A recent TED Talk by Physicist Geoffrey West has found that simple math predicted the growth of cities and all the related aspects such as crime, poverty, education and so on. While no one educated in the social arts (i.e. sociology) should be surprised at this fact as there has been a lot of work applied in this area over the past two decades and we’ve wax about it here in these pages, however Mr. West did get me to thinking as if you take anything away from the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written here (yes there have been that many I keep count) it’s that you can have the best idea in the world and maybe the universe to. However if you can’t apply it practically it then it’s worthless and time could have been spent better greeting folks at the local Wal-Mart store. However that’s what was interesting about Geoffrey’s work as it got me thinking about several things.
While it’s worth while spending the 20 minutes to watch The Math of Cities as to cut to the chase all animals (including man) operate in a linear (straight line relationship with each other) and second all are also governed by power laws something we’ve waxed about here before. So when you combine like creatures you have efficiencies, much as geese fly in formed groups with the lead bird breaking the air for the ones following (they also take turns in lead for this reason). To packs of hunting dogs which work collaboratively to exhaust and run down their pray, again with the various pack members taking turn in the lead and rotating out in a coordinated manor.
Lest you think this is just for our aviary or four legged friends, as we humans also do the same as have you heard of marriage? Yes this is why married couples tend to live longer as they operate in a “cooperative” manor to meet their needs. Thus increasing the likely hood of both parties seeking medical attention when needed as well as sharing in the general work load of life.
Again not a lot of new, news to be had here as this is old hat in the world of organizational dynamics, so as I sat there wonderment came over me as to what are you trying to tell me other then gaining your 20 minutes of fame on TED?
Well one of the things which did hit me is when he compared cities to companies and made the point that the death rate of companies is staggering when compared to cities. So if cities are made up of people and so are companies, then why would there be an appreciable difference between the two?
What West shows as an answer is that companies tend to violate the power laws unlike cities who have steep incline for a short (er) period then taper off into a knee curve. Again each on its own lacked anything new, however I happen to love a good analogy and here was one why did the two part ways during the rise?
While we could fill pages with discussion, however to simplify this what peered out of this data was internal “cannibalization” of the cooperative elements of the company for typically “short term gain” as this runs in direct opposition of the goals of a city where the “goals” are for continued cooperative support. Least this sounds socialistic, it’s not as even if the “society” which inhabits the city the goal is the same “improvement” even if at slower less diversified pace. This leaves one to ask then what is the role of the “company” as Drucker said it was to create and keep a customer and isn’t the role of a city to create and keep a resident…