Monday, July 6

What Are We Wasting Today?

In competitive spheres, sometimes the best way to get an edge is by wasting profligate amounts of a resource. This behavior, once reserved for the life-or-death struggle of war, is now fully domesticated in the business world. And does it affect our cities and their planning? Hold on to your hats, we've got examples.

First the warfare model:

The Strategic Defense Initiative. This vast boondoggle was conceived near the end of the Cold War, and is considered by some to be the move that ended it. As outlined to the public and to the Russians, the United States set out to outspend the USSR in developing technology that would build a protective shield around the country. What are we wasting? Money! Can we waste more, and faster than the Russians? Yes! Will the other side bankrupt themselves or expose deeper weaknesses trying to keep up? Well, you could say it worked.

This example is just the most recent and familiar of this strategy in war. Other examples include Iranian junior suicide troops in the Iran-Iraq war, reserve industrial capacity in WWII, and so on back to battles in which reserves of animal power are decisive. The key factor becomes the ability to waste, and the clearly signaled intention to waste more and more.

In business, this strategy is used at the top end of the scale of corporate volume, to grab or maintain dominance in a market. Was Netscape a problem for Microsoft in the late 1990's? Microsoft had plenty of programmer hours to waste, and forced the margin cost of a browser down past zero where it remains to this day. Google today maintains much of its competitive advantage by outspending all comers on servers, RAM, processing power, and bandwidth, effectively closing off all but the largest competitors.

What are the parallels in city planning? Part 2 of "What Are We Wasting Today" will try to answer