For those new to the word Automation. According to Technopedia, automation means the creation and application of technologies to produce and deliver goods and services with minimal human intervention. The implementation of automation technologies, techniques and processes improves the efficiency, reliability, and/or speed of many tasks that were previously performed by humans. Automation is being used in a number of areas such as manufacturing, transport, utilities, defense, facilities, operations and lately, information technology.
Automation evidently drives innovation. Automation frees up resources, allowing employees to focus their attention on innovation. Automation also helps in improving processes and adopting new ways of working, which can then be automated to help the company become more agile.
In my quest for knowledge on this topic, I landed on a very interesting story about innovation and automation. It is said, that in 1589, a British Reverend named William Lee invented something called the stocking frame, which was the first machine to automate the knitting industry then, an industry that would consume too much time for housewives and young ladies. Knitting was encouraged by Kings and Queens in a bid that it controlled women to be focused on less distracted to get into earthly pleasures like lust and material exposure.
Reverend William like any other man that thrives form necessity to invent, rumor has it that he invented the machine out of necessity, anyway, call it love… or lust… or whatever you want to call it. It is said that the woman he had a crush on kept using knitting as an excuse not to see him — so he wanted to automate the task and free up her time and be able to have her with no excuse. Take a hint, brother and sister. This trick may help you get more from your other better half.
Away from the concepts behind this automation that led to innovation, William’s invention and automation ultimately made knitting more efficient, innovative , which did not exactly go over well with most stake holders, out of their ignorance, to the extent that when he applied for a patent for this automated machine, Queen Elizabeth I, through the authorities hesitated to approve. She wanted to protect the country’s knitters and the system in which women were controlled. She didn’t realize the innovation the machine was to bring to people regardless of losing their hard labor jobs.
When William’s first machine that produced a coarse wool, for stocking was refused a patent by Queen Elizabeth I, he rushed to build another one, an improved one this time, that increased the number of needles per inch from 8 to 20 and produced a silk of finer texture, but the Queen again denied him a patent because of her concern (ignorant and uninformed one possibly) for the employment security of the kingdom’s many hand knitters whose livelihood might be threatened by such mechanization. That is how deep automation can go. It brings disruption and can build a bad welcome if the innovation it drives is not well put to awareness.
“Thou aimest high, Master Lee. Consider thou what the invention could do to my poor subjects. It would assuredly bring to them ruin by depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars.”
– The Queen Responded to William Lee on refusal of patent (in ignorance of the benefits of automation)
Most likely the Queen’s concern was a manifestation of the hosiers’ guilds’ fear that the invention would make the skills of its artisan members obsolete. William did not give up on his automated invention, he entered into a partnership agreement with a one George Brooke on 6 June 1600, but the unfortunate Brooke was arrested on an alleged charge of treason and executed in 1603. Eventually, William moved to France and found better support from some French King then who granted him a patent and the story of automated machines started thereon. Knitting changed and all manner of innovation in the knitting industry spiked until today.
Regardless of the resistance and friction (which every new venture gets), William’s automated machine eventually made its way out into the world, and it did make knitting more efficient and innovative never to look back. A lot of possibilities were created. As humans were driven away from their jobs after automation, they also sought of other ways to innovate and make designs that the automated machines can take on. They left the hard labor part and focused on what more can the automated machines do for them.
Simply analyzed, automation pushed humans to innovate, to get new techniques and developed many more fashion styles with the machine capacities. And to me a great lesson is that, whereas automation shall take away most human jobs, it will also pave more ways of innovation and productivity.
I am not saying automation has no bad side of things like rendering humans jobless, but there is an important lesson here, that new things (that we could have been ignorant about, innovation inclusive) come in unexpected ways. With innovation, many effects are evident but we must also appreciate the reality that in the universe there is nothing like total loss, when we lose one thing, we gain another. Because, guess! – Human capacity is boundless and with automation, innovation is possible more than ever.
With that regard you may ask, what do we gain from self-driving cars, Virtual reality trends, self service systems, robots, etc.? It is the same, Ask yourself, what can you do with them and the end result shall be total innovation.