(simple title art)
Reader Note: If you are just catching on, each Thursday we’re are doing a chapter each week of a book I’m writing for Millennials – teaching the insights that will (hopefully!) allow them to live long and prosper – and be around to clean up after us Old People who made a mess of getting civilization this far.
There are three sections to each chapter. Something you can read to children, a general reader part, and the advanced/business section.
We pick up with morning like so…
We established in the first chapter that there is RECIPE for everything we do.
Chapter 2 involves understanding (and owning) PROCESSES.
Chapter 3 discusses recipes and processes of INVENTION.
Chapter 4 looked at FLOW The reason we do management reports is so we can spot problems and head them off at the pass.
Chapter 5 considered “WORLDVIEW” and how that “place we stand in our minds” determines what happens in the strange land “outside our heads.”
Today, in Chapter 6, we consider the importance of travel as a way to more deeply understand worldviews since people with similar problems will come up with surprisingly different answers to the problems of Life…
For All Readers:
Tom wasn’t making much progress toward finding the “Secret Grand Recipe of Life” on his latest trip into the world to find new foods for the King’s table.
Since arriving at a small island paradise aboard his sailboat, Tom had spent several weeks going through the same recipe, nested into each day:
He would get up every morning, have breakfast, and then go for a walk on the beach.
He would find a place under a tree where he could sit and stare at the ocean, while trying to figure out the Great Recipe of Life.
He would return to his grass hut, have food, and then do his daily chores. These included cleaning, preparing food for tomorrow, and making sure the sailboat was still anchored securely. By afternoon he would begin to hunt for new foods that he could incorporate into new Recipes.
One day, Tom received a letter. He glanced at the return address and had a feeling of apprehension. It was a letter from Little John back at the castle. He opened it and read:
I hate to disturb you while you are searching out new foods on the tropical island, but the King came to me today and said that he was becoming tired of eating the same kind of fish every time I cook fish. I have tried baking fish, broiling fish, stewing fish, smoking fish, and I’ve done it with almost everything I can think of.
Please help me. I need to come up with a new way to cook fish for His Highness, or I fear for our jobs.
— Your Friend,
Little John at the Castle”
Tom considered the letter for a few minutes. Then he had an idea. Here’s what he wrote to Little John:
I have discovered a marvelous new cooking element and it may save us!
Try poaching the fish in a little coconut milk. The locals here on the island do this and it creates a wonderful flavor. It works especially well with white fish, and it is not quite as good with pink fish like salmon.
— Your Friend,
Tom returned to his daily routine. Days came and went, while his food investigations continued. In his spare time, he was still busy trying to figure out the Great Recipe of Life and he felt like a breakthrough was close.
To his surprise, that very day he received another letter – and the postmark was from the castle!
Quickly, he opened it, wondering if Little John had succeeded in developing some new fish recipes using his suggestion that he try cooking with coconut milk. Here’s what it said:
What is a coconut?
— Your Friend,
Little John at the Castle”
Tom realized that Little John had never seen a coconut because he had never been away on one of his sailing adventures to a tropical island. Tom failed to remember his own Recipe for Good Communications: Define all your terms…and coconuts were a new term to Little John.
He hurried and sent Little John a letter (and a huge box of coconuts) explaining his failure and then went into an explanation of what a coconut was so Little John could experiment with them.
He even wrote out the recipe to open a coconut by hand and suggested he let the King himself try it.
If the King liked their taste, Tom the Baker suggested shredding the pulp and incorporating it in a kind of cookie called a macaroon. Several desserts and puddings were recommended as well along with a health drink and a fermented beverage.
Tom was very hard on himself after that. He realized that if you are in one part of the world, the recipes that you take for granted might be completely unintelligible to someone in another part of the world if they don’t understand the ingredients that you’re talking about.
Travel was starting to pay off for the King, but in order for Tom and Little John to benefit, they needed to introduce new tastes that were based on new ingredients.
For all the work that might have been done on the farms of the Kingdom, the breakthroughs into new taste experiences would never happen without Travel.
