Wednesday, February 8, 2012

We Have Moved!

We have moved! This blog is now hosted at

Thanks to all readers sticking with us through our early days. We hope to see you on the new site! Click on this link to visit our new and improved website 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Finding work that needs doing – Ten changes to the world of work (Part 1)

Welcome back! While we are talking about the issue of the changing work landscape, let us introduce the perspective of the
Gartner Inc.; this posting is the first in a two-part overview of their perspective on the changing world of work, which was presented during the Content and Collaboration Summit 2010, in London. While we are looking at their research on the issue, we will also reflect on their perspective from the Integrative Life Planning (ILP) approach.

Today’s posting will introduce the first five of ten thoughts they have on changes to the world of work, which are bound to take place over the next ten years.

1. My place:

Gartner Inc. suggested that the place where work was to be done, would increasingly become more virtual, in the sense that meetings would be taking place across many time zones and where participants may not even have met the person they are communicating with. Going to a physical office will become less commonplace and work will tend to be done around the clock. The line between personal, social, professional, and other matters will become increasingly blurred, and may even disappear in some instances. As you may imagine, these changes will also impact individuals, who will need to find a way of coping with the demands from work and home. Upon reading the above, I could not help but think back to the work of William Bridges, which I referred to in the previous posting.

2. Hyperconnected:

The second aspect they are anticipating with regards to the changing world of work, is what they refer to as hyperconnectedness – this phenomenon is a function of the fact that most companies are operating within “networks of networks”, and which they do not have any direct control over. The manner, in which corporations are connected, will impact on how work in organisations is done, and how this work will be supported by the information technology infrastructure. Having looked at this notion, I think it is imperative to find a way in which the impact on individual workers will be managed at that time – yes, there is already a huge level of integration taking place on an IT level, but this is bound to increase even further over the next ten years.

3. Pattern sensitivity

This is quite an interesting bit of reading to get stuck in. Gartner Inc. have done some interesting work on what they refer to as Pattern-based Strategy. The statement they are making, is that over the next ten years there is bound to be a significant increase in the number of organisations or groupings, which are interested in detecting “divergent emerging patterns”; in addition to identifying these patters, they will also be interested in evaluating those trends, and will apply their insight to business strategy in a direct manner. If we were to consider how individuals may utilise the above-mentioned strategy on a personal level, I think we will come up with some interesting approaches. Essentially, individuals will do well by becoming more adept at reading trends, whether on a personal or occupational level, and to react to these in a strategic manner. Those individuals that are able to read the signs, should be able to capitalise on their insight by ensuring that they remain professionally relevant, i.e. that they have the skills set required within their industry.

4. Simulation and experimentation

According to the work done by Gartner Inc., they are anticipating a significant increase in the prevalence of virtual environments. This implies a rise in the use of what they refer to as n-dimensional virtual representations of all different sorts of data. This implies that in future individuals will interact with data by constantly changing or tweaking the parameters through which the view data in the simulated environments is viewed. Although we may be looking at an increase in the use of simulation in the workplace, the need to (also) pay attention to the impact of this anticipated change on individual workers becomes clear.

5. Spontaneous work

The issue of spontaneity refers to a proactive approach to work in terms of which new opportunities are identified and pursued and, where indicated, new models and designs are conceptualised. If one were to compare this proactive style of work to a previous era where organisations and individuals were often seen to (merely) react to contextual changes, it would be imperative to also think of how these anticipated changes will impact individual workers and how they think about themselves and their careers. The task of the career counsellor or career coach will thus require intervention in terms of determining a proactive personal approach to this changing environment. If one really thinks laterally, individuals in all spheres of business wil need to become more intrapreneurial and / or entrepreneurial in an attempt to (also) be proactive and get busy with spontaneous work. The Integrative Life Planning model of Hansen also comes to mind in this respect – the first critical task identified in terms of this approach, refers to finding work that needs doing.

In my next posting I will introduce the remaining five ideas postulated by Gartner Inc. as a function of their research on the topic. The issues under discussion were formulated with a view on the organisation of the future; we need to spare some thought on how these anticipated changes could potentially change the world of work of the individual.

Monday, January 30, 2012

South Africa's M3 now buys less Coffee, gold and other stuff; did Bernanke dilute our whiskey?

