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Are technological upheavals inevitable?

“Are technological upheavals inevitable?” is Max Hunter’s stark assessment of the value of long-range planning and how human motivations and reactions turn what should be smooth evolutionary progress into a series of revolutions.

This thought-provoking paper was published by the Harvard Business Review in 1966 and can now be viewed by clicking on the image at right.

Over the years after its publication, the paper stirred a great deal of ongoing conversation to the point that in 1986, Max decided to discuss how the paper came to be. “Shortly after I joined the Space Council staff in 1962, the head of long range planning for NASA asked me to write a dissertation on how we had done long range planning during my 18 years at Douglas since he thought we were outstanding. He was shaken when I said we hadn't done very much.”

Max Hunter
“Genesis of Technological Upheavals” 1986

This paper is reproduced in its entirely below:

Max Hunter

Max Hunter, 1986

The paper "ARE TECHNOLOGICAL UPHEAVALS INEVITABLE?" was seven years in the making. Shortly after I joined the Space Council staff in early 1962, the head of long range planning for NASA asked me to write a dissertation on how we had done long range planning during my 18 years at Douglas since he thought we were outstanding. He was shaken when I said we hadn't done very much. I did produce a short paper for him entitled "THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF LONG RANGE PLANNING" It was distributed to a few friends, but never published.

After I came to Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. in late '65, the President of the company also asked me to do a paper on long range planning since he thought we had been magnificent at it at Douglas, and knew I was involved. He, too, was shaken when I claimed we did almost none. I, however, produced a further memo for him and, after further harassment, another one about a year later. These three memos were the only time I had bothered to think about it much. They essentially are not how to do long range planning, but rather, why you can't.

In the fall of 1967, Lockheed sent me to the Advanced Management Program of the Harvard Business School, the most prestigious of the advanced executive training courses. I took the 3 memos in case the subject came up. Our long range planning course was taught by Larry Fouraker, a brilliant type who later became Dean of the Business School. After one of the classes, I suggested there were other factors involved, and gave him the 3 memos to read. When I next saw him he said: "This is the West Point of Capitalism. I teach long range planing here, and therefore, I am the world's foremost authority on it. How come, then, that there are at least three very pertinent ideas in there that I never heard of before?" He suggested I combine them into one article and submit it to the Harvard Business Review. I said something like "Yes, Sir!"

Naturally, I went back to Lockheed and did nothing. In a few months, I received a letter from the associate editor of the Review asking me to write a paper based on the papers Fouraker had given him. So I did, and it was finally published in the fall of 1969. The Lockheed management made only one small change, much to my surprise. The HBR editors became quite involved, however, and gave it to four of the Professors for comment. So the final product was a combined effort of myself, the editors of the Business Review, and a goodly number of Professors from the school. This was a prime Establishment effort, even if it does reference an article in Playboy by a science fiction writer, and refers to Lenin's teachings.

It has been occasionally suggested that I got a little rough in the section on changing teams. The analogies are perhaps too vivid. But we're trying to save organizations (and people) here, not destroy them. And many classic disasters have occurred at this point. How do you argue with success at its peak? Who, working for Henry Ford, could counter "You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black"? These are tough situations. Had someone had the will and the skill to counter, vast economic hardship would have been avoided, and General Motors might not exist. The business school faculty knew the crucialness of this point, and the general blindness of managements on this subject. If they could have thought of a tougher analogy, I think they would have tried to make me use it! The last paragraph in the "Conclusions" says it more respectably than the Last paragraph in "Changing Teams".

~ Maxwell W. Hunter




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