For General Readers:
When you sit back and read a history book, in most cases you’re not reading about discreet actions of people in a vacuum. A very useful part of the study of history is in the learning how people assimilated various recipes for all activities in Life. Someone, somewhere, had solved almost all problems before, so it becomes a simple matter of optimization.
It doesn’t matter whether the “somewhere else” is a place or a time, either. There is something magical about bringing a recipe (or idea/process/flow) from one place to another, and many times, there’s good money to be made doing so.
The early spice traders from Europe teach us that a recipe that worked in one place, such as curry in Persia, could brought back to Europe and enjoyed with some level of popularity. Native Americans wowed the invaders with popcorn.
In the 1950’s, many Americans including a number of my relatives, discovered Japanese cuisine. It was my aunt Isabelle who first introduced me to chicken teriyaki. This is a typical example of a recipe from one place (Japan) being brought to other place (the U.S.A. – Anchorage, actually) and enjoying huge degree of popularity.
Shrimp tempura was to die for!
An amazing variety of restaurants testify to the process of recipe migration – all the result of Travel.
The Old Spaghetti Factory and the dozens of restaurants of San Diego’s “Little Italy” district reminded us how many recipes arrived in America in the heads of immigrants. Latinos can take credit (or blame) for Taco Bell. The American South bears some responsibility for “The Colonel’s” Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Chinese food is found in almost every city in America.
There are also recipes that come to us from across time. Not so much in the food area, although the basic recipe for milking a cow, or making butter hasn’t changed much in thousands of years. It’s more obvious in areas like clothing and fashion or housing and transportation.
If you look at today’s (2002) young people wearing knee-high boots, remember that this was how disco dancers were dressing in the middle to late 1960’s during the “go-go” craze. The fad was brought back to life, at least in part, by the movie “Austin Powers” and by the resurgence of Doc Marten footwear.
I’m almost always amazed to see how my wife Elaine shops. It’s her great adventure in recipes. She will look through various fashion magazines then generalize some statements or trends about fashion and where things seem headed at the moment.
One example she pointed out was how old jeans were being “cut down” a few inches from the waistband in order to make hip-huggers. Another was cutting legs of unstylish pants, and then reattaching them with safety pins – a grotesque version of garters – to the original pants. This somehow passes as fashion (2002).
Dreadlocks arrived from the Rasta’s from the Caribbean, as arguably did cornrows. Although these were more southern Caribbean and popularized by cruise line stops in Antigua and Barbuda; worn home by tourists.
You see recipes of acceptable social behavior vary from one country to another. I have never seen so many people smoking cigarettes as I have in Washington D.C. and New York, or so few, as in California, where smoking it was outlawed in most public places around 2000.
Pollution laws are another example of how recipes have migrated from one place to another. The horrible smog of the Los Angeles area has been somewhat mitigated by emission restrictions, but the problem has certainly not disappeared.
Meanwhile, a “counter-recipe” was seen for a while in a resurgence of trucks, a good number of them exempt from the more stringent pollution control requirements of passenger cars.
Recipes from afar show up in speech, too, even within the approximately same language.
How many times have you seen Canadians saying “Eh hoser?”
No more than a few minutes with a good dictionary is required to reach agreement that a huge portion of our language was imported from other parts of the world.
Once you agree to this point, it’s an easy step to the further point that our lexicon defines our thoughts. Or, put another way, the more global our language, the more ways we will have to express ideas. That’s actually pretty cool – and by itself is a fine reason all young people should be required to visit several countries (Canada doesn’t count except for Quebec which believes it’s its own country, anyway.)
An old saying passed by my parents was that “travel broadens the mind”. Until I got older, the specific mechanisms didn’t make sense. Now, it does. Aha!
The reason that travels work to expand the mind is that they not only implants new graphical (for the visual cortext) to associate with existing words & knowledge, it also gives us entirely new words and pictures.
