Monday, October 25, 2010

The Sharing Of Fortunes

The strongest bond in a collective is a common purpose. By its very nature common purpose cannot be based on multiplicity of participant motives. Its ultimate strength has to be based on the contribution which that collective makes to its outside environment. In the specific case of a company, contribution is about customers in the first place and the broader community, society and humanity in the second. All other benefits are consequences of this. The different motives of individuals in the collective are not of major importance. What does matter is that they take second place to the common purpose.

The future of organised labour will depend heavily on an ability to align itself with this cause. Labour’s traditionally inward-focused raison d’être was valid until a few decades ago. It is no longer so. Participative practices and the growing influence of world developments are putting pressure on rigid labour structures.

Ironically at the same time, American-style capitalism is at its most vulnerable; never before has there been such an opportunity for labour to align itself with those who challenge the unbridled-self-interest and profit-driven model and are concerned about huge imbalances, the destruction of nature, the plight of the poor and unemployed, corruption, crime and unethical business behaviour. For this alignment to happen, however, the unions must first champion the cause of the consumer and customer, since they not only belong to that group but are also there to serve it.

Ultimate success is going to depend even more heavily on the ability to adopt the idea of common fate. To foster common purpose in a company is easy enough – indeed I believe employees can make better custodians of customer interests than most managers do, especially the executive. Alignment with common fate is where the biggest sacrifice is called for. But it has substantial benefits. It will blow away the smokescreen around labour, the idea that it takes no risk because wages are fixed and the only real purpose of a union is to ensure, through control and coercion, a regular increase in material benefits. This has been a bizarre fallacy that has led to heavy job losses and therefore of members. It’s time to recognise that the threat of retrenchments and dismissals far outweighs the threat of work stoppages and strikes.

During the last few decades, many variable pay instruments have been developed. Their initial intention was arguably not to protect jobs as much as profits, and to maintain a semblance of morale among punch-drunk staff. As they developed it became very clear that without some kind of employee participation they would fail. Indeed many have, for that very reason. The instruments go by many names under the broad banner of “gain-sharing”.

This is something of a misnomer because it implies sharing in the gains only, which in turn implies that if there are no gains, and indeed if there are losses, then management reserves the right to cut heads. As long as this is implied, the employee initiative is removed.

For labour to recapture this initiative it has to take the courageous step of offering a full fortune-sharing dispensation in exchange for reasonable guarantees of job security. In short, open to pay cuts in exchange for job retention.

There is an element of risk here. But it’s probably less than the risk of job losses. Acceptance of it will earn labour the right to be fully informed and fully involved in all aspects of the business. Labour will automatically switch its role on an organised level from taker to giver. This is true power. No variable-pay system will work without labour’s full cooperation. Given this guarantee, unions need not fear flexibility and should come to see it as a new instrument for enhancing their power. This does not mean that business cannot be the suitor.

There is also the fear that a failing company won’t be able to attract highly qualified staff unless it can guarantee a competitive package. This fear has no basis in actual experience. For as long as differentiated pay is supported within a variable-pay system, there is some obedience to the market. Gain-sharing has become a whole new branch of knowledge in organisational theory, covering highly complex processes as well as simple profit-sharing schemes which date back to 1835.

With the growth of gain-sharing has come some new confusing language and terminology. Reams have been written on it; thousands of case studies already exist. But no system of gain-sharing or variable pay has yet developed fully to the point of fortune-sharing. This may be because it’s necessary always to ensure some form of guaranteed or basic pay for employees. But the proportion at risk varies, especially in different countries, and it’s this proportion that tends to be a bargaining issue. The options range from “all-at-risk” in exchange for the guaranteed jobs or an assured lay-off package, to minimal risk for a large measure of job flexibility. Numerous checks and balances can be built into an agreement, such as one whereby the union is the final arbiter in any dismissal.

A useful analogy for fortune-sharing is marriage. A fully participative fortune-sharing company will need the same circumspection as one needs before marriage and will undoubtedly need the same degree of constant work, communication and trust-building to ensure its survival. Not all of us will be suited to marriage to begin with. Few marriages succeed if the partners are focused only on what they get out of the arrangement.

Ironically, most organisations that have variable pay also have a more highly paid workforce than their fixed-pay counterparts. This is understandable on a simple risk-versus-reward principle. One need only examine the experience of Japan and other Asian countries where they progressed from guaranteed employment at little more than a bowl of rice a day to the highest-paid employees in the world a few decades ago. China seems to be following this pattern.

As a business broadcaster I was invited to visit a counterpart in Taiwan in the late 1980s. At one point we were comparing salaries and I was a bit peeved that he earned nearly 75% more than I did. Moreover he was living in a country with a relatively low personal income tax rate and a fairly low cost of living. When he explained that only one third of his pay was fixed or basic, the rest depending entirely on the fortunes of his organisation, I became sympathetic – unduly so in terms of what I now know and think. He also told me that most employees preferred to work for a company where the variable proportion of the pay was high. They saw this as a reflection of a successful company, one that was therefore good to work for. In addition, most Taiwanese took an intense interest in the performance of the company and its fortunes. Another difference from the Western counterparts was that a struggling employee, instead of being subjected to condemnatory peer pressure, would be helped by his colleagues to improve. In a macro-context, Taiwan has traditionally had high levels of personal savings and national reserves. This has been attributed partly to the fact that the average employee was encouraged to budget and calculate debt-servicing needs on the basis of guaranteed pay, rather than factoring all, or even a portion of, the variable pay into his/her spending needs.

Full fortune sharing is outrageous to conventional true blue capitalist thinking. But we have to ask ourselves whether current and future socio-economic structures can sustain a war like competitiveness for resources at all levels, especially in labour where markets have arguably become dysfunctional. Fortune sharing, albeit only partly, and the co-operative approach it implies, has been shown to work in varying degrees and in various situations. It may not be attractive to large corporations with entrenched structures and beliefs. But it certainly should be examined for smaller companies, labour intensive ventures and labour co-operatives. It should never imply letting go of sound business principles or trying to maintain unreasonable returns for any stakeholder over an extended period. Indeed such companies should be able to compete against companies with conventional pay structures.

The survival of gain-sharing through decades, if not centuries, seems to show that its logic is based on much more than the measurable. The principle of fortune-sharing is about involvement of labour –and not about incentive. This is where many schemes go wrong. They are mostly driven by greed and the desire for self-enrichment and are part of the wage-slave chains. A values-driven company should be beyond such puerile things. Of course, involvement is a process requiring many supportive actions such as a common purpose, Contribution Accounting, understanding the business, transparency and communication, a high level of trust and servant leadership.

All it takes is a change in perceptions and the courage to do things differently.

(This post can also be seen on MONEYWEB)

Monday, October 18, 2010


With another strike threatening at Pick ‘n Pay, I can hear a near unanimous and emphatic “No!” in response to the question. Many ordinary South Africans, including employers, and without doubt organised labour, would point to the power wielded by labour in the ongoing strikes, the chaos and damage it causes, the chanting and toyi-toying masses, the news headlines, and the frustration that is felt in virtually every home in South Africa.

What organised labour in South Africa sees as its strength: its high profile role in society, its influential and much publicised leadership, pressure on the competition authorities and its participation in government through Cosatu’s involvement in the tri-partite alliance is seen by others as a weakness in terms of losing touch with rank and file membership, the unemployed and the economic realities of our time. But this is not why I posed the question. I also do not pose it on the basis of the threat of job losses to Union membership. I ask it simply against the background of the appropriateness of any collective in society that is structured fully and exclusively on the narrow interest of any group – albeit an important group – especially if that society is besieged by internal and external forces that can be countered only by a combined commitment by all interest groups.

It invites another Titanic analogy – only in this case instead of shuffling deck chairs, the passengers are fighting about who is entitled to sit on them while the ship is sinking.

A fruit orchard might look healthy from a distance, but closer inspection shows aphids that can threaten the whole crop. I have always used this approach to inform my intuition on potential developments. Extrapolations into statistics, accompanied by interpretations and ivory tower forecasts are useful and make for important sounding headlines. But they lose an important human and behavioural texture that touches the heart as well as the intellect. In turn it increases one’s understanding and empathy.

Such an aphid here in the Overberg has been the ploughing up of hundreds of hectares of blackberry bushes in the world’s biggest black- and youngberry producing region, because of a slump in world demand. Hundreds of picking and packing jobs are gone. Another aphid has been the willingness of KZN garment workers to accept less than minimum wages from Chinese employers threatening to close their factories. Yet another is Standard Bank’s warning that retrenchments are on the cards in the light of a decline in revenue and employees representing the “biggest expense”. There are thousands more aphids in your and other orchards. They all tell a story of events and developments largely out of our control – the world economy in a slump, overproduction and overcapacity here and abroad, declining demand and trade and currency wars.

We can try any insecticide, but none will work as well as our capacity to adjust, to be prudent and to be flexible. It’s all well and good for organised labour to insist on adjustments in national economic, fiscal and monetary policies, but to studiously avoid the contribution it can make by re-examining the behaviour of labour itself is not only disingenuous but is harmful to the workforce generally in the long run. Apart from inflating expectations at regular and arguably destructive collective bargaining times, there is, as I have argued before, a far greater responsibility: changing focus from reward to contribution. And let me emphasise most strongly that none of this detracts from the legitimate grievances that labour has and that I have always acknowledged. The question is simply whether it is at all productive for Joe Worker to “klap” Carol Consumer because he claims to have been “klapped” by Jack Boss. I know these are entrenched paradigms, enshrined in labour “rights” and that challenging them borders on sacrilege.

The question is also whether organised labour by focussing nearly exclusively on reward and only in small measure on contribution, is not playing up to labour’s weaknesses and not its strengths. Legitimate power always resides with contributors; with givers and not takers. True, those with power can abuse it to gain control on others, but then power loses its legitimacy and sooner or later it catches up with the abusers.

clip_image002The threatening Pick ’n Pay strike is a case in point. 2010 figures show that labour gets 65% of wealth created and investors less then 12%. My past analysis contradicts the view that top management gets an inordinate share. It used to be that the 5% at the top got about 10% of the total employee share. Of course, individual comparisons cause the ferment.

We have already seen in the Contribution Account that labour in South Africa is on average the biggest measured contributor to the creation of wealth – bigger than capital or the state. On this basis we could argue that labour should have a far greater say in the destiny of companies than it has. There are many reasons for its failure to be more involved but I believe a key one is that most employees (not all mind) do not see their workplace as a means of adding value to other’s lives, but rather as a place for self enrichment.

This view is entrenched further by the definition of labour as a commodity or cost: as Standard Bank did in reminding its staff that they are the biggest “expense.” Do not be surprised if in the hallowed office of the HR Director you find a wall slogan proclaiming that “people are our greatest asset”. “Asset” and “cost” are a contradiction in terms, even in accounting.

So the commodity/cost view of employees is firmly entrenched no matter how much team building babble tries to say the opposite.

There is another reason for this. The two categories in creating wealth – that of income and of outside costs – can both be volatile which means that wealth creation itself, which is simply income less outside costs, becomes subject to many forces both from within and outside the process. This rather unpredictable cake has to be shared with the three contributors, labour, capital and state. Both capital (profits) and state (taxes) are flexible and can accommodate any change in the size of wealth created. The only one that is not is labour, the biggest and most important contributor. To use another Titanic analogy: this is like nailing down a deck chair to create security on the sinking ship. Of course it is impossible. While individual salaries and wages remain inflexible, the size of the workforce becomes flexible. It is a simple trade off between pay and employment. More money is being paid to fewer people, exacerbating a very dangerous and revolutionary class divide between employed and unemployed.

Flexible pay is not new and I will deal with the various schemes in detail at a later stage, including the mother of them all: fortune sharing. Most current gain sharing schemes have done little to create real flexibility. They have produced a bullet proof jacket made of a single layer of silk. Indeed, in many cases they have added to labour “costs” and have been absorbed into the list of entitlements that have to be met, often when the company can least afford it. I believe it is because their rationale has been wrong: incentive as opposed to involvement.

The concept of comprehensive flexible pay that accommodates fortunes and misfortunes seems outrageous to both organised labour and business. Yes, for both it means sacrificing a key area of control. But is that not the point? Can they really be in control of things that can be so severely affected by events that they do not control? In all of my interaction with many employees at various levels, I have found overwhelming preference for security of work over security of pay. It makes sense at a national level: job retention is a far stronger, more secure, cheaper, and preferable method of combating unemployment than job creation is. This does not necessarily imply a blanket abandonment of sound social concepts such as minimum pay, simply that there can be far greater flexibility even within these prescriptions.

It comes back to the same principle: we are always in control of what we can give. We are seldom in control of what we can get. My favourite axiom that our true value lies in our capacity to make a contribution to others deserves repeating.

For most, this empowering capacity is to be found at their place of work. It is simply inconceivable that organised labour and business do not see this as a priority over all else.

This article can also be seen on MONEYWEB

Monday, October 11, 2010


The gravy was dark and thick, spreading slowly over the slice of warm, freshly baked bread. I would savour its steaming aroma as if in a trance while I made my way back to the table. There I would separate a small mouthful, ensuring that every taste bud of palate and tongue was exposed to texture and taste. My need to make each portion last as long as possible and the whole slice forever, was in conflict with an inner agitation that perhaps I could get a second slice if I rejoined the queue quickly before some of the other convent boarders had their first serving.

It seldom worked. I would be shoved roughly out of the line by an always bigger fellow. Even my two older brothers would studiously ignore my plight. On the rare occasion that a generous soul allowed me back in the queue, a second helping would be denied by the intimidating nun dispensing this manna. That interaction was always frighteningly the same. I would avoid her eyes as if approaching a giant gorilla. Her disapproval needed no eye contact – just a growl would send me scurrying back to my place. So at the age of five, I learned well the lesson of a “bird in hand” and “sufficient unto the day”. For the next few after-Sunday-mass breakfasts I would ensure that my single slice would last much longer.

Now, more than 60 years later, I occasionally catch a nostalgic whiff from some kitchen and my mouth will water. But it’s never quite the same. I have been on the gravy train once and no experience since has matched it – not even among the hundreds of formal banquets, parties, home cooked meals or first taste of some exotic elitist offering. As magnificent as they may have been, they have never embedded themselves as deeply and permanently in my memory as that one slice of unbuttered bread with a spoonful of gravy. It has remained my favourite snack, but no repetition has recaptured the first experience.

The point of this little cameo is to be found not so much in Oliver Twist but in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s prisoner “enjoying” a meal in the Gulag. He removes an old handkerchief from his pocket and slowly spreads it in front of him as a tablecloth. From another pocket he retrieves a small chunk of bread and places this on the hanky. Then he breaks off a piece of the bread, puts it in his mouth, and with singular intent savours every morsel. Solzhenitsyn of course tells the story beautifully and in greater detail than I have done from a distant memory of the reading, but the point is that the prisoner’s delight in a bit of bread equals, if not exceeds, that of Onassis consuming spoonfuls of caviar on a yacht in the Mediterranean.

This leaves me puzzled. Is this the real key to contentment? Can we really envy Onassis above Shukhov if the meaning to them is the same despite a vast difference in form? Is this not simply our own pretentious perceptions?

It is not the man who has little, but he who desires more, that is poor. — Seneca.

This implies that contentment is mostly a self created state. We can find it in a Russian prison or in Auschwitz as Viktor Frankl did. We can find it in times of elation or intense grief as I did some 6 years ago. It is within our grasp moment by moment and ultimately it is the only real and lasting degree of immunity that we can create against contagious misery out there. No matter how troubled the water is on the surface, we can always submerge to a deeper place to escape the turmoil.

clip_image002Amazingly, despite all the wisdom of the ages, we have created a generation, if not an entire era, that thrives on the opposite – on expectations, comparisons, competitive “angst”, wealth and possessions and on misery if Daniel Kahneman’s Nobel Prize winning work is to be believed. It’s called the hedonic treadmill or the Easterlin paradox. Despite constant questioning, even by Kahneman himself, the Easterlin theory has not been shaken. All that the debate is showing is that perhaps we as humans don’t have a clear idea of what makes us happy. We appear to have difficulty too in distinguishing between concepts such as happiness, joy, elation, satisfaction, contentment, serenity and peacefulness. Measuring these remains an aloof and impossible task, especially on a national scale.

So even if we are armed with all the research, life-style writings and motivational paraphernalia, our own personal experiences only will give us the answer. What follows are my own personal brushstrokes on a canvas that may never reveal a full landscape. What I see much of these days is that we seek answers in cocooned and cynical selfishness that blames the other, the “system”, the politicians, a race, mothers, fathers, economists, and the media. As if to make a contribution, we take cheap and personal swipes in responses, muttering “so there” as we withdraw into our self righteous glass houses. How much more could we have achieved by a single act of kindness or merely plain courtesy to another?

