Over the coming months The Art of Perfection will explore what asset managers can learn from the worlds of art, science and studies into the human body.
First in the series: something you would never see without changing the way you look.
Her finger is a millionth of a meter long. A single strand of hair looks like a giant serpent beneath her and the eye of a needle is cavernous around her. To find her in the first place you need an electron microscope.
Say hello to Trust, holder of the 2015 Guinness World Record for being "The smallest sculpture of a human form".
Created by Jonty Hurwitz, with the help of teams in London, the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, Trust is the embodiment of art, science and human endeavor at the outer limits of achievement.
In The story of Trust: a nano sculpture on YouTube, Jonty describes the 10-month process of creating “The smallest object of art ever created by humanity”. It’s a story worth reading for any middle office asset management team in search of perfection.
First, the technical detail
He describes how the team started with 150 cameras attached to a 360° rig to create a 3D digital image of a live model. The data was then sent to Karlsruhe - one of the world’s leading universities of engineering and natural science - to provide a blueprint for the next stage in the process: two-photon lithography.
Working with the smallest quantum particles, the sculpting process began to combine individual droplets of resin into a single form - in effect, creating a series of nano explosions for the particles to collide and fuse. Then it was a case of bringing Trust to life pixel by pixel.
Second, the artistic intent
In CNN’s film, Is this the world’s smallest sculpture?, the art critic Estelle Lovatt says, “This art is to do with the mix between the emotional and the intelligent and that’s what gives it that spark.”
Hurwitz’s idea was to step back and look at the ways in which scale could be captured without losing accuracy: “My reaction to the need for scale as an artist was to go absolutely nano, to go as tiny as possible.” The figure of a woman dances on a thread of human hair, so small she can only be viewed through a microscope.
So, just what does a nano sculpture and a next generation performance management system have in common? More than you would think.
Both are about the art of creating perfection via meshing together the parts of a whole. Granularity, attention to detail and technology come together to ensure that each composite is perfect, and contributes its perfection to the overall end product; be that a work of art or a report attributing investment decisions to millions of lines of data.
Jonty Hurwitz - creating perfection that’s invisible to the naked eye
The most obvious parallel is that this is all about detail and if one thing is not quite right, it has a knock-on effect on everything else. Being able to find the smallest detail, to understand what detail is important and the impact on the wider data set is essential.
For asset managers, performance measurement systems must be able to dig down and capture each and every piece of source data, perform intra-day calculations (not overnight batches) from whatever angle is required, and then put all the data back together to create a perfect whole. The latest systems can do this for thousands of portfolios, with millions and millions of holdings and transaction rows in a matter of minutes.
Finding the invisible
When Jonty’s completed nano sculpture arrived by courier from Germany, she was in a multi-layered Russian doll of packing to protect her.
“I opened it up,” he says, “and the first layer was bubble wrap and foam balls. Then there was another box. I opened it up and then the next box. Eventually I get to a little jewelry box. And I open the jewelry box up with my heart literally pounding and there’s a little square mirror… and there’s nothing on the mirror.”
But when he held it up to the light he could see dust particles on the surface and eventually noticed an almost imperceptible line of seven particles - a shape - within the random scattering of specks on the glass. He realized something more than dust was on the mirror.
The next challenge was to find a way to look closer. A jeweler’s eye loupe didn’t have the magnification power. A standard microscope still didn’t get down to the detail. Eventually, Jonty found an electron scanning microscope used in medicine to photograph human cells. After 45 minutes of searching in laboratory conditions, the team zoomed in, refocused and saw a human form.
“For me there was this disconnect,” Jonty says, “from 10 months of work, from laboratory to laboratory, to mesh processing, to mesh reduction, to texturing, to pixelating, to consultations… and suddenly, there is the model.
“There are a few people in the laboratory. It all just stops and everyone goes silent. And we stare at this feat of humanity for minutes. You just can’t help feeling the very intense moment seeing its existence.”
New insight for asset managers
What can the architects and users of performance measurement systems take from this? It’s the concept of digging down to pinpoint a near invisible item, a pattern, a sequence of events or data trail that is not quite right, a time series event that doesn’t fit in with the rest or an abnormal return that doesn't look right.
In a world where the proliferation of data volumes and asset classes show no sign of slowing down, the system needs to recognize a single component in the data, combine it with its neighbours in the right place and at the right time to create a meaningful whole and to enable meaningful business analysis.
- Asset management is a complex business and middle office teams need perfect control over the data running through their systems.
- Next generation workflows can provide greater clarity on the data as it is processed.
- Asset managers that invest in automated checks and balance will improve accuracy, speed and their service to clients.
- The latest performance measurement platforms are built to locate and interrogate fine detail, automatically both before and after the performance calculation.