PW 4: Productivity and tools

Adam Smith and Karl Marx both wrote about the pin-making machine. Not too long ago, pins (for hats, to hold shirts in place, etc.) were incredibly expensive. They were a luxury item, and a handmade pin might cost more than buying lunch.

The pin-making machine changed this. It transformed the labor of four trained workers from 20 pins a day to 10,000.

It’s pretty clear that if you wanted to make pins productively, you’d want to own one of these devices.

Industrial productivity progress grows and then ebbs or levels out. The inclined plane. The shovel. The assembly line. The computer chip. Robots…

When it’s leveling out, some people insist it will never rise again. And yet it does.

The tools that are available to each of us are so powerful, so varied and so complex that even the free ones are ignored or misunderstood. We’re too busy doing work to get much done.

And so we end up with the convenient and sexy tools (like the smartphone you might be reading this on) and fail to do the few hours or days of training we might need to transform our productivity with desktop tools or thought-through and optimized AI and workflow improvements.

Working harder is rarely a better plan than finding better tools.

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