Landscapes of Global Capital
tv globe icon link to home Friction-free flow
Profit is a function of both acceleration and integration

So keep the flow moving as fast as possible.

The flow consists of objects, goods, personnel, services, and data that move through organizations and extra-organizational systems. Productivity and profit are a function of speed. But, how fast can the flow go before the system breaks down? On the flip side, what are the obstacles and friction points that limit velocity?

What happens when the unexpected occurs? Can an organization respond in a flexible and timely manner? It is no longer enough that an organization run efficiently. Efficiency must now extend beyond the boundaries of organizational structure into the world of supply and demand that exists beyond the organization. In a marketplace where consumers come armed with 'smart' credit cards and wireless technology and are encouraged to expect that all commodities and services are within 24 hours of reach, corporations are expected to design friction-free response mechanisms. On the other side of the supply chain, B2B technology providers promise just-in-time delivery of production materials as needed. Flexible, friction-free integration of the supply chain is an oft-repeated mantra in the contemporary corporate world. Advertising reflects this in two ways. IBM commercials often depict episodes of failed integration in which corporate employees and executives confront system breakdown. Against the backdrop of overwhelming anxiety associated with failure and the threat of job loss, IBM presents itself as providing the services that can keep complex technological systems from failing. On the other hand, with an upbeat musical score in the background Siemens commercials show Siemens systems responding to last-minute changes in corporate decisions. The imagery of integrated instantaneity permits undisturbed production to continue seamlessly. In each of the advertising approaches, it is the flow that determines either high anxiety or cool celebration.

Using representations that blend speed and integration, the UPS Brown branding campaign promises integrated supply chain management. The campaign depicts persons positioned at different points in the corporate hierarchy: CEO, CFO, logistics manager, shipping manager, and the mailroom guy. Each person speaks to UPS' ability to ensure that the flow of data and materials under their supervision/surveillance clips along at the desired rate. Speakers link UPS' integrated system with reduced levels of personal anxiety in their work lives. A smooth running system is therapeutic.

"Brown makes work easy." UPS09-02 Mailroom Guy
"Brown says, make your life easy." UPS10-02 Shipping Manager
"Brown makes me feel powerful." UPS13-02 Logistics Manager
"Brown makes my job kind of fun in a dead serious sort of way." UPS12-02 CFO

In War in the Age of Intelligent Machine, Manuel DeLanda states that "...a commander must track the points at which friction may be dispersed within tactical, command systems in order to preserve the efficiency and integrity of a war machine during battle" (1991:61). He maintains that the role of the commander is to disperse "the 'friction' (delays, bottlenecks, noisy data) produced by the fog of war" (23).

The premise of a friction-free economy harkens back to Adam Smith's model of a market driven by an "invisible hand." The assumption of that invisible hand has always been that all market participants have complete access to unrestricted information flows and act rationally. This is an assumption that even Thomas Hobbes would have rejected, recognizing that power comes not simply from having access to all relevant information, but that power often comes to those actors who can take advantages of disrupted and uneven flows of information. Indeed, the rationally maximizing market agent is one who may in fact instigate bottlenecks and delays to maximize their own self-interest.

BROWN and the CEO
Brown's technology helps me see my supply chain minute by minute.
Brown shows me problems before they get bigger.
Brown works with me to give me the proof.
Brown reveals the hidden opportunities before they go away.
Brown never says to me you can't do that.
That's what lawyers are for.

Better supply chain visibility
What can
Brown do for you?

In this UPS ad the CEO confidently states that he is able to both track "minute by minute" and to anticipate unexpected events (a herd of zebras cross in front of a herd of elephants) in order to avoid chaos and disaster because UPS provides the necessary supportive structure. Moreover, like the corporate representatives depicted throughout this campaign he seems anxiety-free. Their primary function is to observe and to give testimony to UPS' efficiency.

Not only must the organizational apparatus run friction-free, it must also at any given moment have the appropriate personnel along the supply chain to locate the position of any object (or the data simulation of the object) as it moves through the process. Here speed is elided to visibility. UPS presents itself as self-contained system that will accelerate the flow of objects and data while simultaneously tracking every element. Scanning technology and tracking numbers function to position every object in the flow. Increasingly, this technology has been applied to human movement across borders, through airport terminals, across toll bridges (EZ Pass), at cash registers, etc. Ironically, the need for speed results in increased panopticism.


Speed: conquering time & space

Flashspeed < Previous

Next > The speed of daily life

© Copyright 1998-2003
Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey