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Opening Pandora’s Box – Are you tired of this Out of the Box thinking thing already?

If you’re not, here’s more…
I came across a post by Steve Talbott titled – The deceiving virtues of technology. In a sense, this post is only peripherally related to the two previous posts in this thread – Imagining the tenth dimension (Or thinking out of the box?) and Before thinking out of the box, how about thinking in the box?. While the post might be dated November, 2001 the contents of the post as Steve articulates them are far older.
It is related to the previous post in the sense that a reliance (or over reliance) on technology makes us dependent on that technology to articulate our ideas or even carry out simple arithmetic. In the business context, it is true that there are some business applications or problems that would simply surpass the bounds of human competence (Since I work with optimization models, I’m entirely aware of that limitation in human beings because its a limitation in me – I think I can keep about 3 or 4 variables in my head at a time but not more than that). Here, technology is vital in filling in the gap that lies outside the bounds of human competence (as is conceived today) – technology (such as a computer, mathematical programming environment and optimizers) is a real aid. However, my co-workers are dependent on this same technology in a different way – for them it is not an aid in the true sense of the word. Optimization models are really black boxes that spit out magical answers when you click Run. Period.
But why make a big deal of it? After all, if I were to change the fields, I would find myself using some other technology less as an aid but more as a form of dependency. The difference is that I am troubled by this not because I’m a self control freak or too independent minded but because I’m skeptical of the spit out “answers“. Usually, there are too many assumptions that are never made explicit, calculations and underlying models that capture reality in a way that is very particular and finally limitations beyond which such black boxes perform erratically.
This is as true of a financial calculator as it is of ERP or SCM software. It is why I have been “suspicious” of the SOA and SaaS operating models that are being developed for the enterprise market. The learning organization (do you hear this term bandied a lot these days?) was found not learning and thus has been outsourced – that cannot be a good thing for the long term.
Also, I promise that this is the last of the thinking out of the box series. Really!

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Category: Supply Chain Management

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