Just in Time

by Flemming Funch, 18 Mar 95.

I was just reading an article in the L.A.Times about the trend of companies cutting down on fixed office space, shifting into some kind of dynamic space allocation, increasingly letting people share offices, work at home, rent hotel rooms wherever they are, and so forth. That both makes business sense, in that many expensive offices are empty a large percent of the time, and it also seems to be quite acceptable and often more convenient for the employees.

This is an example of Just In Time (JIT) management. Meaning the principle of making resources available precisely where and when they are needed, rather than letting them be stacked up partially unused for long periods in centralized locations.

And this reminds me of Fuller's statements about how one doesn't really need to own houses and cars and other fixed resources, as long as they are available wherever one needs them, by rental or otherwise.

The world is moving faster, everything is more in flux, and that makes these ideas increasingly attractive, both economically and practically.

Owning a house and a car might feel nice and secure. But if I traveled a lot it might be a burden. Or, rather, having to continuously pay for the exclusivity of owning a house and car in one place, will hinder my mobility. I can not take the house with me, and the car doesn't practically go very far within a global sphere. Renting space and transportation, on top of already paying for it elsewhere, makes it expensive to move around.

Really, what most people need, is the confidence that the resources they need are there when they need them. Having a car all for yourself is a crude way of doing that. Not a particularly good one, as your car breaks down once in a while, leaving you with no car, and you can not very well take it with you to other countries, leaving you with additional expenses.

Much of our traditional use of ownership and of setting aside resources, is based on the underlying fear that there isn't enough to go around. If I indebt myself for a year's worth of work, somebody will give me a car that I can put my name on, and then, if I always lock it, and it doesn't get stolen anyway, or totaled, then I hope that I will always have transportation. I must continuously guard my possession from all of those "out there" who would like to steal or crash or scratch or use my car, so I can't walk too far away from it for too long a time.

Personally I would be just a happy renting a car. Or even better, if a car or other comfortable transportation always was cheaply available when I needed it. Because, even if I rented a car, I would probably only use it 5% of the day. The remaining 95% of the day it is a wasted resource that somebody else could well use and we could all have cars for a fraction of the cost.

There are other issues in the big picture, of course. Cars burn up gasoline, make pollution, take lots of resources to build, and so forth. But that is also more reasons to have fewer of them, utilized more economically.

In terms of space, it is obviously more economical in the whole picture to have one working/living space available when one needs it and where one needs it, and not having a lot of extra spaces waiting around that aren't being used.

It is a waste of time and resources that I have to get out of one room (my house) and drive for an hour in another room (my car) to get to a third room (my office) where I will sit for a few hours and do something I could just as well done in the room I started with, which is standing empty while I am out.

The big idea here is not that somebody could cram people closer together and make bigger profits. Rather, the idea is to have and use the resources where it makes the most sense, and since that also saves a lot of resources, they can then be used for more creative and enjoyable purposes.

I'd rather work where I live and sleep than anywhere else. I could care less if somebody isn't setting aside an office for me in downtown. If I need to go out I'd much rather that it is for something I don't have in my house, like a beach, a mountain, a group of interesting people.

And really, I personally would be happy to give up my own stationary house for the convenience of finding those conveniences wherever I am, or being able to take them with me.

If there were always a bathroom around when I need to go, or there were always a couch around when I felt like a nap, and if I could access my e-mail from anywhere, then I could be comfortable in all kinds of places.

We could quickly calculate that the majority of the world's resources of housing, transportation, energy and food are left around largely unused. That obviously means that, if the resources were managed differently, we should be able to either, be able to acquire their use a whole lot cheaper, or we should be able to cover the needs of everybody on the planet. Or both.

If we consistently plan for making resources available exactly when and where they are needed to those who need them, we might find that indeed they are available when we need them, and that others seem to find the resources they need available too.

- Flemming