Locklin on science

Planning of invention part 1: Burton Klein and Dynamic Economics

Posted in Progress by Scott Locklin on February 17, 2021

Burton Klein is a name rarely heard these days. He’s a man that doesn’t even rate a wiki entry; less important than Rachel Dolezal, apparently. If you google his name, you’ll get a few of his pieces from his years at RAND, and Harvard still shilling his (excellent) book from 1977. I suspect he’s largely been forgotten; there are a few citations of his book through the 90s, but precious little since then. Klein was interested in innovation (his word, more or less, is “dynamism”) during a time of obvious American cultural, economic and technological stagnation; the 1970s. Most economists then as now were useless ‘spergs who had a hard time noticing obvious things, like the fact that different kinds of companies have existed, and corporate culture might be important. Klein was asked to do practical work during WW-2, so he was well able to state the obvious. His classification of firms:

Type 1: “Happy warrior rationality” is associated with ideological outbreeding and is commonly employed in making fast history.

Type 2: “Middle-class rationality” is associated with ideological inbreeding and is commonly employed in making slow history.

Type 3: “Accounting rationality” is associated with a zero rate of ideological change and is commonly employed by profit maximizing firms in a temporary equilibrium with an unchanging outside environment.

Type 4: “Conservation-of-power rationality” is associated with organizations which have such a lot ability to deal with unpredictability that they must manipulate the rules of the game if they are to survive.

 

Type 1 companies have new ideas: early radio, jet aircraft, semiconductor and internet companies were type 1.Type 2 companies steal ideas; early Facebook or Ali Baba are classic type 2 companies. Type 3 companies are Walmart, and Type 4 are modern day tech monopolies, insurance companies, Boeing and most American banks.

Klein follows some case histories of companies through their innovative stages towards sclerosis. During innovative stages, companies are generally in constant danger through technological upheaval. To put a more recent example; early google had a very good idea with pagerank, then proceeded to have many more very good ideas which made them the megacorp they are today. Google could have died any number of times in the early days when the server farm was held together with baling wire and nerd sebum. Later they went through a tedious “me too” stage where they stole a bunch of other companies ideas and bought out competitors …. and proceeded to do nothing with them; Orkut, Hangouts; very long list. I think Google was already type-3 by 2008 or so, and has been type-4 for the last few years where they attempted a merger with the government rather than be subject to anti-trust regulations.

My image of 2008 Google

While it’s fun to shit on once great megacorps who have gone past fat Elvis and on into malicious Mr. Magoo stage of corporate life, the real thing we’re interested in is type-1 companies and the conditions which make them possible and successful. Without type-1 companies there is no innovation; no new technology for ordinary people, and no increases in productivity for the over-all health of the economy. Type-2 and 3 companies are also necessary for happiness of the human race; otherwise first movers get all the returns, and they’re not always well equipped to efficiently deliver value to society. This is difficult for innovators to accept; their inventions might be better delivered to humanity by a type-2 or type-3 company, but the examples of this are too numerous to mention. Type-4 companies are entirely malicious and they should, of course, be destroyed and the pieces kept to a higher degree of evolution for the good of the human race. Either that, nationalized or kept under strict public supervision; like power companies. We have anti-trust laws because of type-4 companies.

The quality of dynamism (aka type-1 companies; what we call innovation, more or less) is the engine that makes capitalism a superior economic system to various forms of planned economies. Even the Soviets realized this, which is why the Soviet Union had dozens of competing design bureaus for their aerospace and other critical technological developments. Ideology didn’t matter much in matters of national security; things that worked mattered. Companies or Soviet design bureaus do not take risks and innovate unless they’re afraid of their competitors. If they have no competitors, they don’t do anything useful: they’ll display all the dynamism of a sclerotic government bureaucracy. They may fake like they’re doing things; they may even add to academic research as Bell Labs, the pre-1965 national lab system, and to a ridiculously more humble extent,  Google -X did. But the fruits of the research won’t be used for anything real: only type-1 companies ship innovative, actual technologies to customers, which is the only kind of R&D that counts for anything in the corporeal world.

