Man, alone of all animals, is capable of purposeful, nonorganic evolution; he makes tools.
This observation by Alfred Russell Wallace, codiscoverer with Darwin of the theory of evolution, may seem obvious if not trite.
But it is a profound insight.
And though made some seventy or eighty years ago, its implications, have yet to be thought through by biologists and technologists.
One such implication is that from a biologist’s (or a historian’s) point of view, the technologist’s identification of tool with material artifact is quite arbitrary.
Language, too, is a tool, and so are all abstract concepts.
This does not mean that the technologist’s definition should be discarded.
All human disciplines rest after all on similarly arbitrary distinctions.
But it does mean that technologists ought to be conscious of the artificiality of their definition and careful lest it become a barrier rather than a help to knowledge and understanding.
“To know something,
to really understand something important,
one must look at it from sixteen different angles.
People are perceptually slow,
and there is no shortcut to understanding;
it takes a great deal of time.” read more
This is particularly relevant for the history of technology, I believe.
According to the technologist’s definition of “tool,” the abacus and the geometer’s compass are normally considered technology, but the multiplication table or table of logarithms is not.
Yet this arbitrary division makes all but impossible the understanding of so important a subject as the development of the technology of mathematics.
Similarly the technologist’s elimination of the fine arts from his field of vision blinds the historian of technology to an understanding of the relationship between scientific knowledge and technology.
(See, for instance, Volumes 3 and 4 of Singer’s monumental History of Technology.)
For scientific thought and knowledge were married to the fine arts, at least in the West, long before they even got on speaking terms with the mechanical crafts: in the mathematical number theories of the designers of the Gothic cathedral, * in the geometric optics of Renaissance painting, or in the acoustics of the great Baroque organs.
And Lynn T. White, Jr., has shown in several recent articles that to understand the history and development of the mechanical devices of the Middle Ages we must understand something so nonmechanical and nonmaterial as the new concept of the dignity and sanctity of labor which St. Benedict first introduced.
Even within the technologist’s definition of technology as dealing with mechanical artifacts alone, Wallace’s insight has major relevance.
The subject matter of technology, according to the Preface to History of Technology, is “how things are done or made” and most students of technology, to my knowledge, agree with this.
But the Wallace insight leads to a different definition: the subject matter of technology would be “how man does or makes.”
As to the meaning and end of technology, the same source, again presenting the general view, defines them as “mastery of his (man’s) natural environment.”
Oh no, the Wallace insight would say (and in rather shocked tones): the purpose is to overcome man’s own natural, i. e., animal limitations.
Technology enables man, a landbound biped, without gills, fins, or wings, to be at home in the water or in the air.
It enables an animal with very poor body insulation, that is, a subtropical animal, to live in all climate zones.
It enables one of the weakest and slowest of the primates to add to his own strength that of elephant or ox, and to his own speed that of the horse.
It enables him to push his life span from his “natural” twenty years or so to threescore years and ten; it even enables him to forget that natural death is death from predators, disease, starvation, or accident, and to call death from natural causes that which has never been observed in wild animals: death from organic decay in old age. *
These developments of man have, of course, had impact on his natural environment—though I suspect that until recent days the impact has been very slight indeed.
But this impact on nature outside of man is incidental.
What really matters is that all these developments alter man’s biological capacity—and not through the random genetic mutation of biological evolution but through the purposeful nonorganic development we call technology.
What I have called here the “Wallace insight,” that is, the approach from human biology, thus leads to the conclusion that technology is not about things: tools, processes, and products.
It is about work: the specifically human activity by means of which man pushes back the limitations of the iron biological law which condemns all other animals to devote all their time and energy to keeping themselves alive for the next day, if not for the next hour.
The same conclusion would be reached, by the way, from any approach, for instance, from that of the anthropologist’s “culture,” that does not mistake technology for a phenomenon of the physical universe.
