Research/Development magazine, September 1976

Your hierarchical position can be enhanced if you draw on the abilities of others - but only if they are of equal or higher rank. Putt provides the postulational principles to prove it

Sketch above depicts the Ultimate Journal Article, as envisioned by Putt. Note that at this point (in the future) the prestige of the multiple-person "authoring group" is so great that only the Abstract, Acknowledgments and Citations (to the authors' previous works) are needed. Citations would continue for several pages. Text is now superfluous and need not appear (nor, indeed, need it even be written).

The Successful Technocrat 5: Laws governing values

Archibald Putt

Few things are as important to the success of a technocrat as his ability to recognize good concepts and ideas. Yet there are few courses on this subject in colleges and universities, and those that do exist are misdirected.

One of the best known courses of this type was initiated some twenty years ago at a major school of technology. It was called Engineering Analysis I and II. It has since been modified many times and copied by schools throughout the country. Students were given several different technical solutions to a problem and asked to evaluate them, or they were simply presented with the problem and asked to develop a solution. They were then graded on the quality of their analyses and on their ability to find the most cost-effective solutions. These were presumed to be the correct solutions. Never, to my knowledge, were students asked to consider the social or political implications of their ideas.

They and their professors were living and working in the proverbial ivory tower and ignoring some of the most important factors in the evaluation of ideas. The importance of these other factors is stressed in the Law Governing the Value of Ideas:

The value of an idea is measured less by its content than by the structure of the hierarchy in which it is pronounced.

This law is so well known in most hierarchies that the average reader may be surprised by the lack of understanding of it in the technical hierarchy. This lack of understanding results from an educational system for science and engineering that is totally preoccupied with the sterile evaluation of technology. There is an underlying presumption that the world will automatically adopt the "best" engineering solution. How educators in technology can be so successful in promoting this erroneous concept and so unsuccessful in teaching useful concepts is not clear.

It is interesting to postulate that children with irrational and authoritarian parents may do better in the technical hierarchy than children of more permissive or thoughtful parents; the former will be less convinced by a technical education that the "best" engineering solution will be adopted. They will recall that, right or wrong, the ideas of their parents were always acted upon, never those of the children. When a difference of opinion between the parents existed, it was the ideas of the dominant parent that survived. Children from such families would be likely to suspect that similar phenomena might occur even in the "completely rational" technical hierarchy.

We clearly need a detailed and scholarly study of the correlation between success in the technical hierarchy and the degree of authoritarianism in the home. The results should be most interesting and might provide a valuable additional guide for the hiring of technologists. They might also be helpful to parents who aspire to raise their children to become successful technocrats.

The results should also be compared with those of a recent study that suggests there is an optimum amount of education for success in the technical hierarchy. The normal four years of college followed by three to five years for a PhD may be too much. By then, most students have probably become so adjusted to thinking in terms of the "best" technical solution that they are unable to readjust to the real world. This difficulty could be alleviated either by reducing the length of the graduate program or by requiring that a graduate student's time be devoted largely to nonacademic pursuits.

There is, of course, an alternative to an authoritarian home life during childhood or a reduction in the length of the graduate program. The alternative is to introduce courses into the graduate program that deal effectively with the evaluation and selection of ideas. A prerequisite to that, however, would be a methodology that could be taught in the formalized manner of a college course. Such a methodology has only recently been developed by me through a detailed analysis of the hierarchiology of technology in which particular emphasis is placed on the levels and inequalities in a hierarchy.

Analyzing the hierarchiology

The analysis begins by referring to the president, or the Number 1 person in the hierarchy, as P1. Senior vice presidents are labeled as P2, the junior vice presidents as P3, and other persons in descending order of importance as P4, P5, P6 ... PB, where PB is the bottom group within which most persons must begin. Then, using well-known mathematical symbols, it is possible to derive relations such as

P1 > P2 and P2 > P3

and, very clearly, P1 > P3-an obvious statement, because presidents certainly do outrank junior vice presidents. Stated in a very general way,

Pj > Pj+1 > Pj+2 > Pj+3 ....

One can also evaluate ideas in a strictly technical sense without consideration of political or social values. Because of the complexity of technical evaluations, it is best to give only three ratings: Ig for a good idea, Ii for an indifferent one, and Ib for a bad idea. Thus the intrinsic value of ideas will be ranked as Ig > Ii > Ib. The actual value of an idea is approximately equal to the product of its pure technical worth and the level of the individual promoting it. Thus the total value of a good idea promoted by a president is given by IgP1 and it follows that

IgP1 > IgP2

That is, a good idea promoted by the president is better than a good idea promoted by a senior vice president. In general one can write

IgPj > IgPj+1 > IgPj+2 etc.

IiPj > IiPj+1 > IiPj+2 etc.

IbPj > IbPj+1 > IbPj+2 etc.

It is somewhat less clear as to what happens if, for example, a vice president is promoting a good idea while the president is promoting a bad one. However, it is safe to assume that generally

IbP1 > IgP2

Using this additional assumption, most inequalities among ideas in the hierarchy can be derived.

