Archive for March, 2011

“Open for Business” Is a Bad Tagline

Monday, March 21st, 2011

I am sorry I’m not going to tomorrow’s Wisconsin Innovation Network meeting, where the talk will discuss the Wis4Biz initiative and how it will “reinforce Wisconsin’s Open for Business message”.  This slogan is not something we should want to reinforce.  I would like to learn more about how anyone thinks this campaign makes sense.

“Open for business” sounds like something you say when you’re just barely functioning, as in “the building was severely damaged in the storm, but we’re still open for business”.

It also sounds backwater.  (Nothing against West Virginia, but they use the same slogan.)  The dollar-store-style sign furthers the backwater image.

The slogan sounds like something that would appeal to someone who a) is not formally educated, b) worked mostly in government not business, and c) knows business is very important but does not understand how it works.

The bizarre thing is that Wisconsin already had a good brand image of good work ethic, good values, and stoicism.  Wisconsin was specifically mentioned as a good place to locate a shop in the book “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done” for these reasons.  We should be building on this already-existing image instead of something taken from an off-the-shelf sign.

Will Information Technology and Automation Result in a Long-Term Shortage of Jobs?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Dave and Chris of the Amp hour asked on their last show whether technology will eventually cause a shortage of jobs.

If computers could replace almost all human jobs, it would be a good thing because that would mean we could have the same goods and services we have today without human work.  This is something people have dreamed about since time immemorial.

When the industrial revolution started, it meant people theoretically could work much less and have the same lifestyle they would have had in agricultural economy.  They could spend the rest of the time relaxing with their families.  Instead, though, society chose to keep working and produce way more goods and services.

Something similar happened when we went from a hunter-gatherer society to an agricultural society.  We may be seeing something similar today going from an industrial society to an information/automation society.  If it plays out the same way, the amount of goods and services we can produce will continue to increase.  We are right to be asking the big questions of how we want that go forward and what we want to do with our new-found production capabilities.

Buy Your Own Tools

Monday, March 14th, 2011

My first job was at a small private company.  They were frugal about spending money on tools.  I recall being frustrated at having to spend time wandering around looking for tools.  I had a notion to bring my own tools, but my colleagues told me it wasn’t a good idea because with tools in short supply they would be easily lost to well-meaning people who would borrow them and forget to return them.  The company eventually bought me new tools, provoking some resentment from other employees who didn’t have new tools.  I had no idea at the time that the on-the-job training I was getting in circuit design and debug was worth way more than the cost of some tools and books.

In retrospect, I can’t imagine why I didn’t use my own tools.  Even at a company that is short on tools, if you keep them in a locked toolbox, they’re not likely to be taken.  A very nice set of electronics tools can be had for under $1,000.  That is a modest amount for an engineer.  Even for people working at full-time jobs that claim to provide everything an engineer needs, engineers are still paid for getting things done.  The employer may not notice time wasted searching for tools, but that time is money/experience lost to the engineer who could be using that time to design new technologies.

All engineers make their money by causing things to be worth more than the sum of their parts.  Tools and books are a cost of being an engineer.