Category: General

Excerpted from a WSJ profile of Craig Barrett, soon-to-retire CEO of Intel:
--When something works, don't re-invent it, reproduce it.--
Perhaps Mr. Barrett's greatest contribution to the semiconductor industry was the concept of "Copy Exactly," the absolutely exact reproduction of successful existing practices and facilities in other locations. Copy Exactly has been the key to Intel and other chip companies actually improving yield rates (the ratio of chips that actually work) even as the products themselves have become thousands of times more complex and miniaturized and fabricated by the millions. The decision not to reinvent the wheel every time was, in fact, the subject of [a] contentious meeting where Mr. Barrett outvoted his managers. "I got the idea from McDonald's," he says. "I asked myself why McDonald's french fries tasted the same wherever I went. That's what I told my guys, "We're going to be the McDonald's of semiconductors."

Due to the intense competition of the business world, Intel is committed to a regular schedule of consistent improvement -- Moore's Law. In other words, they're doing quite a bit more than stamping out chips by the millions; they are also steadily improving both the capacity and quality of each chip.

The "McDonald's Method" is not so different from Henry Ford a century ago, and it can be found in varying forms throughout any large business enterprise. Perhaps the most highly successful businesses are the ones that have most rigorously applied what is often called the "Six Sigma" methodology. Six Sigma is slightly out of vogue today in management circles, but no one refutes its effectiveness.

Can we apply this line of thinking to public education? Not in the sense of opting for soul-crushing uniformity in the service of steady improvement or AYP. Schools are not factories, students aren't widgets, and individualized instruction is still key to helping each student to reach his/her potential. However the principle of identifying and propagating the best strategies and materials currently available -- and then improving them through innovation -- might be worth considering.

According to Barrett, at least, it's good enough for fast-paced tech companies, the incubators of some of the most creative and agile minds of our time. The managers initially rebelled. But the CEO pulled rank, and Intel is, well, Intel.