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Whither ISA?ISA has a problem. In spite of the new "International" in its name, no major new expansions have been accomplished anywhere in the world. With about 30% revenue shrinkage (annual ISA Expo and InTech magazine advertising) it has reduced staff and outsourced key activities. Like any profit-making corporation, it's pulling in its horns.
A couple of decades ago, the annual ISA Expo was the premier automation show in North America, with about 60,000 attendees - largely from North America with a fair sprinkling from Europe and the rest of the world. By contrast, attendance at ISA Expo 2009 was only about 8,500. As usual, all the major automation suppliers were absent. ISA has finally decided to end the Expo. Next year, it will be just a conference-only format, dubbed "Automation Week". This will, in my opinion, draw only a minimal number of attendees. Of course, I'll be happy to be proved wrong.
From a strategic standpoint, the ISA Expo should have been moved to a major international location in collaboration with local organizers who would be happy to use the ISA name. Events in Shanghai, Singapore, Bangalore, Mexico City or Sao Paulo attract huge crowds.
To save ISA, radical changes are needed. Here are my suggestions:
Whither ISA? If the governance conundrum cannot be solved, the society will surely fizzle. Left to dangle on its current path, it will slowly but surely wither away.
Importance of ManufacturingDuring the past century, America became the richest nation in the world through its manufacturing prowess. Today, automation has significantly reduced the labor content in manufactured goods, and many manufacturing jobs have been shipped offshore.
Manufacturing employment has now fallen below 12 million jobs, below 9% of total employment, the lowest level ever recorded.
After dominating global industrial activity for a century, America is steadily losing its edge in manufacturing. Over the last 30 years, manufacturing has fallen from 25% to about 12% of the US domestic economy, while the share of manufactured goods consumed in America but produced outside has risen from about 10% to 30%.
Free-market advocates point out another side to these statistics. American factories have simply moved up the value chain. Value-added manufacturing output is higher than ever in real terms. US factories are the world's most productive, generating 25% of global manufacturing value-added. By comparison, Chinese factories account for just 10.6%.
America doesn't produce things found in retail outlets - sporting goods, toys, tools, and clothing. Instead, it makes pharmaceuticals, specialty chemicals, sophisticated textiles, airplane parts, and other upscale products.
The decline of US manufacturing is reflected in record trade deficits and the loss of over 40,000 manufacturing jobs every month during this decade. American production is also shrinking rapidly in global industries like electronics, steel, autos, chemicals and shipbuilding.
If current trends continue, America will soon cease to be the biggest manufacturing nation. Many factors contribute to this: high corporate taxes, burdensome regulations, globalization, and the efforts of trading partners to protect their own economies.
About 40,000 US manufacturing plants closed between 2001 and 2008, resulting in the loss of millions of good-paying jobs. Off-shoring of production means that the US is not generating enough wealth to pay its mounting and massive debts.
America has stopped producing what it consumes. The hoped for increase in "consumer demand" will not materialize because American workers are unemployed in record numbers and cannot "consume". Adding to their burden, banks are boosting credit-charges and late-fees to recoup their losses which came from previous excess.
The so-called "jobless recovery" is simply financial froth at the fringes, further enriching the already rich.
Does an economy that doesn't "produce" anything have any real value any more? Has 'Made in the USA' become an outdated label? Key manufacturing leaders will meet to answer these questions during a CNBC program, "The Future of Manufacturing" which will air on Dec. 2, 2009. I invite you to watch it. See weblink below.
Cloud Computing - easy entry, no exitAmazon, Google and Microsoft are investing heavily to make computing just like electricity - something that you simply plug into via the Internet. It's supposed to be the next BIG thing.
The basic idea behind "cloud computing" is sound. Why should businesses buy hardware when they could use online computing power and storage? Why buy software, with support and upgrades, when you can simply use SAAS (software as a service) via the cloud?
With virtualization technologies, computing power slides into virtual machines, and users can buy as much, or as little as they need, for only as long as they need. This can be short-term, or it can replace local hardware completely. Cloud-based SAAS also eliminates the need for local support.
Amazon's Web services are already a hit with new businesses which can get websites up and running without making capital investments.
Accessing shared computing services via the Internet will appear on many top-10 technology lists for 2010. Businesses are latching onto the buzzword, and the shift should be taken seriously.
Before YOU make the switch, consider a couple of problems:
Incentives actually inhibit CreativityIn his pivotal book, "A Whole New Mind - Why Right-brainers will Rule the Future", Daniel Pink identifies the shift corporate culture must make from logical, information-based (left-brained) jobs, to conceptual, creative (right-brained) work where creativity and conceptual design dominate the landscape.
In his TED talk (weblink below) Daniel Pink's central thesis is that the best motivation comes from the performance of a task for it's own reward.
