From The Gilbreth Network Online:
The Quest, Volume 3, No. 3, Fall 1999

Compiled by David Ferguson

Newsletter of the Gilbreth Network

Fall 1999

The Quest is published and copyright by David Ferguson.

Inside this issue:

Preserving Resources
Yellow Jackets, Voice-Mail, and Efficiency
The Internet, the Gilbreths, and You


Vol. III, No. 3 Fall 1999

Preserving Resources

It's time to do our part to preserve the Gilbreth legacy. The two most recent Gilbreth books, As I Remember and Managing on Her Own, were published by Engineering and Management Press. This publisher is being shut down and these books will be out-of-print and unavailable to us and to future researchers. Click here to learn more about this situation, and what you must do right now.

Yellow Jackets, Voice-Mail and Efficiency

A wise old "saw" once said, "Necessity is the mother of invention." For Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, "the necessity" was finding a better way to do work, with least fatigue and greatest efficiency. While they developed many designs and concepts, to this end, they were also quick to embrace inventions which improved efficiency.

While we would like to think that, over the last century, we have constantly improved our efficiency, in the new products we've developed, this is not always the case. In some cases, we've actually taken giant steps backwards. Today's "modern conveniences" are a strange mix of products and services, some of which we wonder how we've lived without for all those past years, and others, which make us ask if we have progressed beyond the stone age.

This year, here in the heart of California's wine country, we are being particularly hard-hit by an infestation of yellow jackets. These meat-eating bees, of a rather nasty disposition, may, at one minute, decide that your bare toes are a tasty morsel and the next minute, get mad at you because you foolishly tried to shoo them away. They particularly like a meal cooked on the grill and will hover around your dinner of steak and corn-on-the-cob. Believe me, there's nothing that will shape your day up like biting into an ear of corn and ending up with a yellow jacket in your mouth.

In an attempt to retake the patio and yard from these aggressors, I purchased a few yellow jacket traps. These plastic labyrinths use bait in the form of some smelly tuna fish or some queen's hormone (sold separately) to attract and trap the pesky beasts. In the first few hours of having set the traps, I found dozens of yellow jackets buzzing around inside. As the days went by, the body count mounted.

Now, here was a pest control product that, without using pesticides, was extremely effective in controlling this pest. It is a product that truly works as advertised [by the way, if you are part of a pro-yellow jacket group, don't bother to write]

The yellow jacket trap, a very low-tech device, will probably not go down in this centruy's list of important inventions, unless you like to eat an ear of corn on your patio. Instead, we will remember this century (and especially this decade) for the personal computer and telecommunications advances. [by the way, this next part of the article is very difficult to write without sounding like Andy Rooney]

It seems that no one has ever asked the most important question of our time. The question is not "what is the meaning of life," but, rather "why, if computers are so efficient and a boon to mankind, do we now require that the computer book section of a bookstore is larger than any other non-fiction department, even cookbooks." If you buy a popular software program today, there are at least a dozen books (each as big as War and Peace) to tell you all the secrets of the program. Inded, you are forced to buy the book, since the current trend, with software manufacturers, is to provide only a thin booklet that barely tells you how to load the program.

However, if you want insidious plots against mankind, you need look no further than the field of "electronic people." Electronic people are the epitome of what our forefathers and mothers feared when they thought their jobs would be taken over by machines. Two examples come to mind: the Automatic Teller Machines and Voice Mail.

I remember the first ATM machines very well, as they were a big help when I worked a rotating shift work schedule. Regardless of whether my free hours and the bank's coincided, I could conduct transactions at any time of day. I felt that ATMs were a fair arrangement in that they provided the customer with convenience and saved the banks the costs of extra tellers.

Yet, today, somone has to have their greedy hand out. Despite the fact that one ATM machine can take the place of at least 3-4 tellers, the banks now want to charge you for the privilege of saving them money.

