Bookmarked for reading (found in Neil Mather’s blog). Actual cases of ‘tethered’ economic transactions where a buyer is bound into an ongoing relationship with the seller with an uneven power balance, are already easy to find: John Deere suing farmers for tinkering with their tractors (with Deere claiming they never sold a tractor but a license to operate the software on one), insurance and credit companies remotely disabling a car upon a late payment, or Amazon removing books you bought from your Kindle (1984, actually, of all possible books!)

Outright ownership, the right to fix, the right to tinker, are all essential things, and key ingredients to keep your (networked) agency. While I understand the business model decision behind software subscriptions, it does make me increasingly uncomfortable because of the forced ‘eternal’ relationship with the seller.

Bookmarked The Tethered Economy

As sellers blend hardware and software—as well as product and service—tethers yoke the consumer to a continuous post-transaction relationship with the seller. The consequences of that dynamic will be felt both at the level of individual consumer harms and on the scale of broader, economy-wide effects These consumer and market-level harms, while distinct, reinforce and amplify one another in troubling ways.

Seller contracts have long sought to shape consumers’ legal rights. But in a tethered environment, these rights may become non-existent as legal processes are replaced with automated technological enforcement.

Mooi woord van Karin Spaink, de nippertjeseconomie. Hier wat afschaven, daar een bochtje afsnijden, voorraden minimaliseren en alles just-in-time. Op het nippertje gaat alles goed. Meestal.

In complexiteitsdenken betekent een ver doorgevoerde efficiëntie wel het afbreken van veerkracht en wendbaarheid. Dat is niet zo erg voor heel voorspelbare zaken (als A dan altijd B), maar wel als complexe vragen zich aandienen. Ik spreek dan vaak over de broosheid van systemen. Broos omdat ze geoptimaliseerd zijn voor een hele smalle groep situaties, een heel specifieke niche. Broos omdat ze het niet meer aan kunnen, of erger nog, volledig in de weg zitten zodra er iets buiten dat spectrum gebeurt. Dan kieper je ineens van voorspelbaarheid in de chaos: heb je net in een paar jaar tijd de IC bedden in Nederland met zo’n duizend verlaagd (in 2017 hadden we er nog zo’n 2100, dit voorjaar net over de 1000) want dat is efficiënter, gebeurt er iets wat meer van je verlangt en wordt de zorg zo overbelast dat alleen drastische maatregelen het nog enigszins kunnen inperken.

Die chaos ontstaat uiteindelijk niet door de zich aandienende verandering, maar juist door de starre efficiëntie van je eigen structuren en systemen. Was je bij voorbaat al in het complexe domein gebleven, het domein van voortdurend waarnemen, bewustzijn van samenhangen en wederzijdse invloeden, en bovenal voortdurend situationeel schakelen, was ‘rolling with the punches‘ waarschijnlijk makkelijker geweest tot nu toe. Dat vergt wel op voorhand wat bewegingsruimte, dingen op reserve, niet alles op 1 paard zetten, maar op meerdere en zelfs ook tegenstrijdige paarden tegelijkertijd wedden.

Omdat je op die manier meer leert over de aard van de vraagstukken die je op wilt lossen, en een verscheidenheid aan oplossingen ontdekt in plaats er op voorhand eentje kiest en in beton giet. Energie overhouden om ineens van koers te kunnen wisselen, of een sprintje extra te kunnen trekken. Dingen achter de hand houden. Maar dat is, tot het nodig is, niet efficiënt op de kortere termijn.

Ik had ooit een manager die het verschil niet zag tussen efficiënt en effectief. Dat is het begin van broosheid. Want het verbeteren van de opbrengstenkant heeft altijd meer ruimte in zich dan wat is te winnen met het beperken van de kostenkant, want die heeft een harde ondergrens die meestal vrij dichtbij ligt. Een van die opbrengsten is handelingsruimte, en juist die wordt in de nippertjeseconomie vaak drastisch beperkt.

Het maakt een veelheid van onze systemen broos, doordat we de onderlinge afhankelijkheden tussen allerlei zaken uit zicht poetsen en negeren, om op ons specifieke stukje van een vraagstuk efficiënter te kunnen zijn. Omdat ze geoptimaliseerd zijn voor druk uit een bepaalde richting maar niet uit een andere. Zoals een been wel goed kan tegen belasting van bovenaf, maar niet goed tegen torsie en draaien. Broos omdat we in een nippertjeseconomie leven. Mooi woord.