Type-1 companies need not be tiny little startups, though some small tech startups are type-1 (more are type-2 -some becoming type-1 later). Great periods in innovation in heavy, capital intensive technology were done by medium size firms, with groups or subsidiaries within the firm being something like the Dunbar number producing the greatest payoffs. The skunkworks of Kelly Johnson is a canonical example; highly innovative, efficient subsidiary of a much larger firm. Early Ford motor company was another example; a few hundred people all working in one place, all with access to the boss.

One thing type-1 companies have, and Klein even used the word, is diversity. Not the fake virtue word as it is used today (afaik in common usage, that term mostly means baskin-robbins hued wealthy NPCs, h1b slaves and political komissars) -actual diversity in skill, social class, perspectives, family background and so on. Engineers, product developers, executives, laborers and machinists all working on the manufacturing floor. Henry Ford was probably as successful as he was because he was an uneducated man of humble means, rather than a fancy-pants upper middle class engineer as most other car executives he was competing with. As a result of his humble background, he saw the possibility of selling cars to the ordinary man, rather than keeping them as toys for the rich. W. Edwards Deming introduced this idea to Japanese firms, and while American car companies forgot it, the Toyotas of the world realized that one needs to “Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and usage that may be encountered with the product or service.” Lack of hierarchy in such diverse groups is also incredibly important. Obviously someone at the top needs to make the important decisions, but the breakthrough ideas can come from anyone. If your line engineer or machinist is kept silent by some apple-polishing, scheming middle manager, his insights will be lost by the firm.

Assembly line idea came from a worker who had worked in a meat packing plant

Dynamic firms tend to hire more contractors and bring in more outside tech experts. Same story as the lack of hierarchy in the management scheme. Contractors and outside experts bring new ideas. They also make better use of academics. Academics brought in for insights into new areas can be a real force multiplier. Academics these days are mostly useless bureaucrats, but back in the day they often had specialized knowledge which could be of extreme value to a dynamic firm. But the academics weren’t allowed to capture the firm: the firm is there to make money and ship new products, in that order. Academics should be kept as outsider experts. Internalizing a hierarchical academic mindset, even back then, was death to dynamism. Ask Shockley and the traitorous 8.

Organizational simplicity and a high degree of independence is an absolute necessity for dynamism; you will never see a complex org chart in a dynamic company or subsidiary. Organizational complexity is a sign that the innovative days are well and truly over: the complexity is needed to fully exploit the new ideas, or not so new ideas, and is mostly a sign of type-3 companies. The strength of a diverse workforce and low degree of hierarchy is the ability to generate new ideas and deal with uncertainties and changing situations. If everyone in a company is ideologically the same (Klein’s word mind you) they’re not going to be able to deal with changing, dynamic conditions. If your world is deterministic, as it often is in the case of monopolies or regulatory capture, you can afford ideological consistency in the workforce; it might even help drive efficiencies. But if something changes, barring government bail-outs, the ideological dinosaurs will go extinct.

Klein notes that technological break throughs follow an S-curve. Idiots in tech talk about exponential growth; S-curves are approximately exponential in early days. They’re of course sub-linear in later days. Recognition that all growth is an S-curve is one of the fundamental truths that Klein gets right and a lot of other people get wrong. Everyone in the startup business wants that sweet, sweet exponential part of the S-curve, but you only hit it by being type-1 or type-2.

As we all know, high returns come from taking risks; it’s one of the fundamental economic laws of nature that is captured in the CAPM. You create new things and enormous value when taking risks. Doing the same thing over and over, slightly more efficiently is useful and necessary, but it isn’t going to be an innovative or dynamic company. You need the big, complex hierarchy to profit from the rest of the S-curve. You need everyone in one big room for the exponential part.