The first time into a grocery store in the U.S., a non-traveled person might glance at a product like Corona beer from Mexico, and think nothing of it. The experience of the shopper will determine the meaning of the brand name. If the shopper has studied astrophysics, corona might have something to do with the part of the sun just above its surface. If the person’s experience and training dealt more with electronics, the beer brand name might conjure up images of electricity arcing in a manner peculiar to corona discharge from a high voltage source, such as the flyback transformer of a television set. To the traveler or student of language, Corona means a crown or wreath, a sort of symbol of power and station.
But to sit on the beach in Acapulco and drink one? Ah…that’s a Corona.
This perspective underscores that we live in a montage of recipes from all over the world. As we assimilate, we gain an appreciation for the variety we easily take for granted due to electronic overload.
A useful exercise is to make up a list of countries on one side of a piece of paper and then opposite, list each of your senses.
We begin with sound. Specifically, language and music is our focus because these occupy most of the daily chores and work we do in an information society.
That the words we use every day come to us from a variety of places and times is so patently obvious that it’s hardly worth discussing, except to mention that precisely because it is so obvious, we often overlook the great textural variety.
When you get into music, the picture changes quickly. I’ve developed a personal, and perhaps stereotypical, view of musical instruments and sounds based on geography. When I think of Africa, for example, I think of drums. Djembes! Syncopation!
As I think about drums more deeply, they appear a kind of trans-equatorial phenomena. Must be outside to hear them.
Maybe it’s because of Hollywood. Certainly, first peoples in North America had drums, but when I think of drums as a communications tool, as well as a rhythm section for chants and so on, I think of equatorial regions as communication and then drawing down to the tribal/shamanistic levels as you edge northward.
The flutes, or basic wind instruments seem as a class, to be neighbors of the drums, and perhaps just a bit outside of the hottest parts of the equator. I think of wind instruments as maybe coming from bamboo, or reeds that grew along rivers like the Nile, or they may have been fashioned from hollow woods in the upper reaches of the Amazon, and from there packed upland to places like Peru. No, I can’t say this with certainty. Again, it’s an impressionistic sense of place from listening to music.
Farther north or south of the equator, perhaps above the latitude of Egypt and as far north as the northern border of Greece, we start running into the horns. Animal horns at first, or conch shells in the Caribbean or in the South Pacific islands. Conch horns.
Moving even more north, I begin to think of stringed instruments, and if there is one kind of musical instrument that sticks in my mind as being associated with places like Germany and China, it is the stringed instruments that are either plucked or bowed. Animal guts and furs. I also sense that horned instruments became larger as one went further north, until in the mountains of German Bavaria and Switzerland, horns several meters long were built and played to this day. But then what about Australian first peoples and their didgeridoo’s?
Percussion, wind instruments, horns, and strings have evolved precisely in this way, but that’s my personal sense of it.
The fact is people have always invented music wherever they have lived and with whatever was at hand.
When I think of excellence in stringed instruments historically, I don’t think of a village along the Amazon. When I think of that kind of locale, I first think of drums, and then perhaps wind instruments. I also have a hard time picturing delicate stringed instruments in the frozen Arctic among first peoples. It’s not a matter of stereotyping, so much as just the practical matter of needing to have relatively dry strings in order to make an instrument that bows properly. Dry strings and moving around by kayak aren’t so logically compatible to me.
You see? Common sense matters in how we arrive at the shared world of today.
Taste is another one of those senses (you are mapping, right?) that may be considered on a regional basis. Fruits and fresh meat or fish, barbequed seem like the kind of food you’d encounter around the equator. The fruits are available almost year round, while the meat and fish were, at one time, plentiful and easy to catch. Whether the tool was an arrow, or a thrown net, matters little. What seems to have mattered more was the availability of cooking fuel. In places where cooking fuel was restricted, either because everything was damp, as in the rain forest, or there just wasn’t an unlimited supply of wood, like on a tropical island, alternatives to fire cooking came to pass. Baking and drying became common. Seviche?
In the temperate bands around the world, planting grains become significant as man stopped wandering around in a daily quest for food. The types of outdoor cookery, such as making bread on a hot fire, were again modified to baking because of a relative scarcity of fuel. Ukraine and the U.S. prairies had the production numbers, but the Austrians with their high fat availability from butter and hot ovens mastered the art of the croissant. Which the French then colonized.
