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This will be a very short blog post. I am not going to make an elaborate argument. Rather, I would like the “evidence” to speak for itself. My thesis is that Information Technology (IT) continues to proliferate mechanistic thinking in business, more than a century after Frederick Taylor fathered the science of workflow analysis and labor productivity in a manufacturing intensive economy. While we’ve since moved on to the knowledge economy, we have yet to abandon manufacturing thinking.

To make my point, I will make use of a few lines I picked up from the webpage of a top big data/analytics/IT firm that I think is representative of the market offering. In this particular case, it is proposed that the company’s “transformational” IT solutions can improve research and development for their customers thus:

Increase R&D Productivity

Optimize R&D Workflows

Automate R&D Workflows

So here is a highly creative human-centric endeavor, research and development, seen through the eyes of a 21st century IT solutions company. It is basically a factory view, a mechanistic, process heavy, assembly-line activity with no reference to a knowledge or creativity component. Even though not explicitly called out, human beings are necessarily part of the workflows referenced (to date I have not heard big data replacing human invention), and so by extension, this view implies that human beings can be automated and optimized just like machines. And how does one achieve automation and optimization in a production facility? By analyzing and measuring the most discrete steps and activities. This presents a serious contradiction as creativity is not quantitative, but rather qualitative in nature. So here is the Tayloristic model of management and mechanistic world view that regards humans only as extensions of machines well and alive in the 21st century as part of the latest knowledge economy craze: big data analytics.

In closing, I am not denying the many critically important contributions IT brings to our modern society. The takeaway is that extreme caution should be exercised when looking to apply information technology to highly creative (human) endeavors, and more generally speaking the limitations of information technology have to be better understood.

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