2021-06-14 4 min read


Notes, 2021-06-14.

The Prepared’s reading group recently finished The Innovation Delusion, the premise of which is that society worships innovation, undervalues maintenance, and that the former causes the latter. I would recommend the book, though I find it hard to see such a causal relationship in my own work. I imagine that has to do with my specific job: On a daily basis I do both design and sustaining engineering, and therefore I feel the value of both innovation and maintenance. I venture that many readers of The Prepared have a similar duality, and see the two more as symbiotic than as in competition.

For the symbiotic relationship between the two, look no further than the pandemic: innovation in technology enabled many of us to work together from home; meanwhile, maintainers of internet infrastructure allowed the transition to take place without a hitch. Innovation in medicine developed a vaccine in record timing; maintainers of manufacturing equipment and supply chains allowed us to deliver them at an impressive pace. We may have gravitated to the stories of Zoom and Pfizer more than AT&T and Fedex, but innovation was not possible without maintainers at every step.

So why do maintainers get less recognition? For one, if a maintainer does their job well, it is like they were never there. You feel upset about the potholes that exist, rather than appreciation for the road workers who keep more from forming. We will - and should - continue to reward innovators. And at the same time, we should encourage them to build things that make maintainers’ jobs easier and more fulfilling. Part of being prepared, after all, is engineering your systems so they are well-maintained.

-Sean Kelley

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~16% of opens) was an article about the communication and conflict resolutions employed by NASA astronauts. Popular threads on The Prepared's Members' Slack last week included a bunch of fun color perception games, some hot takes on Qarnot's "computing heater," and a *really* wacky side-by-side Moulton tandem.

Planning & Strategy.

  • Kattera, a construction startup founded by the former CEO of Flex and backed by the SoftBank Vision Fund, is shutting down. Brian Potter details Katerra’s rapid growth and collapse from his time working at the company. It’s an all too familiar startup story of ambitious goals and massive investments into expansion without first confirming the success of the product at a smaller scale.
  • I was surprised to find that while they have a partnership with NYC, the Lyft Citi Bike bikeshare program receives no public subsidies. It has basically become a part of Manhattan public transportation infrastructure, yet if driven by profit, other areas in NYC will likely remain underserved and price increases unchecked (yearly membership cost has risen from $95 in 2013 to $179 today). Meanwhile, a potential competitor JOCO is being sued by NYC for operating without a partnership.

Making & Manufacturing.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

Distribution & Logistics.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.


  • Eddie Obeng’s matrix of project types is a useful framework for understanding how to approach a problem. I find that engineering projects often start out as “Walking In a Fog” for which the best approach is maintaining a constant cadence of communication.
  • A blog post on the benefits of slack (with a lowercase “s”) for an organization’s ability to tackle changing circumstances. “Slack represents operational capacity sacrificed in the interests of long-term health.”

A Lichtenberg figure, made by injecting high energy electrons into acrylic.

Read the full story

The rest of this post is for SOW Subscribers (free or paid) only. Sign up now to read the full story and get access to all subscriber-only posts.

Sign up now
Already have an account? Sign in
Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
You've successfully subscribed to Scope of Work.
Your link has expired.
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.
Success! Your billing info has been updated.
Your billing was not updated.