Notice how founders are on production floor with everyone else

Thinking to one of the great historical examples: why was it that Fairchild, a fairly low-technology “type-3” camera conglomerate, was able to profit from semiconductor physics, while mega technology corporations of the day, like Sylvania, IBM, and GE, which had huge high technology vacuum tube electronics operations were not? The latter companies certainly made some contributions to semiconductor industry, but it was the weird camera company that changed the world. Well, the dumb-ass camera and airplane-part company funded an independent subsidiary with option to buy, because Mr. Fairchild remembered what it was like in the early days of his firm. They took a risk and funded a skunk works; it worked, and we live in a vastly different world because of it.

Klein predicted the sclerosis that would hit the over-all American economy; everything from affluenza among the middle classes, to soaring real estate prices as a form of inflation, to the inability of corporations to deal with changing conditions without government interference. He even predicted the growth of microstability; predictability in the returns of large corporations, mostly due to rent-seeking parasitism, pushing risk taking off on poor people, and making for social unrest and macro-instability (aka the last 20 years in America). We should learn the lessons of his work in building new companies.

 

Incidentally, speaking of sclerotic companies; if anyone has a way of migrating content and comments off of wordpress; I had to host the images for this post elsewhere because wordpress image upload seems to be failing. Preference for offshore or distributed systems for reasons which should be obvious.

changed the world because he listened to a former meat packer instead of engineers, u mad bro

26 Responses

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  1. Chiral3 said, on February 17, 2021 at 1:14 pm

    One of the problems, generally, with highlighting the skunkworks model is it suffers from survivorship bias. On those unlucky days when I get stuck in a room with the McKinsey crowd and they start referencing case studies they will invariably say something along the lines of “… and all the signs were there, how nobody saw it is a mystery.” Problem is nobody sees it in-sample and the path is littered with the corpses of truly innovative and motivated teams and companies. Luck and timing can’t be understated. Affording luck and timing their due would put us far out some Laffer-type (Laugher?) curve.

    The other interesting thing, and I like that Type I-IV taxonomy, is that each type, at least insofar as I have noticed, has gotten good at innovating within their type. Second law analogy applied to increasing specialization, the fall of Rome, Mayans, the heat death of the universe, etc. Private equity may be a really good example today. Or maybe a really large company that was a SIFI. They have gotten so good that their sole product is making really clever rules in conjunction with other layers of rules that the value creation is exclusively derivative and the barrier to competition is largely regulatory complexity (GOOG being your earlier example). At least For a G10 this self-reinforcing loop almost requires globalization and engagement with China to exist.

    • Scott Locklin said, on February 17, 2021 at 1:27 pm

      There are larger lessons to be learned for sure: modern American higher education has produced a tribe of zombies, and our ruling caste are morons who are at best “me tooing” China. But that’s not the subject at hand, which is how to build adaptive and innovative firms. Civilizations we like can’t function without innovative firms. There aren’t many right now!

      Type-1 companies aren’t guaranteed success stories, but every single innovative company went through a type-1 phase. They all look like Fairchild semiconductor, Lockheed Skonkwerks, early Ford, early Google and so on: none of them look like modern Facebook or Mass Mutual. The case studies are fascinating; Ford actually got whooped later by GM, who were innovative enough to copy the production ideas and allow for cheap ways of differentiating between consumer segments and individual choice. You can see the reflection of this in every successful startup who brought a new idea to the world. It’s just a pattern for how the sausage gets made. Part 2 will be Norbert Wiener’s version of this. Maybe I’ll do a part 3 if someone gives me a good idea in the comments.

      I think Google-X was a dim recognition of this dynamic; Astro’s a smart dude, but it didn’t work. Way too much woo for its own sake, not enough building of useful and necessary products.

  2. DamnItMurray said, on February 17, 2021 at 4:37 pm

    There is of course a fundamental weakness in education that is to he blamed. Students have slowly been regressing towards a mean set upon them by the government and it’s academic apparatchiks, where the dull but energetic and physically fit are subdued by appeal to their most primitive needs and the bright, talented and risk-taking are suffocated by an increasingly kafkaesque education system, where bureaucracy kills any enthusiasm in utero. Add to all of this the incessant woke propaganda trying remove all and any difference in the name of “muh equality” and you get a young population not only lacking in but afraid of intellectual, idealistic or creative diversity.

