The corporation has emerged as the dominant institution at the dawn of the 21st century and both Peter Drucker and W. Edwards Deming have arguably had as much influence on management as any thinkers.
Holmes lived in Newport News, Virginia, near his work at NASA's Langley Research Center. When he took a business or personal trip that involved air travel, he would note the exact time he stepped out the door. He would glance at his watch at different stages of his journey: when he got to the airport, after he'd gone through the check-in line, after he'd found a seat on the plane, and after the plane had finally begun to roll. He would record the time the plane landed and would make a final entry when he reached the hotel, office, or meeting site that was his destination.
"You know W. Edwards Deming?" Holmes asked when he described this ritual to me, at our first meeting last year. Deming was an American consultant whose prime analytic tool in the study of how to increase productivity was taking minute measurements at each stage of a factory's production process. "My friends like to say, 'Deming would be proud!'"
The log was just the beginning. When the trip was over, Holmes would calculate the "great circle" distance (what most people would call "as the crow flies") between his starting point and his destination and compare it with the total time spent en route; the result was his effective travel speed, on what he calls a "doorstep to destination" basis. Holmes, himself a pilot, would then use flight-planning software to see how long the same trip would have taken in a variety of modest propeller-driven planes—not corporate jets, not million-dollar turboprops, but a typical Cessna, Mooney, or Beech Bonanza. These planes are much slower than mighty Boeing or Airbus jets, and he would allow time for refueling stops. His aim was to see exactly how modern the modern transportation system is.