Productivity growth (airport edition)

Microsoft stopped supporting Windows 3.1 fifteen years ago, probably thinking that no one would use it anymore. Originally released in April 1992, that version of the Windows operating system was improved somewhat since the preceding century (let's not comment on whether each new release of Windows was a true improvement...).

But as you might suspect, Windows 3.1 is still running on some machines.

And those machines are the reason for the standstill at a fairly important airport in France last November:

In debates around innovation, we talk about possible reasons why productivity growth has been slow. People like to blame, among other things:

  • Barriers to firm growth
  • Monopolies, network effects...
  • Issues with the patent system
  • Poor measurements of productivity growth
  • Land-use regulations
  • Revolutionary discoveries are simply harder to by now
  • Macro factors (R&D spending)
  • Etc...

Cardiff Garcia just listed 32 views on innovation stagnation.

As far as I could see, only two or three of them referred to poor management. View #10: "socio-organisational changes required to transform new technologies into faster productivity growth have yet to materialise" is obviously right, and so is #26: "managerial capital [is needed for diffusion of technology]". Point #28 on the lack of willingness to experiment also rings true, and the referenced research[1] looks very interesting.

The above finger-pointing at Orly airport systems doesn't mean I think change within organizations is not hard. It's actually so hard that some of the mental capacity devoted to lab work could perhaps be even more socially valuable if applied to understanding organizational frictions.

  1. Hendel, Igal, and Yossi Spiegel. 2014. "Small Steps for Workers, a Giant Leap for Productivity." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 6(1): 73-90. ↩︎

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