07 January 2012

Help Open Source Ecology Change The World

Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.Howard Aiken

Sometimes you stumble across an idea that's so...well, BIG that it's hard to think about let alone describe. Open Source Ecology (OSE), founded by Marcin Jakubowski, is just such an idea. Basically, what OSE is doing is recreating the entire history of technological development, without all of the false-starts, and from an open-source frame of reference. Modern civilization depends on a system of industry. OSE is going to open-source the entire system. I said it was big. The end result will be all of the technology necessary to, as Marcin says, “transform local resources into the substance of advanced civilizations.”

The initial primary focus is developing the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS).

The GVCS is a system of machines that, working together, can create a small, sustainable civilization with modern levels of technology. Starting from scratch, or from scrap, a small group of people could produce everything they need to survive and thrive.

Perhaps the most important point to consider is that the GVCS will be integrated. Each machine will be designed to maximize the performance of the entire system, not the performance of the machine itself. For example, rather than build engines into every machine, interchangeable “power cubes” will keep things moving. The flexibility to provide power to anything, anywhere, will more than offset the loss of mechanical efficiency at each machine.

They just barely failed to make it into the top 5 Best of TED 2011 over at Huffington Post, and they've been covered in the press for several years now. The wiki, which is more-or-less the central organizational structure, has a crash course. OSE just released the first 1% of the GVCS and plans to release the other 99% by year end 2012, in accordance with their Enterprise Plan.

Publications take on different forms depending on the organization doing the work. OSE is a non-profit obsessively dedicated to the principle that everyone benefits faster from doing things open-source. Contrasted against closed-source, going “open” means they actively publish their work in such a way that the entire world has all the information necessary to replicate it. When OSE shows off a brick press that works twice as fast as its commercial equivalents they follow it up by creating a detailed set of instructions. Eventually, the entire GVCS will be designed and documented. The first four machines are in the Civilization Starter Kit.

The CSK (v0.01) treads the first step on the road to industrial independence. The CSK contains all the information necessary to build the “lowest hanging fruit” of the 50 machines in the GVCS. Highlighted in brown, they are a tractor (LifeTrac), a compressed earth block press (Liberator), a soil pulverizer and a power source (Power Cube). With these tools, two people can use dirt at the construction site to create enough bricks for a house in a single day!

You don't have to pay for the instructions. Typically, the sole restriction of an open-source license is that whatever improvements you make to the machines you must release under a similar open-source license.

The important thing to communicate at this stage is that open-source technology depends on replication and guided evolution for its unmistakable cost and performance advantages. The Power Cube, LifeTrac, Soil Pulverizer (a cultivator) and Liberator have all moved beyond their first generation designs while being incubated at Factor E Farm. The next stage is for a hundred people to independently build, evaluate and refine them.

It seems to me that the most fertile soil in which to plant these designs, specifically the LifeTrac, is in the hands of the world's small and independent farmers. It can be fabricated for about $10,000 in materials, is designed to last 100 years, and has ownership costs 1/10th to 1/100th of a commercial skid-steer loader.

More importantly, the LifeTrac is a taste of what's to come. Open-source hardware is just starting to become a “thing” but for something so new it is showing remarkable promise. For example, only a few years ago Dr. Adrian Bowyer invented the RepRap, a 3D printer, and released the designs open-source. Today a RepRap costs between $500-$1,000 and surpasses the performance of commercial systems, none of which drop below $10,000.

It's not outside the realm of possibility that the LifeTrac will have one fifth the cost and twice the performance of its commercial counterparts in only a few years. Just imagine how much time and money that would free up for farmers who are already overburdened with debt. Then, imagine an entire system of machines going through the same dramatic evolution.

First, however, OSE needs people to use its machines in the real world.

This is a call to action. If you are at all interested in the GVCS then OSE wants to hear from you. Their plan is to have hundreds, if not thousands, of people/organizations replicating their machines by the end of 2012. The benefits will be immediate, because the machines in the GVCS are high-value alternatives to existing machines, and perpetual, because any improvements will be incorporated into the GVCS in a matter of months.

15 November 2011

Freedombox, A Suggestion

The Freedombox is an idea who's time has come. Unfortunately, it's still just an idea.

Why is it still "just" an idea? Joshua Spodek has some thoughts. To paraphrase: it's probably because the idea isn't perfect yet (engineers are notorious for never being ready to release their work). He figures someone (or someones) needs to step up and organize an effort, no matter how poor the initial outcome might be. Once SOMETHING is out there it can be improved by feedback from actual users.
Pictured: users.

