My near philosophical musings about the world in general its problems and possible ways out.


Inherently unsustainable


It should be common sense today that mankind is doomed unless it restricts itself to a sustaining way of reproducing its livelihood. Instead that’s still theory in esoteric circles. What it means in practice is neither well understood nor even seriously attempted to be implemented.

Some romantics seriously advocate for a simple ‘back to the roots’, meaning to operate in our forefathers’ style. They however leave it unclear to the audience how to feed the exponentially growing number of hungry mouths. Of course it could be possible to step back in time – provided the population size is reduced accordingly. But how? By a new plague, by war by deliberate genocide? There is no pleasant scenario in sight.

A more likely scenario is that we will hit the often predicted 10 billion heads mark by ~ 2050, leaving no room for romanticism. This world will definitely be different from what we know today. But how could it look like? How will we live by then? How will life feel?

Let’s consider some parts of our life, of our environment and discuss them one by one.

Fishing & hunting 

Fishing & hunting for food or leisure surely are surely archaic traits. Our fore-forefathers had very good reasons to give up hunting and gathering as a means to maintain their subsistence. It was a hard life with an unpredictable outcome. And in many cases – if not in all - it was unsustainable.

Now that we take a closer and unbiased look to the ecological impact of the Neolithics and even earlier economies, more and more evidence pops up that many species of the Pleistocene mega fauna not just went extinct but was driven extinct. It took Neolithic hunters in the northern tundra of Europe and Asia about 30.000 years to slaughter huge numbers of mammoths to their final disappearance, the Maori about 500 years to eradicate the giant Moa.

And so did nearly all indigenous peoples all over the continents, be it Australia, South America or Europe. Here we noble savages cleared the almost the entire continent of all larger animals on land, on the sea shore, in open water and even in the air. The US strives to follow us under the new Alt-Right government, headed by Donald Trump. The most devastating effects, of course were unfolded on larger or smaller islands, like Madagascar, Mauritius, New Guinea, New Zeeland and even worse on smaller pacific islands.

Nothing will stop the human race to continue following its preferred game. By 2050 the sixth extinction will not only be in full swing. It will be nearly over by then with Africa too cleared of all major animals, not to speak of Asia or the Americas. Oceans will be emptied, poisoned and littered up to a near “Soylent Green (1973)” scenario. It will be all devoured by the ever growing, ever hungry human masses.

So hunting and fishing will not just be banned. It will be pointless anyway.


Is a highly industrialized agriculture to be considered as a solution? Nope, not really. This point however needs some discussion as there is the apparent paradox of statistically provable betterment of the earth’s population’s food provision and the limited and even shrinking available arable land.

Agriculture, as we know it, even today ranges on the lower end of mankind’s cultural development.

The number of humans on this planet is expected to hit 9.7 billion by 2050, and crop demand is predicted to increase by 100 to 110 percent of 2005 levels over the same period. At the same time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that changing weather patterns will almost certainly have a negative impact on crop yields.

Traditional plant breeding approaches have managed to achieve impressive increases in crop yield in the past. But the process is laborious and can take decades to develop improved varieties. More recent genetically modified (GM) crops have resulted in further improvements by transplanting genes from one organism to another. A further big step forward will be made possible through the introduction of gene-editing tools. They will make it possible to precisely edit the native DNA of organisms with the potential to dramatically increase crop yields.

Not all will appreciate to be nourished with this kind of ‘Frankenstein food’. More importantly the resistance may target unwanted side effects on zombie plants escaping into the (remaining) wild and unfolding devastating effects there. But will we have a choice, once we are so many?

Anyway agriculture, be it traditional or hyper progressive will not keep up with the exponential population growth. That’s an old Malthusian prediction, which seemingly was falsified since his times. Technical progress and abundant natural resources at hand had provided for some relief - and for some more centuries for the party to go on.

No, food production must be fully industrialized. Biotechnical food production in mega industrial complexes will be based on processing of fast growing algae, bacteria, archaea or yeasts. Alien ecosystems, like found today around “black smokers” in the deep sea may serve as templates to be imitated. Or we make better use of fossil fuels and gases by feeding them to methanotrophic bacteria or some strains of Pseudomonadaceae, which currently account for biodegradation of crude oil and water mixtures. Properly processes, packaged and re-branded it will be no less disgusting that may of the current food fakes. The consumption of “Natural Food” derived from traditional sources will be the privilege of small elites.

Natural resource consumption 

Cutting trees, which took (in some cases much) more than a human life to grow, to be channeled into the industrial or private consumption, just to be turned into waste in a matter of a few years only, can of course no longer be tolerated. Anyway only a few trees of considerable age will be left in highly protected area. And protection means that they need to have life guards which have to shoot first before asking questions. As wood in general will be expensive, very expensive, and comparable only to African Blackwood, Sandalwood, Ebony or Agar Wood today, it will be immediately looted otherwise.

But there is a broader picture of the non-sustainable consumption of natural resources to be taken into consideration.

