Thursday, November 19, 2015


Let's call a spade a tractor and a cat a bat


The First thing to say is that 20% of the book is directly connected to the bank that is behind this book, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A. These 20% are in no way critical since they are the direct production of the bank, including its own Chairman and CEO who opens and closes the book. Even the central part about the architecture of the new Madrid seat of the company cannot be considered as critical since the architects would criticize themselves and their own work which would be very bad public relations and advertising.

The second thing is we do not know the connections between some of the authors and the bank since the articles were required, ordered by the bank. Some of these articles are shorter versions of already published books. Some are probably the written and published versions of courses taught in their various universities within their main professional activity which is teaching. This is to be kept in mind constantly. These authors do not write what they think independently but what they have been ordered to write in a commercial move by the bank to promote a general idea and a set of concepts that are the heart of the bank’s human resources management, commercial project and public relations policy. They not only have been chosen for what they were known to be able to write but also within a commercial procedure and for an exchange of money. The book is free in its downloadable version and extremely cheap in its paper version (something like at most 30% of what it should be, so that the royalties are extremely small, what’s more divided between a fair number of authors. And I assume here there is a standard publishing contract behind the book. There could be a royalty-free contract, but such contracts being private we will never know. It is probable each author was paid a flat even if comfortable rate, which negated the very concept of copyright.

This having been said, we can discuss the internal matter which, I repeat, cannot be considered as absolutely objectively scientific because of this commercial dependence that some will consider as being advertising. At the same time we are dealing here with economic concepts and theories and in the field of the economy more than in many other humanities, because economy is one of the humanities and not a hard science, it is not scientific in any  physical, chemical, or whatever other hard scientific way. In fact it is basically political and politics is not a science. The economy can be managed but it requires a lot more psychology, individual as well as collective, than hard material and even materialistic hypothetico-deductive facts and theories, and we all know tat even in the hardest physics imaginable we are only dealing with theories that are the mental constructs of man at a said moment of its human trajectory in the cosmos. Actually quite a few articles are so assertive that they are irritatingly not considering what they say may only be a theory and may be relatively true and false. They preach some concepts more than discuss them and these concepts become political objectives. Actually it is funny to see that some articles are defending different and contradictory concepts proving thus we are dealing with theories and not hard truth.

Here I will say I prefer being post-modern because I know from experience that there is no truth, only points of view, even in the hardest imaginable science, Stephen Hawking speaking. We have to drop that vanity that makes us assert scientific theories as being THE truth of eternal cosmos with eternal validity for universal circumstances. By the way in that field of the economy Adam Smith to start with, Karl Marx to continue and all their modern, epiphenomenal descendants are never advocating and have never advocated any truth but only their points of view and their theoretical constructs that generally led them to conclusions like “class struggle free communism.” It is funny to see how this myth of a final stage of humanity reaching some perfection that would not change any more, that would be eternally out of time and thus eternal, is nothing but the rewriting of the very common religious myth that believes in such a timeless final stage, be it Buddhist enlightenment, Biblical messianic Jerusalem, or all various paradises (with or without a hell, purgatory or Hades of any sort on the evil side). The myth of the alpha and the omega, of the first instant of human existence and the last moment of human destiny, the alpha before which there was no time and the omega after which there will be no time. Sure enough the time of our clocks is a human invention based on the observation of the cosmos which even if it does not have our minutes, seconds, and other time units has a universal principle of duration that enables that cosmos not to be static since it is changing by very definition. Humanity has no final target, no destiny. Humanity is just like anything else, nothing but a changing set of circumstances resulting from the millions or billions of ever changing parameters we are floating in, and at times drowning in too.

When we have that in mind then we can enter the book and build a critical approach of the concepts the authors advocate or simply try to sell. I will not discuss every page or every theory. I will take some concepts and some theoretical constructions because it is those I consider are more pregnant with some valid necessarily debatable approach or with some representative examples of the black holes of this book, like in “2010 The Space Odyssey” where human beings and computers alike got lost in such black holes that are beyond any human reason. .

