Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I read this article a few weeks ago about why Americans suck at making cars but are good at making software. The conclusions were a little surprising: Americans are all about just getting something done as fast as possible, not about quality and craftsmenship. As somebody whose job it is to create software, this made me really think. Is the author right?

The answer is no. Americans are great at innovating, and that's not because we just want to get things done and don't care how we do it. It's because we have more freedom than most nations. We have a history of people challenging established ideas. You have to be careful when making such sweeping generalizaions about a country as large and diverse as America. There are certainly parts of our society that are less tolerant of new ideas and challenging the establishment. There is a name for ideologies that are less tolerant: conservative. Indeed the Red States don't tend to produce as much innovation as the Blue States. Of course it can be a little bit of a chicken-and-egg thing. More innovation usually means more economic success and that leads to more urbanization, which of course leads to more tolerance.

So maybe that's why Americans are more innovative and have great success at things like movies and software. That doesn't explain why Americans suck at making cars. I don't think its that Americans are incapable of making great cars, it's just that other countries (Japan, Germany) work a lot harder at it. They work harder at it because they have to. If you aren't innovative as a compettitor, then you have to make sure that you pay more attention to detail and quality on the things that you both make. If you can't come up with new products/features to compete, then you must be better at making the common things or you have no way of competing. It's really just a function of specialization in the marketplace. Does anyone think Hondas would be nearly as great if they were only sold in Japan?

No comments: