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A free lunch and ‘the Dirty Dozen’

Posted on: Sunday 29th of April 2012

It’s an old economist’s saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch and in most cases this is true.

But there is one situation where it isn’t. If you can avoid or eliminate waste – i.e free up resources (time, money, materials) that were previously being eaten up doing something – then you may not be getting a free lunch but it’s pretty close to one: suddenly, miraculously, you have resources available when before you didn’t.

The good news is that our economy is riddled with waste. We therefore have a massive ‘free lunch’ resource liberation opportunity. Let’s call it the Dirty Dozen.

At the top level you can boil economic activity down to three main buckets: production, distribution and exchange.  With these buckets (at the risk of offending lean afficianados who are far more sophisticated about these things), there are four main types of waste:

  • wrong provision (making or doing something that nobody wants, needs or uses)
  • over-provision (doing too much of something)
  • under-provision (not providing enough of something to really meet the need)
  • non-provision (where an opportunity to use resources to add value is wasted).

When we look at all the waste there is in our current economic system it’s absolutely massive:

  • producing, distributing and trying to exchange the wrong things
  • producing, distributing and trying to exchange too much or too little of these things
  • failing to meet needs that clearly need meeting.

The question is, how do we turn massive amounts of waste into an equally massive free lunch opportunity? Well, basically you have create/deliver the right value to the right person/place at the right time.

That, in turn, means we have to overcome two parallel logistics challenges. The first challenge is that of physical logistics – getting the right stuff to the right place at the right time. There are lots of ways we can do that now, but ultimately success here depends on success with the second challenge of information logistics.

To get the right stuff to the right place at the right time, you need to know what the right stuff is, what the right place is, and what the right time is. And to do that, you need to get the right information to, and from, the right people in the right format at the right time.

At the heart of this information logistics lies personal information because personal information identifies what the right value is, who wants it, and when/where they want it.

That, in a nutshell, is the big challenge for 21st century economic vibrancy and success. It takes us right back to the challenge of ‘running data’ I was talking about before.

When push comes to shove, to create and distribute wealth efficiently and effectively you need rich, timely information about the shape, nature and scale of demand. And when push comes to shove, that demand is defined by what individuals want and need. So the whole system needs to be organized around the input of personal data – information from individuals about what their wants, needs, circumstances, priorities etc are. This information is the grain of sand around which the pearl of value is crystallised.

Eliciting, accessing, sharing and using this data in a way that is sustainable (i.e. which maintains trust and brings benefits to all parties concerned) is what lies at the heart of the running data (or information logistics) I was talking about before. When we consider the scale of waste currently created by ‘The Dirty Dozen’, the ‘free lunch’ opportunity here is truly vast …

Question is, who is going to untap this potential?

Alan Mitchell