In 2013 the TRUECOST initiative made an attempt to estimate in monetary terms the financial risk from natural capital that is currently unpriced, across specific business sectors at a regional level, and through supply chains.

 By estimating the true costs to their revenues and expressing it in a single factor they found striking differences like e.g. …

  • Cole power generation in eastern Asia (1.0), 
  • Cole power generation in northern America (1.3), 
  • Rice farming Southern Asia (3.6), 
  • Wheat farming in Southern America (8.4), 
  • Cattle ranching and farming in South America (18.8). 

Hence they rightly concluded that in high impact regions sectors don't generate sufficient profit to cover their environmental impacts. Therefore if unpriced natural capital costs are internalized, a large proportion would have to be passed on to consumers. The risk to agricultural commodity prices is particularly striking, where the natural capital cost is universally higher than the revenue of the sectors.

This leaves the impression that the day may come rather sooner than later when will experience a sharp price hike of goods, which are considered cheap now. Unfortunately those are goods covering mankind’s very basic daily necessities.

Living conditions

With reaching ~ 10 billion people competing for space on this planet by 2050, most people will be living cram mend into ~400 densely populated mega cities. The urbanization rate will be ~ 80%. The 10 biggest of them will inhabit 30 to 50 million citizens. The number of mega cities could however well be smaller, with the world's biggest cities merging into 'mega-regions'. This concentration will be encouraged by government, as being seen as the only way to provide some decent infrastructure to them.

The keeping of domestic animals in the city, and where else will the people live, will be banished as an irresponsible resource-consumption, and, of course, also as a cruelty to animals. Anyway we will be crammed together on much less private space than today.

Of course technology will help. With ubiquitous electronics at hand many of today’s physical things will become virtual and stored on neglectable space – however not all. So we all will have to forcibly declutter our lives, practicing a new physical minimalism. The mess will become virtual.


Most importantly the basic human right for uncontrolled procreation will be no more. Such policy should have been in place for about half a century already. Only China applied it so far on large scale through its one child policy.

Some countries may rather collapse or prefer to engage in suicidal wars than executing such policy. Others may find the tight living conditions dictating them some procreational restrain. Nurturing offspring will be seen more of a burden for the planet than a benefit. And of course we may encounter administrative restrictions to discourage reproduction.

So growth will eventually flatten out. To ensure a meaningful and joyful life in a healthy environment it will be by far too late however.


Digital Confusion

This contribution has first appeared in the 25 years anniversary newsletter of the Project Consult some weeks ago.

Expected surprise

During my professional career I came across many new terms and buzzwords, sold by clever representatives of the huge consulting machineries. Most were short lived, some made it to the top of the charts for a decent period, few survived.

As we don’t yet experience the end of all times, there is no reason, why this continuous stream of verbal invention should finally run dry. So a few years ago the inevitable happened and first "digitisation" arrived, followed by "digital transformation".

Plenty of literature suddenly popped up, urging the frightened public, not to fall behind but in a way make use of these new imperatives and aggressively disrupt the market. No one however dared to do the hard dirty work of explaining what it means, how it differs from things done in the past and why it suddenly became important.

What the hell was going on here?

So eventually I went to an event where the agenda promised to provide some insight. Well, I was able to gain some understanding, however other than expected. Let me take just three random examples:

Customer orientation

Forget about technology”, one speaker proclaimed in an emphatic provocative manner. “It’s all about serving the customer.” The latter certainly has never been more true. In fact it has been true all the time. And didn’t I ride that wave myself, some 25 years ago? An eternal truth can hardly be considered the new driving force.

But isn’t there indeed some new enabling technology at hand, making a further automation possible, which was hard to achieve before? Even if we leave leading edge technologies like deep learning, Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous robotics and the like aside, steady development gave us predictive analytics, in-process operational data warehouses, cheap sensors combined with big data technologies. Rigorously applied to even existing business models they may unfold dramatic effects already – well, and should be harnessed to serve good old customer orientation.

Salvation by superman

Another speaker outlined the characteristics of the fashionable new function of the CDO, The chief digital officer. After summing up all the desirable characteristics of this multifaceted personality he had described some kind of superhero not to be found among us mortal muggles – certainly not for the salary of a middle to upper management position.

For those, who are not familiar with tribal rites of large corporations, I like to explain a common habit. If new and challenging problems arise on corporate level, which could neither be ignored nor annihilated through a onetime bold & swift strike by top management, but needs long and tedious work on several levels of the hierarchy, we use to assign this task to a new responsibility. By this mechanism special corporate functions like e.g. the Quality Manager (although “quality is everybody’s job”), the Risk Manager (although conscious risk taking is the prime entrepreneurial task of top management) or finally the digital Officer was born.

This doesn’t mean that such new role is per se useless. If part of a corporate wide campaign he figuratively can be seen as the figurehead of the ongoing transformation coordinating the various activities and driving the transformation program forward. Backed by C-level power and support, even success can be achieved.

More often than not however, he just impersonates C-Levels excuse, its unwillingness to take serious steps but instead position a well-paid incarnation of false promises as a scapegoat on a prominent position.

