Ready for the weekend...

I ran across this quote on the Answers.com morning brief...I thought it was good enough to pass on. Quote: "...who was the first person who stood by a pile of sand and said, 'You know, I bet if we took some of this and mixed it with a little potash and heated it, we could make a material that would be solid and yet transparent. We could call it glass.' ... you could stand me on a beach till the end of time and never would it occur to me to try to make it into windows." -- Bill Bryson The reason I like it is that the central economic issue facing us in the next few years is the way we account for the value of creativity and knowledge. United Airlines accounted for it by excluding it from the equation. It paid back all the creativity, and institutional knowledge of its employees by shafting them out of their retirement. This may in the short term save United Airlines, but it will not save any entity, corporate or government, in the long term. That's why I continue to be involved in knowledge groups. On Sunday evening, I will be at WBF (they used to call it World Batch Forum, but now they are trying for something else...) to honor the careers and persons of three of the people who have contributed a great amount to the profession of process automation. Bill Luyben, Dick Caro and Russ Rhinehart are important figures, and it is too bad that the public at large doesn't understand that these men are part of the reason that packaged goods cost less in real terms now than they did 30 years ago, and why factory productivity continues to expand. Frankly, these men are some of my heroes, and it is really great to have the ability to be the one who chooses to honor them, along with their peers in the Process Automation Hall of Fame. Interestingly, and harking back to the value of creativity, each of these men has devoted significant amounts of their time to providing the community of knowledge with more, new, useful tools to build from. Luyben and Rhinehart left long and highly successful careers in industry to devote themselves to teaching, while Caro has devoted much of the last half of his career to being one of the leaders of the fieldbus thought revolution, mostly for free, and mostly unthanked. Well, we're going to assemble in Atlantic City to say thank you to these three men, and by extension all of the knowledge workers in the field of process automation. We've spent our careers figuring out how to make things faster, better, smarter, achieve higher quality, conformance to specifications, and make things that are faster, better, smarter, etc., even cheaper. We now have to figure out how to include in the system of accounting what the value, from us, and to our employers, is of the knowledge we've created. Is it worth exactly what we're paid? Or by creating and producing, do we really become stakeholders in our employers' enterprise, like they told us we were in the 1980s and 1990s? If we are stakeholders, we need to ensure that our stakehold is protected, and that our personal investments of time, creativity and knowledge are rewarded as they are worth. Comments? --Walt Boyes

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  • American Airlines isn't the only company that places no value whatsoever on the knowledge and creativity of employees. Indeed, my impression is that American's attitude is the norm for major American corporations.

    Of course, I might be overgeneralizing from the experience I'm currently going through. In the ordinary course of events, it takes from 9 to 12 months to train a new employee to the point s/he is ready to take, say, July 4th alone. In March, we learned the entire operation will be shut down and transferred to another location in June, and that it's our job to train the newly hired folks at the new location before we're let go at the end of August.

    As for your question, the only way I can see to protect the stake that companies promise is to make the folks who are given such promises shareholders. And not just in the minor way that most companies do this, either. I'm thinking something like the present value of future profits that an innovation made possible, converted into shares and given to innovators.

    Will companies really do this? I doubt most of them will, unless American corporate culture changes radically. Right now, it makes more sense in the boardroom to handsomely reward the exec who negotiated the last big deal, than the engineer whose innovation cuts the annual cost of manufacturing by the same amount. I fear that won't change until America has lost its position of leadership to some nation that better rewards innovation.

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