Daniel cites numerous scientific studies, all showing that incentives actually INHIBIT creative problem solving. The nature of creative work - non-routine, artistic, empathic big-picture - requires intrinsic motivation to achieve good results.
The elements of "intrinsic" creative motivation are:
Rewards "narrow focus and restrict possibilities". When there's a defined task with a clear set of rules to follow, rewards stimulate desired behaviors, but tend to restrict possibilities. Incentives (sweeter carrots and bigger sticks) actually inhibit creativity.
For creative engagement, self-direction works best. To "think outside the box", rewards actually impede problem-solving abilities because they cause focus on only already proven ways to solve problems. Larger rewards actually lead to poorer performance.
In a nutshell, rewards work for tasks where thinking is not needed. As soon as any kind of creative thinking is required, rewards stop working, and even inhibit results.
It's interesting to note that at companies like Google, employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time on their own creative projects. Indeed, some VERY productive ideas were born this way.
When I worked at Action Instruments, something that proved very productive for me personally (I encouraged others to do it too) was to spend every Friday afternoon (before the weekend) following projects and ideas, which I didn't have time for otherwise. I must tell you - many of my best ideas were born this way.
Capitalism breeds Oligarchy & FascismLately, I've been writing about the corruption of Capitalism. It turns out that my worries are not new. Many others, including our American founding fathers, also raised similar concerns.
My citing of "Corporate Communism" in the last issue of eNews, brought several responses which pointed out that what we were discussing was Corporate Fascism, characterized by strong autocratic control, economic and social regimentation, and repression of opposition.
The early twentieth century Italians invented the word "fascism" - the political ideology that seeks to combine radical and authoritarian nationalism with a corporatist economic system. Italy's Benito Mussolini expressed it well, "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."
We Americans keenly identify the opposite of fascism, namely, government intrusion into and control of private enterprise. But we seem to ignore completely the usurpation of government by big business. That's the danger we face.
When I first heard the term "lobbyist", I was surprised, and even amused; the idea that someone's job would actually be to "lobby". And yet, today there are literally thousands of "lobbyists" in Washington DC. Indeed, in the capital, "K-Street" is the central prestigious address from which key lobbyists exercise their "influence peddling".
The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since the year 2000 to about 50,000 today. Just think, about 100 lobbyists for each and every senator and member of congress. These people are highly paid, with nothing else to do but work on (bribe?) our political leaders to support the programs they sell. And this is free enterprise?
Oligarchy is defined as a form of government in which power effectively rests with a small elite segment of society. Oligarchies have been tyrannical throughout history, being completely reliant on public servitude to exist. Indeed, America's middle-class have become servants of the oligarchs. Willing? Or unwilling?
Our America is a corporate oligarchy disguised as representative democracy. There are NOT 2 political parties - they're just two groups preaching different views of the same thing. It's a two-party dictatorship financed by corporate fascism.
In America, the land of Capitalism and freedom, Oligarchy and Fascism not only exist - they thrive.
eFeedbackMerle Borg [email@example.com] expands on Tom Beebe's suggestions to fix the ailments caused by the corruption of Capitalism:
"Our tax codes have been massaged by special interests so much that it works against our general prosperity at every level.
"Our military/industrial complex requires armed conflict to exist. Contributions to our leaders from this group are why we find ourselves always at war and hated around the world.
"Now our potential is being severely limited by a government that can be bought or manipulated behind closed doors, and a government that can spend more than it collects.
"No other country is closer to the perfection of our constitution, but until we address more common sense reforms, our future will remain stunted."
"ISA started as an organization for US Automation professionals and could never globalize itself. This I think is a major part of its problems. Decline in US manufacturing has only made the problems worse.
"For the past 16+ years of my professional life in Industrial Automation, I kept debating whether I should join ISA. I never could justify it to myself (discounted membership for 'Third world' countries not withstanding) considering the fact that all of its programs seemed designed and tailor-made for US Professionals.
"Where was the value and place for somebody like me to join the organization? What would I get out of my membership apart from receiving the journals, getting access to standards and some small discount on the books? All of these I can easily borrow from the local University library or from where I work.
"I do not feel sad at the decline of ISA. I do feel sorry for the fact that even after many decades of progress in Automation and Control, we do not have a more global organization to take its place."
"The limit we're bumping into everywhere is complexity. While parts of our society are comprehensible to those who work in the field, it isn't commonplace to find public comprehension of all the nuances that drive the complex new models everyone is expected to understand.
"This is why safety is getting more difficult. This is why computer security is 'hard'. This is why lawyers are making more money than ever before. This is why we have people getting masters degrees on subjects as obtuse as Medical Billing. This is why journalism is so poorly regarded. The journalists themselves frequently do not understand what they're writing about.
"We have reached a point where the public simply can't keep up with the totality of complex daily life. Something has to give. I wonder if it will be with a bang? Or a whimper?"
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