I’ve said before that modern skeptics are lazy and pointed in the wrong direction. I still believe that.
But there’s kind of larger point there. Humans are lazy and pointed in the wrong directions.
How often have you thought about free speech? If you’re like me and you frequent the places I frequent… once a week or so? I mean, it comes up all the time. Usually in some circumstance where that freedom is being abrogated somewhere in the world. There is (justifiably, I think) a real concern about freedom of speech and its defense.
Still, there’s a kind of defacto acceptance, especially with young, white, tech-literate males, that freedom of speech is a natural state, an unassailable good, something obvious (or as they say in the US, self-evident).
I mean, there’s nothing particularly obvious about it. Like everything else, it’s just something people made up. It might be a hard-won evolution of centuries of experimenting with despots, but it’s not obvious.
There’s also an assumption that freedom of speech is binary. It isn’t that either. I mean, it’s not like you can say everything or nothing. Even in the US, the government will not protect dangerous speech (yelling “fire” in a crowded theater). How different is that from inciting violence against a particular race or gender via words?
Clearly, there’s a spectrum there. And yes, there’s an argument to made that offensive speech should be allowed (if not encouraged), but there’s also a strong opposing argument that allowing dangerously offensive speech to propagate by being spoken is something society simply should not accept.
Finally, there’s an assumption that freedom of speech applies in all domains, everywhere. Which is the most obviously wrong. Any freedom is context sensitive. The problem tends to be that people confuse the implementation with the philosophy. The implementation is that the government should regulate speech as little as possible; the philosophy tends to be expressed as “anyone, anything, anywhere”.
Then we whittle down who is anyone (Children? Genocidal Mass Murderers?), what is anything (Snuff porn? Obscenities? White power manifestos?), and what is anywhere (Work? School? A wedding?). And when the free speech advocate is done, we’re in the same place the “pure philosophy” view is meant to get around: Speech is messy, context is important, and there are some things which society as a whole has decided should not be tolerated.
The son comes back from squandering his portion of the estate on hookers and booze. He says to himself, There’s no way my father will take me back as a son, but perhaps he will take me back as a servant.
He’s wrong of course, and this is the Christian story’s difference. You aren’t asked to approach as a beggar, as a servant, but as a child.
The Spirit we receive does not make us slaves, but heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Or to put it another way, not servants, but sons.
When I was young, I read the Chronicles of Narnia again and again. Not as much as read Swiss Family Robinson. But a lot.
There’s this passage I really hate in The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, where Aslan has been brought back to life, having been ritually slaughtered by the White Witch. He explains why he’s alive. It goes a bit like this:
It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.
Now, the lack of subtlety in the book aside (its intentions and allusions are written very much on its sleeve), this bit of text feels a bit like cheating. It feels like a deus ex machina, except instead of something semi-badass (the Eagles are coming!), it’s some yadda yadda. A bit of exposition to plaster over the why of it all.
I still kind of hate it.
But I also appreciate it. Not because of what it says on its face, but because (pardon the meta here) of the deeper magic it contains.
I think I’m the White Witch. But you don’t get off the hook: You’re the White Witch too.
The White Witch is someone who has glanced at something and accepted what she has found. She’s gotten the explanation she wants, and she’ll look no further. She finds the thing that lets her kill the lion but doesn’t find the next thing, the thing that lets the lion kill her.
The next thing is important.
I think a lot of thing have this deeper magic. I think we should keep digging. I think simple explanations are too easy, that there is more behind the curtain.
I think “thus far and no further” is never far enough.
So yeah, you want a meritocracy.
Presumably you think that you, or people like you who do the choosing, can do it on merit.
Let’s pretend I don’t care about the particulars. Let’s keep this completely abstract (always a bad idea, but indulge me). Let’s say we don’t need to think about pesky things like history, context, or justice.
What is merit?
I mean, you need to know what merit is before you screw some ocracy onto it, right?
So what is it?
Welp, we’re done with the abstract. There’s no abstracting merit because merit is inherently context-sensitive. I mean, you can say a meritocracy is a system where the best person for the job gets it. But that just kicks that can further down the hall. What is “best”?
Again we have to step out of the abstract and into the concrete.