The previous two articles I did on the purchasing power of residential property, and the JSE Top 40 got me wondering: how much value could we purchase if we were to trade in the entire South African M3 money supply for commodities? I compiled some graphs and found the answer to be very interesting.    

So, if we were to trade M3 for commodities; would we get more, or less in commodities?  That is the question I attempted to answer in this posting.

M3 Money Supply

To provide a bit of background; M3 refers to the broadest measure of the amount of money in circulation in an economy (this is according to Simply put our M3 money stock is a measurement of all the cash and electronic money available in the South African economy; our entire supply of money. 

It is an accepted fact that the central banks of the world are able to expand monetary bases (print money). That means that governments, along with their central banks, can manipulate the amount of money that circulates in their economies.

The US is a good example; and man have they expanded their money supply since the big financial crisis of 2008. Take a look at the following chart of the monetary base of the US (this provides an estimate of the cash in hand and money at reserve at the US banks, i.e. their monetary base). 

Adapted from data:

Wow! I think it is rather obvious that Uncle Sam has been printing a lot of money since 2008.

But what about the situation closer to home, in good old South Africa. What has our monetary base been up to? Have we 'created' any money?

To find out, I compiled the following graph, subtracting M1 base currency (notes and coins) from M3 money supply. I wanted to see if any money was created in a broad sense (apart from notes and coins). So let's see: 

Adapted from data:
I think I am correct in saying we had a nearly parabolic increase in the RSA money supply since 1999/2000.

[Also: notice the extreme volatility present in the chart from 2008 to 2010, which have coincided with the financial crisis].

But, are there any negatives to extensive money creation? Well yes, there may just be one; a monster named INFLATION. I don't think inflation should become a problem if we had real inflows of real wealth into a country. But if the money was created from nothing, inflation must be expected.

You may gather that I don't trust this money printing business much, it's a personal gripe.  But, many economists argue that money creation only becomes a problem when it leads to  excessive inflation. And hey, the guys managing our global economy know what the're doing, right?

But money creation requires us to keep a tab on inflation and we have to measure inflation against something. So, how do we typically measure inflation? We typically use a measure called the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

I inherently distrust the CPI

Note: my personal distrust of CPI flows from a perceived problem of incentives.  Governments that print money should be expected to have vested interest in reflecting low measures of inflation.  By understating inflation governments could increase the money supply more, thereby funding government obligations and liabilities, through money creation - without raising taxes (A less controversial policy choice). 

The Corrupt Barman

Think about a corrupt barman, diluting the bottle of Johnny Walker behind the bar; while still  charging you yesterday's price for your tot of whiskey. That should give you a fair idea of how inflation works, less bang for your buck! 

Low CPI may mask the actual destruction of purchasing power through excess money creation and corresponding inflation. Some call inflation brought about in such ways 'stealth taxation'. So, I am saying that governments may have very real incentives to understate inflation, especially the CPI, and that's why I don't trust it.

Within this context, I decided to measure the value of South Africa's M3 Money stock in commodities. The basic question asked was:  how much value could we purchase with our M3 money stock when we measure the value of M3 commodities (not in Rand)?       

How much, in commodities, would our entire stock of M3 have purchased?  

Ok, so let's say we have gone completely insane and decided to trade in the entire M3 money supply of South Africa for different commodities. What then would our M3 be worth in commodities?

The following series of charts, I compiled, will give you an idea of the value of our M3 stock over the past 20 years measured in things like gold, silver, maize, soy, and fuel. I used the data gathered from for this analysis.
Our M3 data was gathered from:  

I have divided the commodities into 5 categories, in an attempt to make the information easier to digest. 

[I am not suggesting that the uses described for the commodities in the categories were exclusive. They were merely chosen for broad categorization purposes]. The categories were chosen as follows:   

Stuff that shines: Gold and Silver
Stuff to eat: Food
Stuff the build with: Wood, Steel, Copper   
Stuff to travel with: Energy and Fuel
Stuff to grow other stuff with: Fertilizers 



Gold has had a staggering growth in price over the past decade. This growth is reflected in the chart above. In 2005 our M3 money stock would have purchased about 350 million oz of gold.