I agree that open-source projects either publish or cease to exist. OS projects just don't work until a person or a small group takes responsibility for getting results. Ideas are a great contribution, but someone has to contribute time and money too. Arguably an idea that can't attract even one person to take responsibility for it must not be a very good idea.

Freedombox is a great idea. We need to shift the momentum of the internet back to individual control.

That being the case, why hasn't the idea gotten more attention?

At the moment it catches the attention of people who 1) understand technology and 2) are not invested in using it to control people (for one reason or another). Unfortunately that means the vast majority of the world is not, and possibly WILL not, be captivated by the idea.

Getting a lot of people to use one is kind of the whole point of the freedombox concept, so failing to capture the collective imagination is pretty much total failure period. Therefore, it seems to me that a big part of getting some momentum behind the idea is getting people interested in it.

Or, failing that, latching onto something people are already interested in.
Time to get sneaky.

On average, people don't care about security. They will instantly compromise every single security precaution established if it saves them a moment's frustration. They will not "opt in." So, to get them to do secure things, you have to restructure their environment such that they must "opt out."

Rather than focusing on all the security advantages of the freedombox, emphasize its NON-security features. For example don't advertise the idea as a personal security initiative (freedom from oppression), instead advertise it as a personal cloud initiative (freedom from
cost/frustration). THEN build in all the security stuff you would have anyway. Tell people that's all there to guarantee the security of their cloud data. People love the idea of the cloud right now, and arguably a bunch of freedomboxes working together would fit under that umbrella.

The project could still be called "freedombox" and the product could still be pretty much the same as before, just change the marketing.

The strength of the idea is that it is the most "inherently" secure of all the options. When your data is on a company's servers it's under THEIR control. When your data is in your closet it's under YOUR control. In every society a person's home is considered more sacred than anywhere else. If an entity (cops or criminals) has to break into some faceless corporation to compromise you, that's one thing. When they have to go into your personal residence, that's an entirely different thing. No only is it simply physically easier to protect your dat
a when it's at home, but the government (even if it's corrupt) is far more likely to extend extra protections under the law to anything in your home.

Play up all the ways the freedombox will "free" people to go anywhere and still have access to their data. It will absolutely accomplish that goal. When people embrace that they'll also be getting all the security built into the gadget by its creators. If they want to turn that stuff off, they can. It's theirs and they can do what they want. Since it's open-source someone will probably even create a security-lite release that runs on the same hardware. Whatever. All the people grabbing up the "personal cloud" will create momentum that will help out the people who live under repressive governments.
Trickle down freedom.

Basically, attach the idea to something that's already popular and it will get a lot more support. Play up one or two features that appeal to the largest audience. That way the few people who can REALLY benefit from it will get it even though they would never have been able to create enough momentum on their own.

14 November 2010

Cloud Manufacturing and IP Law

The cool thing about innovation, as I've discussed before, is that it can only ever increase the number of options available to us. The invention of the nuclear ICBM didn't render knives obsolete.

"The enemy cannot press a button, if you disable his hand."

However, there is an exception to that rule, at least in practice. There was one innovation in human history that made it possible to limit our options...that innovation was lawyers.

Sexy, sexy lawyers.

The emerging accessibility of 3D printing is eventually going to get a lot of attention in the courts. Things like patent, copyright, and trademark law have always been crafted under the assumption that it's really difficult to make physical objects. For example, consider a pen (any kind of pen, really). If you had to make a pen yourself you'd probably end up using a feather, because the machinery necessary to make something like a ball-point pen is impossible for anyone to afford unless they're in the business of making ball-point pens. Thus, ball-point pen manufacturers are really only worried about other ball-point pen manufacturers.

Also, this thing.

That is going to change. Not over night, but in the next decade it will become possible for an average, middle-class person to print a ball-point pen for nothing more than the cost of raw materials, and in less time than it takes to make popcorn.

All sorts of industries are going to feel threatened by 3D printing technology. Picture the recording industry back when things like VCRs and MP3s were introduced to the market. Or take a look at the journalism industry. Sure, there will always be demand for professional journalists, but it turns out people are remarkably in favor of the idea of making their own journalism (blogs), even if it is of questionable quality, because it's custom and it's instant. The same thing applies to movies, music, books, comics, videos, etc.