As you move still farther north, you run into other means of preserving meats and fish; the smoking processes. Here again, it made a lot of sense because it’s easier to build a smoky fire as you move into forests in latitudes above the grasslands. Once you get into the Arctic, frozen food becomes a reality north of the permafrost line. High fat diets to push back the cold. A problem in the later ages with alcohol because of bodies bred for low sugar diets.
You can see the broad adaptation process away from our sense of taste, too. Consider what people wear on their feet.
In the soft lands of a jungle, or, on an even but warm plain, there’s no need to wear shoes at all. You just wake up in the morning, stand up and even without clothing, when it’s 85 degrees, about the temperature of skin, and the ground is soft, the incentive to “get dressed” is just about absent. Except for bugs.
You might need a bug repellant, perhaps a mud or plant juice, but beyond that, you’re ready for your workday wearing what you came into the world with.
As the climate becomes more adverse, or the terrain less friendly, you start thinking about clothing to protect your sense of touch from excessive input.
Too much sensory input is called pain.
To keep the feet from experiencing pain the first shoes invented were in keeping with local needs. On the burning hot sands of the desert, you had the development of sandals. Among native peoples in temperate zones, you saw the moccasin, the forerunner of today’s modern shoes developed to protect the feet from a variety of ground conditions, and to protect from nuisances like thorns and thistles. As you get up into the higher latitudes, where cold becomes the major issue, you find waterproofing and the thick, padded footgear that protects from extreme cold: boots, mukluks.
The sense of sight varies in two ways, one being the way the eyes are protected, and the other being how they actually operate. The protection issue is one that is apparent when you look at headgear from different parts of the world. In jungle regions, there’s little interest in headgear because so much time is spent out of the sun. There’s no requirement to forage over huge distances during the midday hours because in a rich jungle environment, the food comes to people who are patient. You wait under the overhead canopy of limbs in the semi-darkness.
Step out into the harsh glare of sand dunes, or Arctic ice at midday, and your eyes take a real beating. From these conditions, we got hooded headgear to set the eyes back under additional shade, beyond that provided by our facial structure and eyebrows.
How the eyes operate is an interesting area. I’ve noticed in dealing with people that their eyes seem to see different features within the same scene. I’m not sure if this is a matter of social conditioning, or whether it’s because of some genetic predisposition.
I’ll give you a couple of examples, though, and hope it explains it well enough. A few weeks ago, Elaine and I were driving around San Diego. She looked off to the left side of the car and remarked “What an interesting boat!” Because of how my brain and eyes work, I immediately started looking for a boat. I wasn’t sure whether I was looking for a big item, though, because I know boats are “big” and I was really looking hard, too, because there were no boats in this part of the neighborhood. We were in a business district. I was looking for anything that reminded me of “boat”. Big enough to float people since we lived on a boat. Was it a sailboat, powerboat, cruiser, or what?
I swept in everything I could think of out the left side of the car and finally broke down and asked, “What the hell boat are you talking about?” Then she revealed it to me: It was a picture of a boat on a poster inside the window of the Wells Fargo bank building that occupied most of the view out of the left side of the car. Yeah, it was an interesting picture, all right, but not anything like the “boat” that I had been vigorously looking for.
It got me to thinking though about how we classify what we go looking for, based on personal expectations of what size something ought to be. Elaine doesn’t seem to be particularly restrained by “expected size” of things. Her way of “seeing” things allows her to look at the bank building, see a poster, and then zoom in on a “boat.” My way of looking involves “boat size” and that was what I went off in search of. The idea of looking at something as small as the poster in the window was about the furthest thing from my search. We each have “perception recipes” that define worldviews. Toss in traveled idea, tastes, and sounds, and it’s quite a stew.
The other story about “seeing” things relates to my experience in ham radio. As you may be aware, ham radio hobbyists love antennas. Just like an audiophile loves speaker systems, ham radio types love antennas. The bigger the antenna array, the better, especially for low frequency work.