By the end of 2011 M3 was valued at only about 150 million ounces of gold. A drastic decline of 57.14% Notice that measured in gold, our M3 has appreciated in value from 1980 until 2005/2006. It started to depreciate in value from 2006 onward. Yes indeed, M3 now buys less in gold.  

Silver has historically been a more volatile investment than gold. So how much silver could our stock of M3 have purchased over the last couple of years? 

M3 money stock in oz of silver

January  2005:    22.9 billion oz of silver
January  2009:    19.5 billion oz of silver
August   2011:       7.6 billion oz of silver  

A 67% drop from the high in 2005; M3 now buys less silver. So, in Gold and Silver - real money - our M3 money stock has declined in value.

Next up I'll consider 'stuff we eat', M3 valued in food prices. 



M3 Money Stock in Tons of Bananas:

January 2005:       404 million tons
December 2007:  378 million tons
January 2009:       213 million tons
August 2011:        319 million tons

Compared to the high of 2005 our money stock appears to be valued somewhat less in banana (404 tons to 319 tons).  Overall, the chart seems to have stayed within a broad trading range.      


Our M3 money stock measured in pounds of beef: 

April 2008:        221 billion pounds
August 2011:   169 billion pounds

From June 2002 to round about January 2008, we find that M3 has appreciated in beef (reflected an up trend). From January 2008 to August 2011 it appears that M3 has started to  depreciate when measured in beef. Has M3 started to lose value when measured in Beef? 


Our M3 money stock appears to have appreciated in value, measured in chicken. The trend appears to be a trend of appreciation.  I found this very interesting, maybe one of our readers could tell us why M3 would show such a continual appreciation when measured in chicken.

See the actual data below:

Our M3 money stock measured in pounds of Chicken  

April 2006:             294 billion pounds of chicken
December 2007:  319 billion pounds of chicken
August 2011:         346 billion pounds of chicken


Maize appears to be another highly cyclical commodity. This is reflected by the highs and lows of the chart. However, the drop in value from June 2010 to Aug 2011 appears to be very pronounced. A depreciation trend might also have formed since 2005 (where M3 started to show a general decline in value when measured in maize).

Keep in mind that maize is an important ingredient in much of the industrial food production industry.  We should thus expect rising maize costs to have a knock-on effect on the prices of other food stuff. 

M3 Money Stock measured in Tons of Maize: 
April 2006:     1.85 billion tons
July 2007:       1.50 billion tons
Jun 2008:        803 million tons
Jun 2010:        1.70 billion tons 
Aug 2011:       987 million tons

Coffee (Robusta) 

Next up my favorite commodity. It appears that M3 measured in coffee has declined significantly also since 2004.

M3 measured in Pounds of Robusta Coffee:
October 2004:    450.3 Billion pounds of coffee
March 2008:       178.6 Billion pounds of coffee


Looking at M3 measured in wheat a short-term pattern of depreciating value appears to exist. Wheat was relatively cheap in 2005 and 2010, increased in price during the big financial crisis of 2008.  Now our M3 money stock buys less wheat than in 2010 and 2005.

M3 Measured in tons of wheat
Apr 2006:     1.1 billion
Mar 2008:    497 million
Jun 2010:     1.6 billion
Aug 2011:     936 million


Measured in soybean, our M3 money stock has also shown a decline in value especially since April 2006.

M3 measured in tons of soybean
Apr 2006:    952 million
Jul  2008:     441 million
Mar 2010:    756 million
Aug 2011:    626 million


Sugar is another important element in the western industrial food chain (perhaps to our detriment). When measured in sugar, we see that M3 has steadily been declining in value since 2006/2008

Sunflower Oil

Sunflower oil shows an interesting and volatile trend. Our M3 money stock was worth a lot in sunflower oil from Jan 2006 up to about Jan 2008. However, since Jan 2008 M3 seems to have been declining in value when measured in sunflower oil.

So let's look at some commodities used for building processes.


Wood: soft logs

At this point it seems like M3 remained relatively stable and appreciating, when measured soft logs.


M3, when measured in copper appears to have been declining in value.  Since the first semester 2009 M3 has dropped very much in value when measured in copper.

