Innovation should be functional.

I have not been any form of professional sports person. The best I ever got was being in the "B" team when I was university — admittedly the "A" team in the track club included two Olympians and three sub four minute milers.

But when it comes to outdoor gear — and looking at my now deceased mountaineer packrat father in law’s gear, Can confirm

Because when it matters, functionality beats style.

It is interesting to me to note as an outdoorsman – as, indeed, for a few years one of only a few hundred world class professional outdoorsmen operating in the most extreme environments on the planet, and so quite familiar with the territory in all her dimensions, economic and geographic, and above all practical – that while fabrics and technology in outdoor gear and clothing have improved massively over the past 40 years, fashion among outdoorsmen has changed not at all. Our packs, tents, sleeping bags, clothing and equipment work better than what I started with, by an order of magnitude. But they still look pretty much the same. Nobody in that world appears to be the least bit interested in looking different than anyone did in 1970. They only want their gear to work properly.
It’s a WDWPL thing. No other sort of person is even interested in that world. So racist.
All of the improvements in gear over the last 70 years rely on petrochemicals (starting with Dacron). None of the outdoor equipment manufacturers who rail online about CO2 and climate change want to notice the uncomfortable fact that almost all their products are almost entirely petrochemical (the zipper pulls are still metal). Sad! But one cannot blame them, after all. Their market – outdoorsmen – are passionately devoted to the preservation of wilderness; and while no competent outdoorsman can be ignorant of natural history, and so live, many are indeed ignorant of theoretical science, engineering, and manufacturing. The outdoor equipment manufacturers are stuck between a rock and a hard place: the rock of materials science, and the hard place of their market.
God bless them, all. I know that they are working hard on a way to manufacture polyester (or something like it, that works and also biodegrades) from hemp (or something like it). They may save us, yet. To hell with plastic. In that I am at one with their better angels.
There is an historical analogy, for what it is worth. There is a symbiosis between the military and the outdoorsmen. For almost a century, the latter have informed the former. In terms of equipment rather than of weaponry, the 10th Mountain Division is mostly a New Hampshire winter camping thing, with input from Finland and Mountain Hardwear. Radical innovations in outdoor gear pioneered by such firms as North Face and Patagonia now totally permeate the military equipment of all Western nations.

Bruce Charlton challenges this,. and he is correct to a certain extent.

The most effective and dangerous pushers of change for its own sake are surely that largest and most rapidly growing of all classes: managers within bureaucracies.

Managers change things – that is what managers do; and in a world dominated by bureaucracy, this means that change is a constant.
They change the name of the company; the logo, website and letterhead; the mission statement and employment contract; they set up new subdivisions; ‘re-organize’; they hire consultants to suggest more ways that things can/ ought-to change.
When I was a doctor, managers were telling doctors how to diagnose and treat patients – what worked and what didn’t; when I was a university professor they were telling us how to teach classes, and do scientific research – what ‘counts’ as research, what kind of research we should do, where we should publish – and who we should work with. And all the time they are subordinating everybody else to the managerial diktats.
By the time I retired; managers had taken over all the major activities of everything – and everybody else was reduced to following (ever more detailed) managerially-approved procedures, and spending most of their time complying with managerial monitoring of their compliance.

In real life, I’ve walked in similar jobs to Professor Charlton. I’ve also spent enough time in marginal weather. This means I’ve flirted with hypothermia a few too many times.

When it really matters fashionable change is dropped. Outdoor gear looks pretty much the same because excess buckles and zips chafe or snag on scrub. Or adds bulk and weight without warmth or function.

I have yet to find a manager or policy maker from the ministry of health at the sharp end of medicine.

At the had end of any field, if it is not effective, functional, and trusted, it is not used.

And that will vary according to the task in hand. Working by analogy won’t cut it.

Do not break what works.

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John Sanford
4 months ago

The point raised regarding managers and change is only half the story. The other half is that bureaucracies are remarkably resistant to change. Paradox? No, not really. Managers love control. Change is both a second place value and a tool of control. Control first, change second.