Unfortunately, many times in various living situations, I haven’t been able to put up a proper “aluminum overcast” which might be a 75-foot tower with a seven element antenna measuring perhaps 25-feet by 35-feet.
The way I have been able to “sneak” ham radio in and enjoy my hobby where people didn’t expect it, was by putting up small vertical antennas. There’s something about how our eyes operate that tend to make antennas “disappear” provided they are either dead plumb vertical, or extremely horizontal and close to a roofline or something that makes the eye not notice something running parallel to a big surface. Against a backdrop of vertical trees, or adjacent to a corner of a building, vertical antennas of moderate height “disappear”.
The perceptual questions about how our eyes operate is something for experts. But ultimately, I can assure you that something makes individual people see the world just a bit differently than anyone else.
The Haida Indians of the British Columbia coast have 26 different names for rain. Most urban dwellers have about four or five. There is rain, a downpour, drizzle, maybe a gully-washer, or perhaps it’s just “misting” outside. When you spend as much time in the rain as the Haida, you become very specific about what you’re seeing with your eyes and touching.
The last of the five senses to consider is the sense of smell. What’s an acceptable odor varies widely from place to place.
The town public bathrooms of certain Mexican cities on the west coast is overwhelming. But locals don’t seem to notice. New tourist places in the Caribbean side manage the smells more than old Mexico.
Aspects of odors become a discussion. In the jungle, the soft rotten vegetation odor, the flower blooming, the occasional fecal odor of some animal something, along with a bouquet of “live plant” odors.
Having stood on the vast expanse of screaming of ice of coastal Alaska in winter, I can assure you that even the slightest odor carries over miles there.
Even out sailing when our boat offshore where the air is exceptionally clean, the odor of cigarette smoke, or diesel exhaust, may carry almost a mile. How far the particular odor carries depends how long you’ve been at sea and how well your nostrils have adjusted to the clean air of the ocean.
Since we will get into monetizing – which is what Industrial Apes do – have you noticed that we have ritualized smells to create a whole industry out of odors?
Everything from Glade Air Freshener to Nutone exhaust fans, to Elaine’s assortment of perfumes, it’s all about taking an odor from a different place, or a different time, and bringing it to where we want it, right here and right now.
I don’t know which I’m more thankful for either, the Nutone bathroom fan, or Elaine’s perfume. Depending on what’s going on, both seem pretty darn important.
I think I’ll light some incense now and think deeply religious thoughts…
For Business Readers:
When we speak about “recipes from some other place” in the business world, we’re into a huge area of research. It’s mind-boggling.
We might, for example, define “other place” as somewhere else within our own company. If a memorandum comes in to the sales department from the accounting department, it is considered a “foreign” memo. Many salespeople look at accountants as a horrible nuisance. Accountants, they rightly figure, like to play God, and they become very irritable when accountants start issuing edicts about vacation policies and health care coverage.
Another kind of “other place” might be a competitor’s business. You see the influence of competition all the time. A company with an innovative product that is being well received in the market is almost certain to be imitated.
Governmental regulations are also recipes from another place. The daily changes in the tax code are but one example.
Look at any branch of government, and you’re almost certain to see constraints on business that occupy time and attention and constitute a huge body of “overhead” on a businesses balance sheet.
I don’t need to remind you about environmental regulations, or the functional aspects of OSHA, or even recently, rules governing our conduct in airports and in public places.
Wherever you look, there are recipes from other places that stifle or direct the operation of businesses, yet seldom do small to medium-sized companies have complete companywide business documentation that spells out how every aspect of a business operates.
Sure you will find a collection of memos here and there that define how things operate in a particular part of a company, and almost any company of consequence has a human resources department whose job is putting together all the forms necessary to hire and fire employees. But what ends up missing in thousands of cases is a really cohesive document that covers all aspects of department right down to the smallest detail. Even in companies that are generally well managed, you can usually find holes in company documentation.
The implementation of the International Standards Organization’s 9000-series quality programs has helped, to be sure. But many companies don’t get involved in ISO 9000 efforts because it takes documentation to a level that can be a real burden in small companies.