Which is hard, because fundamentally, you need to trust the people making the decisions to judge merit correctly, to identify what merit is and then figure out if a person has it or not.
Would you drive your car without insurance? Do you not check receipts after you purchase something to make sure everything’s okay? Do you leave your house unlocked at night while you sleep?
Of course you don’t. People will take advantage of you, or people will make mistakes. You’ll get screwed.
Yet somehow in abstract magical meritland, the people making the decisions will, what, cast off their humanity and become merit-judging robots?
Of course they won’t. And they don’t. In the places where meritocracies supposedly operate (I think, in particular, of Linux kernel development), mostly men with mostly a particular kind of personality have this quality of “merit”.
This diminishes the kind of work these places can do, by the way. Diversity of viewpoint isn’t a weakness. A monoculture of a particular kind of thought is a weakness, and this is what meritocracies foster. Because the people doing the choosing are human and humans are very bad judges of just about anything you can think of.
We build checks into our systems to help us be less us. We build safeguards, we try to rectify past mistakes, we try to slant “the system” away from treating badly the people it has treated badly for so long. We don’t live in a meritocracy because living in a meritocracy is brutality. It has to be, in this world, with these humans running things.
This brings up a lot of questions. Like, “So I should hire the person based on… what then?” Or, “How do we make decisions?”
The answer I have for that is largely unsatisfying to a particular type of person, because it’s kind of not really an answer. Because there’s no god-breathed book that fell out of the sky that tells us how to make political appointments or hire janitors. The answer is… we decide. We decide as a society how we make these decisions. We have quotas and non-discriminatory hiring practices for a reason. That reason is because… we decided that was a more just society.
Again, I know this will probably frustrate some of you. But that’s what a society is.
But all this abstract talk about meritocracy is fiddle-faddle. No one seriously thinks there should be a meritocracy (well, except for a few exceptionally out-to-lunch nerds). And for those who do believe in meritocracy, you better find a new word. Because…
Meritocracy is now a dogwhistle. The same way “family values” is a dogwhistle. It’s a way of communicating something in polite company, a sort of code, or camouflage. It wasn’t always this way, but among educated white men, meritocracy is a codeword in the same way “white genocide” is a code word for racists.
It’s way of seeming rational but actually being sexist and racist and generally just not a very good human being.
You say “meritocracy” but what you mean is that you are fundamentally offended by the idea of a woman or another race having priority over you. Even when the priority is hypothetical.
The reason this is sexist (mostly sexist) and/or racist is that you believe, if all things were put to rights, if everything were as it should be you would be the one being chosen. You will never explicitly say you’d be chosen because of your superiority (and the fact that you happen to be male, and white), but that’s what you truly believe. In your libertarian paradise, of course, of course you would be a Job Creator. You wouldn’t be oppressed, surely not!
The reality of your situation is that you’re probably right.
And that’s kind of sad.
If we didn’t push back against our human natures using crude tools like gender/race quotas, you’d probably come out ahead. I mean, why wouldn’t you? You always have. 1
And you just won’t acknowledge that the scales are tilted in your favour.
And that’s why meritocracy could never work. Because you will never be honest with yourself about the advantages you received, and neither will your boss, and your boss’s boss, or the CEO, or the President, or the Kind of the World. Unless they are forced to.
1. Before you start yelling at me that you-in-particular haven’t had much success, that you weren’t raised with gold dust sprinkled in your diapers, please consider that English is a fairly imprecise language: I mean you-as-a-group, not you-in-particular.
American Christianity (to paint with a wide brush, and I include Canadians in this category too) has a strange relationship with nuance.
Scripture says that Christ’s followers will be persecuted. If you’re a “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” type, this is sort of a problem. Isn’t it? When you live a nation founded on Christian principles (which I won’t dispute; it was birthed out of the Enlightenment, which you don’t really get to understand except as an extension of Christian thought), where the vast majority identify as Christian, it’s hard to imagine why you’d be persecuted.
A slightly more nuanced reading would seek to understand the context into which “you will be persecuted” was written, but suppose for a moment you don’t care about that, and you just want carte blanche to be a Bible Believing Christian who takes all the stuff at face value.
Then it’s a problem. A big problem.