We might define technology as human action on physical objects or as a set of physical objects characterized by serving human purposes.
Either way the realm and subject matter of the study of technology would be human work.
“The terms knowledge industries, knowledge work and knowledge worker are nearly fifty years old.
They were coined around 1960, simultaneously but independently— the first by a Princeton economist, Fritz Machlup, the second and third by this writer.
Now everyone uses them, but as yet hardly anyone understands their implications for human values and human behavior, for managing people and making them productive, for economics, and for politics.
What is already clear, however, is that the emerging knowledge society and knowledge economy will be radically different from the society and economy of the late twentieth century” — Chapter 4, Management, Revised Edition
 * S. B. Hamilton only expresses the prevailing view of technologists when he says (in Singer’s History of Technology, IV, 469) in respect to the architects of the Gothic cathedral and their patrons that there is “nothing to suggest that either party was driven or pursued by any theory as to what would be beautiful.”
Yet we have overwhelming and easily accessible evidence to the contrary; both architect and patron were not just “driven,” they were actually obsessed by rigorously mathematical theories of structure and beauty.
See, for instance, Sedimayer, Die Entstehung der Kathedrale (Zurich, 1950); Von Simson, The Gothic Cathedral (New York, 1956); and especially the direct testimony of one of the greatest of the cathedral designers, Abbot Suger of St. Denis, in Abbot Suger and the Abbey Church of St. Denis, ed. Erwin Panofsky (Princeton, 1946).
 * See on this P. B. Medawar, the British biologist, in “Old Age and Natural Death” in his The Uniqueness of the Individual (New York, 1957)
For the historian of technology this line of thought might be more than a quibble over definitions.
For it leads to the conclusion that the study of the development and history of technology, even in its very narrowest definition as the study of one particular mechanical artifact (either tool or product) or a particular process, would be productive only within an understanding of work and in the context of the history and development of work.
Not only must the available tools and techniques strongly influence what work can and will be done, but how it will be done.
Work, its structure, organization, and concepts must in turn powerfully affect tools and techniques and their development.
The influence, one would deduce, should be so great as to make it difficult to understand the development of the tool or of the technique unless its relationship to work was known and understood.
Whatever evidence we have strongly supports this deduction.
Systematic attempts to study and to improve work only began some seventy-five years ago with Frederick W. Taylor.
Until then work had always been taken for granted by everyone—as it is still, apparently, taken for granted by most students of technology.
“Scientific management,” as Taylor’s efforts were called misleadingly (“scientific work study” would have been a better term and would have avoided a great deal of confusion), was not concerned with technology.
Indeed, it took tools and techniques largely as given and tried to enable the individual worker to manipulate them more economically, more systematically, and more effectively.
And yet this approach resulted almost immediately in major changes and development in tools, processes, and products.
The assembly line with its conveyors was an important tool change.
An even greater change was the change in process that underlay the switch from building to assembling a product.
Today we are beginning to see yet another powerful consequence of Taylor’s work on individual operations: the change from organizing production around the doing of things to things to organizing production around the flow of things and information, the change we call “automation.”
A similar, direct impact on tools and techniques is likely to result from another and even more recent approach to the study and improvement of work: the approach called variously “human engineering,” “industrial psychology,” or “industrial physiology.”
Scientific Management and its descendants study work as operation; human engineering and its allied disciplines are concerned with the relationship between technology and human anatomy, human perception, human nervous system, and human emotion.
Fatigue studies were the earliest and most widely known examples; studies of sensory perception and reaction, for instance, of airplane pilots, are among the presently most active areas of investigation, as are studies of learning.
We have barely scratched the surface here; yet we know already that these studies are leading us to major changes in the theory and design of instruments of measurement and control, and into the redesign of traditional skills, traditional tools, and traditional processes.
But of course we worked on work, if only through trial and error, long before we systematized the job.
The best example of Scientific Management is after all not to be found in our century: it is the alphabet.
