Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Superorganic Strategy for Survival

Last night, I was surfing the Internet and happened to find this movie, Africa The Serengeti, on Hulu. I'd seen it before and it had a strong impact on me at the time. I found this particular sequence below still has the same impact on me. I hope you can see past the brutality to the honest beauty of life that I found in it.

In 1994, I had the opportunity to see Africa: The Serengeti in IMAX at the Boston Museum of Science. It was a particularly difficult time in my personal life.

In 1984, I began a decade long odyssey that took me from Tucson,Arizona where I had built a life, back to my home town, Providence,R.I. with the idea of beginning a new adventure. But things did not turn as I planned when I began the odyssey. I experienced many changes and disappointments over the following decade. I was still trying to come to terms with these when I saw the movie.

The day I went to the Science Museum, a friend's 10 year old grand daughter was visiting her. We arranged with another couple, who had a niece the same age visiting, to take the girls on a day trip to Boston. The Museum of Science was one of several stops we planned. Going to the IMAX was a spur of the moment decision. A decision that was to be mind changing for me.

The feature film that day was Africa: The Serengeti.. The plot centers around the Serengeti Plain in East Africa, a 500 mile long grassland that stretches from Tanzania in the south to the northern borders of Kenya. The story follows the annual cycle of the plant and animal life that inhabit the plain as they adjust to the seasons and challenges these present.

The stars of the movie are the Serengeti and the African wildebeest (an antelope designed by committee)with a cast of thousands. The large supporting cast include lions, zebra, elephants, jackals, gazelle, vultures, crocodiles,cheetah, etc.. Brutally honest in its portrayal of life on the plain and the relationships between plants and animals, predator and prey, the film is a far cry from the sanitized Disney Wildlife films of my youth.

It was this honesty, more than anything else, which struck me. In the sequence below I experienced an epiphany that had a lasting impact on my outlook on life.

The film is available at and is Sponsored by the Micheal J. Fox Foundation

The scene of the herd trying to cross the river upset and saddened me. It seemed such a tremendous waste and cost to the herd, and especially inhumane for the individual animals. I came away from the movie disturbed. I was also concerned about how the girls had taken it. It turns out that they didn't seem as bothered as I was.

I reflected on the scene and the following scene about the calving. I suddenly realized that the early deaths were required for the new generation to have a chance. This is the strategy that the super-organic entity -- the wildebeest herd and species -- has evolved to insure its survival. It defines the role of the individual within that strategy. Each individual is responsible for its actions and the consequences, Yet regardless of the individual outcome, that outcome contributes to the survival of the herd and the species.

What is the super-organic? It is the wildebeest family, the wildebeest herd, the herbivores, the predator/prey complex, the Serengeti itself. And the Serengeti is but one small super-organic system on a planet, we humans call Earth.

I realized that I could put my own wounds behind me.I had to move on to survive.

Suddenly I saw my place is in something greater than myself.I realize that I am but a small actor in the much larger picture -- the super-organic entity that is humanity.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Farewell Walter -- Journalism then and now, a commentary

The passing of Walter Cronkite like the passing of Edward R. Morrow marks the end of the journalist as "individual conscience of the country and a people" here in the United States. Where Morrow marked the transition from radio to TV reporting in the mid-2oth Century, Cronkite marked the transition from network reporting to network TV anchor/managing editor.

Walter Cronkite represents a period in our history when America and Americans were proud of their country and their leaders. When many of the foolish ideals made sense and were worth standing up for, even as we knew things in reality were different (very different). Cronkite exuded a sense of fairness and straight forwardness that those of us growing up with the emerging media of the 60s and 70s appreciated. His excitement about and for life came through in a personal unscripted way that one no longer finds in this overly marketed and packaged culture.

Can an individual replace him today? I doubt it. The times and the environment have changed. The individual no longer counts, only the demographic. The middle has been replaced by the trashing from the extremes. And the shared values of the earlier era have been displaced by the chaos and dynamic of multiple media sources and outlets.

When choice was limited, an individual, such as Walter Cronkite, could raise to the top. But today -- today no one evens knows who all the players are, much less can propose a set of criteria to select the best that everyone or most people would accept.

Today's TV "journalism" is fluff, soft, viciously biased, and factually unchecked. Today the networks, the newspapers, the print media as whole struggle with out dated business models and poorer quality product. The expansion of outlets and sources and the ease of getting YOUR story out, reduces the power, control and quality of editing and end product. The demands of the 24 hour news cycle are well documented and commented upon by those both within and outside the media.The media and the Crowd that create and feed on it demand immediate satisfaction and gratification regardless of the importance or development of the story. Or else they will turn elsewhere.

Everyone and anyone with a cell phone, video recording device, and an link to the internet can be a reporter. Just check out this video.

So where are do we go from here?? The Superorganism that is the Crowd now rules and we find ourselves in the middle of Network, the movie.

Watching the HBO film "John Adams" the other night, I came to realize, as Adams did, the unique qualities of George Washington and how lucky we were to have had him at that particular moment in our history. In some way, I feel the same is true for Walter Cronkite and TV journalism in the mid 20th Century.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Customer Service -- Is it dead?

Have you enjoyed your latest visit with the friendly Customer Service Robot?

Did you find yourself going around and round in circles, being cut off, waiting a hour for a human being and then wondering which country you were in?

So what's knew?

It seems that Customer Service has gone the way of all great ideas when put into the hands of large corporations. It is ROIed to death.

The large corporations can turn to its accountants and risk managers and ask them to determine the risk/benefit ratio and cost of a product liability suit settlement. Based on which will be cheaper, fixing the problem with the product or risking customer dissatisfaction, they certainly don't really care about the "customer" nor the "service" only the odds.

. In a mass market, a customer is a commodity, not a brand. Not worth protecting. While we gurus may talk about the value of the individual customer and point to the cost of acquiring a customer and the loss of losing a customer -- the accountants can give management ten reasons why customer service is too costly. If Deeming had been listened to in terms of quality, rather than sold to management as a way to improve efficiency, maybe CS would hold a higher position in many organizations.

It is all ROI. There are many ways to skin the cat or the customer that don't involve the individual customer at all. Tax write offs, transfer pricing, hedges, arbitrage, and other creative accounting that cooks the books and leaves sales and customers out in the cold.

With technological change taking place so rapidly why waste money training the customer service people when the product that will be the source of the complaints will be replaced before we can schedule the workshop for the CS staff?

Let's face it, we grant corporations something God can't grant us individuals -- life in perpetuity. (Think GM, Lotus, Wang, Studebaker)

When you think you can live forever and the only goal is to be profitable anything goes. Us human know there is an end and maybe a reward or punishment so we have to care. Kill the corporation by putting a time limit on them and may be there might be better CS, especially if they get a second life for good service.

Monday, July 6, 2009

IS the superorganic at war with the individual?

Here is an insightful commentary on the influence of environment and basic human development.