Is it Progress if a Cannibal Uses Knife and Fork?

xb70ship108

The North American XB-70 Valkyrie was a (beautiful!) tri-sonic bomber developed in the early sixties. It was, even by today’s standards, an exceptionally sophisticated and advanced machine. What strikes is the short time it took to develop and build – we intentionally omit the information here since, by today’s standards it would make many people blush. Why is it  that in the days of slide-rules they could beat today’s supercomputers and all other technological goodies? A few reasons:
  • One company did everything – there was no useless geographical dispersion, management was simpler.
  • Complex systems have been successfully built even though complexity was not a design goal – the reason is that product development and manufacturing were much less complex.
  • Engineers were better trained than today – they understood mechanics better that today’s youngsters.
  • The average age of engineers was much higher than today.
  • Companies had clearer roadmaps and were more motivated – today it’s all about shareholders value not about building great planes.
  • Aerospace companies were run by people who understood the business.
  • Designers didn’t have to struggle with super-complex super-huge software systems which every now and then create bottlenecks instead of solving problems.
  • Because of the above, companies could do plenty of R&D – today, R&D is where (incompetent) management make the first cost cuts.
Today, highly complex products are engineered without taking complexity into account. What this means is that every now and then:
  • cellphone batteries explode
  • high-tech cars suddenly stop and nobody know why
  • engines on advanced airliners suddenly stop
  • batteries on advanced airliners suddenly catch fire
  • advanced fighter aircraft don’t do what they were supposed to do
When confronted with extremely complex and dispersed multi-cultural manufacturing, assembly, procurement, design and management issues, you inevitably run into trouble if you don’t keep complexity under control. It is not surprising that TODAY people doubt that man ever went to the Moon! In fact, those who make similar claims cannot possibly conceive of such a complex project being viable because of their poor preparation.
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