There’s lots of persecution in the world. There are lots of places in the world where being a Christian can get you killed. This is terrible. The world is full of injustice and wrongdoing still, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.
The problem is when you start using persecution as evidence of faith. That logic train is easy.
Sometimes I think you’d have to be a crazy person to think that there’s any real systemic persecution in the USA and Canada. Yet there are all kinds of evangelical Christians who truly believe that the persecution has begun. Or if it hasn’t begun, we’re just on the cusp of Christian churches being burned down and Christians being forced to convert to… something. Liberalism? I dunno.
Despite evangelicals being a vastly powerful group with their own political party and lobby groups and mountains of cash, the church seems beset upon on all sides. And there’s a cottage industry of authors and (lately, unfortunately, and just barely) filmmakers who peddle this message to make a quick buck.
But you understand why this has to be, right? It’s the equivalent of First World Problems. Once your basic needs have been met, as they have in the West, twice over, the animal part of your brain doesn’t shut off the predator/problem-seeking part of your brain. That’s all still in there. And so, when you lose your remote, or the internet goes down, or your dishsoap no longer contains phosphorous, or you can’t find the right craft beer, or your car doesn’t connect to Bluetooth quite quickly enough, you bitch and moan like someone just added an extra 10 pounds to your daily cotton quota.
Exacerbating that, American Christians also have the Bible saying that they should be persecuted! So we get out our first-world-problems magnifying glass, tape over the logo with persecution-finder and scour the land for injustices that must surely be happening at the hands of those (invisible, imaginary) oppressors of the Church. With typical conspiracy-enthusiast enthusiasm, when we don’t find much we take that as evidence that the devil is doing just a devilishly good job at hiding it from us.
Along comes some thrice-married county clerk deciding to take a stand for the sanctity of marriage. At last our martyr has arrived!
The persecution-industrial complex kicks into high gear, a temple is erected (complete with an altar to the media), and the money changers assemble at the gates. Out roll the vans with the signs and all around the country our megachurches denounce, and our political candidates froth, and our news channel rages. The persecution has finally and truly begun! The end is near! We’re good Christians, look how we’re being persecuted!
The 0.9% of Americans who identify as Muslims, and who can actually claim to be systemically persecuted there, must think American Christians are absolutely insane.
Nerds hate analogies. I know this because I hate analogies. I know this because I nitpick analogies. Well, I used to.
I’m not using the word nerd pejoratively here. I’m using it as a sort of shorthand for sciency techy people who like facts and logic. So basically… me.
But why? Why do nerds hate analogies? I’ve thought about this for a while and I think I’ve got a bit of a handle on it. Then again I might be full of crap. So don’t listen too closely.
I think this all has to do with arguments.
What Is An Argument
This is a terrible place to start. Sorry for that. But I’m not actually asking what an argument is. That’s pretty obvious, like asking what a star is. An argument is when you have two people with different points of view talking. That’s it.
What happens after that isn’t at all obvious. Because we can all agree what arguments are but we can’t seem to figure out what arguments are for. Like… why do we have them?
For some people, this is like asking what stars are for. They just are! It’s all very obvious.
But as with everything, it’s not so obvious at all. There are at least two things to consider. One is what we say arguments are for. This is easy to figure out. Just ask anyone. You’ll get ten different answers, and different kinds of arguments have different timbres, but they’ll all tend to cluster around facts and logic and trying to get someone else to understand your (obviously correct) view. Leaving aside that other kind of argument, which is actually just a fight and a different beast altogether.
We talk about arguments like they’re debates. And that’s not a terrible way to think about the way we think about them. In an ideal world, two people with different points of view get to present their point of view, and then at the end we all sit down and agree who has the stronger argument. The loser submits, the winner comes out victorious, and facts and logic win the day.
Now if you read that and said “but that never happens!” to yourself, you’re absolutely right.
Because that’s not what arguments are at all. I know this. I’ve rarely, if ever, seen an argument that works like that.
Maybe I’m just hanging out with the wrong people. I don’t think I am. I think most, if not all people work this way. We say that arguments are about facts and logic and strengths of positions, and making good points, and having discussions that lead to agreement… Yet every argument I’ve seen leads to all the participants slinking away to find better arguments, not better positions.
People are slippery that way.
