I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and of the degree of the arcades' curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past...A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira's past. -Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Monday, July 04, 2005

Assembly line on the flat world?

I’ve been reading The World is Flat, and last night I was struck with the thought that we may have created an international assembly line. At least in the history I’ve been taught, Henry Ford invented the assembly line as a way to mass produce his cars affordably. Every worker has one task, which they repeat over and over, but which they also become very proficient and efficient at—much more so than when the same workers are responsible for building all parts of an automobile or other machinery. However, the workers themselves are not very challenged, nor trained nor encouraged to build a large skill set. Friedman discusses how whatever the job is, it will be (or is) broken into its constituent parts, and sent to whoever in the world can do that job the best. Then, everything will be (or is) put back together again. I know the work is more complicated than assembly lines, but is there an analogy, or am I totally off base?

I am fortunate to work in an environment where even though I am an anthropologist, and presumably the expert in user observation and analysis, I also get to develop concepts, build prototypes and (yikes) build business models. Likewise, the engineers, designers, and MBAs I work with also participate throughout. Some feel it would be better if we each focused on our specialty, and in many corporate innovation groups that is exactly what happens. Maybe they are more efficient…but I wouldn’t be as challenged...

I don’t know what this means about globalization. I imagine those of us with creative skills, wherever we are located, will continue to be able to use those skills creatively in collaboration with others.

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