Prosperity has always been upheld as the provider of national contentment. The jury is still out on that postulate. Are money and possessions what they are made out to be? Do they satisfy the deepest wish for peace and contentment? I hear a chorus of “Yes” as I write, supporting my own instinctive response. As a provider of security it is suspect. We either transfer our insecurities elsewhere or to a fear of loss of what we have - a fear greater than that of not having. The joy we get from the pleasures and comforts of wealth is momentary. It’s as transient as we are as physical beings. Certainly, the more we have, the more we can repeat these moments…until the caviar becomes boring. We marvel at each new experience and pleasure, until it becomes a routine, and then we move on to the next one, the next and the next in a form of dazed dancing. Kahneman calls this the aspiration treadmill.

We will gaze in awe at a moon landing, and only briefly glance at a rose, whose existence is even more miraculous. We get to a point where we appreciate our comforts only when sparing a thought for the have-nots. We try to sustain our happiness by assuming that others are miserable in their simple lives. We think that those who have more than we do must be happier. And we are caught in a spiral where the more we have the more we want.

Research has produced volumes of results showing that money is not the motivator or the provider of contentment it is thought to be. Any correlation between the two reveals on deeper reflection that money can be a means to achieve meaning. But according to Carl Jung, meaning only becomes meaningful when it helps us make a difference to other people’s lives.

I wrote this article as a break from my current themes. And also to illustrate that the degree of immunity we can achieve at company level, can be achieved even more so at a personal and individual level. I found myself returning to the research I did some years ago for Value through Values and was amazed at how rapidly perspectives are changing and how important they have become to classical economic theory. Quantitative theories are rapidly being either discarded or being seen as only one part of a much bigger picture…one that is still far from complete. This is very exciting, and will constantly be the underlying theme in The Human Touch on MONEYWEB. What it implies is that as we get to understand the interaction between behaviour and outcomes we will increasingly question current and historic theories.

This leaves me wondering whether the times we live in are not signalling the imminent end of the grand celebration of wealth and possessions, and out of the choice between austerity and accelerated consumption we are going to be left with a deep appreciation and gratitude for what we already have inside of us: contentment in simplicity. Perhaps it’s a choice that nature will help us make. Better so than to have it removed by a “system” or misguided ideology.

Whatever the choices and whatever the outcomes, best we start taking our serenity supplements now. It’s a state worth having under any circumstance.

This article can also be seen on MONEYWEB

Monday, October 4, 2010


In writing this article, I feel like a solitary and forgotten soldier in a trench - the enemy in front and the threat of friendly fire from the rear. So I hope a white flag will be respected just long enough for me to state a case before I fall prey either to an enemy bullet or misguided shelling from behind. For what I want to explore is perhaps the unthinkable to many: the inherent benevolence of shareholding.

There is a principle in free enterprise which has been its most laudable attribute and the mainstay of its defence. That attribute is that it is the best and most efficient way of moving resources to where they are most needed. Many argue that the fact that it has not done so, as evidenced by the severe imbalances in the world today, is an indictment of the “system” itself. My response is that a laudable concept was severely perverted by reliance on, indeed the encouragement of greed, acquisition and unbridled consumption. At the same time I have presented the case for the opposite: the rescue of this approach by a re-examination of motive based on benevolence in turn founded on the basic rules of transaction.

One of the most essential functions of an efficient market is to move private “capital” to where it is most needed in the production of goods and services and as a contributor to creating tangible value. An expanded view of its role includes the facilitation of demand through debt and to enable the transfer of risk through derivatives such as futures and options. The latter, first recorded in the 3rd-century BC was seen as a benign method of promoting market efficiencies.