  3. Raul Miller said, on February 17, 2021 at 5:23 pm

    So… how do we takes something like https://www.academia.edu/21706161/Surface_trimming_of_silicon_photonics_devices_using_controlled_reactive_ion_etching_chemistry?email_work_card=view-paper and fold that into something useful?

    Who does the work, and who has the experience to critique issues described in the paper? Are there hobbyists who can play with this stuff? Hollywood special effects people (or Canadian game developers) who can do something with it? Chinese MMO gold farmers? Russian aerospace specialists? Etc. etc…

    • Scott Locklin said, on February 17, 2021 at 8:56 pm

      I dunno, who says it’s useful? Photonics never took off like people thought it might in the 90s. I suppose it’s still possible it might some day.

  4. Maverick said, on February 17, 2021 at 6:38 pm

    Also underrated, Klein’s attempt to puzzle out the great economic dilemma of the 1970’s; the unholy marriage of inflation and stagnation: https://authors.library.caltech.edu/82377/1/sswp286.pdf

    If Klein is correct, the steps undertaken by Reagan and Volcker were massive mistakes, and the bleeding out of US industry caused by their policies unnecessary. He notes empirically that historical prices changes are more closely correlated to labor costs than general economic conditions. This is not inconsistent with modern “left” or “Keynesian” position, but while they blame rises in labor costs on higher wages, Klein points instead to lower productivity—moar labor is being turned into less output. (Yes, in broad strokes, the modern “left” position is to blame unions and the “right” position to blame monetary policy. Econ is wacky.) The reasons for this slowdown are what Klein wrote “Dynamic Economics” about and you have documented above—decreasing rivalry between corporations, fewer Type 1 innovators, etc. The reality of “stagflation” is no mystery at all; when productivity slows and demand does not prices go up.

    4 months before Volcker would begin spiking interest rates to an incredible 20%, Klein wrote this:

    “The more that monetary restraint slows growth in output, the more that productivity will be damaged,and the more rapidly prices will increase! To be successful in preventing inflation, monetary policy would have to keep us in a permanent state of recession — because only by doing so could it ensure an adequate supply of negative feedback was more or less continuously available. Unfortunately, however, those who would have to pay the price of such a stability policy are mainly the youth and the minority groups; in these two groups the incidence of unemployment is the greatest.”

    Of course this is exactly what happened. Not only did high interest rates make the needed investment in capital-intensive industry much more expensive; it attracted global capital flows to the US and the USD. The dollar soared, pricing out American exports. Investment shifted from high productivity growth potential industry to low productivity growth potential service and financial sectors. The Volcker shock did control inflation, but by approximately the same mechanism as bombing US factories. Klein also notes that the tax cuts then being advocated (to be soon put into motion by Reagan) were just an indirect form of government stimulus. They would justify stagflation in the long run, as the government can pick up the slack by compromising its own fiscal position, whether it be by reducing outlays or revenue.

    Klein’s argument is a supply side one; there’s also a demand-side one he doesn’t cover. The entrance of the baby boom and increasing numbers of women to the workforce raised demand, and either unemployment, inflation, or greater capital investment and productivity gains would bring supply into equilibrium. Monetary policy and the institutional changes Klein describes prevented the latter options.

    PS: May have accidently posted this comment a couple of times; some kind of apparent email sync issue on my end. Apologies if so

    • Scott Locklin said, on February 17, 2021 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks for poasting that summary and link; I hadn’t read that paper and look forward to doing so later.

      Very few people have written about the slowdown in technological progress; I mean, most people won’t even admit that it has happened. Klein was someone who nailed it as it was happening. I guess anyone who was alive in 1940-1950 would have noticed 1970-1980 wasn’t quite the same thing.

      • Igor Bukanov said, on February 18, 2021 at 8:32 am

        At least in semiconductor industry there is no technological knowledge slow down. The Moore’s law is still alive. But it is no longer driven by US manufacturing.