The assembly line as a concept of work was understood by those unknown geniuses who, at the very beginning of historical time, replaced the aristocratic artist of warfare (portrayed in his last moments of glory by Homer) by the army soldier with his uniform equipment, his few repetitive operations, and his regimented drill.
The best example of human engineering is still the long handle that changed the sickle into the scythe, thus belatedly adjusting reaping to the evolutionary change that had much earlier changed man from crouching quadruped into upright biped.
Every one of these developments in work had immediate and powerful impact on tools, process, and product, that is, on the artifacts of technology.
The aspect of work that has probably had the greatest impact on technology is the one we know the least about: the organization of work.
Work, as far back as we have any record of man, has always been both individual and social.
The most thoroughly collectivist society history knows, that of Inca Peru, did not succeed in completely collectivizing work; technology—in particular, the making of tools, pottery, textiles, and cult objects—remained the work of individuals.
It was personally specialized rather than biologically or socially specialized, as is work in a beehive or in an ant heap.
The most thoroughgoing individualist society, the perfect market model of classical economics, presupposed a tremendous amount of collective organization in respect to law, money and credit, transportation, and so on.
But precisely because individual effort and collective effort must always be calibrated with one another, the organization of work is not determined.
To a very considerable extent there are genuine alternatives here, genuine choices.
The organization of work, in other words, is in itself one of the major means of that purposeful and nonorganic evolution which is specifically human itself an important tool of man.
Only within the very last decades have we begun to look at the organization of work.*
But we have already learned that the task, the tools, and the social organization of work are not totally independent but mutually influence and affect one another.
We know, for instance, that the almost preindustrial technology of the New York women’s dress industry is the result not of technological, economic, or market conditions but of the social organization of work which is traditional in that industry.
The opposite has been proven, too: When we introduce certain tools into locomotive shops, for instance, the traditional organization of work, the organization of the crafts, becomes untenable; and the very skills that made men productive under the old technology now become a major obstacle to their being able to produce at all.
A good case can be made for the hypothesis that modern farm implements have made the Russian collective farm socially obsolete as an organization of work, have made it yesterday’s socialist solution of farm organization rather than today’s, let alone tomorrow’s.
This interrelationship between organization of work, tasks, and tools must always have existed.
One might even speculate that the explanation for the mysterious time gap between the early introduction of the potter’s wheel and the so very late introduction of the spinning wheel lies in the social organization of spinning work as a group task performed, as the Homeric epics describe it, by the mistress working with her daughters and maids.
The spinning wheel with its demand for individual concentration on the machinery and its speed is hardly conducive to free social intercourse; even on a narrowly economic basis, the governmental, disciplinary, and educational yields of the spinning bee may well have appeared more valuable than faster and cleaner yarn.
If we know far too little about work and its organization scientifically, we know nothing about it historically.
It is not lack of records that explains this, at least not for historic times.
Great writers—Hesiod, Aristophanes, Vergil, for instance—have left detailed descriptions.
For the early empires and then again for the last seven centuries, beginning with the High Middle Ages, we have an abundance of pictorial material: pottery and relief paintings, woodcuts, etchings, prints.
What is lacking is attention and objective study.
 Among the studies ought to be mentioned the work of the late Elton Mayo, first in Australia and then at Harvard, especially his two slim books: The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization (Boston, 1933) and The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization (Boston, 1945); the studies of the French sociologist Georges Friedmann, especially his Industrial Society (Glencoe, Illinois, 1955); the work carried on at Yale by Charles Walker and his group, especially the book by him and Robert H. Guest: The Man on the Assembly Line (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1952), I understand that studies of the organization of work are also being carried out at the Polish Academy of Science, but I have not been able to obtain any of the results.
The political historian or the art historian, still dominated by the prejudices of Hellenism, usually dismisses work as beneath his notice; the historian of technology is “thing-focused.”