Down the road from us in San Diego, there’s a little outboard and outdrive repair shop. This is a place that has been around for maybe 15 years. They guys who work there know how to fix just about anything that can go wrong with a boat motor, but to do this, they don’t need to be ISO 9000 certified. Their customers probably wouldn’t pay the additional upcharge to insure that motor repairs were all ISO 9000 compliant.
As a sidelight, the reason that a company like Sunset Marine (back in 2002) was such a joy to do business with is that they are total experts and they are honest.
I was about to bring my 15-horse outboard motor in to have surgery done on it because it wasn’t pumping water, when a helpful fellow named Rod suggested that the water outflow hole (the “pee hole” designed to indicate that cooling water was flowing) might have just become plugged with salt.
“Take off the hose on the engine, and blow through it” he suggested. Blowing with all my might, I could not make that air go through the hose, so I reamed the salt out the fitting with a drill and the engine has been running like a top ever since.
I didn’t need an ISO 9000 certified someone to give me spectacular documented customer service. And, if you ever need an outboard fixed in San Diego, guess where I will send you?
Out at the airport, it’s a much different story. There, tremendous emphasis is placed on documenting repairs. The reason is that in the event of an aircraft accident (crash) the National Transportation Safety Board literally looks into the history of every nut and bolt on a plane if it’s involved in a crash caused by mechanical failure and not pilot error.
Back to my point about recipes from other places: The average business in America gets an official visit from the local Fire Department each year. The purpose of the visit it to come around and make sure that the local building and fire codes are not being violated. Depending on city, they will check the inspection dates on fire extinguishers, make sure the exit signs and emergency lighting in exit stairwells are working, and so forth.
Probably 99% of businesses and private schools that are inspected, have come to depend on the inspection process to find faults, rather than build procedures into company policy and procedure books. It’s a co-dependent kind of relationship.
The Building Department of a major city is a far and distant place to an office manager in a modern office setting. The Fire Department’s role is that of a recipe conveyor.
“Company employees must remove two extension cords that are running unprotected under carpet in the office area” might read a citation. The recipe here is that the Building Department has found that extension cords run under carpets may become worn and frayed and start a fire. Because they are out of sight, the deteriorating condition might not be noticed.
Another kind of codependency comes shows up in audits by accounting firms. Again, the accounting firm plays the role of a conveyor for recipes from afar.
If the company being audited happens to be public, such as Enron, the audit may find questionable practices but report these only to the firm itself. Enron, in response, may have a recipe in motion designed to insulate it from normal regulatory controls, and I think it’s a safe bet to assume that insulation from even application of all business rules was at the heart of Enron’s extensive and extensive gifting to political powers on both sides of the political aisle.
That’s an introduction to the general notion of recipes from elsewhere in business. You can make up a list of every agency that influence how a company operates and draw up a list of activities the regulation requires on a periodic basis. You’ve got fire safety, you’ve got taxes, you have environmental health, and in the case of stores and restaurants, a whole slug of recipes in the public health arena.
I’ve sure you have the picture. Some portion of recipes from elsewhere are of the routine variety, they are either sent directly to a firm, such as the IRS filing paperwork, or they come through third parties that are acting to enforce recipes they didn’t cook up themselves. Fire Departments and auditors are the indirect kinds of recipe reminders.
If this were the extent of recipes from elsewhere, it would hardly be worth mentioning in a book. There’s one other aspect of recipes from elsewhere that needs to be addressed: Globalization.
The notion that an economy can expand forever is really central to our economic existence. While it may have been true a few hundred years ago in practical terms, it is certainly not the case today. The Spanish exploitation of the New World was a unique event that ushered in a 500-year period of unprecedented expansion. Our levels of technology sprang forward, and with it, the general well being of those citizens who were lucky enough by accident of birth to be in one of the hot beds of development.
Yet even in those places where development could have distributed wealth and prosperity somewhat evenly, it generally did not. The reason? The conquerors brought their own recipes with them. Rather than teach the recipes and bridge cultural gaps, the invaders from Europe brought their recipes and ran them to the exclusion of local tradition and customs.
You have only to read up on the hundreds of gold laden ships heading east from the Americas to gain an appreciation of this fact.