Regarding Voice Mail, first, we have to define our terms. The term, Voice Mail (VM), has been used to denote both the automated telephone operator and the voice messaging systems (similar to answering machines) that most business people have on their phones. True voice mail is actually a truly effiicient product.

Let's say you have a question for someone. Rather than playing phone tag (a nineties game), you simply ask your question and ask for a response. Then, while you're tied up on the phone or taking a coffee break, the responding party can leave the answer on your voice mail. The Gilbreths would have loved this innovation in their Office System.

However, the automated teleophone operator (ATO--my own title for the system), a system sometimes mis-named as voice mail, should actually be renamed, to avoid confustion. This system, in all its variations should be called the Twentieth-Century Torture Chamber (TCTC)--our motto: "Bring the TCTC revolution to your business and drive your customers postal."

With one of these systems, you are asked to make a series of menu choices, which go on and on, branching out like the Gilbreth family tree. "If you are using a touch tone phone, press 1; if you're not using a touch tone phone, press 2; if you know your party's extension, dial it now; if you do not know your party's extension, dial 3 for our directory." (Now, at this point, you are asked to spell out the first few letters of the person's last name, so if you're not sure how it's spelled, you're sunk.) BUT, what if you don't know anyone's name and are looking for the personnel department or customer service representative. Sorry, you're out of luck.

I could go on with these horror stories, but what's the point. With few exceptions the TCTC system, for lack of a better term, stinks. In order to eliminate the job of a $20K per-year receptionist/telephone operator, some American businesses have chosen to alienate the world. If anyone wants to check the true efficiency of this sytem, review the previous scenario and the time it would take as opposed to "Hello, this is Dave Ferguson, can I please speak to Jack Jones?"

I think I'll place my yellow jacket trap next to my telephone and hope that efficiency can be absorbed.

The Internet, The Gilbreths And You

The internet is fast becoming the world's public library. At the end of this article are listed some web sites you may find helpful if you're doing research on the Gilbreths, or any other subject. However, the first part of this article is for those of you who have yet to get "on line" and use the Internet.

The Gilbreth Network has a wide range of generations. We have those who probably cut their teeth on a computer keyboard and we also have people who don't realzie the world of information out there by simply plugging a telephone line into their computer.

If, like the Gilbreths, you have an interest in many different subjects, the Internet is for you. With a little searching, you can find a list of the latest hit music or someone selling old 78s. You can find advice on how to housebreak your puppy or how to clean your carpet after an accident. If you have an interest or a simple question, you can find it on the Internet.

I guess the best way to express the Internet is to compare it to going to the library and researching a subject with the exclusive help of the head librarian (incidentally, you can now access your own library's inventory of books in many community systems). Another way to look at it is that it's like having the world's yellow pages, if you're looking for a business or want to see who makes a product you need.

Now, this is not to say that the Internet is as pure, in mind and body, as the reference section of your public library. We've all heard stories of the pornography, hate groups and instructions on how to build pipe bombs. Chances are, in most searches you'll conduct, you'll never see any of these sites.

I look at it this way. Listed in your local telephone directory are probably people who ar not very nice: bank robbers, sex maniacs, and drunks. This doesn't mean that you throw out your phone book.

I'll give you an example of how helpful the Internet can be. We're planning on selling a car. I found the Kelly Blue Book site and by typing in the information on my car, found out just how much it's worth. They also had a section on the site which would give you basic model and option costs for new cars. The previous day, before an outing we had planned, I was able to call up the local weather forecast at a moment's notice. All this information was gathered without leaving my home.

The only caveat I would add is to "know your sources." While there is a lot of wonderful information, the Internet is also full of people's opinion or just plain garbage. If you stick with sources you know, when it domes to research, you'll be fine. Have fun.

Some web sites of interest. For a longer list, please click here to go to our links page.

Library of Congress



Smithsonian Institution

Purdue Special Collections

Frederick Taylor

Mark Hamill's Gilbreth Quotes Page

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