As a result, we not only still repeat as fact traditions regarding the organization of work in the past which both our available sources and our knowledge of the organization of work would stamp as old wives’ tales.
We also deny ourselves a fuller understanding of the already existing and already collected information regarding the history and use of tools.
One example of this is the lack of attention given to materials-moving and materials-handling equipment.
We know that moving things—rather than fabricating things—is the central effort in production.
But we have paid little attention to the development of materials-moving and materials-handling equipment.
The Gothic cathedral is another example.
H. G. Thomson in History of Technology (II, 384) states flatly, for instance, “there was no exact medieval equivalent of the specialized architect” in the Middle Ages; there was only “a master mason.”
But we have overwhelming evidence to the contrary (summarized, for instance, in Simson*); the specialized, scientifically trained architect actually dominated.
He was sharply distinguished from the master mason by training and social position.
Far from being anonymous, as we still commonly assert, he was a famous man, sometimes with an international practice ranging from Scotland to Poland to Sicily.
Indeed, he took great pains to make sure that he would be known and remembered, not only in written records but above all by having himself portrayed in the churches he designed in his full regalia as a scientific geometer and designer—something even the best-known of today’s architects would hesitate to do.
Similarly we still repeat early German Romanticism in the belief that the Gothic cathedral was the work of individual craftsmen.
But the structural fabric of the cathedral was based on strict uniformity of parts.
The men worked to molds which were collectively held and administered as the property of the guild.
Only roofing, ornaments, doors, statuary, windows, and so on, were individual artists’ work.
Considering both the extreme scarcity of skilled people and the heavy dependence on local, unskilled labor from the countryside to which all our sources attest, there must also have been a sharp division between the skilled men who made parts and the unskilled who assembled them under the direction of a foreman or a gang boss.
There must thus have been a fairly advanced materials-handling technology which is, indeed, depicted in our sources but neglected by the historians of technology with their uncritical Romanticist bias.
And while the molds to which the craftsman worked are generally mentioned, no one, to my knowledge, has yet investigated so remarkable a tool, and one that so completely contradicts all we otherwise believe we know about medieval work and technology.
I do not mean to suggest that we drop the historical study of tools, processes, and products.
We quite obviously need to know much more.
I am saying first that the history of work is in itself a big, rewarding, and challenging area which students of technology should be particularly well equipped to tackle.
I am saying also that we need work on work if the history of technology is truly to be history and not just the engineer’s antiquarianism.
 Von Simson, The Gothic Cathedral (New York, 1956) pp. 30 ff.
One final question must be asked: Without study and understanding of work, how can we hope to arrive at an understanding of technology?
Singer’s great History of Technology abandons the attempt to give a comprehensive treatment of its subject with 1850; at that time, the editors tell us, technology became so complex as to defy description, let alone understanding.
But it is precisely then that technology began to be a central force and to have major impact both on man’s culture and on man’s natural environment.
To say that we cannot encompass modern technology is very much like saying that medicine stops when the embryo issues from the womb.
We need a theory that enables us to organize the variety and complexity of modern tools around some basic, unifying concept.
To a layman who is neither professional historian nor professional technologist, it would, moreover, appear that even the old technology, the technology before the great explosion of the last hundred years, makes no real sense and cannot be understood, can hardly even be described, without such basic concepts.
Every writer on technology acknowledges the extraordinary number, variety, and complexity of factors that play a part in technology and are in turn influenced by it: economy and legal system, political institutions and social values, philosophical abstractions, religious beliefs, and scientific knowledge.
No one can know all these, let alone handle them all in their constantly shifting relationship.
Yet all of them are part of technology in one way or another, at one time or another.
The typical reaction to such a situation has of course always been to proclaim one of these factors as the determinant—the economy, for instance, or the religious beliefs.
We know that this can only lead to complete failure to understand.
These factors profoundly influence but do not determine each other; at most they may set limits to each other or create a range of opportunities for each other.
