Pin maker tools

The organization of work, under the influence of Adam Smith, who popularized the fundamentals of our modern economies, has taken a completely different twist during the nineteenth century through the first half of the twentieth. Reporting on various readings he made on a pin-making shop, he advised that in order to minimize physical movement, and to avoid the loss of time induced by the manipulation of different tools, workmen should be assigned to a few tools or even a single one. He called this new work organization the division of labor, after an expression of Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau from whom he borrowed the pin-making case. The division of labor for him, was synonymous to specialization and translated into what we call today the "assembly line", made famous by Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford, with consequences on management techniques, like the ones promoted by Alfred Sloan.
In 1936, one of the fathers of computing, the mathematician Alan Turing, who wanted to describe mechanical processes (algorithms), invented what he baptized a Universal Machine, which became the heart of the modern computer.
This has been universally recognized as a key contribution to computing, but has never been put in parallel to the pin-making problem. Instead of loosing time by switching tools, and rather than specializing staff, if a universal tool is at hand, no more loss of time is induced:
In the middle of the twentieth century, we entered the third wave of civilization, when movement of information became faster than physical movement. With computers, for the first time, thanks to Turing, the time to switch tools became negligible.
The ultimate residue of automation, which still requires human labor, is no longer affected by the same parameters as what Adam Smith had identified. Unfortunately, most people have forgotten the reason why specialization appeared in the first place. The fact is that intellectual work is driven by very different rules, which cannot be inspired from manufacturing.


Today, new costs have arisen, and new productivity rules have emerged. None of them played any role in Adam Smith's pin-making factory case. Variations of intellectual productivity between individuals sometimes exceed by several orders of magnitude what we have seen in manufacturing. Also, as we are now increasingly confronted with intellectual work, we need to resolve new issues around intellectual collaboration. One of them corresponds to a mechanism which has remained largely unaffected by the Information Age, and where the speed of information transmission is still utterly slow: interpersonal communication. Although the interpersonal dependency problem was identified early by Frederick Brooks, we think that his belief that no technique or trick would exponentially improve software productivity is wrong. Some links with the organizational proposals we make can be found with Michael Hammer's business process reengineering principles.
The powers which will bring us from manufacturing to mentofacturing (sometimes called mindfacturing, or brainfacturing), where intellectual productivity and intellectual capital rather than specialization are the base of the new wealth of nations. A new way to understand and manage capital is becoming necessary, to unleash the potential of human organizations.
We have already seen signs of these powers in the modern equivalent of Adam Smith's pin factory, the software industry, where the fight is becoming more and more intense to get the intellectually most talented resources and retain them. Software is reflexive, it automates its own production. As such, it is one of the very first industries shaped by mentofacturing. Like Adam Smith, who used the simple pin-making factory case to draw striking conclusions, we use software production extensively to illustrate our thesis and its future consequences.

The two first chapters of Mentofacturing can be downloaded here: mentofacturing.pdf. The file is large, be patient. You'll need Adobe Reader to open it, or any pdf compatible reader utility. This document can be freely redistributed as a whole, but is subject to copyright 2006-2013 by Vincent Lextrait. The author,, will welcome remarks or corrections, even typographical.