“He who doesn’t know the past, will not get a grip on the future.” This quote by historian and author, Golo Mann, is in line with Xeelas’ message. It reads as follows: Don’t become a hand-sawyer. In this blog we share the story of the sawmill and the hand-sawyers. An iconic story from our Dutch history and relevant for (construction related) organizations within the digital era.
Until the 16th century sawing was a manual job. It was demanding and meticulous work. It took two sawyers approximately 8 hours to make a saw cut of a length of 5 meters in an oak trunk with a diameter of 60cm. This changed by the end of the 16th century with the invention of Cornelis Corneliszoon from Uitgeest. He came up with a smart way of converting the circular motion of the crankshaft into a back-and-forward motion of several saw blades alongside each other. As a result of his invention, sawing was 30 times faster than sawing manually.
You might think hand-sawyers were happy with the invention of Cornelis Corneliszoon from Uitgeest since they would be able to saw faster and easier. Quite the contrary! The Hand sawyers’ Guild of Amsterdam was virulently opposed to the advent of the sawmills. They regarded the mills as a threat and lobbied at the municipality of Amsterdam to protect the local economy and ban wood from other regions.
Golden times thanks to new technology
The Zaan district used to be a rural countryside where guilds did not exist. Therefore, many sawmills were built in this district. This changed the way people used to work: instead of working at home or laboring in the countryside, people worked in the mills. That’s how factories were founded and soon the Zaan district became the first industrial area of Europe.
The fast sawmill boosted the economy of the Republic of the Netherlands! The 80- Years’ War against the Spanish Empire came to an end and the Dutch East India Company was in need of unprecedented quantities of wood to expand their fleet. Because of the sawmill, our country was able to build the largest merchant fleet of the world in the 17th century, and we had a significant competitive advantage in the field of trade. Our country experienced golden years. The invention of Cornelis Corneliszoon of Uitgeest is therefore considered one of the most important inventions in Dutch history.
However, the refusal of the Hand Sawyers’ Guild of Amsterdam to accept the new developments eventually resulted in its dissolution. The working method was outdated. They could not meet the large demand of sawed logs and trusses. As a result, the Amsterdam shipyards had to import wood from Zaandam in spite of the earlier boycott. Seven years later, when Guild of Amsterdam became defunct, 53 sawmills were operational in the Zaan district.
Don’t become a hand-sawyer
Nowadays, we live in a time in which our world is even more inundated by technical innovations. The drivers of the modern changes are a number of clusters of disruptive techniques which will be applied in the near future. For example: Big Data, Internet of Things, Human Machine Interfacing and Data Analytics. Organizations which apply the new technology successfully will gain significant efficiency advantages compared to their competitors who do not do so. Do you make optimum use of the opportunities new technology has to offer? Do you organize your company in such a way that you can flexibly respond to new developments? If you don’t, the alternative is that you become a hand-sawyer. You run the risk of becoming outcompeted within 5 years by companies that will work 30 times faster.
Do you want to know more about the way your organization can make optimum use of new technology? Please contact us for an exploratory conversation.
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