Four Pillars: Opposable Thumbs: Machine Tools and Safety: A Long and Winding Post


I was at the Club of Amsterdam’s Summit for the Future for a short while last week, and found much of what was discussed very interesting, hearing from a diverse group of speakers. Even Marc Canter could not have said “Same Old Faces”. Bless him, he was there as well, his usual self.  -)


One theme dominated the summit, that of risk and how we appear to treat it. Take a look at Sir Paul Judge’s presentation on Risk and Enterprise, a version of which is available here. Better still, join the RSA, more properly the Royal Society for encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. I did, and have never regretted it.


Their Adelphi Charter work alone makes joining worthwhile. Here’s the basic blurb:

  • The Adelphi Charter on Creativity, Innovation and Intellectual Property responds to one of the most profound challenges of the 21st century:
  • How to ensure that everyone has access to ideas and knowledge, and that intellectual property laws do not become too restrictive.
  • The Charter sets out new principles for copyrights and patents, and calls on givernments to apply a new public interest test.
  • It promotes a new, fair, user-friendly, and ecfient way of handing out intellectual property rights in the 21st century
  • The Charter has been written by an international group of artists, scientists, lawyers, politicians, economists, academics and business experts.

I digress. What the opening sessions woke up in me was a different perspective on the Michael Power assertion in The Risk Management of Everything One of my key takeaways from Michael Power’s lecture was that in a world of immense post-facto regulation and extreme litigiousness, Small Print Was Taking Over. Second-order risks were influencing people’s decision-making to a point where valuable and vulnerable professional opinion and judgment were being discarded willy-nilly.


An aside. Maybe this is why blogs need to exist. As a counterbalance to the stultifying fossilised stuff that passes for opinion elsewhere. I’ve seen more opinion in a telephone directory…..

And maybe the bringing in of opinion into Wikipedia is what makes Wikipedia work. The Encyclopaedia Britannia had opinion. Lots of it. From some very talented and opinionated people.

But they published opinion as fact.

And today, in the world Michael Power describes so well, we have to live with a lot of fact as opinion. Because opinion is dangerous in this over-litigious world. If you don’t think the world is over-litigious, then ponder these figures from the latest issue of Fortune magazine:

  • 170% growth in the number of attorneys at the 100 top-grossing US law firms over the past 19 years. The average headcount at these firms jumped from 260 in 1986 to 702 in 2005, and their share of all working lawyers nearly doubled, to 6.4%. In 2005 these giants generated an average profit per partner of $1.1 million. Good for them. I just wish they made less money from garbage collection and gardening. Garbage like bad IPR and bad DRM. Gardening like walled-garden maintenance.

I digress again. One of the assertions made in Amsterdam was the following:

We need to make it easier for people to take personal risks, not harder. And we need to balance this move by ensuring that people are made more accountable for their actions and made to understand and acknowledge the consequences of their actions, to take responsibility as well as risk.

Instead of which, we appear to spend a lot of time and energy in preventing people from taking risks, whether as private citizens or as employees in firms.

And then we compound the problem by mollycoddling people to a point where they are insulated and absolved of personal responsibility, where consequences are neither understood nor acknowledged.
This is a nightmare in a world where blame cultures are the norm and where post-facto regulation is seen as good. Einstein did not wear SOx.

Okay, enough digressing. The point I was trying to make is that all this, the mindset and attitude, this weird world of blame-o-philia mixed with nanny-state-hood and Boys Named Sue, this Risk Management of Everything, all this has pervaded our Four Pillars Machine Tools. And could corrupt our thinking if we are not careful.

We have to learn more about us and how we developed…… I cannot but think that the experimentation with machine tools predated the invention of related safety wear, as we learnt more about the behaviour of the tools. And what to be safe about.

Instead of which, given current thinking, people seem to want to design the safety requirements before they know about the risk appetite and risk premium.

It’s worse than economists pontificating about merit goods and how They Know Best. And we have to prevent it happening. Otherwise bad IPR and bad DRM and bad Identity will be used by Nanny States Who Also Always Know Best. And we land up Channelled, not Connected.
More later.

Let me know what you think

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