You can pick any two.

The ability to make something exactly the way you want, exactly when and where you want it, will be a huge leap forward in technology. As technological progress marches forward "cloud" manufacturing is going to emerge from the simple fact that the tools for making things will be cheap and abundant, rather than expensive and limited like they are now. How rocky the transition becomes will depend on which side mobilizes first.

Michael Weinberg wrote a paper that's posted over at Public Knowledge titled, "It Will Be Awesome If They Don't Screw It Up." It is basically the American counterpart to Dr. Bowyer's (and friends) paper titled, "The Intellectual Property Implications of Low-cost 3D Printing." The legal situation in Europe is slightly different from America in that indivduals can copy patents for their own personal use, whereas in America any copying of a patent is infringment.

Differences aside, both American and UK law says it's illegal to provide people with the means for violating intellectual property rights. This will most likely be the weapon used in court to challenge the freedom of 3D printing. It's difficult to track down thousands of individuals, prove in court that they each individually violated your IP rights, and successfully sue them for whatever piddling amount of money they have. A much more attractive approach is to identify the few businesses involved in the technology, like a company that runs a website devoted to sharing digital designs, and sue their pants of. The pants of established companies are easier to locate and have more cash.

The reason this approach will probably work is that established industries will have an easier time demonstrating to lawmakers that 3D printers are costing America precious jobs than 3D printing advocates will have demonstrating that 3D printers will be far more helpful than hurtful. Unless, of course, 3D printing advocates can manage to band together and present their case in a coherent, preemptive manner.

For example, 3D printing could very well be a sort of "silver bullet" that allows us to significantly reduce per capita energy useage. It's simply more efficient to manufacture exactly what you need out of commodity raw materials than to ship finished products all over the place.

I even have a graph.

It will take a while for 3D printing to begin to seriously challenge established industries. Hopefully, the process will be slow enough for those industries to adapt, rather than object. But if not, it will be important to track the evolution of IP law to ensure it doesn't skew in favor of corporations.

27 October 2010

Wright is Right. Also, ice cubes.

The thing about people is that they have two sides. One side is emotional and short-sighted and blind to the world outside of its immediate grasp. The other side doesn't exist.

Well, it exists, but it's not very important. We can be rational, we just can't be rational if any one of a number of emotions are out of balance. For example, if you're reading this you're probably not getting angry (not yet). You're probably thinking about things, like ideas or something abstract, and not THAT SUICIDE BOMBER BEHIND YOU!!1

Fear is probably the most commonly experienced emotion in the entire world because the natural reaction to something we don't understand is fear...and there's a lot we don't understand.

Of course, to really be afraid of something we have to become aware of it so that we can know we don't understand it. For most of America, 9/11 was one of those moments. There was the time before 9/11 when most of us were blissfully ignorant of radical Islam, and the time after 9/11 when we realized that THREE religions spun off of Abraham's covenant with God.

And, of course, the previous sentence is totally unfair. it conflates religion with politics, pretends a religion is the same as radical elements of that religion, and is also a bit snarky.

Anywho, I had a point. Yes, the point was that Robert Wright has a point.

As Islamophobia grows, it alienates Muslims, raising the risk of homegrown
terrorism — and homegrown terrorism heightens the Islamophobia, which alienates more Muslims, and so on: a vicious circle that could carry America into the abyss

Wright goes on to point out that it is no longer cool, in mainstream culture, to be disrespectful to gay people. His thesis is that since gay people were already everwhere, pretty much everyone already knew a gay person, they just didn't know they knew a gay person. When those people started to come out, homophobes realized that it was kind of stupid to be afraid of someone you've known and liked for a long time just because you suddenly became aware of their sexual orientation.

Being nice to gay people is now so important that the President Of The United States made a special video to help out a successful national movement. What he didn't do was make a special video reminding Americans that Muslims are no worse than Christians. He didn't do that because islamophobia is on the rise, and if there's one thing a leader (hope and change!) avoids doing it's making an enlightened but unpopular statement.

I'd like to build on Wright's thesis a bit and suggest that the reason islamophobia is going to get worse before (if) it gets better is that there's little chance any American is going to meet a Muslim. Less than 1% of the population of America is Muslim. And they tend to cluster together. So most Americans only hear about Muslims, and in the same way no one ever hears about all the planes that landed safely yesterday no one ever hears about all the Muslims who didn't blow anything up. But, more importantly, all the Muslims in America represent only 0.2% of the global Muslim population.