Nor can we understand technology in terms of the anthropologist’s concept of culture as a stable, complete, and finite balance of these factors.
Such a culture may exist among small, primitive, decaying tribes, living in isolation.
But this is precisely the reason why they are small, primitive, and decaying.
Any viable culture is characterized by capacity for internal self-generated change in the energy-level and direction of any one of these factors and in their interrelationships.
Technology, in other words, must be considered as a system,* that is, a collection of interrelated and intercommunicating units and activities.
We know that we can study and understand such a system only if we have a unifying focus where the interaction of all the forces and factors within the system registers some discernible effect, and where in turn the complexities of the system can be resolved in one theoretical model.
Tools, processes, and products are clearly incapable of providing such focus for the understanding of the complex system we call technology.
It is just possible, however, that work might provide the focus, might provide the integration of all these interdependent, yet autonomous variables, might provide one unifying concept which will enable us to understand technology both in itself and in its role, its impact on and relationships with values and institutions, knowledge and beliefs, individual and society.
Such understanding would be of vital importance today.
The great, perhaps the central, event of our times is the disappearance of all non-Western societies and cultures under the inundation of Western technology.
Yet we have no way of analyzing this process, of predicting what it will do to man, his institutions and values, let alone of controlling it, that is, of specifying with any degree of assurance what needs to be done to make this momentous change productive or at least bearable.
We desperately need a real understanding, and a real theory, a real model of technology.
History has never been satisfied to be a mere inventory of what is dead and gone—that, indeed, is antiquarianism.
True history always aims at helping us understand ourselves, at helping us make what shall be.
Just as we look to the historian of government for a better understanding of government, and to the historian of art for a better understanding of art, so we are entitled to look to the historian of technology for a better understanding of technology.
But how can he give us such an understanding unless he himself has some concept of technology and not merely a collection of individual tools and artifacts?
And can he develop such a concept unless work rather than things becomes the focus of his study of technology and of its history?
 The word is here used as in Kenneth Boulding’s “General Systems Theory-The Skeleton of Science,” Management Science, II, No. 3 (April 1956), 197, and in the publications of the Society for General Systems Research.
Technology is mentioned in over 25 additional topics in Technology, Management and Society
The “unpredictability of technology” is an old slogan.
Indeed, it underlies to a considerable extent the widespread “fear of technology.”
But it is not even true that invention is incapable of being anticipated and planned.
Indeed, what made the “great inventors” of the nineteenth century—Edison, Siemens, or the Wright brothers—"great” was precisely that they knew how to anticipate technology, to define what was needed and would be likely to have real impact, and to plan technological activity for the specific breakthrough that would have the greatest technological impact—and, as a result, the greatest economic impact.
It is even more true in respect to “innovation” that we can anticipate and plan; indeed, with respect to “innovation,” we have to anticipate and plan to have any effect.
And it is, of course, with “innovation” rather than with “invention” that the businessman is concerned.
Innovation is not a technical, but a social and economic, term.
It is a change in the wealth-producing capacity of resources through new ways of doing things.
It is not identical with “invention,” although it will often follow from it.
It is the impact on economic capacity, the capacity to produce and to utilize resources, with which “innovation” is concerned.
And this is the area in which business is engaged.
It should be said that technology is no more “predictable” than anything else.
In fact, predictions of technology are, at best, useless and are likely to be totally misleading.
Jules Verne, the French science fiction writer of a hundred years ago, is remembered today because his predictions have turned out to be amazingly prophetic.
What is forgotten is that Jules Verne was only one of several hundred science fiction writers of the late nineteenth century—which indeed was far more the age of science fiction writing than even the present decade.
And the other 299 science fiction writers of the time, whose popularity often rivaled and sometimes exceeded that of Jules Verne, were all completely wrong.
More important, however, no one could have done anything at the time with Jules Verne’s predictions.