        • Scott Locklin said, on February 18, 2021 at 10:16 am

          My 10 year old thinkpad disagrees with this assessment. It is significantly faster than a 4 year old macbook pro. Not as fast as current year mobile Ryzen or M2, but not slow enough to bother replacing it.

          If I had tried using a laptop from 2001 when I bought it in 2011, well, that sort of improvement is considerably more exponential looking.

          • chiral3 said, on February 19, 2021 at 3:16 pm

            It’s a hardware/software distinction too, no? The example I like is that there are two types of people: those that think the accelerometer is the innovation and those that think the software wrapping it is the innovation. On the latter I think it bifurcates and people have a hard time distinguishing betwixt the two.

            So I agree 100% in the slowdown in progress and I think people don’t acknowledge it for this reason. To be mindlessly cynical this probably dates to a germ in the 50’s, being knocked up in the 60’s, and birth in the 70’s. Engineers and physicists were truly exceptional back in those days. It’s all so derivative today.

            • Scott Locklin said, on February 19, 2021 at 10:43 pm

              The software makes it run slower because of the rowhammer bug.

              Kalman filters were a real innovation. In the 50s. And they worked just fine when they were little gears and shit instead of call outs to lapack (also more or less a 50s piece of technology).

          • Igor Bukanov said, on February 20, 2021 at 5:44 pm

            I clearly see the progress in smartphones, graphics cards, servers, SSD. The thing with laptops is that Intel became monopoly in that area and that killed all innovations.

            • Scott Locklin said, on February 20, 2021 at 11:59 pm

              SSDs are getting cheaper; the rest of it, no, not really. Logarithmic, not exponential.

  5. anonymous said, on February 19, 2021 at 3:03 pm

    I actually worked in the skunkworks for a time. Unforutnately it was the 2010 skunkworks, not the 1950-70 skunkworks. It’s tragic what a parody of Kelly Johnson’s organization that place has become. We actually had some corporate vogons descend one day to tell us that we were “not to manipulate the skunk” (the cartoon logo of the skunkworks) as it was “corporate intellectual property and very serious business.” Some team had been doing variants of the logo for their various projects. One had the skunk wearing a sombrero or something and that set off the vogons. Illustrative of the type of place it has become because of the type of people in charge (the amount of people in charge, the extent to which they’re in charge, the fact that *anyone’s* in charge in the sense that they mean it…). Whenever someone whose wig was big enough came wandering by (about once a week) we were expected to snap to, stop whatever we were doing, and make our workplace “presentable”.

    • anonymous said, on February 19, 2021 at 3:04 pm

      Oh for the nation that could paint racy or subversive nose-art on their government issue bombers and have a laugh about it!

    • chiral3 said, on February 19, 2021 at 3:26 pm

      “Gentlemen, you can’t innovate or improve on the graven image! This is the Skunk Works!” – said in best Dr Strangelove voice.

      That is a hilarious image. Grey suits descending, setting up meetings, meetings about meetings, …, to discuss the skunk image.

      Scott mentioned an insurance company before. In the insane world of contingent capital ^ X, where contingent capital is now an asset class, did you know that corporate name has become commodifiable? Said company has a contingent capital agreement whereby there’s a trigger of the transfer of ownership of name (and nothing else). Said name was valued, in dollars. So don’t touch the skunk! Pepe is as good as cold hard assets.

    • Walt said, on February 20, 2021 at 12:06 am

      The whole defense industry has become like this. Kelly Johnson and Howard Hughes were brilliant men who produced innovations in tech. The defense industry now manages iterations on previous tech, often with worse performance

    • Scott Locklin said, on February 20, 2021 at 10:34 am

      I always thought it was hilariously ironic the F-35, the ultimate bureaucratic turd of a weapons system, was delivered under the aegis of the Skunkworks.

      FWIIW I knew an old timer at LBNL who worked at the real Skunkworks and knew Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich; said it was best time of his career.

  6. Kirk said, on February 19, 2021 at 4:51 pm

    I’m grateful that you highlighted Burton Klein here, because I’d never heard of him.