Wood: hard logs

Hard logs tell a story of depreciating value. M3 measured in hard logs spiked in 2010 where M3 was valued at 1.085 billion cubic meters of hard logs.  In August 2011 M3 would have bought only 680 million cubic meters of hard logs.

That is lower than the average value which existed between June 2004 to July 2008. It appears that M3, measured in hard logs, is declining in value. The trend may even be reversing to a trend of depreciating value.

Hot Rolled Steel

M3 measured in hot rolled steel has declined slightly since 2010.  The chart seems to reflect increasing volatility.  At this point M3 still buys a lot of hot rolled steel. However, if global production was really in an uptrend (as the news services would like us to believe) shouldn't this chart reflect a decline in value as hot rolled steel becomes more expensive? Which it has not.  


Triple-Superphosphate and Potash

Next up, let's look at two common types of fertilizer used in the agricultural sector: Triple-superphosphate and Potash.

The charts below seems to indicate that our M3 money stock, measured in these two fertilizers, is worth less than it was during the period of 2002 to 2007.


Gasoline, Crude Oil, and Jet Fuel

The following three charts appear to be nearly identical. M3, measured in these three fuel commodities, moves in a sideways range from 2000 to 2008. It then jumps in value during  2008/2009 and then starts to decline (implying M3 being worth less when measured in fuels).

Notice than our M3 money stock would have purchased much more fuel in 98/99 compared to today. Jip indeed, fuel has gotten more expensive. And we are due for another increase this week.  

It's Index Time !!!

My final chart is an index I compiled from 21 commodities considered so far for this posting.  I simply added all the aggregates of M3 measured in various commodities together and divided by 21 for each year.  In theory, this should give us a sample of the general value of our M3 money stock measured over a population of commodities.

I used MS Excel to include a polynomial trend line on the chart. The trend line seems to agree with the general idea that more money printing will devalue the money stock in purchasing power. 'Curiously' the start of the depreciation of M3 found on the chart corresponds rather nicely with commencement of the US Federal Reserves Quantitative Easing programme.


Note that this research has various limitations.  I am tentatively proposing in this posting that a further decline in the value of M3 may be likely. But additional research is needed on this topic. Maybe by people paid to do this full-time. 


I have attempted in this posting, to show that even with big increases in money supply, both in local and US money supply, we may not be better off. It appears that our money stock has declined in value when measured in many of the commodities considered. Perhaps the old maxim that 'throwing money at problems rarely solves anything' is indeed true.

Troubling to me is the high depreciation of M3 when measured in wheat, maize, soy and sunflower oil and sugar. Over the long-term, M3 may also be declining in value when measured in oil, fuel and other fossil fuels (which seems to give support to the idea of appreciating energy prices and peak oil). If my results are true, we should expect to pay more for many things.

Our Johnny Walker, has been diluted!

Some commodities have not reflected a decline in value at this point; specifically chicken, beef, banana, soft logs, and hot rolled steel.

To venture a guess on whey that is: beef and chicken may still be heading for a decline, spurred by the higher input costs of wheat and maize. The polynomial trend-line for beef seems to be pointing down. Hot rolled steel has application in construction and in the US, for example, total construction spending has declined since 2006. I expect this to be a global trend. Logically, I would expect prices of this commodity to be low at present, representing more value.

Measured in real (non-fiat) money; specifically gold and silver - our M3 money stock has declined much in value. I think it is fairly accurate to suggest that M3, now is worth less than it was before the big economic crisis of 2008.

To conclude then, it seems to me like all the global money printing has not made us better off. South Africa as a whole may now have to accept buying less bang for our buck. We may have to deal with the diluted Johnny Walker, what do you think?

Posted by Gerhard van Onselen (follow me on Linked In and Twitter)

I am not a professional financial adviser. Information presented is intended to be solely conversational and educational, please don't make investment decisions based on just one source, do your own research, and consult a registered financial adviser.While I tried my best to present accurate information and numbers in this posting, I cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information presented.    

