(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘structure

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”*…

Philip Ball unpacks the geometric rules that define eyes, honeycombs, and soap bubbles…

How do bees do it? The honeycombs in which they store their amber nectar are marvels of precision engineering, an array of prism-shaped cells with a perfectly hexagonal cross-section. The wax walls are made with a very precise thickness, the cells are gently tilted from the horizontal to prevent the viscous honey from running out, and the entire comb is aligned with the Earth’s magnetic field. Yet this structure is made without any blueprint or foresight, by many bees working simultaneously and somehow coordinating their efforts to avoid mismatched cells.

The ancient Greek philosopher Pappus of Alexandria thought that the bees must be endowed with “a certain geometrical forethought.” And who could have given them this wisdom, but God? According to William Kirby in 1852, bees are “Heaven-instructed mathematicians.” Charles Darwin wasn’t so sure, and he conducted experiments to establish whether bees are able to build perfect honeycombs using nothing but evolved and inherited instincts, as his theory of evolution would imply.

Why hexagons, though? It’s a simple matter of geometry. If you want to pack together cells that are identical in shape and size so that they fill all of a flat plane, only three regular shapes (with all sides and angles identical) will work: equilateral triangles, squares, and hexagons. Of these, hexagonal cells require the least total length of wall, compared with triangles or squares of the same area. So it makes sense that bees would choose hexagons, since making wax costs them energy, and they will want to use up as little as possible—just as builders might want to save on the cost of bricks. This was understood in the 18th century, and Darwin declared that the hexagonal honeycomb is “absolutely perfect in economizing labor and wax.”

Darwin thought that natural selection had endowed bees with instincts for making these wax chambers, which had the advantage of requiring less energy and time than those with other shapes. But even though bees do seem to possess specialized abilities to measure angles and wall thickness, not everyone agrees about how much they have to rely on them. That’s because making hexagonal arrays of cells is something that nature does anyway…

More at: “Why Nature Prefers Hexagons,” from @philipcball in @NautilusMag.

* Albert Einstein


As we study structure, we might spare a thought for Agostino Bassi; he died on this date in 1856. An entomologist, he discovered that the muscardine disease of silkworms was caused by a very small parasitic organism, a fungus that would be named eventually Beauveria bassiana in his honor. The insight led him to argue that not only animal (insect), but also human diseases are caused by other living microorganisms (e.g., measles, syphilis, and the plague)– meaning that he preceded Louis Pasteur in the discovery that microorganisms can be the cause of disease (the germ theory of disease).


Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 8, 2023 at 1:00 am

“People in any organization are always attached to the obsolete – the things that should have worked but did not, the things that once were productive and no longer are”*…

Ed Zitron argues that America has too many managers, and managers misbehaving at that…

In a 2016 Harvard Business Review analysis, two writers calculated the annual cost of excess corporate bureaucracy as about $3 trillion, with an average of one manager per every 4.7 workers. Their story mentioned several case studies—a successful GE plant with 300 technicians and a single supervisor, a Swedish bank with 12,000 workers and three levels of hierarchy—that showed that reducing the number of managers usually led to more productivity and profit. And yet, at the time of the story, 17.6 percent of the U.S. workforce (and 30 percent of the workforce’s compensation) was made up of managers and administrators—an alarming statistic that shows how bloated America’s management ranks had become.

The United States, more than anywhere else in the world, is addicted to the concept of management. As I’ve written before, management has become a title rather than a discipline. We have a glut of people in management who were never evaluated on their ability to manage before being promoted to their role. We have built corporate America around the idea that if you work hard enough, one day you might become a manager, someone who makes rather than takes orders. While this is not the only form of management, based on the response to my previous article and my newsletters on the subject, this appears to be how many white-collar employees feel. Across disparate industries, an overwhelming portion of management personnel is focused more on taking credit and placing blame rather than actually managing people, with dire consequences.

This type of “hall monitor” management, as a practice, is extremely difficult to execute remotely, and thus the coming shift toward permanent all- or part-remote work will lead to a dramatic rethinking of corporate structure. Many office workers—particularly those in industries that rely on the skill or creativity of day-to-day employees—are entering a new world where bureaucracy will be reduced not because executives have magically become empathetic during the pandemic, but because slowing down progress is bad business. In my eyes, that looks like a world in which the power dynamics of the office are inverted. With large swaths of people working from home some or all of the time, managers will be assessed not on their ability to intimidate other people into doing things, but on their ability to provide their workers with the tools they need to measurably succeed at their job.

In order to survive, managers, in other words, will need to start proving that they actually do something. What makes this shift all the more complicated is that many 21st-century, white-collar employees don’t necessarily need a hands-on manager to make sure they get their work done…

The pandemic has laid bare that corporate America disrespects entry-level workers. At many large companies, the early years of your career are a proving ground with little mentorship and training. Too many companies hand out enormous sums to poach people trained elsewhere, while ignoring the way that the best sports teams tend to develop stars—by taking young, energetic people and investing in their future (“trust the process,” etc.). This goes beyond investing in education and courses; it involves taking rising stars in your profession and working to make them as good as your top performer.