    From your description of his work, and the excerpt thereof that you include, I think that he’s gotten ahold of at least a corner of the problem that I’ve been puzzled by for most of my lifetime, which is basically “Why the hell are we so poor at actually doing hierarchy and organization over the long haul…? And, what could we do better?”.

    I have come to the conclusion that most of what we humans do in this sphere is unsuited to our natures; we set up these huge organizational reef structures which at first have great success, and then over time, they gradually turn into these ossified shells of dysfunction. Every social structure we put together does this, with very few of them ever managing to reinvent themselves or overcome the process.

    Clayton Christensen called part of this the “Innovators Dilemma”, and documented it quite well across much of the Swedish industrial world. What he never quite got to was why it was these organizations, initially innovative and adaptable, became what they did as failure studies.

    You can see a lot of this on the micro-level in organizations from big to small; there’s a syndrome where a small element of an organization performs a critical function, and so long as it does that effectively, nobody pays attention to it. Then, the people that made that element work move on, and that functional area begins a slow decline into the problematic, at some point drawing the attention of the managerial/leadership element, and they re-emphasize the importance of that element, carefully selecting and nurturing the people that work there until it again becomes a non-issue.

    Whereupon the management changes over, and the cycle begins again.

    We do not do these things at all well. I am coming around to the idea that organization itself is the issue; instead of constructing these vast social reef structures that inevitably fossilize and fail (Roman Empire, for example…) I think we’d be a lot better off focusing on the lowest levels, and building a lot of effective polyvalent work elements that come together in an ad-hoc manner to work on major projects, and then immediately repurpose themselves upon the end of that project or the need for that effort. The idea that something like IBM is always going to be there is a falsity, and what an effort like that should be is an enabling framework that gets filled with sub-elements that work hard at their task and then move on when it is over.

    If you allow the empire-builders and their parasitic kin to show up and take over, you’re lost. And, I think you can analyze a lot of what’s going wrong in our society as it going out of balance towards the empire-building jobsworthies at all levels, Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy writ across an entire civilization.

    • Scott Locklin said, on February 20, 2021 at 10:56 am

      I’m only marginally interested in that subject, and mostly Spenglerian in my world history (aka civilizations rise up, get old and die). But humans actually do pretty well in that regard. Just not in anything a modern technologist might find interesting.

      There used to be a good wiki entry on the subject, but some vandal destroyed it (wikipedia is non-lindy). You can look through the history here:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_institutions_in_continuous_operation

      Families/clans do well, religions do very well (Catholic church pretty much wins for old human institutions), schools do OK, mostly in so far as they are associated with a religious institution, military institutions do OK if associated with a family/clan/King. There are also very old Japanese corporations, but they’re mostly associated with a family/clan and a religious institution; for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kong%C5%8D_Gumi

      I guess also inns/hotels and …. a couple of wineries and other luxury goods:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_companies

      TLDR, cater to a fundamental human need, be able to pass a legacy down to your sons, and do something that involves elements of self sacrifice and you can build a long lived organization.

      I’m sure there are discussions about this at the Long Now foundation, though considering they’re a bunch of Bay Area burning man types, they might go off in spurious directions. The conclusions of such examinations of history are inherently extremely conservative, and a lot of people don’t like being confronted with such things. Very long lived institutions are inherently patriarchal and involve religion and self sacrifice: not particularly fashionable.

      • Kirk said, on February 20, 2021 at 10:09 pm

        I’m probably in fundamental disagreement with you as to how “interesting” the issue is. The ephemera of “how” has import, but the real question I find fascinating about it all is not how or which bolts get turned, but who is doing it and what technique they’re using.

        Intel and Rome have a lot in common, when you look at it. Organizational success, followed by organizational sclerosis, then failure as the edges get nibbled away while the elites dabble at corruption in the boardrooms and neglect the outer rings of the enterprise, oblivious to what was going on.