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The workplace of "tomorrow" - a view from the 1990's

Finding work that needs doing
– Considerations of the workplace of tomorrow

Since we are on the topic of finding work that needs doing in changing global contexts – Critical Task #1 of the Integrative Life Planning model – we will further investigate five statements describing the workplace of tomorrow from the (1990’s) perspective of William Bridges:

1. In the organisation of the 21st Century, there is less emphasis on work and an increased emphasis on tasks and assignments:

This is an interesting notion, and may sound a bit awkward at first. In the work of Bridges it was suggested that in future there would be a shift towards tasks and assignments. Since the time of the statement goes back to the previous decade and millenium, his future has become our today.

The kind of working environment we find ourselves in will obviously influence the appropriateness of the statement in current times, but I am sure not too many will be challenging his notion. At this time we have all become accustomed to the idea of working in project teams, working towards a specific goal, and working in teams that have been put together based on the required skills set for that task. Yes, the work still gets done, but the manner in which this is now achieved, is quite different.

In these times where we need to accept and manage change in both organisational and personal spheres, we are bound to identify groups and individuals who have not been able to get comfortable with the idea that the nature of how they do what they do has changed. From the perspective of ensuring that all our staff stay on the bus, it is imperative for decisionmakers to realise staff need to be approached differently. The old notion of job security as we knew it, has gone for good. The challenge now is to be smart about how we treat staff in these uncertain times.

2. Workers will still be performing tasks, but they will be required to create tasks, i.e. for projects, and will therefore be required to become more entrepreneurial:

In line with the first statement, Bridges continues by stating that the workplace of the future will be a place where workers will all need to become more entrepreneurial in their approach to their work lives. Evidence to support the idea that his statement from the 1990’s has come true is readily available; the implications for workers is also an issue worth a thought. Think back to the typical workplace of today: people will be selected to join task teams with the intention of reaching a certain goal. To ensure that we remain relevant and in demand in our organisations, all employees are in some way required to reinvent themselves on a regular basis. The key concept to grasp is that not everyone is equipped with the interest or personality to become full-fledged independent contractors – the largest percentage of people in the corporate arena will probably feel uncertain when presented with an opportunity to go it alone.

Since the time that Bridges put his thoughts to paper, a new word has been entered into the dictionary: intrapreneur. This is quite fascinating, as the definition given is that it refers to an employee of a large corporation who is given freedom and financial support to create new products, services, systems, etc. and does not have to follow the corporation’s usual routines or protocols. Even though this definition may not be fully operationalised in all business operations, there is certainly a move towards view on staff.

Organisations will do well if they empower all staff, regardless of their work level, to act in the manner suggested by the definition. This can only be achieved sensibly if staff in those roles are sufficiently skilled and trained.

3. The actual place where work will be done, will change. No longer will work be limited to the office, but will it spread to other locations:

At the time when Bridges published his questions, he could not have had any idea just how right he in fact would be in future! Originally the statement was written so as to include working at home, on planes, in hotel rooms, and almost anywhere else. This has all come true, but the manner in which this is now achieved, would possibly not been fathomed by Bridges or other writers of the time. The introduction of the internet had taken place in the 1990’s, but the impact of social media, smartphones, the cloud, and tablets, could not have been imagined!

So, in keeping to our main topic, which is looking at changes in the workplace, I think we can all agree that Bridges was absolutely correct in anticipating this change. Our challenge now is to ensure that technology is used constructively and not as a mechanism to create further and deeper division.

4. Every person will be regarded as a temporary worker:

The shift has started to take place. In my previous postings on the topic, it was mentioned to what extent the world of work has changed: the time where a job for life was almost guaranteed, has come and gone; all workers, regardless of their age, training, experience, and the like, have to consider themselves as contract workers. With the move in the world towards businesses becoming smarter, and leaner and meaner, the false security of a job for life has now been removed from the landscape. Thus, Bridges also saw this one coming. Want to know the sad news? More than twenty years down the line, there are still large numbers of people worldwide who have not made the required mindshift and have been found wanting in terms of the right skills and attitude when their organisations start laying off their employees.

5. Workers will start forgetting about work and will think more in terms of finding work that needs doing:
All of the points raised above can in some way be summarised by this last statement. In a time and place where the old notion of job security has changed, an attitude of it can’t happen to me has to be seen as reckless and irresponsible; in the words of Bridges, all workers have to become what he referred to as vendors - marketers – of their own goods and skills. The first challenge one has to meet is staying in touch with changing trends and demands in the workplace. Therefore, one needs to identify what could be described as unmet needs. Secondly, one needs to position yourself in such a way that the market you are addressing, will see you as the supplier of their demand. This is perhaps the tricky bit?

