Capacity Building Concepts

Finally getting around to putting thoughts together on the capacity concept. I’m convinced we need to have a three-tiered structure with increasing levels of detail.

Beginner: learners, journeymen, guildsmen

Advanced: for technicians, in the nuts-n-bolts of making the tech “click”

Promenade: for managers who have mastered the prior two levels. This is the most detailed level with the most significant internal/external links.

This is a rapid survey of a wide spectrum of material, so just briefly mention: no copyright claim on quoted works, fair use for instructional purpose, all rights inure to benefit of holder, etc.

Here’s formatting legend for you within this piece:

MW** precedes my comments, to clearly distinguish from the cited reference [web link], also the traditional use within text to insert unquoted material into context within a quote, such as “and then [McMillian said] there were five trains”

/// = thought break

You’ll notice that there is no closing quotation marks on extended quotes that include paragraph breaks. That is intentional, to follow accepted formatting style.


David J. Schwartz, author of the self-help classic “The Magic of Thinking Big,” outlines that “Capacity is a state of mind”



First in the pile is the software company Ab Initio, in the words of blogger “Remediator” on IT Toolbox, [Ab Initio – What’s it All About Anyhow?] “The AI suite is meant to process libraries-of-congress at a time – managing terabytes of information and millions – even billions of records.”

MW ** Part of capacity concept is the strength to stand against the crowd and to (politely) laugh at those who evaluate you or your product as not measuring up to their arbitrary standards which when examined closely, don’t get the job done.

Remediator again: “If you spend all your time in the weeds of a technology, you will never rise to the point where you can get ahead of the curve and think creatively and proactively about your environment. AI is one of the few environments that does this – and more to the point – has no upper limit on it[sic] scalability”

MW ** This is one of the beacons that we can address with capacity training: the difference between posers and performers. With a bit of hyperbole, I will state that anyone who says they’re busy is a poser. People who actually have things to do, don’t waste other people’s time or energy fretting about how busy they are, they engage tools and processes geared for getting the job done. They are not wishing or pretending it’s simple.

Posers think they are setting standards when they are playing with toys. This applies to the domestic car industry, to our current administration, as well as to much of the content of celebrity-focused business magazines.  The theme I’m going to drive through this collection of articles is that capacity and scalability are peas in a pod or brothers in arms. You have to have capacity to scale and scalability allows you to make use of your investment in building capacity.


Gelernter, David “The Gothic Vision,” The Weekly Standard, 2Feb09, p.31


“Ideas from computer science help sharpen our focus on Gothic architecture. They help us identify a fundamental design gesture that historians have seen in particular cases, but haven’t described as the widespread, general phenomenon it is — because they lack the intellectual or ideational vocabulary.”

MW ** Jumping to the chase, these historians lack the capacity to recognize something outside of their current awareness. In other words, they’re blind to other ways of seeing! We’ll see that again and again with historians in the post-WWII era. For specific comments, see:

[Ferguson, Andrew, “The Past isn’t what it used to be,” The Weekly Standard, 15 Dec 2008, accessed 19 Jan 09,]

Gelernter, ibid, p. 35 “As he mastered this radical new aesthetic vocabulary, the Gothic artist wanted his building to come alive, to throb with life. He wanted wave after wave of decoration to turn his building from a dead pile of stone to a live forest, wit the sun screened through windows as colorful and intricate as a jungle canopy. Recursion is fundamental to Gothic art because it creates ordered profusion…Recursion allows the Gothic artist to plant life in the smallest niche and tightest corner of his building, to push the level of decorative detail and aliveness to the finest scale his tools can reach.”

ibid, p. 37 “In broader terms, recursion is as basic to art and nature as the noun phrase is to English. It is an idea that helps us parse and penetrate the world we see. Learning to understand images as we do language is one of the great unsolved problems of modern intellectual life. Computer science helps because recursion helps.”


Wall Street Journal, 2Jun09, R4, “A Question of Management,”

MW** Carol Bartz has an iconic quote that speaks to capacity on so many levels. Very human, very touching, very insightful.

“It’s all simple stuff. The only problem is that I can’t take nine women and make a baby in a month. We have to kind of go through some steps here.”

MW ** I think that would be good for at least 15 minutes of discussion of how personally and intimately invested each of us are in the capacity question!

ibid, R6 “Open for Business” with Twitter’s Evan Williams and Biz Stone on their open growth model.

[Stone] “That’s been a huge part of Twitter—not putting too much fidelity on Twitter to early. If we did that we would be closing off an entire realm of amazing possibilities. That’s what the API and the platform has taught us—you need to leave room for emergence to take place. We want to leave room for that in the way the we structure the company. We want to leave room for that in the features that we build, keeping it simple and letting people do interesting things with them; and we want to keep that same ethos when we develop monetization models.”



