Industrial Regulation

I quite innocently started my research where I expected to find the answer. This, probably the result of Google Poisoning. I'd even taken the researcher's orientation class, taught by the author of The Oxford Guide To Library Research, and he'd cautioned me. "You won't find what you're looking for where you expect to find it."

The problem with keyword searches? They give you what you've asked for, not what you really needed but were too ignorant to know you needed. That's why libraries catalogue their holdings by subject categories. Some books are general, some more specific. The specific are not classified as subsets of more general classifications. You want a book on blue crabs, ask for blue crabs, not the more general crustaceans.

This way of classifying knowledge requires considerable unlearning for anyone steeped, as we all are, in simple keyword searches. My instructor, who haunts the Library of Congress Main Reading Room, tells many stories about researchers who ask such questions as, "Are there really only four books on the Great Depression in the whole L of C collection?" He smiles as he replies, "Probably not. What subject classification are you querying?" "Great Depression," not "Financial Depressions 1929."

Turns out that if you go looking for something under the wrong classification, you'll get exactly what you asked for, but not nearly what you expected. So, the first question is not always an obvious one: What is the proper question?

I wondered, as a little exercise in actually using the largest store of knowledge ever assembled in one place, The Library of Congress, how the Ancient Romans managed projects. So, I started, as instructed, by looking under "Ancient Romans" in the subject categories. Result: Nothing!

How about Romans Ancient? Ditto.

The instructor had passed us the first rule of library research: Don't even think about doing it yourself. Ask one of the research assistants for help. So I did. In about thirty seconds, he'd properly reframed my query into Roman Empire. Lots of hits on that.

Now, for the next layer. "Roman Empire Projects" Nada. What do they call projects in this subject index? I figured this one out on my own, by referencing a project book I knew existed and checking to see what subject classification they'd assigned to it. My mouth is still hanging open, slack-jawed.

Industrial Regulation.

Crap! That pretty much explains it all, doesn't it?

Frustrating additional hours found me pulling encyclopedias of various antiquities from the reference shelves, trying in vain to find any mention of industry, industrial activity, planning, scheduling, controlling, leading, sponsoring ... cripes but I nearly exhausted my synonym generator.

I found a little more than squat, and thought at first this was about me and my advanced Google Poisoning at work. But I started reading between the lines, and adjacent entries, and just trolling for something kinda-sorta-maybe related, the essence of great research, and began to understand.

One entry in the authoritative guide to the ancient world noted that there is damned little surviving about Roman industry, but that it's clear that they had no industry as we think of it today. It went on to claim that there is no evidence of enterprises comprised of more than about 100 people from that time. It was an empire supplied by craftspersons. I found other mentions of some rudimentary guilds, common craftspersons banding together for mutual protection and to provide burial services to their members, but these were never organized beyond locality, and were periodically banned outright after they'd threatened the status quo.

It was looking as if I'd asked an unanswerable question until I stumbled upon one text which had a section entitled Beliefs. It described the Roman world view, which could not be more different than ours. Perhaps this might explain the curious absence of project management from their empire.

One primary belief (the one mentioned most prominently in this text) was the apparently universal notion that The Fates determined destiny. The future was pre-ordained by the Gods. Romans could ask for divine intervention, but the results were transcribed before any of them were born. Romans were along for the ride.

This is a handy convention, and probably meant that Romans suffered far less from the self-helpless syndromes common today. We believe in our diets, and assume personal responsibility when they don't work: It's our fault. Any Roman could casually claim that the Gods had decided that he was to be a fatty and leave it at that.

So what regulated the work of Roman craftsmen? I think it likely that some variants on pre-destination did. First, by law, the sons of a craftsman were required to follow in their father's trade. This ensured that specialized knowledge would be passed down through successive generations. Second, the noble classes despised physical labor, and took great pains to distance themselves far away from what they considered occupations damaging to body and mind, aka work. It was left to those actually doing the work to determine how to do it, since those who might attempt to regulate it externally had no earthly interest in the degrading stuff.

This resulted in an empire that did not produce much in the way of technical innovation, but distributed production widely. They did not worship their aspirations, eliminating uncertainty not by cleverly planning it away, but by accepting it as the normal way of the world.

I left the library feeling strangely stupid. A sensation I've experienced enough that I really should have learned by now that I was experiencing learning. After a day of reflection, I'm integrating this new information into my previous expectations and finding some crude resolution in that.

And I believe that my problem with finding evidence of project management in Roman times is curiously similar to my difficulties finding what I consider project management in our own time. The Romans didn't have industrial regulation because they didn't have any industry. Look at any list of leading companies and consider how many of them can be fairly labeled Industrial. Sure, all of them are HUGE, as in too big to manage enormous. Hello? Are we attempting to apply Industrial Regulation in the absence of anything even remotely resembling Industry?

You answer the question for yourself. The Gods have prescribed a headache for me right now.

blog comments powered by Disqus