Month: June 2013

Adaptation versus Mitigation

Adaptation and Mitigation can be viewed as alternative generic solutions to a problem. That said, it’s possible and may be appropriate to adopt both to solve the problem.

What is the difference between them? From Wikipedia, ‘an adaptation, also called an adaptive trait, in biology is a trait with a current functional role in the life history of an organism that is maintained and evolved by means of natural selection. Adaptation refers to both the current state of being adapted and to the dynamic evolutionary process that leads to the adaptation. Adaptations contribute to the fitness and survival of individuals. Organisms face a succession of environmental challenges as they grow and develop and are equipped with an adaptive plasticity as the phenotype of traits develop in response to the imposed conditions.’

This suggests theme of flexibility and response-relevance. Arguably, the word organisation could be substituted for the words individual & organism in the above definition. For example, a coral reef or company. Also arguably, adaptation is more strongly linked to reaction and exploitation of opportunity, than initiating change per se.

Meanwhile, from Wikipedia, ‘risk mitigation, involves prioritizing, evaluating, and implementing the appropriate risk-reducing controls recommended from the risk assessment process. Because the elimination of all risk is usually impractical or close to impossible, it is the responsibility of senior management and functional and business managers to use the least-cost approach and implement the most appropriate controls to decrease mission risk to an acceptable level, with minimal adverse impact on the organization’s resources and mission.’

Arguably mitigation is linked to countering the adverse impacts of expected change, being pro-active and perhaps seeking unity and uniformity rather than differentiation (see examples below).

So do these labels help when thinking about various every day issues we face as citizens and voters? Here are four ongoing issues to consider, in no particular order.

Global Warming
Advocacy groups including charities, lobby groups, some politicians and companies might suggest that the only viable solution is to adapt to the impacts of future global warming – mitigation (although attractive) is hard when we don’t understand the climate complexities and/or cannot gain political consensus on which mitigations should take place by which groups. Meanwhile, mitigation groups might promote ‘green solutions’, even while the understanding of global warming complexity is incomplete. Meanwhile, politicians such as Al Gore believe we should pursue both adaptation and mitigation simultaneously (that neither adaptation nor mitigation is the answer by itself).

Immigration and tourism
Adaptation advocates might promote a country investing in its housing and transport infrastructure more rapidly to cope with changes in the number of immigrants and/or inbound tourists. Mitigation advocates might argue for offsetting emigration (including repatriation of foreign-born convicted criminals to their home country), tightening of limited-stay visas and perhaps harmonisation of tax systems, pension and workplace systems across a wider group of countries. Like for global warming, a case could be made that both adaptation and mitigation should be pursued simultaneously.

Adaptation advocates might promote letting waiting lines at hospitals lengthen by default, adapting to cope with demand from health tourists (arriving from other countries for planned or unexpected healthcare in the country visited) and perhaps rationalising the number of healthcare centres, where some cannot survive financially. Mitigation advocates might argue for more investment in preventative healthcare & healthy lifestyles, patient empowerment (to administer their own healthcare, once shown what to do by regulated healthcare professionals), faster diagnosis and less invasive procedures, more walk in clinics and less healthcare errors (sewing up patients with foreign objects accidently left inside them), or accidently doing the wrong operations on the patient. A case could be made that both adaptation and mitigation should be pursued simultaneously.

Higher Education
Adaptation advocates might promote increasing student fees if government funding is in decline and/or reprioritising investment to reflect well in widely publicised research and teaching ‘league tables’. Mitigation advocates might broaden the university course-base, build/refurbish student halls of residence & university buildings, invest in e-Learning channels, teach more post-graduate courses, promote life-long learning and offer suitable short courses to meet expected demand. As above, case could be made that both adaptation and mitigation should be pursued simultaneously.

From the above, perhaps the main message is that if you hear of a proposal, to then identify if it’s an adaptation or mitigation-type approach. Is the proposal necessary and sufficient? Will the right balance be achieved? As a citizen and voter, handle with care…


Does Relative trump Absolute?

‘You can never be too rich, too thin or have too many friends’, or so the saying goes. Actually, being at the extreme in any of those things is bad, if not fatal. Even having too many friends takes a huge, personal time investment and achieves diminishing returns, even for politicians. One point for the supporters of Relative.

Also, image a World without a spectral balance (contrast, depth, colour, tone, texture, style, shape, volume level), highs and lows, talent distribution, unopposed forces, virtue & vice, seasons, debate and drama. One point for the supporters of Relative.