This means that there is no real chance Americans will ever think of Muslims as anything other than "them." Even if the Muslim population in America grew and distributed so that most Americans got the chance to live and work with them, all of those new Muslims would still represent an exception.

Now, the monkeysphere. We're only capable of knowing, like, 150 people at any one time. Everyone else is either someone we've forgotten or a stranger. And it's not like people are just going to decide to forget 10 people, it has to happen naturally. So the problem we have is that building up the kind of experience with a stranger that brings them into your monkeysphere takes consistent effort over a long period of time. And it's basically impossible if they're not right next to you.

The population of Muslims is so small, and so concentrated in distinct regions,
that there weren’t enough such encounters to yield statistically significant
data. And, as Putnam and Campbell note, this is a recipe for prejudice. Being a
small and geographically concentrated group makes it hard for many people to
know you, so not much bridging naturally happens.

Since the average American doesn't have the chance to get to know Muslims even if they are currently open to the idea, they have to get an overview from someone who claims to know some Muslims. Most of those overviews are not flattering.

If you think about all of America like one organization (LOL you should) then theories of organizational change are applicable. They all tend to incorporate the unfreeze/refreeze model in one form or another. Basically, people start out in a sort of structure, and if you want them to take on a different structure you have to first shake them up.

Well, the overall situation is quite conductive to structuring Americans around the thought that Muslims are "them." There are a lot, but none of them are nearby, and they tend to disagree with us. None of that is going to change. So, what happens when people get shaken up anyway?

Well, if you let an ice cube melt it will take on a new shape. If it then refreezes in that random shape, instead of the one you wanted (a dinosaur), you've got only yourself to blame. In this case no one individual is responsible for the structure of America, but there are individuals responsible for shaking people up and then, at best, not giving them a good shape to refreeze into, and at worst deliberately encouraging them to refreeze around negative thoughts.

So the engineering challenge in building bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims will be big. Still, at least we grasp the nuts and bolts of the situation. It’s
a matter of bringing people into contact with the “other” in a benign
context...Philanthropists need to figure out how you build lots of little
bridges at the grass roots level. And they need to do it fast.

If any situation cries out for understanding systems, innovating, and leadership it's this one...but I have to admit that I'm at a loss. Personally, I think a significant percentage of America has already refrozen around a strongly anti-Islamic world view, and now they're working on shaking up (unfreezing) everyone else.

18 October 2010

Reprap, Open-source, and liger jokes

This blog hasn't been on my mind too much what with moving from state to state, but I think what I'm getting into now will provide an awful lot of material.

I ordered a Thing-O-Matic from Makerbot Industries...

...yes, that's a little robot building parts for another robot all night, by itself. Now, some background.

Dr. Adrian Bowyer decided it would be awesome if machines could reproduce themselves. This was probably because he lived very far away from Hollywood. The first step was to figure out a way for ideas to be turned directly into useful objects. Technically, that "way" already existed (rapid prototyping) but it was way too expensive and the machines were covered in parts they couldn't make themselves.

Instead of doing the proper academic thing and writing a theoretical paper, he built an absurdly low-cost 3D printer and released all the details under an open-source license. [video is a bit long, especially if you watch the second half]

Well now his project is spawing all sorts of new innovations. The one I choose to participate in is called Makerbot Industries. These guys are absurdly enthusiastic about the technology, which is great, but they also concur with Dr. Bowyer's commitment to open-source hardware.

It's mostly an intuition at the moment, but I think the combination of cheap personal fabricators and the open-source philosophy will be a disruptive innovation. Just spend a day looking around and keep track of how many things you use are nothing more than shapped plastic. Now imagine one or more of them broken. What would you do? If it's a replaceable part you could find it at a store, if you're desperate and lucky you could order a new one, but most likely there's no way to fix or replace that plastic part...and if there is it's probably not worth the time. But what if you could just print out a replacement? Lost your lense cap, print a new one. Broke a knob on an appliance, print a new one. Need a connector that Lego never manufactured, print it.

That is where the idea starts to take hold. Then the odds are good that at some point in your life you've thought of a little thingamajig that would make your life better. Maybe a clever book mark, or a perfectly shaped tooth/fingernail pick, or a liger ring for your niece because she loves ligers and no one makes liger rings. Well, with a personal fabricator you're, like, minutes away from those ideas. Literally in the time it takes the little brat munchkin to stop crying you can print out a Master Chief action figure...and then print out a liger ring.