Philip Evans page 20 brings forward the two concepts of “deconstruction of value chains” and “polarization of the economies of mass.” This is supposed to lead to Big Data, the new golden god of our time. The first concept is banal. Any theory has always been the deconstruction of the previous ones. Even if we take “value” in the economic sense of “added value” there is no change at all. It has always been like that. The second concept is not that new if we understand that behind mass he understands “scale and/or experience” (page 24). What is often called economies of scale meaning the bigger is the more economical, is not enough to cover our present reality in which experience which designates all one subject in him/herself and all the subjects in their total conjunction represent as for direct accumulated social, cultural, professional, educational or plain practical knowledge, be it addition or multiplication, though it can also be subtraction and division because some experience, that contains and covers knowledge, does not necessarily add up when brought together. An individual is constantly destructured by new knowledge and he/she restructures him/herself over and over again. We used to call that deculturation and acculturation. And it is the same thing with several subjects, and here the more often means the less. The more, the merrier, but certainly not necessarily the wiser. All the authors here assume that the collective intelligence of “n” persons is more important than the sum of the individual intelligences of these “n” persons. This is totally false because some people for innumerable reasons have experiences, knowledges and intelligences that do not add up because they are incompatible and they often look for the minimal common denominator before speaking of the numerator..

Hence the new architecture many of these authors are advocating is based on some principles that are far from being “natural.” They are here in the number of six.

The compatibility of all data processing systems FIRST. We are still far from that.

The total flexibility in the access and circulation of data SECOND. This raises the problem of the intrinsic value of this data, big or not, and the control of it by those who invented, developed and want to exploit it. That is called patents, copyright, intellectual and industrial property.

THIRD data is infrastructure (page 21). That point is obvious but it is not infrastructure in itself; it is infrastructure because it can find a real existence in some infrastructural construction, and actually it must to simply be something. The concept of plane is nothing as long as it is not materialized in a real plane object that can be used. It is not the concept of the motorway (highway, autoroute, Autobahn) that is the infrastructure but it is the material realization of such a concept that is the infrastructure. They are going to say I don’t understand but I say that this big data is at best a collective mental superstructure not an infrastructure. It is not the basis of our life. It is what dominates our life. We are the servants of our knowledge. Our knowledge is not the basis of anything in us. Our knowledge is not basic, our knowledge is mental, inspirational, motivational, experiential. It comes from our experience and it enables us to develop motivations thanks to the inspiration we may find in us triggered and nourished by that knowledge.

FOURTH the mental ability of man is no longer deduction, not even induction, but systematically inference. We infer from the data we are confronted to some elements that may be wrong, more or less wrong, but that are operational, and we stick to them as long as they are operational. The best instance I can think of is the French pay slip which is two pages long and has about sixty lines if not more and still multiplying. From this we infer it is complicated. So from the frustration of people and the tremendous waste of human labor to manage such pay slips we infer we have to change to satisfy the desire of people to have simple pay slips and the desire of employers to have these pay slips managed by a simple machine: we infer the desires and that becomes our order. And that’s were this “modern” approach is wrong. Connect all the computers managing these by far too numerous parameters and then you will be able to save enormous economies of scale and experience, economies of mass since these enormously too numerous parameters will be managed by machines and not human beings (save on human labor and experience) and it will be done in a jiffy since machines can do millions of operations in a nano second. Personally I would have deducted from this situation that we have to simplify the system and to reduce the number of parameters and lines. Then I would have followed a completely different motivational line.

And yet the FIFTH element would have been the same in words: deconstruction and polarization, but I would not have deconstructed the pay slip management to make it mechanical and fast. I would have first deconstructed the pay slip itself to make it simple and then the human management today necessary would no longer be necessary. It would not be deconstructed. It would become obsolete, and that is not the same thing. The polarization would naturally have changed from human management to mechanical management, from multiplying parameters to simplifying parameters, from increasing the risk of contradictory situations and parameters to decreasing that risk. Then I would have come to simple economies of scale and I would then economize human experience

And the SIXTH concept of economies of mass is no longer needed.

I have been long on this author, the first article of the book, because it contains the congenital mistake of this approach of human experience and human life.