What things is absolute or extreme good for? Accuracy & precision (within the constraints of time and money, more is usually better), consistency, binary systems, budget limits and the passage of time (reminding us that as our lives progress, our choices slowly diminish). Interestingly, setting budget limits requires judgement, so not all absolute things are objective and independent. Perhaps if something is absolute and requires judgement, feedback and human input is a more critical element than something relative requiring judgement and human input? A point for Absolute.

Absolute is also useful when things are unattainable – we might aspire to perfection proding us to raise our performance in that direction. Another point for Absolute.

What things is relative good for? Justice, reward, attractiveness, scientific truth and risk. Things heavily reliant on judgement, or the latest findings until superseded by superior insights. This is perhaps relative’s strength and its weakness. Another point for Relative.

Perhaps in the final analysis they both win different races. The trick is to bet the right way for the right race.

Post script: A young teen asks you, ‘what is the difference between relative and absolute?’ You could answer as follows; When you are born, in relative terms you know more about the World than what you know when you reach the end of your life! That’s relative knowledge. How so? If you accept that global knowledge increases exponentially (while human wisdom arguably only increases linearly, at best), then relatively speaking, you know more about the World in the first millisecond you are born into the World. Of course, absolutely speaking, you know more at the end of your life than at the beginning. That said, if at the end of your life you suffer from a mental degenerative disease, you may have trouble accessing what you actually know.

The ascent and the climb down

Sometimes in life, you can make more significant progress by changing the direction of your climb – switching from climbing up to climbing down, or visa versa.

In the workplace, the career climb includes avoiding all the hazards that will impede progress. Hazards like the equivalent of; falling rocks, mud slides, mist-shrouded ledges that lead to oblivion and damage to the body from becoming stressed beyond its limits. The perspective during the ascent changes too. Your connection with the wider communities wanes. The activity in the valleys looks strange and remote. Meanwhile, the views of the horizon and distant peaks come into view and draw your attention towards new goals, possible at the expense of your stability on the current peak. Fellow colleagues are few too – ruthless, super-achievers, typically with super-egos to match. Eventually, you reach a height where to achieve anything else will require a climb down, a regroup with a wider set of colleagues, more funding and a focus on new goals.  

Where ever you are on the ‘mountain’, there are at least five options. They all have their place and maybe switching to another option will help you with the immediate challenge.

Climbing up faster

This one’s good, when there are obvious hazards overhead (something overhanging that could fall on you at any time). When you get a second wind and still have the energy, skill and capability to take you higher. When you realise the top is even more appealing that it seemed lower down the mountain. When there’s a chance to ride someone or something’s coat tails – a chairlift, elevator, gondola or simply following behind someone else who’s doing a grand job breaking a route through the soft snow obstacle.  

 Climbing up slower

This one’s good if the route up is uncertain (various horizontal choices emerging in order to progress vertically), your energy is flagging (pace yourself) or you’re having to wait for the person ahead of you to ascend further (during an economic slump people tend to move roles slowly).

Pausing to admire the view

If you’re in the waiting room for a job interview, that’s a classic opportunity to admire the view and what you’ve worked to see. Ditto reaching the final milestone in a high profile research study or implementation project. In itself it hasn’t got you to the top, but the view is encouraging nevertheless. 

Climbing down slowly

The terrain underfoot is slippery so you’re trying hard to avoid breaking your neck. The way down is partly obscured but you know in order to make wider progress, the route down is the right one. You’re tired from recent events and want to conserve your strength for the rest of the journey.

Climbing down quickly

The weather above is getting worse by the minute. Whether you reached the top or not, other goals and self preservation beckon. The style may not be pretty but the solution is below. Actually, by climbing down, you’ll probably have a better perspective of the mountain, the wider community’s views and a wider set of pathways to new goals. You can’t engage enough people on the climb up. Too many will watch and not participate.

Sometimes to best understand the detail, the information you need is actually in the valleys and climbing the mountain in a small group isn’t the only way to gain insight – ask the pilot in the bar of the ski resort, the high country shepherd, the caver, the villagers who live on the mountain all year round. Ask the historian who knows that mountain’s past. The geologist who might know the mountain’s future.  Even the retired climbers from glory days past.

Dreams versus memories

Dreams versus memories. If someone forced you to choose, which would you rather have and which would you go without?

Arguably, older people should concentrate as much as possible on dreams and younger people should collect memories. If you’re older, make that bucket list long and bold. You’ll enjoy the remaining time so much more. If you’re younger, be open to opportunity, capture experiences and you’ll certainly be on the road to collecting a foundation of great memories.