        It is also amazing to me how many of the people that are raised up to run organizations really do not understand the nature of the organization they are in charge of and how that entity really functions; they’re brought up on a philosophy of diktat, the idea that whatever they say creates reality within the organization. They manage by memo and email, never leaving their office to go out and actually experience things down on the factory floor or the sales area. Because of this, they fail to take in the fact that there are things inherent to the internal environment of their organizations which are more influential on employee and customer behavior than anything they type into their computers. These environmental factors are never, ever examined or considered by the average manager or “leader”, so they go on wrecking the machine with random whacks of memorandum and policy letter, things which often create effects diametrically opposite to what they intended.

        This syndrome permeates everything we do, as most managers are as oblivious to the environment they influence with their commands as a fish is to water. They never go out and look at why the plant employees insist on using a particular fire exit improperly, merely issue paperwork and censure dictating that they should not do it–All the while, ignoring the very real influence that the environment within the plant has on employee behavior.

        This arena ought to be down to a science, by now. But, because it exists in a blind spot that nobody really notices or studies, here we are: Ineffectual and counter-productive management and leadership by diktat, with no feedback loop to the leaders and managers telling them that their words don’t really effectuate the change they seek to create.

        Same things happen across cultures. Rome, for example–The Boni rested on a pyramid based on military power, which in turn was based on the rural farmer yeoman sorts that made up the bulk of the legions. Instead of nurturing and husbanding those types, they kept them at war and turned them out, creating vast latifundia manned by slaves–Who they couldn’t then entrust with arms and put in the legions. Meanwhile, the rural impoverished heirs of the yeoman farmers wound up living in the urban slums, where they wound up on the dole and became burdens on the state, instead of its base.

        The Boni never noticed; they did not, fundamentally, understand how the hell their society really worked. They thought those steadfast ranks of centurions and milites just sprang up like dragon’s teeth whenever they wanted to go to war. The fact that they were enriching themselves by destroying them never occurred to them, any more than the idea that lead might not be the best thing to make pipes out of penetrated their awareness–Despite there being plenty of evidence out where the slaves were working making the stuff that lead was toxic and produced some really bad effects on the people who worked with it.

        The technology and science behind it all is an interesting arena to explore, but I find myself struck by the fact that all of that is a creation of men and organizations. The question I find much more interesting is how and why these entities go through endless cycles of rise, decay, and fall, all in state of near-total oblivious unawareness about what is going on around them, with nobody stopping to ask “Why is this happening, and how the hell do we get off of this endless looping treadmill of failure…?”.

        People design airplanes, and there are entire universities and schools devoted to teaching others how to do that. Nobody ever stops to ask “How did the Skunkworks even happen at Lockheed, and how do we capture that lightning in a bottle in order to replicate it…?”. We all witness the destruction of the corporate culture at Boeing, with the suits and accountants supplanting the engineers, but who ever sat down to study that, quantify it, and then describe what was going on, so as not to repeat the mistakes?

        Instead, we’ve got a situation where the jobsworthies are coming around to demand that the successors to Kelly Johnson be more worried about the logo they might want to use than anything actually important. I’d bet largish money that there was probably more staff time spent by those same people discussing the logo issue than there was anything else on the agenda for the division–Which, in a sane world, would mean that someone above them immediately ensured that all of the organizational cruft was out on the unemployment line in short order. However, with the stage we’re at? They’re the ones who will keep their jobs, and actual engineers will be fired when there is a downturn in the company finances.

        It’s all folk-wisdom, tribal knowledge at this point–But, because nobody has really bothered to study it and quantify it, it all exists in this netherworld of “everybody knows”, but nobody pays attention to. I know long-term Boeing employees both in engineering and out on the plant floor that recognized what was going on with the merger, and many of them made haste for the exits, selling their stock on the way out. They knew what the rest of us didn’t find out until after the 737-Max started crashing, and they knew it before it really took effect.

        In the end, I think this is how civilizations die. Rome went out about like Boeing did, taken over from within by the same genius money-men that destroyed the combined McDonnell-Douglas. A myriad of bad decisions, mostly based on a false perception of what made Boeing work–Which was not the financial gurus, but the engineers and the engineering culture of the company. Once decisions started being made based on profit and loss statements rather than engineering, the company was doomed–And, because the damn thing is so big and such a huge part of the US aviation industry at this point, it is probably going to take that industry down with it when it does finally collapse.