A public sector client announced last week that working from home will be their default until September 1st for certain, and maybe until January 1st. I can imagine why, there is no real way to house their 1600 staff under distancing guidelines, and the staff restaurant (that usually caters to some 1200 people in 90 minutes each day) has no real way of accomodating people for lunch in meaningful numbers. Three similar organisations in a different part of the country announced they would keep working from home until January.

I wonder how this may shift modes of working over time, now that centralised working is replaced by distributed working. When will public sector organisations realise they now have eyes and ears on the ground everywhere in their area, and put that to good use? In our experience not ‘going outside’ for real stories and feedback from directly involved people often reduces the quality of choices and decisions made, as observations get replaced by assumptions. This is true for any type of larger organisation I think, but now we all of a sudden have turned them into a distributed network.

If you’re in a larger organisation working from home, do you have a notion of where all your people are, and is that geographical spread a potential instrument in your work?

Ever since the Dutch government uttered the words “herd immunity” after the UK gov framed it as meaning doing mostly nothing, internationally the Netherlands is mentioned in lists of countries that are supposedly taking a wait and see approach. That isn’t what’s happening of course. The country is in lock-down all but name, but as is the Dutch way it is implemented as an appeal for collaboration and solidarity (and people are indeed complying), and isn’t implemented heavy handed from the top down yet. It doesn’t mean that in the background there are no emergency decrees signed allowing the enforcement of every measure by police and even military police (it’s just that these are done on regional level, signed by the mayors in that region, so it isn’t on the radar of most people these things have been signed.) It also doesn’t mean no enforcement in practice.

One such example is Tomas Pueyo ‘Hammer and Dance’ piece. I’d have commented there, but it needed jumping to all kinds of hoops to be allowed to comment on Medium, and posting it here anyway is easier for future reference. He writes “Some countries, like France, Spain or Philippines, have since ordered heavy lockdowns. Others, like the US, UK, Switzerland or Netherlands, have dragged their feet, hesitantly venturing into social distancing measures.” “Governments around the world today, including some such as the US, the UK, Switzerland or Netherlands have so far chosen the mitigation path.

The French and Dutch measures are actually much on the same level, only with different cultural accents on the role of central authority, and from what I can see the same is true for Switzerland.

The Netherlands isn’t following a ‘mitigation strategy’ in the ‘weak tea’ meaning in the article as such, but doing much as Pueyo’s article suggests. Bring down the transmission rate, and then release and tighten the measures for the coming months to keep the transmission rate low.

Two quotes from the director of the infectious disease unit (RIVM) who is in charge from an interview (in Dutch).
Based on infection models we use, we estimate the effectiveness of interventions. If we add up the current interventions we conclude from those models that the transmission rate is reduced sufficiently. That is the most important goal.. (Dutch: “Op grond van de infectiemodellen die we hanteren, kunnen we het effect van de interventies inschatten. Als we de huidige interventies optellen, volgt uit die modellen dat de overdracht van het virus voldoende teruggaat om de verdere toename te doen afnemen. Dat is het belangrijkste doel,….”)

…That is why we must align everything, and next to interventions research their actual impacts. It could be we can reduce measures, and later need to introduce them again. It could also be we’ll introduce additional measures, it can go both ways. (Dutch: Daarom moeten we alles zorgvuldig afstemmen op elkaar en naast interventies ook onderzoek doen naar het effect daarvan. Het zou kunnen dat maatregelen versoepeld worden en later weer worden ingevoerd. Het zou ook kunnen dat er dan nog éxtra maatregelen volgen, het kan beide kanten op.”)

Actual behaviour of people will determine this mostly he adds. In short, it’s the ‘hammer and dance’ suggested in the linked article.

In conclusion, what you assume to see from further afield based on choice of words (‘herd immunity’ e.g.), headlines and your own cultural reference points, isn’t necessarily what’s happening on the ground. The same is true here inside the country, many people are making very different assumptions based on what they perceive the RIVM and government doing or not doing. Part of it is that the RIVM isn’t very pro-active in getting information and data out there to put it mildly. The interviews with its director in the past week have provided me with much more clues and understanding of what they are working on than their press communiques or their own website. I assume the director has better things to do than give interviews, so there’s room for much more pro-active disclosure and transparency, as it would free up his time at least. RIVM doesn’t have a knowledge, data or decisiveness issue, they’re clearly following every bit of available science, it has a communication and transparency issue. Key question for me is what we can do to assist RIVM in taking on their data publication and communication needs.

