Hitting the Brakes: Engineering Design and the Production of Knowledge

Duke University Press
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In Hitting the Brakes, Ann Johnson illuminates the complex social, historical, and cultural dynamics of engineering design, in which knowledge communities come together to produce new products and knowledge. Using the development of antilock braking systems for passenger cars as a case study, Johnson shows that the path to invention is neither linear nor top-down, but highly complicated and unpredictable. Individuals, corporations, university research centers, and government organizations informally coalesce around a design problem that is continually refined and redefined as paths of development are proposed and discarded, participants come and go, and information circulates within the knowledge community. Detours, dead ends, and failures feed back into the developmental process, so that the end design represents the convergence of multiple, diverse streams of knowledge.

The development of antilock braking systems (ABS) provides an ideal case study for examining the process of engineering design because it presented an array of common difficulties faced by engineers in research and development. ABS did not develop predictably. Research and development took place in both the public and private sectors and involved individuals working in different disciplines, languages, institutions, and corporations. Johnson traces ABS development from its first patents in the 1930s to the successful 1978 market introduction of integrated ABS by Daimler and Bosch. She examines how a knowledge community first formed around understanding the phenomenon of skidding, before it turned its attention to building instruments to measure, model, and prevent cars’ wheels from locking up. While corporations’ accounts of ABS development often present a simple linear story, Hitting the Brakes describes the full social and cognitive complexity and context of engineering design.

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About the author

Ann Johnson is Assistant Professor of History at the University of South Carolina.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Oct 19, 2009
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Pages
226
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ISBN
9780822391043
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Corporate & Business History
Science / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The Challenge
Built to Last, the defining management study of the nineties, showed how great companies triumph over time and how long-term sustained performance can be engineered into the DNA of an enterprise from the verybeginning.

But what about the company that is not born with great DNA? How can good companies, mediocre companies, even bad companies achieve enduring greatness?

The Study
For years, this question preyed on the mind of Jim Collins. Are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? And if so, what are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?

The Standards
Using tough benchmarks, Collins and his research team identified a set of elite companies that made the leap to great results and sustained those results for at least fifteen years. How great? After the leap, the good-to-great companies generated cumulative stock returns that beat the general stock market by an average of seven times in fifteen years, better than twice the results delivered by a composite index of the world's greatest companies, including Coca-Cola, Intel, General Electric, and Merck.

The Comparisons
The research team contrasted the good-to-great companies with a carefully selected set of comparison companies that failed to make the leap from good to great. What was different? Why did one set of companies become truly great performers while the other set remained only good?

Over five years, the team analyzed the histories of all twenty-eight companies in the study. After sifting through mountains of data and thousands of pages of interviews, Collins and his crew discovered the key determinants of greatness -- why some companies make the leap and others don't.

The Findings
The findings of the Good to Great study will surprise many readers and shed light on virtually every area of management strategy and practice. The findings include:

Level 5 Leaders: The research team was shocked to discover the type of leadership required to achieve greatness. The Hedgehog Concept (Simplicity within the Three Circles): To go from good to great requires transcending the curse of competence. A Culture of Discipline: When you combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, you get the magical alchemy of great results. Technology Accelerators: Good-to-great companies think differently about the role of technology. The Flywheel and the Doom Loop: Those who launch radical change programs and wrenching restructurings will almost certainly fail to make the leap.

“Some of the key concepts discerned in the study,” comments Jim Collins, "fly in the face of our modern business culture and will, quite frankly, upset some people.”

Perhaps, but who can afford to ignore these findings?

“At the core, Hit Refresh, is about us humans and the unique quality we call empathy, which will become ever more valuable in a world where the torrent of technology will disrupt the status quo like never before.” – Satya Nadella from Hit Refresh

“Satya has charted a course for making the most of the opportunities created by technology while also facing up to the hard questions.” – Bill Gates from the Foreword of Hit Refresh

The New York Times bestseller Hit Refresh is about individual change, about the transformation happening inside of Microsoft and the technology that will soon impact all of our lives—the arrival of the most exciting and disruptive wave of technology humankind has experienced: artificial intelligence, mixed reality, and quantum computing. It’s about how people, organizations, and societies can and must transform and “hit refresh” in their persistent quest for new energy, new ideas, and continued relevance and renewal. 

Microsoft’s CEO tells the inside story of the company’s continuing transformation, tracing his own personal journey from a childhood in India to leading some of the most significant technological changes in the digital era. Satya Nadella explores a fascinating childhood before immigrating to the U.S. and how he learned to lead along the way. He then shares his meditations as a sitting CEO—one who is mostly unknown following the brainy Bill Gates and energetic Steve Ballmer. He tells the inside story of how a company rediscovered its soul—transforming everything from culture to their fiercely competitive landscape and industry partnerships. As much a humanist as engineer and executive, Nadella concludes with his vision for the coming wave of technology and by exploring the potential impact to society and delivering call to action for world leaders.

“Ideas excite me,” Nadella explains. “Empathy grounds and centers me.” Hit Refresh is a set of reflections, meditations, and recommendations presented as algorithms from a principled, deliberative leader searching for improvement—for himself, for a storied company, and for society.

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