        From a standpoint of “something that would last”, I think we’d be a lot better off with a bunch of small companies working together. Look at the difference between the NASA SLS nightmare and SpaceX–And, there’s not a damn reason that NASA couldn’t have done the iterative work SpaceX is doing, starting back in the 1980s when Jerry Pournelle came up with the basic idea behind DC-X. Granted, Falcon ain’t true SSTO, but if the trends continue, they’re going to finally get us affordable use of space.

        So… Why does nobody study this, and why isn’t it discussed? We all know organizational failure when we see and experience it, but nobody quantifies it or tries to put an end to the endless cycles of destruction. Hell, if the guys out on the plant floor in Everett saw it coming, why didn’t anyone else?

        • Scott Locklin said, on February 22, 2021 at 12:10 am

          >This arena ought to be down to a science, by now.

          Have you ever actually met a sociologist or industrial psychologist?

          • Kirk said, on February 23, 2021 at 4:37 pm

            Oh, yeah… And every encounter has left me wondering why we let people like that take up important jobs of that kind.

            Of course, I’ve also often wondered how Very Important People that I’ve met got to where they did, seemingly in the complete absence of brains or capacity for rational thought. Not to mention, with abysmal actual performance records when it comes to running organizations.

            Like I said… We don’t do this very well, at all. Mostly because we don’t actually think about it in any serious way, or ever really examine things in the organizational internal environment, which is a thing most of the people filling manager/leader roles are utterly oblivious to.

            You go ask someone at Lockheed to lay out the how&why of the success that Kelly Johnson’s Skunkworks attained, and you’re going to find nobody that really understands the nuts and bolts of the organizational “magic” that made it all work. Why? Because the idiot executive management class there literally thinks all that stuff just happens–Like magic. That’s how they think of it: Magic. As if they had no real control over the phenomenon of “successful organization”.

            They don’t even have a real conceptual framework with which to work within to try to understand it all, because if they did, then those jobsworthies who’re more concerned about the logo wouldn’t be working there or would be fired the minute they got caught wasting time on that ephemeral BS. One of the key identifiers for a really successful managerial class is the question of whether or not they can effectively identify and prioritize what’s really important to the goals of the organization, and know what is really important to its continued function. Most of the idiots we’ve been promoting into leadership and management roles in this country can’t even successfully identify or define what business their organization is really in, and are unable to recognize when they’ve stepped out of it all–Which is about 90% of what led to the organizational failures that Clayton Christensen documented.

            There’s really no excuse for this, either–We’ve only been organizing and team-building since we came down out of the trees. Tool-making eventually got turned into the sciences and all of our technologic toys, but organization-building and the proper operation thereof is still in the realm of “magical thinking”, because we sure can’t replicate things like the Kelly Johnson Skunkworks at will, the way we can knap flint and turn bolts.

  7. gbell12 said, on February 19, 2021 at 11:35 pm

    >if anyone has a way of migrating content and comments off of wordpress; I had to host the images for this post elsewhere because wordpress image upload seems to be failing. Preference for offshore or distributed systems for reasons which should be obvious.

    I’ve done this and may be able to help you. You’d probably like a static site generator the best. The output of these is just HTML and CSS, which can be uploaded to any “offshore or distributed” system you like (e.g. Cloudflare, AWS). No database, little-to-no vendor lockin.

    • Scott Locklin said, on February 20, 2021 at 10:35 am

      I’ve actually got everything backed up statically …. except the comments. Comments are very valuable! It’s the main thing I’m looking for. Like, having all the corrections to my yammerings and further thoughts by me are the important thing.

  8. Dawit Habtemariam said, on February 20, 2021 at 5:35 am

    As our economy and society continues to rot and the “elites” get dumber, greedier and crazier, do you think we’ll see explosions of massive violence occur in our lifetime?


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