What Are Arguments For
Arguments actually function as a defense mechanism for things you’ve already decided. If you think there’s any semblance of some kind of scientific method in arguments (and a lot of the time in science, but that’s another matter altogether), you’re either a very special snowflake or a very deluded snowflake. I mean, you must know that your response to feeling like you’ve lost an argument, especially one you care deeply about, isn’t to throw your position out the window, but to figure out a better way to justify your existing beliefs.
Arguments are actually kind of traumatic. Someone has come along and is trying to mess up the internal consistency of your thought. Somewhere deep inside you know that your already have a crazy shortage of consistency, so your brain just needs to defend, defend, defend, until you can no longer defend. Then you take a shower the next morning and you have a bolt of insight!… that magically happens to bolster your position.
A Brief Word On Logic
Before I go any further down this path I want to talk about logic for a second.
Logic is a tool. So are a lot people who talk about it a lot. (Excepting people actually studying logic, but that’s a whole other thing.)
It’s a tool that can prove nonsense. Logic takes inputs and produces outputs. The problem is the age old problem of garbage in, garbage out. So let’s say you’re using logic and you feed it a bunch of false premises. You get a result that doesn’t make any sense.
That’s the problem with logic, right?
Well, no, not really. Because most of the people who use “logic” are actually using the word logic and not actual using logic.
I remember reading a book by Alvin Plantinga that had a lot of formal logic in it. I couldn’t make much sense of it because I’m very much not Alvin Plantinga. But the point remains, we just don’t use formal logic. Or really even informal logic.
Or really logic at all. We say “logic” but we mean “this makes sense to me”.
The really annoying result of this is people who use logical fallacies as counter-arguments. Straw man! Appeal to authority! Appeal to the stone! Ad hominem!
Here we have a bunch of yammering ninnies who know enough to critique the informal logic of a statement without actually examining its soundness. Remember, just because some argument has a logical fallacy doesn’t mean it’s not true! (You could almost say that an argument from logical fallacy is… a logical fallacy. But then the snake begins to eat its own tail and universe is divided by zero or something.) That you can analyze a statement by scrolling through a Wikipedia page doesn’t prove or disprove anything.
Okay, so it maybe proves that you’re a jackass. But that’s beside the point.
A Brief Word On A Brief Word On Logic
So why am I talking about logic, other than to gripe about some internet knownothings?
It’s because it’s important to what I’m about to say. I don’t know how to express this well, so I’ll tell you a story.
I knew a guy who was very concerned about facts and logic. He was always talking about is this logical, is that logical. He would take really defined stances on things based on logic (which wasn’t actual logic mind you, just whether or not he could make something make sense to himself). He wasn’t doing anything wrong, not at all. I was really impressed with the amount of thought he put into doing thing that other people just did.
He didn’t like to speed on the highway. Because the speed limit was a law, just like not setting fire to a nunnery was a law, and if we sped on the highway, didn’t that mean that we were also implicitly approving of burning down that nunnery? (There’s a deeper law about speeding on the highway called “not putting your family in danger by obstructing the flow of traffic”, but I didn’t come to that idea until later.) For a while I was very impressed with this argument, except that I kept speeding anyways.
I was impressed but not persuaded. I might have agreed, intellectually, about this kind of absolutist framework of viewing the law as a monolithic entity where speeding and murder were on the same level. But it didn’t change my behaviour. I actually wondered about that a few times. I didn’t realise at the time that I actually didn’t agree. I just couldn’t put into words my objections, which weren’t logical and rational and didn’t have the hollow ring of facts about them, but were actually simply that some laws are law-eyer than others, and that morality isn’t decided by a penal code.
Persuasion is important. Think of all the things you’ve been persuaded to do for love. You may have even converted to a religion for love (and meant it!). Look at all the people who suddenly become devout Christians or Jews or what have you, exactly when it’s conveniently required. Love has this way of making up your mind for you. There’s all kind of stuff that suddenly clicks into place. You become a different person, or at least a different kind of person.
Love kind of short circuits the bits of your brain that want to grasp the facade of logic.
And so do analogies.
An Analogy From Analogies
If you’re a good nerd, you probably hate the meandering train of reasoning I used to get here. I made a few analogies, talked about logic, told a story, then made another analogy. That’s okay!
