Mindworks’ Weblog

Thinking Matters

The business of generals and a famous mountain

Posted by Andrew Cooper on September 9, 2008

One of the things I love about the work I do is that it gives me a chance to think about a number of different interesting problems in parallel with one another.  The work I’ll shortly be starting in Tanzania involves helping the organisation which is, amongst other things, responsible for the registration of births, deaths, marriages and divorces to develop an information systems strategy.

The word strategy is derived from the Greek ‘strategos’ which means ‘army leader’.  Strategy is about the business of generals and the business of generals is to win wars.  (I’ve worked with the military on many occasions and staff college trained officers often talk about ‘winning wars’, which isn’t very surprising.

Winning wars is essentially about marshalling and deploying resources better than the opposition.  Whoever is best at it wins.  ‘Winning’, in terms of the project I’m about to work would involve significantly increasing the numbers of births, deaths and so on – the things I now know are called ‘key life events’ in the world of registrars – which get registered.  This is really important.  In Tanzania there are a number of factors which make it difficult to win this particular war.  It’s a huge and, at present, very poor country.  (Tanzanians say, quite rightly, that thecountry isn’t poor at all: it has large gold deposits which have only over the past few years been properly exploited.  It has huge reserves of natural gas, offshore oil, gemstones and diamonds. And that’s before you even think about its stunning national parks (including the Ngongoro Crater, which I’m determined to visit this autumn).

It also has lots of people – or human resources, as we are now called – but knowing exactly how many is rather problematic for a number of reasons which are all connected with registration.  The project will, I’m sure, be fascinating.  More on that story later.

Meanwhile here’s a photo I took of one of Tanzania’s most famous resources (some people still think it’s in Kenya, not least because tourists often used to approach the mountain from the Kenyan border).  It’s stunning, as you can see, both from the air and also from the ground.   The view of Kili from the surrounding plains is particularly impressive because 4,600 metres are visible from ‘ground’ level – see the article – at least they are when the clouds which often surround the summit part.

The photo was taken from a Swiss aircraft (as you can also see) which was routing to Dar es Salaam out of Nairobi.  All flights taking the most direct route fly near the mountain.  On this occasion, the captain obtained permission to fly those of us on board (there weren’t many) around the summit, so we circled perhaps 270 degrees before heading off south.  Breath taking.

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