In a mostly remote world, a strong manager is someone who gets the best out of the people they’re managing, and sees the forest from the trees—directing workers in a way that’s informed by both experience and respect. Unfortunately, the traditional worker-to-manager pipeline often sets people up for inefficiency and failure. It’s the equivalent of taking a pitcher in their prime and making them a coach—being good at one thing doesn’t mean you can make other people good at the same thing. This is known as the Peter principle, a management concept developed by Laurence J. Peter in the late ’60s that posits that a person who’s good at their job in a hierarchical organization will invariably be promoted to a position that requires different skills, until they’re eventually promoted to something they can’t do, at which point they’ve reached their “maximum incompetence.” Consistent evidence shows that the principle is real: A study of sales workers at 214 firms by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that firms prioritize current job performance in promotion decisions over whether the person can actually do the job for which they’re being considered. In doing so, they’re placing higher value on offering the incentive of promotion to get more out of their workers, at the cost of potentially injecting bad management into their organization.

What I’m talking about here is a fundamental shift in how we view talent in the workplace. Usually, when someone is good at their job, they are given a soft remit to mentor people, but rarely is that formalized into something that is mutually beneficial. A lack of focus on fostering talent is counterintuitive, and likely based on a level of fear that one could train one’s own replacement, or that a business could foster its own competition. This is a problem that could be solved by paying people more money for being better at their job. Growing talent is also a more sustainable form of business—one that harkens back to the days of apprenticeships—where you’re fostering and locking up talent so that it doesn’t go elsewhere, and doesn’t cost you time and money to have to recruit it (or onboard it, which costs, on average, more than $4,000 a person). Philosophically, it changes organizations from a defensive position (having to recruit to keep up) to an offensive position (building an organization from within), and also greatly expands an organization’s ability to scale affordably…

The problem is that modern American capitalism has equated “getting the most out of someone” with “getting the most hours out of them,” rather than getting the most value out of them. “Success,” as I’ve discussed before, is worryingly disconnected from actually succeeding in business.

Reducing bureaucracy is also a net positive for the labor market, especially for young people. Entry-level corporate work is extremely competitive and painful, a years-long process in which you’re finding your footing in an industry and an organization. If we can change the lens through which we view those new to the workforce—as the potential hotshots of the future, rather than people who have to prove themselves—we’ll have stronger organizations that waste less money. We should be trying to distill and export the talents of our best performers, and give them what they need to keep doing great things for our companies while also making their colleagues better too.

All of this seems inevitable, to me, because a remote future naturally reconfigures the scaffolding of how work is done and how workers are organized. The internet makes the world a much smaller place, which means that simple things such as keeping people on task don’t justify an entire position—but mentorship and coaching that can get the best out of each worker do.

Hopefully we can move beyond management as a means of control, and toward a culture that appreciates a manager who fosters and grows the greatness in others.

The pandemic has exposed a fundamental weakness in the system: “Say Goodbye to Your Manager,” from @edzitron.

* Peter Drucker


As we reorganize, we might recall that it was on this date that Henri Giffard made the first first powered and controlled flight of an airship, traveling 27 km from Paris to Élancourt in his “Giffard dirigible.”

Airships were the first aircraft capable of controlled powered flight, and were most commonly used before the 1940s, largely floated with (highly-flammable) hydrogen gas. Their use decreased as their capabilities were surpassed by those of airplanes- and then plummeted after a series of high-profile accidents, including the 1930 crash and burning of the British R101 in France, the 1933 and 1935 storm-related crashes of the twin airborne aircraft carrier U.S. Navy helium-filled rigids, the USS Akron and USS Macon respectively, and– most famously– the 1937 burning of the German hydrogen-filled Hindenburg.

The Giffard dirigible [source]

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 24, 2021 at 1:00 am

And that’s a lot…



From the cornucopia that is Network Awesome:

Buckminster Fuller – Everything I Know

In 1975 Buckminster Fuller gave a series of lectures concerning his entire life’s work. These lectures span 42 hours and examine all of Fuller’s major inventions and discoveries.

During the last two weeks of January 1975 Buckminster Fuller gave an extraordinary series of lectures concerning his entire life’s work. These thinking out loud lectures span 42 hours and examine in depth all of Fuller’s major inventions and discoveries from the 1927 Dymaxion house, car and bathroom, through the Wichita House, geodesic domes, and tensegrity structures, as well as the contents of Synergetics. Autobiographical in parts, Fuller recounts his own personal history in the context of the history of science and industrialization. The stories behind his Dymaxion car, geodesic domes, World Game and integration of science and humanism are lucidly communicated with continuous reference to his synergetic geometry. Permeating the entire series is his unique comprehensive design approach to solving the problems of the world. Some of the topics Fuller covered in this wide ranging discourse include: architecture, design, philosophy, education, mathematics, geometry, cartography, economics, history, structure, industry, housing and engineering…

Network Awesome is featuring one part of the series starting each Wednesday, here (and in their archive).  Or readers can turn to YouTube.  In either case, the pieces are bite-sized…   and well worth the watching.


As we endeavor to “think outside the dome,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1974– as Fuller was agreeing to do the lectures featured above– that Paul Anka hit #1 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 with “(You’re) Having My Baby.”



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