What the 4th Industrial Revolution desperately needs is a dose of vitamin C

Posted on June 26, 2018 by Cambium Insights

The 4th Industrial Revolution : Cambium LLP Associate, Richard Lanyon-Hogg, asks “Does squandering wisdom leaves us prone to error?”

What the history of the many engineering industrial revolutions have taught us is that it is wise to collect the proven evidences of best practices; but sadly, history teaches us having the best evidence is seldom enough.

As the 4IR gathers pace, we are becoming awash with many sensible seeming ideas that sometimes disappoint, along with the odd-seeming ideas that turn out to work.

In 1747, James Lind, a Scottish doctor, performed a celebrated clinical trial proving the efficacy of lemon juice. What didn’t appear to be common sense proved to be life saving to many a sailor. A chemical found in the lemon, later named “vitamin C”, was found to ward off scurvy, a horrendous disease that could see a ship lose a large swathe of its crew.

Dr Lind, and cohorts across many professions down through the centuries, continue to prove the value of systematically assembling, evaluating and summarising trials, pilots and proof of concepts.  Such an approach has become an important way to assess and prove ideas.

Equally important, adhering to such approaches allows us to understand better what doesn’t work. Not every idea will fail; but some will and we should not look unfavourably on those engaged which yield unexpected results.

Incidentally, with Agile techniques I fear the many of the best practices are becoming over-looked, are being applied in a more patchy manner and sometimes just viewed as being controversial; but this is a story for another day.

We forget at our cost!

Lind’s trial of lemon juice is illustrative that we forget at our peril. As early as 1601, James Lancaster of the East India Company had demonstrated in an informal trial that lemon juice was proof against scurvy. It took two centuries for the Royal Navy to make it part of the sailors’ rations. Yet as voyages grew shorter, and still lacking a convincing theory for why lemon juice wared off scurvy, we simply forgot. In 1911, 310 years after Lancaster’s demonstration, Robert Scott’s expedition to the South Pole (accompanied by a Navy surgeon) did not know how to prevent scurvy; they suffered grievously as a result.

Knowledge can be gained; it can also be ignored, or forgotten.

In our earlier blogs, we commented on how our cognitive thought processes react to new technologies, how as our attention spans have shortened, and as we zoom along trying to make mental shortcuts to make decisions rapidly, it’s very likely when it comes to innovation we may naturally be being handicapped due to ‘cognitive biases’, or even a ‘cognitive capacity limit’.  Quite possibly, we may ‘anchor’ to a piece of data we are exposed to while making a decision, regardless of pertinence or just simply doing what we’ve always done because we know no better.

Technology adoption is accelerating the growth of informatics across the entire spectrum of manufacturing and engineering; the two worlds of engineering, “oil and rags meets bits and bytes” are rapidly colliding.

‘de novo’…. Knowledge can be gained; it can also be ignored, or forgotten.

Valued and enduring architecture is built not only on a reflection of needs, a vision of the future; but also applying the knowledge of the past. The past has taught the digital world the immeasurable value of Enterprise Architecture.  Simply ignoring these lessons will lead to unsecure foundations for the future.

In several cultures across the World, when making a significant decision, the past, present and futures are seen as equally important; the wisdom of experience, the energy of today and vision for tomorrow are seen as concurrent, running in parallel to better shape the decision before them. So it is with the journey your organization is embarking on; don’t forget the past.  Go out and explore and better understand the technologies that underpin the 4th Industrial Revolution. Study the lessons of the early adopters, what worked, what didn’t.

Visit Factory 2050 at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and see and learn at first hand from High Value Manufacturing engineers and IT Enterprise Architects their insights and experiences.

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