning to adopt sustainability in business, non-profits and public agencies. Instead of being afraid, as the conservative narrative would have us behave, the people are beginning to become aware of why we exist as a civilization. Because we welcome diversity, we work together to solve global issues of poverty, we believe in civic duties, public authority and self-sacrifice.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Teachers, Politicians and Philanthropists

Re: “Christie Wants to Grade the Teachers” March 4, 2011, The Wall Street Journal.

Re: “How teacher development could revolutionize our schools” Feb. 28, 2011, The Washington Post.

The real issue is why don’t we think of public education like it was a computer system? A teacher is one element in an organizational system like Microsoft Windows is one element in a computer system. Of course any analogy breaks down if you list too many comparisons. The key point is that public education is an organizational system. If you accept that premise then systems theory applies to public education.

Politicians and philanthropists are thinking systemically by suggesting changes to the feedback loop in the education system to measure, evaluate and reward teachers. That feedback loop already exists but could be improved with technology such as video. However these changes do not take into consideration the system principles that apply to organizations.

Russell Ackoff lists basic principles about a system. “If we have a system of improvement directed at improving the parts taken separately you can be absolutely certain that the performance of the whole will not be improved.”

For example, leadership, students, assessments and curriculum are also parts of the organizational system in public education. By focusing on improving teachers separately from leadership, students, assessments or curriculum we can be absolutely certain that the performance of the whole public education system will NOT be improved.

“The performance of a system depends on how the parts fit together, not how they perform separately.” Improving student outcomes (lower drop out rate, etc.) depends on how the parts of the public education system fit together, not how teachers perform separately from how the other elements of the public education system perform.

This will feel like a lecture if I keep going. There are many great systems consultants. The best program for improving public education is the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program because the process deals with public education as an organizational system.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Systems Thinking "Beyond Continuous Improvement"

Quality - meeting or exceeding the expectations of the customer or the consumer
Quality Improvement - if the customer expectations not met then it's a failure
The reasons for the failures is because they have been anti-systemic applications
A whole that consists of parts, each of which can affect its behavior or its properties.
Each part of the system when it affects the system is dependent for its effect on some other part. The parts are interdependent. No part of the system, or collection of parts of the system, has an independent affect on it.
A system is a whole that can not be divided into independent parts.
Essential, or defining properties of any system, are properties of the whole that none of its parts have.
When a system is taken apart is looses its essential properties.
A system is not the sum of the interaction of its parts but the product of their interactions.
If we have a system of improvement directed at improving the parts taken separately you can be absolutely certain that the performance of the whole will not be improved.
The performance of a system depends on how the parts fit together, not how they perform separately.
Never modify the whole to improve the quality of the parts unless the quality of the whole is also simultaneously improved.
Finding deficiencies and getting rid of them is not a way of improving the performance of the system. An improvement program must be directed at what you want, not at what you don't want. And, determining what you do want requires redesigning the system, not for the future, but for right now, and asking yourself what would you do right now if you could do whatever you wanted to. If you don't know what you would do if you could do what you wanted to do how could you ever know what you would do under constraints?
Continuous improvement isn't nearly as important as discontinuous improvement. Creativity is a discontinuity. One never becomes a leader by continuously improving. That's imitation of the leader. You only become a leader by leapfrogging those who are ahead of you.
Drucker - distinction between doing things right and doing the right things. One might better be doing the right things wrong than doing the wrong things right.
Quality should contain the notion of value not simply efficiency.
Quality should be directed at effectiveness, not efficiency.
The difference between efficiency and effectiveness is the difference between knowledge and wisdom.
Until managers take into account the systemic nature of their organizations most of their efforts to improve their performance are doomed to failure.

Predicting the Future