Sunday, August 31, 2008

Revealing a Corporate Secret

Today, Sunday, August 31, 2008, marks three years - over 94 million seconds - since the old company dissolved and they threw out all the machinery and all the software and all the workers. I have heard rumors that the work is done manually now, since they do not understand anything about how it was done, why there was Latin or why there were those eyes that went back and forth... but such details are not relevant to anything in this world any more, unless you are reading my novel, where you will find explanations as well as an on-going delight.

However, in a future chapter of that novel, you will hear a visitor to the imaginary company called AC&TG, frustrated by the wasteful mess and internecine warfare of his own workplace, wonder how it all happened, what was the trick, the magic, the strange and incredible innovation, which made such amazing things happen. I mean only a distant echo of how the good things happened in our real world for 5.5 years: useful work at unheard-of rates of efficiency, and with authentic satisfaction of the employees - and, yes, of the customers too.

There was no secret - at least not in the way the term "secret" is ordinarily applied. In fact, people far and near who entered the mystic and high-tech halls of our company would hear us chattering about it... all our work is based on "thirteenth century metaphysics". That's it! Now you know.

And of course, it's an idea I got from Chesterton. Here's the quote:
I revert to the doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general hope of getting something done.
[GKC, Heretics CW1:46]
Yes, the hope of getting something done.

GKC's Heretics came out in 1905, one hundred years before the company was shut down. But because this idea isn't from the then-current grad school textbooks on "industry" or "management" it is ignored.

That's too bad. But it's not a copyrighted or trademarked idea, nor some "intellectual property" of a now-deceased company, nor even the special dogmatic property of the Roman Catholic Church (who does know a lot about the theory, if not the practice!) It's not my idea either, and it isn't really Chesterton's - but he gave us a good starting point. So if you want to know more - no, not about cable TV or even about this powerful method of software development or of industrial and social life - you ought to get some Chesterton and start reading. You'll soon find out what else you'll have to read.

Just to explain a little more, I will give you the next bit of GKC's argument, the one that really begins the whole thought process of design and development, and the one that completes and closes it also:
Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good - " At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.
[Heretics CW1:46]
Alas. Interesting that he applied it to a utility company. A sad but accurate ending, unlike the typical novel - but then "Truth, of course, must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for we have made fiction to suit ourselves."[ibid, CW1:66]

You see, it all does depend on the value of Light.... and yes, we did get knocked down.

But I must not end the post on a sad note. No, for good has come forth from this experience in ways no cable TV person or company could have guessed! The seed sown in Harrisburg on March 2, 2000, has bloomed and fruited. And so I thank my good friends: my boss, the people in Traffic, the Tech Shop, the Field Techs, and the Operators who watched the WATCHERs round-the-clock... it was good. We worked hard, we learned a lot, we had some good laughs, and we made good things happen.

And we have seen how productive and important, how powerful, useful, and efficient, that thing called "subsidiarity" really is. It's not just for use in local ad insertion for cable TV! Stay tuned for more. The book is coming, one way or another.


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