Cairns, Warwick, How to Live Dangerously, “The Safety of Danger,” pp. 180-191 (chapter, info from, search on “Risk Compensation and the Paradox of Safety“).

p. 181 “…when things become safer, we feel that it’s all right to take a few more risks.”

p. 182 “…what we are doing is not actually making them [children’s playgrounds] any safer: we are just making life duller, and challenging children’s ingenuity to come up with ways of experiencing the same level of thrills that the old playgrounds used to give them and that the old unstructured play used to give them.”

p. 185 “‘We’re losing our capacity for socially responsible behaviour,’ [Hans] Monderman said. ‘The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people’s sense of personal responsibility dwindles.'”

“Time passed, and more small-scale experiments proved successful [removing traffic markings resulting in fewer accidents], the Monderman approach acquired a name: ‘shared space’.”

“…’Verkeersbordvrij’ means ‘free of traffic signs’ in Dutch.”

MW** If one were to ask why this quote is important, it helps us to give another perspective. Frankly, verkeersbordvrij sounds much more fascinating than shared space…! Here is another beacon: shared space is a function of “capacity expanding,” it’s community (or community spirit) by another name. This is true community organizing, building shared space, not the politics of polarizing as I quote from Thomas Sowell later on.

p. 188 “In 1985, a geographer by the name of John G.U. Adams decided to take a look at adventure playgrounds…”

He found three things:

“One was that the accident rate in the adventure playgrounds was lower than in the nice, safe playgrounds…Another was in adventure playgrounds there was a lot less vandalism and hooliganism…the third thing…because the accident rate and the valdalism rate were so much lower than in ‘normal’ playgrounds, the insurance companies charged them lower premiums.

MW ** Here is a way to drive a stake through the heart of those who would steal the soul of the capacity builder,
the free-minded man or woman who wants to grow into more than they are today: let the raw data bury the “knows better” crowd. Ceaselessly inform everyone we encounter, in as many ways as necessary, (typically 27 impressions for viewer to remember an advert), of the better way and with clarity — why it’s better. To make a difference, we have to “market the very truth as long as the sun doth shine.”

p. 189-91 “Asbjorn Flemmen, a headmaster in Skudenshavn, Norway…designed a playground for his school…that actively encourages dangerous ‘thrill-seeking’…

“Even for the famously permissive Scandinavians, this was considered a bit much at the start…[after a few start-up injuries] What happened next was that the injuries dried up to a trickle, and then stopped. No more broken bones, no more gashes, no more concussions. The children, through experiencing danger, and after seeing what happened to people who didn’t take enough care, soon came to appreciate their own limitations…

“But quite apart from the absence of injury and the absence of bullying, it was perhaps the positive benefits to the children that were the most striking. Not only had the children learnt to cope with danger and conflict, but they had developed physically and metally to the extent that their improved fitness, physical mobility and social skills stunned both parents and teachers.

“Danger, it seems, really is better for you, most of the time, than safety.”



The Economic Impact of Air Service Liberalization, Executive Summary by InterVISTAS


MW** Traffic growth after air service liberalization agreements between countries averages 12% to 35%, much higher than pre-liberalization rates. For some specific city-pairs, the increase is over 200%. This points to the “capacity to increased travel” which is just another way of saying “community building” or “community spirit.” Mind you, this is drastically different than a certain Chicago pol’s “community organizing,” which was basically political drives with nice-sounding cover stories.


“That is what a ‘community organizer’ does, creating a sense of grievance, envy and resentment, in order to mobilize political action to get more of the taxpayers’ money or to force banks to lend to people they don’t consider good risks…”

Back to the Air Travel report:

“…a key to reforming the regulatory environment surrounding international air travel is education. Specifically, a society can only make a rational choice between protectionism and competition if it knows:

· That the incremental benefits can be very large,

· That the benefits are widely diffused among many individuals and organizations;

· That many sectors could benefit, such as the tourism industry, trade/transportation and manufacturing;

· That many persons who may not perceive themselves as actually benefiting could in fact be made better off;

· That even those most opposed to the change could benefit if they can change their behavior accordingly; and

· That these benefits can often be gained at minimal public expenditure.”

From 2000-2005, Australia-New Zealand traffic grew “fully 56 percent higher than it would have been in the absence of any liberalization.

An unpublished study by Bel & Fegeda, “Getting There Fast: Globalization, Intercontinental Flights and Location of Headquarters,” [Sep 2005] reports that

“a 10 percent increase in the supply of intercontinental flights creates a 4 percent increase in the number of headquarters of large firms loacted in the corresponding urban area … headquarters of knowledge-internsive sectors are much more influenced by the supply of direct intercontinental flights that are those of non-knowledge-intensive sectors.”

In the University of Cincinnati’s Economic Research Group’s study, “The Influence of International Airports on Regional Economic Growth” [1997], authors Vredeveld, Haney, Sharma and Apostolides report that

“Nine foreign-owned companies in Northern Kentucky cited air service as an important factor in their choice of location. The nine firms collectively employ 1,470 persons.”


To recap the common theme of these very different articles, “increasing capacity is the natural state of mind which is free to make a difference.” Sure that simplifies the very tough work of reaching the point where one IS free to make a difference, yet we need to “keep the message plain, so those who run may read it.” (Habakkuk 2:2)

Let’s keep the work moving forward in 2010!


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