I did it all on purpose.
The point I’m trying to make is that logic is a domain-specific thing that has certain uses. Arguments are domain-specific things that have certain uses. They are technically meant to do one thing but are press-ganged into doing another, more pernicious thing, which is defense of pre-existing positions.
Analogies are different.
They’re not about facts. They’re about state transfer. By using an analogy, you’re trying to express to someone else your state of mind. You’re making a comparison that is meant to explain to someone why you feel a certain way without using tools like logic and arguments.
It feels a bit like cheating.
There’s a long oral tradition of using extended analogues (aka parables) to help people understand something. You may not like this. If you’re a super-nerd you’ll probably say something like Well, that’s because human minds are silly things that evolved to take stories more seriously than logic and facts. Because after all, the end goal of humanity should be to become correct-thinking computers, right? All this mushy meat instead of the glorious computational accuracy of silicon! What a shame.
That may be. But the reality remains that we are human, and we do respond to stories and analogies and anecdotes far better than we do to lists of facts.
Like, it’s safer to send your kids to the park down the street than it is to let them play in your backyard… if you have a pool. But we don’t fear the pool because we know the pool. We fear the child-snatcher because that narrative has potency.
Analogies are essentially stories, right? And they function in the same way stories do. They provide a slight narrative, they give a small insight into how you think.
Analogies are tools of persuasion. They’re not tools of argument and defense. They can be used that way and maybe even often are, but they’re particularly hard to “defend” against.
But we’re going to try anyways!
Pay No Attention To The Analogy Behind The Curtain
There’s no good way to respond to an analogy without responding in kind. A better analogy. But then you get trapped in an analogy loop where everyone is agreeing to disagree because we all kind of understand where each other is coming from. And we can’t have that.
So the standard nerd turns to the standard nerd toolbox to defeat the analogy…
Logic will save the day!
If analogies short-circuit the logic/argument paradigm, there’s only one way to get back on the offence. Pick apart the analogy. It’s not exact enough! The analogy breaks down! It’s not good! Make a better analogy!
This is all standard stuff. But you have to understand that it’s a distraction the same way presenting a logic fallacy is a distraction. It’s not really salient. We all know analogies are inexact and break down somewhere. If they didn’t break down they’d just be exact descriptions of the argument at hand and would lose their usefulness. Which, come to think of it, if you’re of that sort of disposition, is exactly what you want.
So you nitpick the analogy until it breaks down, wash your hands, and pretend it’s been a good day’s work. The analogy has been short-circuited, and we’re back to logic/argument land, where the free-flowing dialogue can go on forever with no one ever having to adopt a different (read: unsettling, new) opinion.
My point is that analogies are tools of persuasion.
Arguments are not.
Analogies are state transfers.
Arguments are not.
Analogies can be effective.
Argument are almost always not.
Analogies aren’t the only tool of persuasion. It’s just one of many. It might not even be a very good one. But my point is a little bit more meta than simply facts vs analogies. Arguments are not effective in drawing people together. They don’t naturally help people (especially on the internet) understand each others state of mind better. It naturally creates an us vs them mentality, and an isn’t an us vs them mentality the root of all violence? The cavemen who wear pelts of deer who must kill the cavemen who wear pelts of the unclean animal.
And yet we argue. All. The. Time.
I’m not sure what that says about us humans.
When I think of development vs production I’m thinking of manufacturing specifically. These terms mean slightly different things in, say, software, where development is where you make the thing stable enough to run and production is where you run it.
On the other hand maybe that’s not so different after all. Development makes it run, production runs it.
But that’s all very obvious. I want to think about product development and production in more conceptual terms, thinking about how each area does what it does. And I want this to be a little abstract. So I’m going to talk about development and realization instead of “production”. (Just to prevent any confusion here, I’m using the term a little differently than the ISO 9001 spec does, where design, development, and production are all subsets of realization.)
First, product development and realization are two separate things. This isn’t obvious to some people. You know who these people are. I once heard a developer friend of mine years ago (he worked at a bank, which in kind of super-scary) describe his co-worker as a “cowboy”. The sort of person who doesn’t value (or worse, understand) the difference between development and production, who pushes changes from development to production with minimal or no check (or worse, develops in production).