In conclusion, I think the original work of Bridges has shown tremendous insight. The final challenge remaining at this time, is to ensure that all employees are able to anticipate the shifting landscape, and that they take some kind of control in these tumultuous times.
Let us see if we are able to further identify some of the markers on this new road.

Based on the work of Sunny Hansen: Integrative Life Planning: Critical Tasks for Career Development and Changing Life Patterns

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Finding work that needs doing: Understanding changes in the workplace

At the completion of any cycle, whether in the business or our personal lives, we are often called to take some time and think about the proverbial chapter just completed. Since we have just completed the old year and have been given a taste of what 2012 has to offer, I guess it would be fair to say that this process is currently being played out in the lives of many people and businesses.

Towards the end of last year we were talking about the need for us to find work that needs doing – if you can recall, this forms part of the first critical task according to the Integrative Life Planning model of Hansen (1997). Let us continue looking at some of issues related to this first critical task.

We have said it before, but it needs to be said again: the world of work has changed, and all workers will need to realise that thinking differently in this ever-changing landscape is no longer a choice. A key challenge organisations are faced with, is finding ways to manage their employees in these new times where old ways of doing have been replaced by a new mindset of workers. If one starts looking into related literature on the topic, we will be able to find many examples showing us how employment patterns have changed, how the availability and nature of work and work patterns have changed, and how the link between work and famliy has shifted.

One significant example of the availability of work can be seen on the International Labour Organization (ILO) website. The ILO is suggesting that the number of migrant workers in the world is so numerous that, when brought together, they would be equal in number to the world’s fifth most populous country! If we apply our minds to the challenges brought by these astonishing numbers, it becomes clear in no time that current policy and practice is simply not offering sufficient strategy in terms of dealing with this challenge.

Another example of changes in work patterns, can be seen in the number of American citizens above the age of 65 (previously called retirement) that are still working; this number has almost doubled since the early 1980’s. According to Mark Penn (Microtrends), there currently are 5 million people in the USA over the retirement age of 65 that are still working! At this time, I am wondering what the 2011 South African census will reveal on this issue.

Penn continues to spell out the possible implications of an increase in this number; for one, younger workers now have to compete with even more people for a piece of the same economic pie. Previously, succession planning was less of a headache for companies; with the above-mentioned shift being seen in more and more companies, it goes without saying that a new approach and perspective has to be found.

Taking an even closer look at the changes in the workplace, we see that there are even more perspectives that warn us of looming chaos! In the words of Giddens, a British sociologist, the world is characterised by chaos; this can already be seen in what he refers to as the world being a “risk society”; according to this perspective, there are three important sociological trends we need to take cognisance of: globalisation, de-traditionalisation, and social reflexivity. The latter trend, in the work of Giddens, suggests that it is the move towards reflexivity that is making it possible for people to cope with change and uncertainty.

In our attempt to understand how the workplace is changing, we have already looked into some closely related issues. If I may remind you, we have already spent some time considering what has been called the bigger picture and changing global contexts, we have taken a cursory look at how we can promote the constructive use of technology, and also how to approach new thinking on preserving the environment. Putting all of the above together should help us understand how we need to approach the first critical task spelled out in terms of the Integrative Life Planning model.

To conclude our current discussion, please allow me to leave you with 5 statements on the workplace of tomorrow (today?):

1.In the organisation of the 21st century, there is less emphasis on jobs and an increased emphasis on tasks and assignments

2. Workers will still be performing tasks, but they will also be required to create tasks, i.e. for projects. This implies a shift towards becoming more entrepreneurial in their thinking.

3. The actual place where work will be done, will change. No longer will work be limited to the office, but will it also spread to other locations.

4. Every person will be regarded as a temporary worker.

5. Workers will start forgetting about work and will think more in terms of finding work that needs doing.

Take a few minutes to ponder the above; next time we will be looking at these statements in the context of the 21st Century and will assess what the implications for career planning and development will be.

Based on the work of Sunny Hansen: Integrative Life Planning: Critical Tasks for Career Development and Changing Life Patterns