Harold Jarche rightly points to being able to judge and shape your information filters as a critical element in keeping yourself informed about emergent crises like Covid19. What Harold calls trusted filters is the primary reason I follow people not sources in my feeds, and all of those people are selected by myself, not by someone else’s algorithm. It is how I came across Harold’s post in the first place, because he’s been in my list of feeds for many years. Feedback across filters, so that what Harold shares might get commented here, which then gets shared back to my network which includes Harold, is how patterns emerge. This of course does mean you need to ensure your filter has enough variety and churn to avoid echo chambers. Which is why hand curating my list of people to follow is important, I know these people and what I know about them is an active part of the filtering I do. In my mind, the combination of my filtering and sharing, and Harold’s filtering and sharing as well as those of others I follow, constitute a LOFAR, which is able to spot small movements and emerging interests across my networks, and recognising which noises are actually signals to my interests and concerns. Keeping my LOFAR in good working order requires regular attention, and likely more than I already pay to it.

This doesn’t mean that institutional information isn’t valuable. It is actually invaluable. Institutions are the stock of info, the residue of years of knowledge, where my networks and filters are the flow, the reflection on, application, changing and emergence of knowledge. Such knowledge is critical for crap detection, also when it comes to the stuff my network shares with me. In times of emergent crises like Covid19, such institutional knowledge about how to deal with the specifics of e.g. a pandemic is crucial. So I keep an eye on the general statistics collected at John Hopkins, the advise and info of the RIVM (the Dutch national institute for health and environment, in charge of epidemic response) concerning the Netherlands specifically, and what e.g. the WHO says about pandemic response on a personal level and organisational level (e.g. business continuity). My LOFAR in turn allows me to sense what is going on across my networks in this context.

The LOFAR ‘superterp’ in Drenthe, which has hundreds of small antennas, combining with 47 other locations into a total of some 20.000 antennas for signal detection

David Orban highlights the inverse proportional relationship between efficiency and resilience. When you have a fully efficient process it won’t be able to cope with even small changes in surrounding conditions. Whereas a system with some redundancy built in to cope with changes in conditions is less efficient (because that redundancy means increased costs for the same output).

Resilience I think can be decoupled from efficiency sometimes, but then it is usually coupled with effectivity. When the input/output ratio isn’t impacted, but the quality and utility of the output temporarily diminishes. Resilience is a component in how I think about networked agency.

Processes and systems that have been slimmed down to high efficiency as a result are often very brittle. In current affairs Brexit and the Corona virus are colliding with that brittleness, the first is a slow speed collission hard to look away from and the second one a more high speed collision. Whether it is disruption of (JIT) production or transport processes, or whether it is overwhelming healthcare systems, or both. The biggest impact on you of e.g. Covid-19 is likely not that you individually might fall ill and die, but the brittleness of systems that are impacted by it (production, delivery, mobility, healthcare availability also for other things than Covid-19) and how it impacts your personal life (running out of your meds, opportunity loss, slowing down of business, goods not arriving). Cascading system failures because of all the interdependencies.

I for instance have 3 products to be delivered from China, and the factories involved have been closed for well over a month now. One factory is now allowed to re-open and will take 6 weeks to get back on track. For me that is a trivial issue, but if you run a company that sells these products, or produce things that depend on a specific part that comes from a now closed factory, it isn’t trivial but a real and present issue.
More directly a healthcare system overwhelmed or even just starting to get impacted by Covid can lead to higher fatality rates amongst Covid patients (visible in Wuhan at the moment) as well as others. Currently there are 20 Covid patients in the Netherlands, and already three different ICU’s are closed for new patients. Not because they can’t handle the numbers, but because they had a Covid patient without realising and are now closed until they are certain there is no more risk of infection. This directly impacts e.g. where other types critical patients can go and be treated.

In that light the following articles are worth reading, about numbers, the likelihood of a pandemic, and brittleness of systems.

On the spread and transmission of Covid-19: Coronavirus’s Genetics Reveal Its Global Travels
On the impact of numbers: Forget about mortality rate, this is why you should be worried about coronavirus
From a business continuity perspective: Coronavirus Predictions and Business Impact: How Fast It Will Spread, Creating a Business Continuity Plan, and What You Should Stock Up On

And then think about what you can do to increase your personal resilience. E.g. by ensuring you have a month worth of your regular meds, or by having larger stocks than usual. At worst you’ve done your shopping a few weeks early, at best you are all set should you be required to isolate yourself at home for two weeks or more. Tthere’s not much of a down-side to taking such measures, while it prevents a large potential down-side.