It should further be noted that ideas with multiple sponsors are more valuable than those with single sponsors, so that, for example,

IgP2P2 > IgP2


IgP3P3P3P4 > IgP3P3P3

This is democracy at work, for each man's contribution counts!

An immediate application for this principle can be found in the hierarchy. If you are a member of the bottom group (PB) and you have a good idea (Ig), its value is only IgPB. This is of less value than practically any other idea in the hierarchy. However, if you can gain the support of a person ranked P3 or P2, or best of all P1, then your idea will have great value. Because highly ranked people are too busy being prestigious to generate ideas of their own, you will be surprised how readily they will "admit" to having helped create yours.

Rating scholarly publications

Another obvious application is in the publication of scholarly papers. All other things being equal, a paper with three authors is superior to a publication with only one or two authors. After writing a paper, it is thus worthwhile to find a prestigious person who is willing to become a coauthor. Such persons are generally too proud to respond favorably to such a crass invitation as "Please let me place your name on my paper as a coauthor. This will help me get recognition and also help you because you are much too busy now to write original papers yourself."

It is far better to try a subtle approach, such as asking the person to comment on the paper. Then note that his comments have been so significant and helpful that you believe he should be a coauthor. Few men of position can resist an offer like this.

It is generally not wise, however, to load your paper with authors of equal or lesser rank just to raise its value. While the value of the paper will go up, the fact that this value must be shared among all the authors will far outweigh the benefit to you. However, if you can get one or more colleagues to agree to include you on their papers as a coauthor, if you do the same for them, then there is a definite gain for all.

In addition to the prestige and number of the authors on a paper, there is yet another way to measure a paper's value without trying to read and understand it. That method is to see how many subsequent papers refer back to it. This system has become so popular in recent years that several computer programs have been written to implement it. It is based on the premise that authors refer only to papers that have been helpful to them or that would be helpful to others. The use of these evaluation methods has led to the Law Governing the Value of Technical Publications:

The value of a technical article when first published is proportional to the sum of the prestige of its authors, but its ultimate value is proportional to the sum of the subsequent references to it.

It should be noted that this law refers to the value of the paper to its authors, as opposed to any value it may also have to the technical community. This is because a technologist is advanced in the hierarchy by contributions of value to him. Contributions of value to technology serve only to advance technology. Mathematically inclined readers will find the formal representation of the law to be more satisfying:

Vp = (P1 + P2 + . . . Pn)/(1 + T) + NR

In this equation Vp is the value of the publication to its authors; P1 is the prestige of the first author, P2 the prestige of the second, etc.; NR is the number of references in subsequent publications; and T is the time since its publication. When the article is first published, T=0; and because it could not yet have been referred to, NR is also zero.

Thus, initially,

Vp = P1 + P2 + . . . Pn

or, the value of the paper is simply equal to the sum of the prestige of all the authors. Five years after the article is published, 1 + T = 6 and the importance of the author's prestige is reduced to a sixth of its original value. The value of the paper will then be more dependent on the number of literature references to it, NR. After a long time, its value will be almost exclusively contained in NR as stated by the Law Governing the Value of Technical Publications.

Group approach pays off

It is clear from this law and associated procedures for determining the value of publications that there is considerable stimulus for technologists to band together into authoring groups. If we assume an authoring group of four persons in which each individual writes three papers per year and includes the other three individuals as coauthors, then each member of the group will have 12 papers to his credit at the end of one year, 24 at the end of two, and 60 papers after only five years.

Even more important are the references to each other's papers in all subsequent papers. Assuming a one-year delay between writing a paper and having it cited, each of the 12 papers written the first year would be cited by 12 papers in the second year, making a total of 144 citations for each member of the group. By the end of five years, each member would have accumulated 1440 citations! By increasing the group from four to eight persons, each member would after five years acquire part credit for 120 publications and 5760 citations, and after ten years have 240 publications and over 26,000 citations. Even an Einstein would have trouble matching a record like that!

A potential problem in this scheme is the rising cost of printing, coupled with the increasing size of the list of citations required at the end of each paper. After ten years, each paper would carry over 200 references to past publications even if no citations were given to persons outside the group.

Fortunately, this problem is easily overcome. After ten years, each of the eight authors would be so prestigious (with 240 publications and 26,000 citations to past publications) that the technical content of all future articles by the group would be incidental to their actual value.

The verbose articles of the past would no longer be needed. The authors could now concentrate on getting the concepts covered in as few words as possible. This would be greatly appreciated by younger technologists who would feel compelled to read all papers by such a prestigious group of authors. Eventually each article could consist only of the title, the list of authors, a brief abstract, acknowledgements, and citations to past articles by the authoring group.

The ultimate in compact value would be a publication with no text and no abstract at all. Further shortening of the paper would, however, cut too heavily into its value to be seriously considered.

Next: Three Laws of Advice