This was software, but manufacturing has the same sort of thing. In a system like ISO 9001:2008 development and realization are considered two different domains, each with their own sets of paperwork, processes, work instructions, and potentially different management teams.
In a large company you might have development plants or skunkworks. This makes the separation super obvious. And obvious for a reason, you don’t just push development changed into a realization scenario where you can make 10 million widgets wrong.
In a small company the domains get a little muddier. This is why a conceptual framework is useful. The same people might be managing the development, producing prototypes, doing testing, as are managing the production lines, running the production lines, and doing inspections.
There might not be a clear reason to separate development from realization (at least at first), especially as a 1-person or few-person outfit. When you’re a small company, you’re probably not making 10 million widgets where development is a much smaller part of your overall cost structure. If you’re developing a lot of one-offs and specialty products, maybe most of your time can be taken up with development.
This is why a development/realization conceptual framework is important. It helps separate domains, and by doing so helps you to stop making the same mistakes over and over again.
First, product development and product realization have different inputs. An input, of course, is just something you dump into a process in order to do some work on it and get something out the other side. This can be materials, specification, people, processes, etc. (And usually realization has as one of its inputs the results od
They also have different causes and effects. Things that go wrong in development often are (but don’t have to be) very different from things that go wrong in realization.
Even more abstractly, they have different purposes. So let’s start there.
Realization exists to make a product, to bring it to market in a certain form. It might seem at first that development also exists to make a product (as prototype), but that’s not exactly true. Or, if you’re doing in that way, you’re potentially doing development wrong.
Development actually exists to make knowledge. Specifically, reusable knowledge.
Why would you develop, let’s say, “a tool that doesn’t vibrate while cutting Titanium”? That’s a narrow goal. It’s applicable to just one thing. A more abstract and useful expression of this development process would be “a type of geometry that doesn’t vibrate in a material with certain properties”.
Then you can take that knowledge and reuse it for different items of that class. I think of this as a sort of don’t repeat yourself (or DRY) for product development.
Instead of ending up with a tool, you end up with a set of criteria than can be applied to tool, plural. And instead of that knowledge accumulating in one person’s head, it accumulates as a set of specifications.
I’ve seen this so very many times. Someone says “My customer wants a tool that does x and y”, a single person does the development and realization process at the same time, no specification is written, the tool goes out, and the knowledge is nowhere to be found. This makes for a very valuable person but a useless procedure.
(This doesn’t even touch on the amount of waste generated by this kind of process conflation; think of all the extra time spend developing the same tool again and again, reinventing the wheel, only to have the product returned because something went wrong somewhere in this crazy whirlpool of a development process. It might seem like time has been saved in the short term, but as with most things, it’s a long-term disaster.)
Different Causes and Effect
When you do development and realization at the same time, you risk conflating cause and effects, which are different in each domain.
Typically in development, causes of failures are related to development type things (experimentation going wrong as it always does, etc). Since you’re developing a specification and creating knowlege, you’re venturing into the unknown where unknown things can happen.
In realization, causes of failures are usually related to process type things. The processes should be nailed down enough that when something goes wrong (apart from the usual acts of God) you can track down where the process hasn’t been followed or where the process needs to be changed.
These causes and effect, when taken together, when development and realization are bundled, become exponentially more tricky. Suddenly your production causes and effects are no longer bounded by adherence to processes, instead you have to look at your processes and your development criteria, and so on. Suddenly your troubleshooting tree has way, way more branches. It can become so complex that you just can’t troubleshoot at all, and you just ship and pray.
I don’t think I need to say why guess & test plus ship & pray is a terrible, terrible idea.
My final thought is that development and realization have different inputs. In fact, one of the inputs of realization is a specification from development.
Development takes existing knowledge, engineering expertise, and customer specifications, and outputs a specification. This can be an prolonged period of prototyping and testing, but if you’re doing similar things quite often it can be simply spitting out a specification with small modifications. (Eg, my customer wants this thing that we already make, just with a different dimension or material.) In fact, with the proper ongoing research and development efforts, even a small company can radically shorten development engineering lead times with reusable knowledge.