The innovators dilemma

Permanently reinventing your business a third speaker vigorously demanded of those in power. Hey great, that’s the right spirit, exciting! But shortly review the typical behaviour of the C-suite members of the dinosaur corporations, the alpha males, those vain egomaniac rulers, who run their empires by fear. Will notorious creativity suppressors employ creative destruction to reinvent themselves? Will they start with a blank sheet of paper to escape the innovators dilemma? History however tells us otherwise.

As management Guru Gary Hamel once pointedly put it, implementing radical innovation in large corporation reminded him to “teaching dogs to stand on their hind legs. The moment you turn your back, the dog is on all fours again because it has quadruped DNA, not biped DNA.” Obviously it rarely works like that; rather the attackers come from below. Once they emerge from the dark as tiny flickering points on your radar screen it may probably be too late already. Then you are encircled already and may face a stiff uphill battle – just to be defeated. Not creative, but just plain destruction.

The fatal lapsus

In a weary moment I dared to ask a question: “How does this all differ from the past? Haven’t we done this all before already?” And then hell broke loose – I bitterly regretted outing myself being so naïve. I really shouldn’t have said that.

Magic transformation

And then it came: transformation, where suddenly all the magic happens. Here the usual suspects paraded before our inner eyes: AirBnB, Uber, Amazon … Impressive indeed. But didn’t these enterprises start new digital business models from scratch in a seemingly well settled industry sector, rather than re-inventing a traditional business, maybe even with material goods to be shippedat the end of the value chain?

And didn’t the elite of the top level advisors throughout all these years promise to transform your business in order to cope with current, past and future challenges? I remember my own exiting time at Nolan, Norton & Co., some 30 years ago, where we crafted elaborate processes for the transformation of businesses by the proper use of the then latest information technology. But, what a pity, we did not call it digital transformation. Otherwise, who knows, I could even claim copyright on the term 😥

Cargo cult

Well, eventually I had to understand that if digital transformation ought to be the Holy Grail of strategy, management, information technology … and of course, consulting, it simply must not be the same old story from 20 years ago, which we just cleverly or reluctantly managed to avoid in favour of the short term bottom line and with less headache involved. No CIO will stimulate enthusiasm by proclaiming that he plans to finally do his homework. The old smelly stuff has to be repackaged, rebranded, labelled new and – well – perfumed to overcome its musty odour. To make the task complete the new shiny gift is embedded into an aura of an all-disrupting next big thing, something like the “Great Leap Forward” (which by the way failed miserably). There is always the temptation to celebrate some cargo cult around new promising terms.

The book

Eventually I came across a preview of my old friend Wolfgang Keller’s and co-authors’s  Michael Kunz and Hermann Ladner brand new book, not surprisingly called “digital transformation”. As they are brave men, they took up the fight with the monster, trying to shed some light on his dark matter, bringing some order to the crude. Did they succeed? Hard to say. The rise of buzzwords is a collectively emerging phenomenon, best understood in the light of complexity theory – if at all. There is no owner, no author, no final senior authority to for all time settle the dispute.

Wolfgang and his co-authors at least approached the topic systematically, came up with some decent and plausible definitions and classifications and covered some related side topics like business models, ecosystems and the like.

Of course he too could not withstand to discuss one or the other posterchild of the scene like those mentioned above. It wouldn’t be Wolfgang however, if it didn’t reveal some interesting and maybe lesser known facts about those corporations. Regarding the assumed mission to create a positive attitude towards the topic, these examples rather backfired. Quite the opposite, I took it as discouraging for established players in traditional businesses.

So, not surprisingly, among the more interesting passages is his foray on technical debts as a very common barrier to any bold and swift strategic action, be it (digital) transformation, mergers or acquisitions. Here he touches an often neglected however nevertheless essential aspect of the discussion.

Besides that it is a nice book, conveying tons of information, worth reading, even if you were exposed to all that before.

The insight

As an essential takeaway of this intellectual ramble tacitly the conclusion matured in my mind about what digital transformation is in essence. Digital Transformation is first and foremost a transformation. It should be a bit more than just doing the anyway necessary homework, i.e. not piling up technical debts. It can even end up in re-inventing your whole business. Of course, as in any strategic change activity contemporary technology should be employed. The technology is constantly evolving, appears in new shape each year at an even accelerating pace. The transformation process hasn’t changed at all.


During a short coffee break, while attending the above mentioned event, I had a discussion with one of the attendees about my heretical contribution.

You are right”, he said “It might not be all new. However what did not exist in the past is the new challenge by technology literate consumers. They demand business processes as seamless and easy as a post on Facebook. They don’t feel the least compassion with the obvious difficulties of the large market incumbents, to keep up with the pace of technology. 

If the user Experience does not live up to expectation set by the daily iPhone use, consumers will eventually abandon the whole product. 

The world became consumer driven. Agile consumers now chase the complacent corporate world – and some may go over the cliff soon.”

This is what’s new.”

Thus he spoke – hmmm, food for thought.