Of Botany, Project plans & Traffic jams

The thought had first struck me while we were in a meeting discussing a project deadline. Things were all going to be smooth from our side but there was the dependency of some inputs from the client. If the client does not respond in time, work could pile up at our end and create an unnecessary bottleneck. Sure one does buffer for it but the thought still struck me nonetheless. This was a couple of years ago and stayed at the back of my mind somewhere all this while.

And then it struck me again while I was driving to work yesterday. So by some chance of fate I find myself at a curve on the road  (which by itself is quite a  tricky maneuver most days) and I find myself behind this giant of a bus in my tiny Hyundai hatchback. And from the other side of the road at the same bend are a couple of more buses joining the chaos. This is regular weekday office-hour traffic for you on Delhi roads but the thought did strike me nonetheless. Because of the intersection of the path of these slow moving giants at that juncture, the pace of the traffic slowed down considerably for all those behind who had been moving at a decently fast speed so far. And till these buses made way for us to move, we would have to keep driving at their speed. And yet again I was taken back some 7-8 years to my botany class where we had been studying Blackman’s Law of the Limiting Factor.

Blackmans law of limiting factors states that if a chemical process is affected by more than one factor, then its rate will be determined by the factor which is nearest to its minimal value. Amongst the factors affecting the physiological process, the slowest factor affects the rate of the process. When photosynthesis is under the influence of several factors simultaneously an increase in that factor and the limiting  factor will bring about an increase in the rate of photosynthesis. (Source: http://www.tutorvista.com/biology/five-factors-affecting-photosynthesis)

Or …

Blackman (1905) proposed the law of limiting factors according to which when process is conditioned to its rapidity by a number of factors, the rate of process In limited by the pace of the slowest factor. (Source: http://www.photosynthesisinfo.com/factors-influencing-photosynthesis/)

So basically nature faces the same kind of problems that we face in our day to day lives. One thing interesting to note is that Blackman’s law essentially talks about external factors – which for plants are things like Light, Carbon-di-oxide, Water, Temperature etc – and is not so much factors that are internal to the system. If I try to map the analogy, in the case of a project, the external factors could be things like client feedback, supply of material etc and not necessarily an internal issue (assuming of course your planning is flawless 😉 ). In the case of traffic, the external factor could be this really slow vehicle that is slowing down all of traffic behind it (I bet some of you are thinking about those auto-rickshaws that insist on driving in the middle of the flyover), a traffic cop guiding traffic on the road, a cow which decides to cross the road … (I am refering to Indian scenarios here of course.)

Of course I am generalising here. While the Blackman’s law refers specifically to the quantity of the limiting material, I am simply refering to the slowest factor which can hold up / slow down the entire process.

And this might just be a sweeping analogy from my end. It’s been quite a number of years since I studied this particular topic back in college, but from the little I can vaguely recall, I am pretty sure that plants have figured out a way to cope with this mechanism. There is much brilliance in the way nature adjusts to or builds mechanisms to cope with adversities. And if we can learn from the process, we would perhaps be able to figure out interesting and innovative ways to overcome the issues that we face (project planning, traffic issues or any other such example where this can fit).

This also reminds me of what I had tweeted a couple of days back

… but we can surely get inspired.

Biomimicry is a known discipline and what I’m suggesting here is nothing new. Just sharing a thought that I had.

The one thing that we can derive from here for sure is that perhaps we can do with more Life-Scientists in B-Schools 😉

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