Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Of infamy and innovation

Today is December 7th, "...a day that will live in infamy" said FDR a day later in an address to Congress. The events of December 7th, 1941 ushered the United States into WW II as an armed belligerent. In turn, WW II ushered profound changes into the culture and society of the United States.

The enormous industrialization of WW II all but put defined process control on the map. Decades later, "six sigma" emerged, but only after TPM and other quality movements that had their roots in the projects to arm millions of service men and women.

The scope of WW II projects was unprecedented, leading to the military-industrial complex that defined and codified program management, system engineering, risk management, analog simulation, and a host of other project practices heretofore unknown or undefined.

WW II unleashed innovation as no other world event. The modern research university was empowered. During the war, the laboratories at MIT and CalTech and Stanford were at the forefront of new ideas, inventions, and applications. Since then, a multitude of research universities have been drivers of the innovation explosion in the United States.

Although the war drove atomic science, atomic science drove quantum mechanics, an understanding of the sub-atomic structure. From this we have all manner of semiconductors that have in turn been the underpinning of the information age.

And, let us not forget that WW II empowered 50% of our workforce for the first time. Women entered the workforce in large numbers doing jobs never open to them before. They have never looked back

And finally, WW II beget the 'GI Bill' that sent millions to college and all but invented the modern middle class from which yet more innovation, inventiveness, and entrepreneurship has arisen.

It sounds like "...there's nothing like a good war".  But that's not the case.  The emergency of warfare has always raised the bar.  Before the U.S. civil war in the mid 19th century, railroads as a means for tactical support for forces was unheard of; so also electronic messaging...the telegraph in those days.  Innovation, as a consequence of great national emergency, is the sidebar that always gets a boost.


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