Applied in Logistics



Herman Wagter works as a program manager specializing in large multi-stakeholder initiatives. Through his work at Connekt, he has done strategy development for Lean and Green, Green Deal Zero Emission City Logistics, and other distributed logistics projects.

Herman opened the session with some distinctions about math and physics. (Jean likes to note that Herman has a physics background, and Herman likes to downplay it.) Herman shared that we experience time and moving in one direction, whereas math is okay with reversible time. Furthermore he stresses that we do not have math for predictions on collective behavior: emergence. And life is collective behavior.

He then went from the simple organism that is an ant to the behavior of an ant colony to demonstrate. Colony: many actors in an interaction space = collective emergent behavior. Basically he says emergence is a way of talking about something we don’t understand. We can observe, simulate, develop heuristics, and use trial and error.

A living cell, Herman explained, has an identifiable boundary. But that boundary is an interface with the environment it needs to grow and adapt. And if cell, then also organ and organ system and organism nested all the way up. We here focus on the nest layer of organization and society – the collection of those organisms and organizations. Here Herman turned to focus on specialization. And he nodded to the “invisible hand” as an old expression for emergent behavior.

Next Herman looked at the mathy approach to design for organizations: prediction of results, defined specifications, functional hierarchy, and emergence by accident.  Rather than Heuristics, similulation, trail and error and accident. To see what we mean by this, Herman used the example of DabbaWallah, a 120 year old method of bringing meals from home to work using self organizing teams with simple routing and no central planning or control.

Heuristics: this is event driven interaction (local reality drives different responses, expanding or contracting crew size, for example). Local interaction space – bounded and defined, intimate (pick up in this area and dropping within this area). Simple rules that are easy to apply (group by sorting number at any sorting location). Local shared information – feedback loops, optimization is easy, and visibility = trust. Empowerment and the Action Spectrum (see Thrivability Breakthroughs book for Action Spectrum of Control, Guide, and Nurture).

Then Herman shifted to intersection coordination – stop signs, stop lights, and roundabouts. The math approach is traffic lights. A 4 way stop is an event driven interaction space (what happens there next changes based on what is happening there now). A roundabout is also event driven – yield to traffic (and pay attention to which direction it is going in!).

As another practical example, Herman explained Buffer Bloat on the ATT internet network and how changing a crucial rule made it spin out of control. (See slides for details of example).

Then Herman followed with some of the specific projects he has worked on/designed starting with a barge priority token system. Then Herman explained JustDrive, a medical delivery system whose prototype was so successful they wouldn’t stop doing it. The system routes information as needed so that selected accredited drivers can be invited to do a pickup from a medical facility, use a QR code to confirm action, and then choose their route to a clinic worked where another QR code confirms delivery. The system allows for local navigation of complexity while increasing trust of the participants.

Then we opened the floor for discussion. See the chat for more.