It paints a pretty picture from a space shuttle. Money flows to people to make things, to others to help buy things, and then to a few speculators to reduce some of the stress. Well, back on earth we can see that it all went terribly wrong. Globally, debt has exploded to what many believe is unmanageable levels estimated at about $64 trillion in public (government) debt alone and $700 trillion in notional amounts in derivatives, in turn geared to create 70% froth in the cappuccino economy. Investment in productive capacity, where customers are served, tangible value is added and jobs created, has been left behind like a Cinderella in rags. The Financial Times reported recently that since their founding in the 90’s the hedge funds Quantum and Paulson have together made more money than either Walt Disney or McDonalds. Business Report columnist Anne Crotty (BR15/9) has likened the industry to a dung beetle that has assumed a dominant position in the body from which it previously fed. “The tail is now wagging the dog”. Competing for capital has put pressure on companies to maximise short term shareholder returns.
Since the days of moving from barter, capital, whether in sea-shells or shillings, has always been part of the inescapable process of wealth creation. Broadly today, the production of goods and services in private hands has to obtain capital either through debt via financial institutions and others, or through share capital. This can range from getting money from a few pals to issuing a large number of shares for sale to the public on formal exchanges. Sometimes it starts with a few pals, and ends with a huge corporate with millions of shares widely held by a number of investors. South African legends are Pick ‘n Pay and Liberty Life.

While most of the media and investor attention is focussed on returns in a reward context, it can and has to be seen also as relative measured contribution. This contribution is the use of the capital. Ownership is always retained by the investor. One has to exclude share appreciation as part of the operational reward because this reflects the investment risk and reinvestment. It is similar to an appreciation of any other asset such as property or hard assets. This is in any case only realised as a profit or a loss on the sale of the asset, at which time the operational reward (and contribution) passes to someone else.

clip_image002I tried to resist showing my Contribution Account “cartoon” again, but I am more drawn to it in discussing shareholding than with the others – labour and state. The account shows that at 35% on average (again depending on the type of business) shareholders are second to Labour in the measured contribution to wealth creation. Because of the very different implications, the shareholder contribution is split between savings (retained income at 20%) and payout to the owners (dividend at 15%). The latter is also a deviation from the standard value-added statement, which adds interest and refers to it as “providers of capital”. All of the financial executives I worked with agreed that interest was better classed as an “outside cost”.

The two great attributes of capital’s contribution are: it’s willingness to reinvest a large part of its reward back into the company as reflected in the ratio between retained income and dividend; and being the last to get its share of the pie. But apart from the use of capital and exploring growth opportunities, shareholders appoint leadership and through the board guide the company’s strategic direction. This aspect has highlighted a crucial aspect of shareholder motive. If it is share price only and maximum return in the shortest possible time; and they appoint a predator in the chair with all the incentives to achieve this, they could find themselves feeding off a rancid carcase or facing Crotty’s giant dung beetle.

Then there is accountability: a debate that is long not exhausted and so far has not been fully addressed in the discussions on governance and the King reports. The “Propriety Limited” concept has served market orientated economies well. But as bizarre and extreme as it seems, under growing social pressure and increasing legislative controls, the day may come that, for example, the ageing former registered shareholders of a Union Carbide are called to account for having a vested interest in the company at the time of the Bhopal incident. The debate around contaminated underground water in South Africa has a smack of frustration that former shareholders in the culpable but now defunct mines can no longer be held accountable for the damage.

clip_image004As to shareholder motive? These are as varied as the compositions of shareholders are: from the single owner of a gardening service to the quoted corporate giant; from the institutional investor and pension fund to the portfolio manager and individual home based trader. The old strategic wisdom of “short term profitability for longer term wealth creation” may be making a comeback with the focus on sustainability. But I believe one thing is consistent: the intrinsic contribution of share ownership in companies that make a positive difference to our lives. Guided by this litmus test investment can be as, if not more successful, than if it were guided simply by numbers. Enron for one would not have looked very attractive whereas Capitec does. The real power of shareholders, as in all else, lies in the contribution they make within the guiding rules of legitimate transaction. Irrespective of motive, behaving this way gives a head start: sincerity a giant leap. Good share investment is rooted in the idea that you invest in a company as if it were your own; that the best holding is forever; that you judge company leadership by their honesty, ability and passion for the business and that you understand the nature of the business. Sound familiar?

I have now dealt with all three contributors to wealth creation. Although their proportional contribution varies from time to time, company to company, and sector to sector, there is no hierarchy of importance. As hackneyed as the concept may appear, they are a team that works at its best in giving the best of themselves for a common purpose of service to others.

I believe it is possible at the level of wealth creation to create pockets of excellence and a large degree of protection against contamination by external financial viruses, policies, ideologies and conflict. It is at this level too that one can effect meaningful change that could influence the surrounding environment. The wonder of the universe lies not in its infinite vastness but in a single atom.

This post can also be read on MONEYWEB