Bricolage is a podcast for makers, made in the united kingdom by dominic morow with new episodes more or less every week!

Engine of More: Standardised People

Engine of More: Standardised People

I’ve written much about processes and things like poka-yoke (fool proofing) and 5S and it’s standardisation of process. So what about the people?

You can not standardise people. You can help them by ensuring that lots and lots of different learning resources are available (i.e. in multiple learning styles) at the right time and in the right places. Further more you can demonstrate consistent behaviours in the space which inform the right culture in the space. Stop trying to standardise your people, people are total wild cards in their behaviour.

In the contemporary world, we are not at all surprised when a 6M machine screw fits in a 6M nut, even if one is made on the other side of the world to the other. We’d have a reasonable level of expectation to take a 6M machine screw brand new out of a pack and fit it in a 6M nut we’d had in a draw for 20 years.

We are familiar with interchangeable parts in electronics, cars, bikes and plumbing and even more so with software, file types that can be understood and opened in lots of different bits of software. This type of standardisation has been a very important part of the recent industrial revolution.

Starting with the manufacture of standardised parts for weapons in the French army. Prior to this time, each musket would be made individually by an artisan. If a part on the musket broke, it would be a one of a kind part and the only way to fix it would be to make another part the same, you could perhaps go to a clever blacksmith who’d fashion an exact replacement. In around 1803 a new system was developed, where weapon parts were made to a standard specification and somewhat interchangeable. Being able to fix any weapon from standard parts was hugely advantageous.

At about the same time (there may be some coincidences here), the Royal Navy needed to build a lot of ships. Ships at that time needed a lot of pulleys and the standard pulley was the block pulley made from wood. The Royal Navy needed about 100,000 block pulleys a year. Techniques were developed and machinery gathered to mass produce wooden block pulleys for the navy. This is mass production.

Combine mass production, standardisation and interchangeable parts, you have yourself an industrial revolution. What’s missing? Workers. The best sort of workers for the new industrial revolution should be obedient and ideally as reliable as the machines. They should arrive on time, be able to follow closely standardised systems of rules and procedures. Artisans are expensive and slow and not useful for mass production. If you owned a machine and a process you could teach others to obediently follow for a little regularly money, you could become rich!

Annoyingly (for the Victorian entrepreneurs) you can’t make standardised, interchangeable people. Goodness knows they tried, the foul idea of eugenics was generally fairly uncontroversial through most of the 19th century. With schooling becoming wide spread at the time, industrialist had an opportunity to train workers, help them fit more perfectly as cogs into the machinery they would operate. But of course a little education is a dangerous thing, and we drank deep of it… to get back on course.

I am reminded of this by a blog post by Seth Godin called “Resilience and Tolerances” which has great relevance to how we think of members within a hackerspace.

To some extent hackerspace communities do subconsciously try to standardise members through the use of some unintended filters. Without knowing it they create exclusive spaces. This is about tolerance, only the members that are resilient to fit within the tolerances of the space are likely to survive in the space. I have seen spaces where only those who are programmers in C++ can really thrive. I’ve seen spaces where you only really fit if you are an architect. More often you only really fit if you are a man who likes lathes or electronics or a woman into crafts.

Later in another blog post, I am aware that I’m going to talk about making hackerspaces for “people like us” who “do things like this” but to be clear I’m seeing my challenge as working out how to make a space truly inclusive whilst at the same time making it for only about 200 people and also sort of exclusive without being exclusionary. It’s debatable where this sort of unconscious gatekeeping in a hackerspaces should start and stop. On the one hand I’m very okay with the idea of a space saying “we are about arduino projects” so someone going there to do, say motorcycle repair isn’t really going to fit.

So I’ll be frank. This post is a mess, but the next one I write about this topic will be a little more clear. I promise. There are some triggering points in here about inclusion and exclusion. I’d very much welcome feedback and some other perspective on this in the comments.

Today’s thumbnail is signage from the Cambridge Makespace in the UK.

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