I enjoyed this article about the “culture of creativity” at Bell Labs. Flying over Southern China this morning, I connect strongly to one of the more thought-provoking passages.
“He set up Bell Labs’ satellite facilities in the phone company’s manufacturing plants, so as to help transfer all these new ideas into things. But the exchange was supposed to go both ways, with the engineers learning from the plant workers, too. As manufacturing has increasingly moved out of the United States in the past half century, it has likewise taken with it a whole ecosystem of industrial knowledge. But in the past, this knowledge tended to push Bell Labs toward new innovations.”
Has the single-minded pursuit of the cost advantage of offshore manufacturing led to an even bigger lost revenue opportunity cost from the products and technologies never invented? I’m sure that its an impossible question to answer, though it would certainly make an interesting case to move R&D offshore to co-locate with the plants. Or to move more complex manufacturing back to the US. Personally, I like option #2.
How to force the interactions between the thinkers and doers when they are located 10,000 miles apart and have never met each other. That’s an important question to ponder.