March 06, 2005

Illegal Projects

I visited China Lake last week for a conference. China Lake is the place where many famous Navy weapons were developed in the past. China Lake is still doing many cool things we can not talk about here.

When I got home this caused me to rumage through my books. I have a copy of "Sidewinder - creative missile development at China Lake" by Ron Westrum. This book and the museam at China Lake detail the creative processes that made these creations possible.

On page 12 of the book a set of laws governing creative processes are decribed. These laws were created by Mr. Jacob Rabinow who worked at the national bureau of standards in World War Two.

Here is Law #13 which covers illegal projects or projects that have not been officially sanctioned by the bureacracy.

"Everything you do illegally, you do efficiently. This, of course, is perfectly obvious. For one thing, you do not write at all because writing on an illegal project is suicide. For another thing, you work with whatever equipment you have on hand, and of course, you do everything on your lunch hour, which starts at 8:00 in the morning and finishes at 5:00 in the evening. Another thing, when it does not work well and it is illegal, you dropit very quickly and kill the project. When it is legal, you carry it on to doomsday, hoping that somebody else will carry it on, so that when it finally fails you won't be blaimed. If an illegal project does succeed, you will be a hero, but if it fails you would like no one to know about it, so you bury it quickly. Illegal projects are very, very efficient from many points of view."

The book cites this as coming from Jacob Rabinow. "The Individual in Government Research and Innovation," in Innovation and U.S. Research: Problems and Recommendations, ed. W. Novis Smith and Charles F. Larson (Washington, D.C.:American Chemical Society, 1980),161


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