For most of them, the scientific foundations needed to create the predicted technology did not exist at the time and would not come into being for many years ahead.
For the businessman-but also for the economist or politician-what matters is not “prediction,” but the capacity to act.
And this cannot be based on “prediction.”
But technology can be anticipated.
It is not too difficult—though not easy—to analyze existing businesses, existing industries, existing economies and markets to find where a change in technology is needed and is likely to prove economically effective.
It is somewhat less easy, though still well within human limitations, to think through the areas in which there exists high potential for new and effective technology.
We can say flatly first that wherever an industry enjoys high and rising demand, without being able to show corresponding profitability, there is need for major technological change and opportunity for it.
Such an industry can be assumed, almost axiomatically, to have inadequate, uneconomic, or plainly inappropriate technology.
Examples of such industries would be the steel industry in the developed countries since World War II or the paper industry.
These are industries in which fairly minor changes in process, that is, fairly minor changes in technology, can be expected to produce major changes in the economics of the industry.
Therefore, these are the industries which can become “technology prone.”
The process either is economically deficient or it is technically deficient-and sometimes both.
We can similarly find “vulnerabilities” and “restraints” which provide opportunities for new technology in the economics of a business and in market and market structure.
what are the demands of customer and market which the present business and the present technology do not adequately satisfy?, and:
What are the unsatisfied demands of customer and market?—that is, the basic questions underlying market planning—are also the basic questions to define what technologies are needed, appropriate, and likely to produce economic results with minimum effort.
A particularly fruitful way to identify areas in which technological innovations might be both accessible and highly productive is to ask: “What are we afraid of in this business and in this industry?
What are the things which all assert ‘can never happen,’ but which we nonetheless know perfectly well might happen and could then threaten us?
Where, in other words, do we ourselves know at the bottom of our hearts that our products, our technology, our whole approach to the satisfaction we provide to market and customer, is not truly appropriate and no longer completely serves its function?”
The typical response of a business to these questions is to deny that they have validity.
It is the responsibility of the manager who wants to manage technology for the benefit of his business and of his society to overcome this almost reflexive response and to force himself and his business to take these questions seriously.
What is needed is not always new technology.
It might equally be a shift to new markets or to new distributive channels.
But unless the question is asked, technological opportunities will be missed, will indeed be misconceived as “threats.”
These approaches, of which only the barest sketch can be given in this essay, apply just as well to needs of the society as to needs of the market.
It is, after all, the function of the businessman to convert need, whether of individual consumer or of the community, into opportunities for business.
It is for the identification and satisfaction of that need that business and businessmen get paid.
Today’s major problems, whether of the city, of the environment, or energy, are similarly opportunities for new technology and for converting existing technology into effective economic action.
At the same time, businessmen in managing technology also have to start out from the needs of their own business for new products, new processes, new services to replace what is rapidly becoming old and obsolescent, that is, to replace today.
To identify technological needs and technological opportunities one also starts out, therefore, with the assumption that whatever one’s business is doing today is likely to be obsolete fairly soon.
This approach assumes a limited and fairly short life for whatever present products, present processes, and present technologies are being applied.
It then establishes a “gap,” that is, the sales volume which products and processes not yet in existence will have to fill in two, five, or ten years.
It thus identifies the scope and extent of technological effort needed.
But it also establishes what kind of effort is needed.
For it determines why present products and processes are likely to become obsolescent, and it establishes the specifications for their replacement.
Finally, to be able to anticipate technology, to identify what is needed and what is possible, and above all what is likely to be productive technology, the business manager needs to understand the dynamics of technology.
It is simply not true that technology is “mysterious.”
It follows fairly regular and fairly predictable trends.
It is not, as is often said, “science.”
It is not even the “application of science.”
But it does begin with new knowledge which is then, in a fairly well-understood process, converted into effective—that is, economically productive—application.
Toward the Next Economics and Other Essays
Technology runs through almost every chapter
by Peter Drucker