Now you're not limited to making that song or newsletter or ball-kicking video a reality; now you can actually make physical things from your imagination into real things. And that's just for the developed world, where we think Maslow's Hierarchy is a progressive rock band. The rest of the world can get a printer and some bulk raw material (maybe even grow it themselves) and make exactly what they need exactly when they need it.

Basically, the potential here reminds me of a joke I heard a while back that I can't attribute to anyone. If you lived in the Star Trek universe, would you spend your time getting infected by alien plagues, or would you spend your time on the holodeck living out your fantasies, replicating food, and transporting your waste somewhere else?

13 February 2010

Of Gaia and Green Man

Everyone knows the world will end when zombie dinosaurs rise from the grave to feast on self-satisfied primates. But, there's no telling when that will happen. It could be tomorrow, it could be the day after that. . .but it probably won't be for a while. Digging through hundreds of feet of rock takes time.

Actually, would a zombie dinosaur look more like Hexxus?

That being said, we will have to find something to keep ourselves busy while we wait. I propose one of the things we will end up doing is unleashing a global consciousness or, at a minimum, several sub-global consciousnessees consciousnessen consciousnesses. Also, we'll finally get those cool unitards science fiction promised.

You're already on the Internet because it allows you to access a lot of information quickly. Sure, most of that information is boobies and tweets, but there are rumors of the occasional nugget of work getting done. In fact, people manage to get so much work done via the intertubes that the whole thing is blowing up faster than a whale in orbit.

Old and busted: cables. New hotness: wireless. Okay, so wireless isn't new, but wireless networks that can build themselves are. Ad-hoc networking standards, and smarter operating systems, are producing nodes that can form a network any time they find another node(s) in range. Pretty soon you won't have to plan a network; you'll just toss self-connecting nodes out every hundred feet and call it a day.

Computers are to getting smaller what bears are to pooing in the woods; it's just what they do. As the physical size of computers gets smaller ad-hoc nodes will become cheaper and more disposable. Processors are getting smaller, radios are getting smaller and sensors are getting smaller. Pretty soon everything necessary for a computer will fit inside the head of a pin. When a fully functional networked computer the size of this period “.” can be stamped out for next to nothing, it will be. In the future your computer will come in a ketchup packet. This smartdust will be cheap and easy to use.

Clever information processing can vastly expand the usefulness of even the cheapest sensors. Massive information processing can produce coherent information from disorganized snapshots. This means that as the internet expands to incorporate smartdust sensors anyone will be able to know pretty much anything at any time; like Google Streetview on steroids multiplied by infinity. Have you ever seen your car or room when the light hits it at the perfect angle to reflect off of all the dust everywhere?

The future will mess with your allergies.

Well each dust mote is now a computer, and it's watching you. With a thousand or more cameras monitoring a room from a thousand or more angles, and streaming their data to the internet, anyone will be able to virtually visit that room in perfect 3D. Perpetual immersion will mean seeing the light, hearing the sounds, feeling the temperatures, etc of anywhere in the world in real time.

Speaking of that, yeah, it will be all over the world. Smartdust is going to start out kind of heavy, so it won't get airborne, but that stage will probably last a whopping two weeks. The world will become blanketed in the stuff because humans have A) poor impulse control and B) a burning desire to know what is going on somewhere else right now. A lot of it will start out as scientific research, monitoring temperatures in the rainforest or something, but that's how the internet started and we all know how that ended up.

As functional as silicon is, there are still some things it can't do. Fortunately those in the squishy sciences are working on controlling cells just like circuits. As we gain more control over biology and nanofabrication cells will be upgraded with artificial components and computers will be upgraded with biological components.


One of the greatest weaknesses of computers is the reason they haven't yet enslaved us: they are delicate. It's really easy to break a computer (this sentence is false) and that means they can't survive on their own. When computers merge with biology they will become much more robust and therefore much harder to control. Basically, computers that have genes will inevitably start to evolve.