Although it would be comforting to say, “Gee, we learned something from that and we won’t do it again”, there doesn’t appear to be evidence that we have learned much from the experience. Countries are still dominating one another today, and you can see in the border conflicts in many areas of the world, the same kind of recipe-driven conflict that has been a consistent feature throughout history.
The Roman Empire had a set of recipes that were exported to northern Europe and to the British Isles. Hitler had a (seriously flawed) recipe for nation building. And most recently in Afghanistan, the U.S. has a recipe that may have as much to do with securing a route for an oil pipeline as punishing criminal terrorists. Or to control the heroin trade.
In developing a sense of how recipes from elsewhere operate on the global scale, you can learn much by looking at how people live and understanding the value of a national currency in the global market.
Like the tide, the U.S. dollar’s fate has risen and fallen according to international events. In early 2002, Argentina devalued its currency by 41% after having it pegged to the U.S. dollar for years. In the early 1990’s, Mexico adjusted its currency internally with the issuance of the Nuevo Peso. In our lifetime, there have been currency changes in dozens of countries, including a fair number that have changed names and political leadership. Khmer Cambodia is now Kampuchea and South Vietnam’s currency is history.
To be sure, there are instances where recipes have been successfully combined by a process of synthesis that seems to work for most parties. The situation in Northern Ireland seems calmer than it was a few years back, but those kinds of successes are rare. More common are smoldering economic battles between countries, many of which want to be the largest player in the world.
Japan came close, when in 1988 a city block in Tokyo would buy nearly all real estate in California, but then the recipe changed, and with it, the value of the yen. The high quality products that Japan produced in the automotive world were cloned in less expensive climates, such as South Korea where Kia and later Daewoo and Hyundai evolved into competitive forces. At the same time, the U.S. auto industry responded to the challenge by building more reliable, cost effective vehicles. Japan’s recipe for success, largely written by American Edward Deming, was copied extensively.
Duplication of successful recipes has become a fact of life in the global marketplace. If a country has a successful semiconductor manufacturing business, such as Taiwan has, it is likely to be cloned in places like Malaysia and Singapore.
The recipe for nuclear weapons, once the exclusive domain of the United States, has now grown to include perhaps a dozen countries: such as Russia, Great Britain, France, Germany, Israel, South Africa, Iran, North Korea, and the Southwest Asia nightmare zone: Pakistan and India.
Who knows if Iran has a bomb, but it’s considered likely. There’s speculation that Cuba may not have sent home all Soviet-era missiles following the end of the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962. How paranoid should we be?
The business recipes from other places and other times don’t seem to have any particular advantage over the long run, but in the short run, they do wield power. You have only to look at South Korea to see this to be the case.
Here’s a country that was pretty well wiped out at the end of World War II and the Korean War that grew rapidly in Japan’s shadow. Japan pioneered (with Deming’s help) quality circles and building better products. Many of the techniques were copied in South Korea, and since they had a lower prevailing wage, so many heavy industries chose South Korea.
Shipbuilding is an example of this. As wages went up in Japan, labor costs drove ship construction to South Korean yards. Now, as wages have come up in South Korea, ship builders are looking at other low unit labor cost markets.
The “recipes” from elsewhere in the world economy become a little confusing because of currency considerations and variances in productivity. You may find the cost of labor low in Mexico, but the productivity might also be low, so in order to get high productivity, you’ll need to invest more heavily in plant and equipment.
Even within the U.S. the recipes from elsewhere competition was building. We’ve been watching businesses in the San Diego area being wooed by other states. In the biotech field, for example, California has a pretty decent climate for development of intellectual property, but when it comes time to produce actual product, the Golden State begins to lose its glitter. States like neighboring Nevada have become extremely competitive for corporate business because of their more relaxed regulatory atmosphere. New Mexico, Utah, and to a certain extent Arizona, are likely to become home to new biotech production facilities because their out to get a portion of California’s biotech prize for themselves.
If they don’t secede, that is.
Next week: [keyword: the 512 Matrix]
Write when you get rich,