22 December 2005

Seeing Tailorism Clearly in 1856

In 1911, Fredrick Winslow Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management. One of his main concepts was that "to increase production, managers must take control of the process." Thus the method of strictly defined assembly-line work was firmly established.

As the above link explains, "This involved observing workers meticulously, analyzing each step in terms of time spent and energy expended, and using the results to determine the best method for each task. This standard method would be required of every worker, with scaled piecework rates providing incentives for higher output."

Interestingly, 55 years prior to Taylor's opus horribilus, Scientific American magazine had this to say:

"The division of labor, though it may bring to perfection the production of a
country up to a certain point, is most deleterious in its effects upon the
producers. To make pins to the best advantage, it may answer for a time to
divide the operation into 20 parts. Let each man concentrate the whole
of his attention on the one simple work, for instance, of learning to make
pin heads, and on this ever let his time be consumed. It is astonishing the
perfection and rapidity which we will acquire in performing the operation. But
what is the result on the man? His powers of mind will dwindle, and his head
becomes, for all practical purposes, after a number of generations, no larger
than that of one of the pins he makes. He ceases to be a man, and becomes a mere
tool." - From Scientific American, January 1856

And what's one of the big buzzwords in management circles these days? Process! To those who continue to insist that production improvements brought about by a focus on process justify the damage done to the individuals who actually do the work, I can only shake my head. Well, I can also respond with alternatives, but I also certainly shake my head.

20 December 2005

Google Earth Update

This recent article from the New York Times is almost boring 'cause the news is so old... but I'm going to mention it anyway.

It seems that some countries like India and Thailand have finally noticed that "Hey, Google Earth provides easy access to overhead imagery of sensitive parts of our country." Um, yeah... and it's been out there for a while now.

Interesting line: India's surveyor general, Maj. Gen. M. Gopal Rao, [commenting on Google Earth's offering of imagery of India] said, "They ought to have asked us."

Right. Google's response is basically (and appropriately): Times are changing, and the best thing to do is adapt to the advances in technology.

The genie is out of the bottle folks. Let's accept that fact and move on...

16 December 2005

Wikipedia Update!

CNN.com has a short piece about an article in the journal Nature, which concluded Wikipedia's accuracy is on par with Encyclopedia Britannica, at least for scientific articles.

This is good news (and not surprising)… but the part that made me laugh out loud was this line:
Encyclopedia Britannica officials declined to comment on the findings
because they haven't seen the data.

I think it's hilarious, and really illustrates the genuine strength of Wikipedia. Even on an issue that directly affects Britannica (i.e. the comparable quality of it's prime competitor), the "Britannica officials" haven't figured out how to review the data in a timely manner… while the Wikipedia founder (there are no "Wikipedia Officials," of course!) is all over it!

How much longer will Britannica be able to exist? What do they really bring to the table? Not much, if you ask me...

Just for chuckles, check out the "Why Try Britannica Online" page, where Britannica officials try to make the case for giving them $70/year. Reasons include:
  • More Comprehensive - over 120,000 articles! (but Wikipedia has 687,619!)
  • Trustworth Results (see afore mentioned Nature journal)
  • Less time searching (as if Wikipedia is hard to search?)
  • Help for students (um, this is unique?)

Looks to me like the Britannica Officials are making buggy whips...

15 December 2005

Internet Perils & Joys

Two interesting things came across my screen this morning... and interestingly, both are from Asia.

First, I learned about a Chinese poet named Tu Fu (or Du Fu). He was born in 712 AD, wrote a bunch of poems and was generally obscure during his lifetime. He is now considered one of the greatest Chinese poets ever, and is compared to Virgil, Shakespear, Horace, Ovid, etc... Thanks to the internet, some dude in central NY can now read this guy's poetry over 1200 years later... in English, no less. Wow!

Then, I got a link to a sad story about a recent trading snafu in Japan. An as-yet-unidentified trader intended to sell 1 share at 600,000 yen. You guessed it - he accidentally transposed the numbers and sold 600,000 shares for 1 yen each. Ouch! They are estimating the financial damage at 60 billion yen. Double ouch!

So, this amazing thing called the internet lets me read chinese poetry written over 1200 years ago by a guy who died in relative obscurity (makes me wonder what people will be reading 1,000 years from now!)... and it also lets people make monumental financial mistakes.

Such interesting times we live in!

Ten Enduring Ideas

Check out this article from strategy+business on ten enduring business ideas... It's kinda long, but worth the time...