Sometimes younger people struggle socially. In the down times, great memories will give you confidence to move forward. Having goals and dreams are good too, but you still need energy to get you there. Ironically, for older people, their long term memory typically remains sharp, as their short term memory fades. Another reason to build great memories while you’re young.

Memories are obviously about the person you were and represent past dreams and experiences translated into action. You can’t change them, but you can alter your recollection. Dreams you can alter in a heart beat. It doesn’t mean you should. Keep some enduring dreams up your sleeve, if only to challenge yourself and feed the journey.

If you’re lucky, some dreams will be to re-create past memories e.g. reunions with old friends to share repeat experiences. In my case, I never feel disappointed visiting a new destination but not having quite enough time to see all the things on the ‘to do’ list – having a reason to return is a dream kept alive.

How do you control the memories and stop the selective focus setting in by default? Take pictures. Write down your impressions. Make friends and leave some kind of digital imprint behind. It’s the only way to remind yourself that it really happened, who was there and that it was an open chapter at some point in your life.

Every picture tells your story…

Inspiring people met in the flesh

Among the vast number of people we all meet in our lives, a few stand out as being truly inspirational. It’s a personal thing – sometimes connected to the timing of when you meet them, sometimes not. It might be a chance meeting at a party, someone who’s introduced to you in a work setting, or your next door neighbour.

After five decades, my list is less than ten people (which surprised me) and one of those people makes two appearances. To preserve their identities, I’ve just listed their first initial, but all are people I’ve met or worked with personally. Well done guys. Keep it coming.

The Bounce backs

M. I worked with M for a couple of years back in the mid nineties. M had a great sense of humour, encouraged others, never got stressed and smiled a lot. His enthusiasm for life was infectious. Why was he inspirational? M was a refugee from Kampuchea (Cambodia) and pretty much lived his earlier life like in the movie ‘The Killing Fields’. He survived the Pol Pot era, but lost his entire nuclear family, uncles, aunties and cousins in the process. We all have bad days. M had a catastrophic life. But somehow came through it a philosophical person with a smile for others.

The Dedicates

X. I can’t remember her name so will simply call her X. I met X in South America on a bus on route from La Paz in Bolivia to Cuzco in Peru back in the 1990’s. X was a Kiwi nurse working alone in remote Andean villages to help the locals improve their hygiene practices. Why was she inspirational? At the time the Shining Path guerrillas were fighting the Peruvian government. According to X, the Shining Path were trying to polarise the country by killing the people in the middle – apolitical aid workers trying to improving the villagers’ lives. According to X, some villagers told X she was on the Shining Path list. Nevertheless, she continued her work (alone) because the need was there and because the impact was high. I really hope she’s still there helping people.

The Adventurers

The first is my oldest son S. He makes You Tube music productions and isn’t afraid to try out in school talent show productions (and help others perfect their performances). I can’t claim a shred of credit for suggesting or helping him do this. His resourcefulness (low budget), originality and attitude are inspiring.

The second is my bosses boss T. T has acted as a default mentor and coach to me –  nudging me to contribute more, be a pioneer, think outside the box at work, be audacious and build my own future career path by inventing my own contribution. I’m sure some ideas are complete duds, but he’s enough of a coach to never put me off from wanting to achieve more. How many other bosses that people have are like that (not enough!)? For me, after loads of bosses before him, its also a breath of fresh air and inspirational. Thanks T.

The Goodwill Builders

Again my son S. He’s got involved in voluntary projects (school magazine to inspire entrepreneurial activity) and community aid. Again, I played no part on this. S did it by himself – with flair, leadership and originality. That’s inspirational.

My new 2013 friend G. She inspires people on Facebook on a daily, if not hourly basis. G has launched a website encouraging positive action and fitness-building, especially for women. She also has some great comments about life. Well done G. I’ve seen the comments about the impact you’re having and I’m sure you’re just getting started!

My brother’s ex-girlfriend R. She stepped up for at least six months to help nurse my mother when she was slowly dying from cardiac damage, following a heart attack. I will always remember what you did R and the words you said at the funeral.  An inspirational lady who is currently doing a career change and launching her own food business.

My sister J. She defines loyalty and honesty. She has been there for her friends so much that those relationships will endure forever. When it comes to honesty, support and loyalty, J is the gold standard. Well done sis.



