Solving the Right Problem

The cover of the June 2010 issue of Mechanical Engineering magazine asked the question, “Can Visionary Engineers Revive Industry in America?” Here’s the question I would ask: Did engineers break industry in America?

To ask the question is to answer it. Of course they didn’t. Did the guys in the labs at steel mills in Cleveland forget how to analyze materials? Did the software teams in Silicon Valley forget how to write code? Did the process analysts in Texas forget how to make systems work better? Did the thermodynamicists in Pittsburgh forget how to balance heat flows? Did the Six Sigma Black Belts in Detroit forget how to eliminate waste and improve quality? No, no, no, no, and more no.

If anything there’s so much innovation going on that many people and groups go out of their way to stop it.  What should happen is that the best ideas should be allowed to compete.  The public should be allowed to vote with its own dollars for the products and services they want.  Providers that can’t keep up need to be allowed to fail.  In the interest of protecting activities people can see today they prop up enterprises and activities and jobs that would otherwise have disappeared because of poor performance.  Those enterprises and activities and jobs that should be gone continue to consume resources that could have been used more efficiently by others — but nobody sees that.

Is it painful for the participants when companies fail? Sure. People lose money. They have to be retrained. They may have to move. On the other hand, what about the opportunities lost? The people who weren’t allowed to compete could have made more money, could have used their best ideas, and could have had better lives. Their customers could have paid lower prices for better products. Who’s looking out for them?

I can give you a long list of suggestions for who’s causing the problems, but I can guarantee you it isn’t the engineers, coders, designers, and analysts.  Just get out of their way and they’ll come up with amazing solutions like they always have.  You can’t solve a problem unless you ask the right question.

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