The smartdust will be created to monitor environments and it will do a good job. However, at some inflection point it will be so ubiquitous that it will itself become part of the environment. A process that used to be linear will begin to feed back on itself. One theory of consciousness is that it emerged when neurons that used to monitor internal organs like the stomach started monitoring internal organs like other neurons. If a neuron is, in a sense, "aware" of the stomach it is monitoring then a neuron watching another neuron is "aware" of "awareness" and consciousness emerges. When smartdust starts to watch smartdust watching smartdust awareness of awareness will emerge.

When a process doubles back on itself it becomes a meta process. Data about, say, rainforests becomes complex enough to be worth studying in its own right and produces data about rainforest data, or metadata. When someone experiences an emotion like anger, and then realizes they are angry, and then feels sad about feeling angry, they have experienced a meta-emotion. While definitions of sentience vary, they all tend to cluster around the idea that something is sentient if it thinks it is sentient.

Everything that happens on the Earth will be monitored; the surface, the ocean depths, the atmosphere, etc. Smardust will be ingested by every organism, and may even become an ecology of organisms in its own right. After the monitoring processes turn back on themselves the Earth will, in a sense, "awaken." Whatever it is that humans do when they become conscious is what the internet will do. I'm not saying it will be Gaia, but it will be impressive.

However, it will also be a huge pain in the ass. Smartdust will be inside of us too. We won't be able to avoid it. The stuff will be so small we'll end up ingesting it just like everything else whether we want to or not, and we'll probably end up using nanobots to keep ourselves healthy anyway. Why will this be a problem? Because the stuff inside of us will be an ad-hoc network just like the stuff outside of us. And the same network that will allow us to stream 3D images of the Himalayas without leaving our living room will allow hackers to spoof our internal network and mess with our nanobots.

No security software is ever 100% effective. The only firewall that always works is the one that melts the modem into slag. So radios outside our body will have to be prevented from communicating with radios inside our body; to prevent mischief. The best way to passively block radio waves is a Faraday cage. But, for a Faraday cage to work, it has to completely surround the volume it is shielding. So to keep our internal network secure we'll basically have to wear clothing with metal wires that covers everything.

Welcome to the future.

07 August 2009

Awareness of System Boundaries is Necessary for Success

A system is where you define it. Sometimes it's easier for people to agree on the boundaries of the system, sometimes it's harder, but either way it's always arbitrary. In keeping with the fractal nature of systems, the subsystem boundaries are also arbitrary.

The definition of a system's performance depends on its boundary. A car's performance is measured in miles per hour because the boundary of the "car system" is between the tire and the road. We could say that the car actually stops at the axle and that the wheels are a separate system. Then the performance of the "car system" would be measured in revolutions per minute. However, car and the wheels are generally considered the system. On the other hand, when we talk about a highway at rush hour the cars are considered subsystems of the traffic jam. Alternatively, an company's organizational chart is an illustration of subsystems within systems.

People who are in charge of a subsystem will generally consider themselves in charge of a system. When they strive to do the best job possible they will usually try to optimize the performance of their system. Just like the performance of the axles in a car is measured differently than the performance of the tires, the performance of one group is measured differently from the performance of the larger group it is a part of. The person in charge of the subsystem can't measure the performance of the system, because that's not where they are; all they have to work with is the performance of their subsystem.

This is a problem because to optimize the performance of a system you must de-optimize the performance of all the subsystems.

For example, a "tuned" car doesn't have the most powerful engine because it would rip the transmission apart. If the transmission were beefed up it would spin the tires instead of moving forward. If the tires were stickier it would warp the frame. If the frame were reinforced it wouldn't leave enough space for the big engine, or it would weigh too much and it would need a bigger engine, starting the cycle over again.

The Tsar tank. More like the reTSARded tank! Am I right?

A system must have subsystems that are in balance with each other based on the performance goals of the system, not on the performance goals of the individual subsystems. This is relatively easy to understand when the systems are not people. But as soon as people get involved they start to get all pissy about being a subsystem rather than a system.

This is why the executives of companies are constantly being reminded, often by highly overpaid consultants, that they have to explain to employees how their actions affect the company's overall goals. Otherwise, all they have to go on is the performance of the system they are aware of, which is the one they happen to be in charge of. When they do their best they will actually be destabilizing the company.

BTW, this is why companies alternately claim it is better to keep their employees powerless and scared, or empowered and brave, depending on which extreme they are already closer to. A company that judges its employees on how well they aid the overall goals will strengthen the company by empowering everyone. A company that judges its employees on how well they perform on their section's individual metrics will strengthen the company by squashing everyone.