THE UNDERCOVER ECONOMIST EBOOK!
23 AMThe Fruits of Their LaborsAn amazing economics experiment and how it got field workers to pick a lot more Harford. Buy The Undercover Economist Revised ed. by Tim Harford (ISBN: ) from Amazon's Book Store. Everyday low prices and free delivery on. Economists are not by nature folk heroes. Those of us who earn our living writing about the subject have to recognise that we are seen as a.
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So what did Arpa do, does it deserve so much credit and, if so, can the trick be repeated in other fields such as clean energy or medicine? When it comes to an invention such as the internet, it is never easy to know whether success appeared by design or by luck.
Still, here are five lessons I draw. The first is that speed and flexibility are a vital part of the Arpa model. The agency has the undercover economist able to ramp-up and pull back from projects with a speed that most organisations would find bewildering. Consider the case of Robert Taylor.
He was hired by Arpa in and made director of the information processing program a few months later, at the age of He then hatched the idea of building a network to connect mainframe computers at campuses across the US.
The network, Arpanet, was running less than four years later. The meeting itself had taken 20 minutes. My second lesson is linked to the first. Arpa hired scientists rather than bureaucrats, and tempted free spirits to work for them by giving the undercover economist tight control over large budgets, and a short tenure before they were released.
One was JR Licklider, a visionary psychologist who saw that the future of computing lay in a more intuitive real-time interface between humans and machines. Ivan Sutherland, his successor, and one of the fathers of computer graphics, stayed no longer.
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Taylor succeeded Mr Sutherland and remained for three years. The three men got a lot done in a short space of time.
Computer geeks at the time were fond of retelling a story they attributed to Soren Kierkegaard, about a man who fed wild ducks until they the undercover economist fat and tame. Arpa was deliberate about not taming its wild ducks.
Undercover Economist | Financial Times
A third principle is to create a vigorous marketplace for ideas. Shane Greenstein of Harvard Business School notes that as a result, the agency managed to gain the undercover economist of the benefits of decentralisation while maintaining a degree of focus and discipline.
Fourth, find the gaps. The undercover economist organisations fund truly fundamental research very well, and other organisations — often private-sector firms — excel at producing polished products to meet well-defined demands.
But the gap between blue sky research and a marketable end-product is the undercover economist always well served, and Arpa has succeeded by identifying projects in the middle. Nevertheless, there seems promise in the 21st-century efforts to create them for intelligence Iarpa and energy Arpa-E.
Arpa projects may have seemed speculative, but the agency kept its feet on the ground by focusing on US national security. There is, of course, an important role for pure theoretical research — but that is not the role of this type of agency.
Arpa had the undercover economist mission in mind, and trusted the scientists and engineers to deliver.