Not only that, but reusable knowledge doesn’t have to be domain-specific. For instance if you’re improving one process, it’s quite possible you can reuse that improvement in many processes. The knowledge generated by development can be diffused across both development and realization. This is the kind of thing that can save serious cash by improving processes across the board and shortening lead times.
Realization on the other hand takes as one of its inputs (possibly one of many) the specification produced by development. With proper modularization it may even be possible to create a series of specifications that can be mixed and matched to achieve different results as required.
For instance where I work we could have a meta-specification that simply calls out other specifications and mixes in the customer’s special requirements.
Or if the customer needs something truly oddball, a new specification is created. (From my experience 90% of our custom work would easily be covered by a meta-specification.)
Just to wrap things up, this is why I see development and realization as two different domains. They accept different inputs, they produce different outputs, they have different causes and effects, and they exist for different purposes.
I hope I’ve done a decent job of explaining why I see conflating the two domains as a really dangerous idea.
That said, I think a lot of companies, especially small outfits, don’t see the immediate benefit of decoupling development from production. Maybe this is because of cost concerns (I need to make a whole new division!) or because of lead time concerns (I have to do two things in line instead of at once!).
The problem is the value proposition here is kind of hard to quantify. If you’re worried about those things you’re probably also not doing proper analytics on scrap rates, production breakdowns, customer satisfaction, nonconforming product returns, and all the other fun stuff that comes along with doing too many things at the same time.
And there’s no way to really make this sexy. This is sort of the least sexy possible domain. There’s nothing really clever, there’s no Suits-esque maneuvering here.
All I can say is that decoupling development from production is a proven long-term success story. It’s going to be one of the ways you make your company (at least, if that’s what you want) into an organization instead of a random collection of people and things those people do. It’s going to result in fewer lost man-hour trying to reinvent a process or specification (again). It’s going to cut down on the amount of lost time and money on returns, replacing faulty tooling, dealing with upset customers, and scrapping out nonperformant parts.
The greatest benefit, though, is something really intangible. It’s peace of mind. You’re not relying on one guy who just “knows” things. You’re not guessing and testing. You’re not shipping and praying.
I don’t know about you, but peace of mind if kind of a big deal for me.
When someone leaves (your company, your church, your circle of friends, a relationship, whatever), there’s always a temptation to say “Oh yeah, we’re better off without him/her”.
I mean, this is a sort of very human way to deal with loss. It’s almost a glass half full approach, but only almost. It’s more loss mitigation than anything else, a way to build a mental framework of the world where things you can’t control end up being not just okay, but good for you.
We just had someone quit at work. It was a huge loss, frankly. We’re still trying to figure out how to replace them. There are thousand little actions we’re trying to reproduce, but we don’t quite know how. It’s really hard to take those thousand little actions and figure out how to do them all over again. Even with cross-training and other ways to deal with people taking vacations or getting sick or whatever, there’s still a ton of work to replacing them.
That said, as we work through this stuff we’re finding a bunch of stuff that’s frankly a little… off. Processes that are inefficient, time wasted, etc. Nobody’s perfect. Everyone does some stupid things. But we’re talking about 10% or so. A small fraction of stuff that could be improved.
What I’ve seen happen before is people seize on these things, magnify them into a gigantic showstopper, and then act like it’s a huge blessing that person left.
I get that reaction. I do.
But it’s fundamentally dishonest. And it gets in the way of improvement.
There’s a feedback loop you should apply to everything. And I do mean everything; if you can send me an example of something that can’t be improved, I’ll buy a hat and eat it. Won’t be the first hat I’ve eaten. Probably won’t be the last. But I think I’m on pretty solid ground here. As a bit of an aside, anytime someone exempts themselves or their profession from feedback and improvement, I guarantee you they’re resting on laurels, and often not very impressive laurels. I’ve sat under a bunch of preachers who were obviously not terribly interested in doing a better job, ostensibly because being “called” to a position and going to some barnyard seminary means you’re instantly equipped for a lifetime of preaching. But that’s my baggage and largely neither here nor there.
The feedback loop has many different names but almost everyone has one. Consciously or not, you take a look at things and try to make them better. I may be being too charitable here, but it’s what I choose to believe.