After this article it is nothing but declensions and conjugations of the same nouns and verbs. The myth of no longer needing to have an office, a desk in a building for your work since you can work anywhere in the street, in bars, at home, not under your shower but in your bath, at night or in the day time, etc, is nothing but a myth. It is a myth first of all because of security reasons. You cannot access any data anywhere with any prying eyes next to you. You have to access this data on secure machines in secure buildings. That’s the first level of risk. The second level of risk is the protection of the data as intellectual or industrial property. There you need to guarantee the security of the machines and the environment, the possibility to get the data licensed, the guarantee that only those who get it licensed will be able to use it, meaning it will be secure from piracy and destruction. Etc. You can say what you want but these procedures cannot be accessed from anywhere at any time with no control and no security. You can maybe manage your bank account on your smart phone but can you access the bank account of your employer to get some data licensed to you for the project you are developing for your boss? He will have to pay. He has to know first and discuss it with you. You have to convince him this data is essential for your project. ETC. Or he has given you a budget and what happens when you reach the end of it? All the long articles on the independent, autonomous teams both flexible in working conditions and variable in composition to which some tasks are delegated, when it is contracted or subcontracted when these teams are from outside the company, are just what they are: a theoretical discourse that has very few chances to be true in most circumstances. By the way BBVA is proving in its mammoth Madrid seat that this is a myth. Why build a whole city for thousands and thousands of people, with daily transportation all along for the people coming to work there everyday if the future is in that mobility and flexibility?

The next proposal that is very dangerous is the negation of the value of intellectual property by nearly all the authors. Very few of them recognize it is a problem because very few of them even discuss the problem of added value. A product, even if it is an immaterial service, has a value that includes some added value produced by the knowledge integrated in its conception and designing and the work of those who realize the product, produce it or simple perform it. A recent TGV accident reveals that added value brutally. Eleven people died including children. The TGV train was being tested (there should not have been all the people who were aboard and especially children, all of them invited free by the personnel testing the train) on a certain section that had an important bend that required slowing down from 225 km per hour to 175. The driver did reduce the speed but too late meaning that he forgot the kinetic energy of the train is not simply destroyed by the sudden braking. And the train did not take the bend and jumped into some river or canal. That’s what added value is: the knowledge I have and I invest in my work adds value to my work that may prevent some risk, that may prevent a cost, an extra cost or even a cost in human life. When some necessary value is not added to what I do then the result is bad, risky, dangerous, What is strange is that this concept of added value is basic in all economic theory from Adam Smith to modern thinkers. Thomas Piketty knows about the added value of his books when he makes millions by just selling them, or rather having them sold by some people who add some value to that book in the simple act of delivering it in a way or another. Without this added value Pikkety’s own added value would never be realized in monetary terms.

It is such a lack of realism that makes many of these articles interesting but impractical. A worker could work from anywhere in the world and his or her boss be satisfied if the task he or she was entrusted with is performed in due time. But can an accountant manage the pay slips and pay checks of the several thousand employees in his company when he is climbing Mount Everest? Of course not. Many required circumstances are supposed to be fulfilled to guarantee the security of the data, the exactitude of the calculations, the timing of the work and its delivery. And what about someone taking part in the building of a house, of a car, of a canal? Can they do that in the USA from Laos or Cambodia?

And what’s more, in this book we do not grow our food, we do not raise our meat, we do not build our houses, we do not fabricate our cars, we do not drive our buses, even if it is at a distance like the automatic underground train in some cities where you have to be in the controlling office with all the computers and dashboards. This book only speaks of services and even so the customer wants to know where he or she can meet the technician, the worker who is going to perform the service at his or her home and that technician who is going to repair a faulty electrical outlet or a computer attacked by some virus will not be able to do it at any time and any where in the world.

These authors are living in a cloud, but not the cloud they mean, in a real cloud that obliterates their vision. They do not see the concrete and material dimension of most activities, producing hoods or performing services. We can dream of a world without workers, though not without farmers, in the West provided some countries are enslaved to performing that work, but sooner or later even these countries will want western development and then they will no longer produce and work in factories. But who will? Some extra-terrestrial zombies or plainly slaves? Or machines like in so many films? Wake up intellectuals and just step down from your ivory towers and just spend one month on a farm or in a factory to know what work really is. And work will be there for a long time. I am even ready to bet it will be there for ever. Even if I know it will change with time. I have seen it in mines and the steel industry for two fields, not to speak of farming again.


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