Engineering is not Innovation, Bangkok Style

For an extra 60 Baht, the taxi driver will take the elevated toll road to the Bangkok international airport. Quicker, smoother, and well worth the $1.50. Along the way, however, I'm struck by what appears to be a second, uncompleted toll road running along side. Some years ago, massive construction began on the first incarnation of the road, but was abandoned for reasons unknown. Through some colossal feat of mismanagement, dozens of cement and rebar pylons were built at an epic scale - at I'm sure astonishing expense - only to be left forgotten as a second, nearly identical toll road was constructed along the exact same route. It would appear that someone took the old software engineering adage "plan to throw one away" to heart. But software engineering is not civil engineering. Indeed, if "engineering" is the practice of applying known techniques to predictable problems with high levels of repeatability, using that to word to describe innovative software development exercise is wishful thinking. Innovative software is no more "engineered" than your mom's home cooking. In each case, the ingredients available, the appetites of the customers, the time constraints, kitchen supplies, extra hands - everything is volatile right up to the point of being served (and even after). No, innovation cannot be engineered. It can only be inspired and nurtured. And to the degree it can be done at all, innovation management is more about directing the firehose than watering a garden. Which brings me back to the discarded roadway littered across Bangkok. Someone on that project screwed up, and I doubt it was the engineers. Rather, the project leaders mistakenly thought they were executing on a predictable engineering project, when in fact they were embarking on an innovative exercise in Thai financing and politics. And from an engineering perspective, it was a remarkable success. But this wasn't the real challenge, and thus millions of taxpayer dollars produced nothing more than a crumbling monument to innovation mismanagement. So the question that every manager needs to ponder is: am I managing engineering? Or am I managing innovation? Because the two are not the same thing, and the tech landscape is littered with countless examples of one that was mistaken for the other.

This entry was posted on June 14, 2006 at 2:54 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


wenzi says:
February 6th, 2007 at 4:05 pm

The road was stopped in 1997 during the asian financial crisis. That is also why a lot of the building in Bankok are unfinished.

BTW, when are you getting a mac client ?

Leave a reply