The particular feedback loop I have in mind is called Plan/Do/Check/Act. You make a plan, you do the plan, you check the results, you adjust what you’re doing and then (and this is the critical part) you start back at the beginning again. This is why it’s called a feedback loop. You take the outputs of Check/Act and apply them do Plan/Do. Something isn’t going right, because nothing ever goes right the first time, right? You figure that out in the check phase with analysis, then you act upon that analysis to figure out what wrong, then you revise your plan and start again.
This is not some kind of stunningly original capital-I Idea I just came up with. I shamelessly stole this from Toyota and every management book ever. It’s also not hard to do, assuming you’re not used to doing something else.
I think just about everyone is used to doing something else. I said earlier that most people do PDCA unconsciously in their personal lives, and the important word is unconsciously. We start doing something big and all that stuff falls out of our heads. Haven’t you seen something like this before? Someone comes up with an idea. And critically this is an idea. Is an idea the same thing as a plan? Well, maybe. But most of the time probably not. An idea is “I want ice cream”. A plan is “I’m going to get my wallet, walk to McDonald’s, and get some soft serve”. I trust the difference is obvious. An idea is the core of a thing, a plan includes implementation details and processes ( get wallet, , walk to McDonald’s,  soft serve, where  and  are processes and  is a detail).
My ice cream idea evolves from a very vague sort of feeling into a set of instructions. Now, my plan is not the only plan, and this is important. I could have driven there, I could have walked to a different store, I could have decided on a different kind of ice cream. Critically, all plan implementations in some way dictate their results. Does McDonald’s have anything other than soft serve? No, right (at least where I’m from)? So choosing to walk to McDonald’s limits the outcome. On the other hand driving to the grocery store also limits the outcome, as they don’t have soft serve.
Let’s say you decide to carry out your plan. You get your wallet, you walk over to McDonald’s, you go to pay… and you’ve left all your cash at home. You’ve accidentally and unfortunately stumbled into “check”. You then act in some way, depending who you are (try to run up a tab, beg for free ice cream, go back home and get money, use a credit card instead etc). If this all seems a bit to concrete and a little too life-like, yes, that did happen to me, and yes, I felt like an idiot.
Now, critically, this isn’t a feedback loop. Not yet. What’s missing? What incredibly important feature of a cycle hasn’t happened here?
Let’s say the next time I’m going out to buy something I just pick up my wallet and assume there’s a wad of cash in there and leave the house. You’d ask me if I’m an idiot, did I not just yesterday learn that lesson?
This is where revising the plan comes in. I’m using this on a sort of very high meta-level, but you see what I mean. My plan should have been generalised to something like:  get wallet,  CHECK WALLET,  go somewhere,  buy something. If you’re wondering if this still seems too lifelike, yes, I’m still trying to remember to actually look in my wallet. I’m considering putting up a sign at the front door. Look in your wallet DUMMY.
But you see how this applies in a management scenario. Your plan is to  figure out the personnel you need,  hire them,  train them,  keep them if they’re working out.
If they leave in a huff, completely fed up with their working environment, so pissed off from top to bottom that they can’t see any other possibility than quitting, you have 2 choices. You can figure out what went wrong and try to fix the problem, or you can just throw up your hands and say, “Oh well, they sucked anyways.”
One of those is extremely counterproductive and near rage-inducing.
Anyways. This is not the post I meant to post. This is a eulogy of sorts for a relationship with a coworker I will very much miss. I think I’ll come back to PDCA soon, as I feel like a lot of creative types have difficulty with forcing their creative actions into a feedback cycle. I have some thoughts on what it means to be professional about something, and what genius really looks like. This all ties together somehow, I promise. Cross your fingers.
The sand might as well be
lava on the hot days.
We had to cross that small desert
to get to the green diving board bracketed
against high, smooth rocks.
The relief contained its
We were all a lack of parents.
I imagine they slept and slept
and woke to make dinner and then slept again.
We died a thousand times
with no one looking
but rose again with stray
lures in our fingers.
We stole canoes and paddled
to the island where we looking in
all the windows.
I can’t imagine my child doing those things.
I am too much a slave of death to allow it.
This place no longer exists,
It’s been sold and divvied out
to the landowners.
I have my own family now
but we can never escape the city’s hum and crumple.
There exists no place for it
out there or