End of the industrial era for agriculture too

March 9, 2011 by · Comments Off 

The end of the industrial era isn’t about the end of industry. It’s about the end of the industrial model.

Here’s a great explanation of a new, knowledge-era approach to agriculture that’s more sustainable and healthy.

Sustainable agriculture actually addresses a lot of the 21st century design constraints:

2 – Leveraging local talent
3 – Creating local jobs
4 – Minimizing energy use
5 – Minimizing/eliminating waste
6 – Maximizing health and wellness

Pretty good scorecard. It will be a huge shift but it makes sense in our new world.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Could Evergreen Solar keep its U.S. plants if it applied the new design constraints for American business?

January 15, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

A few days ago, I wrote about some new design constraints that I believe should shape corporate thinking about innovation. Today, my friend Ken Jarboe at the Athena Alliance sent me a link to this article about Evergreen Solar, a company located here in Massachusetts. This company built a manufacturing plant for solar panels in 2008, created 800 local jobs. Now, the company is closing down the plant and moving production to China. Ken asked me how this case fits into the standards I laid down. (It’s a hard question but I appreciate Ken asking it). So here goes.

First, I want to say that a big part of the story is the imbalance in the support that the Chinese government is willing to give to get the plant built there versus the support the government of Massachusetts and the U.S. is giving. I always get a kick out of this kind of argument because it demonstrates the hypocrisy we often see in American politics: taxes and government spending are bad. But if someone else’s government does it, we have no choice but to take the money. In this thinking, you get the short-term cost savings and worry about the long-term implications later.

In Evergreen’s defense, it is behaving consistent with the current mindset of the stock market and the still-dominant although highly discredited (see comments by Warren Buffett and Jack Welch) approach to maximizing shareholder value that we still accept as gospel–over the last thirty years, the concept of value somehow got to the point where short-term stock prices came to be a measure of how a company was husbanding its resources and building long-term value. Read more

Design Constraints for a New American Economy: Why Boeing and every other company has no choice but to change

January 13, 2011 by · 6 Comments 

If you follow me on this blog or on twitter, you know that I worry about jobs and the U.S. middle class. That’s why it may seem contradictory to take the position I did in my recent post on Boeing.

Boeing is in the midst of a grand experiment with its 787. It has “outsourced” a greater degree of design on a scale that is unprecedented. What they have essentially done is create a connected community where suppliers of parts and subcomponents of the jet can collaborate. The individual suppliers are empowered to come up with the best designs they can. Boeing’s job is as a convener and catalyst for the network. The approach reflects their belief that their core competency is in design coordination, assembly and marketing of planes. The belief is that each supplier is more expert in their field than Boeing and, therefore, better equipped to optimize and innovate its piece of the overall product.

But the experiment is not going too well. It hasn’t failed but it has had a lot of delays and problems. So there are lots of people critiquing the whole project. Of special note are the critics who fear that Boeing is letting loose the knowledge of how to build big airplanes and that they (and by extension the U.S.) will never get back. This is not that different than so many other U.S. industries that have outsourced and moved more and more of their production off shore.

Here’s my position. Read more