Signal-Noise, Signal-Explosion, Signal-Signal and Noise-Noise

You tune your car radio or filter your database query. Scan the market stalls for what you want in spite of traders shouting their ‘deal of the day’. Or search amongst the kids pouring out of school at home-time, to locate your own child to collect. It’s all about improving the signal and avoiding the noise (or the explosion).

The Signal and the Noise

  • The power and the glory.
  • The substance and the style.
  • The actions and the words.
  • The battle won and the skirmish lost.
  • Progress achieved and changes made (contrast manning the lifeboats, with changing your personal wardrobe to leave the Titanic).
  • The sacrifice and the ritual completed (try significant respect and personal risk incurred, not just chivalry and lip service. The impact and reward will likely be greater in the long run).
  • The power of one and the committee (someone once said, a committee is a group that lures good ideas down dark alleys and quietly strangles them!).
  • The single equation/graph/phrase and the wad of report appendices.
  • The child’s simple solution and the grand plan from the adult expert (do we ever see things clearer than we do as kids?).
  • The value and the cost.
  • The empowerment and the immediate need.
  • The fresh evidence (indicating a paradigm shift?) and the historical patterns/prevailing wisdom.
  • The benefit to society and the published research findings.

The Signal and the Explosion

  • Fixes that endure and fixes that backfire (remember the phrase, no good deed goes unpunished).

The Signal and the Signal

  • Helping the one and helping the many.
  • A sign of global warming and another sign of global warming.
  • The age of mass communication and the personal choice to remain out of touch.
  • Multi-national companies avoiding tax and unemployed people not being in a position to pay tax.
  • The battle won and the damage incurred (on one level, war might achieve short term gain, but what gain could all the people killed in the war have created, if not for the war?).
  • The obesity epidemic and the starvation epidemic.
  • The age of reason and the incentives of politicians.

The Noise and the Noise

  • Reality TV show one and Reality TV show two (the more we watch, the more they proliferate. And perhaps, the more implicitly we identify with the characters’ lives?).
  • One politician’s promise and another politician’s promise – guys, please don’t promise what you cannot guarantee, it’s just demeaning to us all. Also, voters memories grow longer the more they suffer. Act so suffering doesn’t become a repeat game.
  • Myths and doctrine, taken past the point of observation and reason. (Some might say religion is essentially doctrine. Personally, I think there’s an element of doctrine in religion, but that the best religions offer humanity so much more. I should disclose, I’m not a religious person. However, I have loads of respect for religious people who do good work for society and the moral principles that various religions offer us all. An after thought – perhaps what’s missing from the major religions is an explicit ‘green’ chapter on environmental protection).
  • The ‘static’ of hate and the ‘static’ of bitterness (swamping the ‘channels’ of love, personal contracts, charitable acts and goodwill. Incidently, its a real shame the emotion of bitterness can’t be dropped from our ‘menu of human emotions’ altogether. Bitterness just gets in the way of progress and drags people into places they don’t belong).
  • Deals too good to be true, free lunches and people promising complete solutions.

Mining for Gold?

If you’re anything like me, you recognise silver, but struggle to recognise gold.

So many moments in life don’t make it to silver status. But then there’s the occasional sparkle and gleam and you know you’re in the presence of something remarkable. Or you realise afterwards it was silver, not silver-coated junk metal.

Some people will say to treat every experience and every opportunity handed to you as if it’s gold. It might smell and feel like a cow pat, but imagine it as gold and you’ll have a smile on your face, a spring in your step and a heart pounding in your chest (in a good way). Some people can turn cow-pat stories into gold (screen writers of major movies and the A list actors who participate). Or follow the cow pats to the farm, the farm to the civilisation and the civilisation to the amazing new ideas.

For the rest of us, we hope for silver, we look for silver and we appreciate it when we see it, however fleetingly. It might be the significant triumph in our kid’s life, our parent making a full recovery from cancer, our friend finally appreciating the support we’ve given them, or our boss and customers eventually giving us the feedback we’ve been wanting.

Gold? That’s another story. It’s there somewhere. Shrouded in irony. Buried in the rubble. Entering stage-left when we least expect it. Camouflaged, sometimes as fool’s gold. It might make a fleeting appearance once every ten years, but then, if we take the time and we’re ready, it makes us miss a breath, think aha and choose something more ambitious, swallowing down our fear and insecurity.

Maybe the trick is less about mining for gold (don’t keep digging deep for it, while it appears right behind you), less about waiting for gold (enjoy the silver and hope for more of it) and more about how you react to it when it does come.

Good luck!