10000 year projects, 10000 year systems

Trailhead: Early project management event prep (2021-02-01) and Long-term responsibility (2021-12-03)

Following up on ideas for planning an event for the local Project Management Institute (PMI) chapter—I've got one, and I think it's a good one, and it's really stuck in my imagination all day. Getting my membership card from the Long Now Foundation in the mail planted a seed in my head.

Long Now's most visceral idea is their 10,000 Year Clock. It is literally a clock designed to keep time for 10,000 years.

(万岁万岁万万岁。)

As an engineer, my mind naturally turns to the question: how in the hell do you make a clock that lasts 10000 years? I think that's also a good question, so I'm thinking of this event as a pair of complementary events: one event about the technical aspects of the project for the local systems engineering professional society (INCOSE Midwest Gateway): "10000 year systems". And then the part of me that operates projects thinks: how the hell do you operate something for 10000 years? So there should be a corresponding event about how to operate the clock as a project for 10000 years, or how to plan for 10000 years of operation, for the PMI chapter: "10000 year projects".

The concept of a project that lasts for 10000 years tests the capacity of my imagination. At home, projects last from a week to a few months. In my career, I typically deal with projects that last about one to three years. (Although aerospace programs themselves last decades, they operate as numerous interrelated projects.)

10000 years is forever. It's not real. But this project is real. It's made out of metal and housed in rock in west Texas—and I've seen that rock in west Texas (not the exact one where they're building) and I know that rock has been there for longer than 10000 years, so I can somewhat ground that project in Reality.

10000 years is forever. But it's also not forever. Humans, in their current form, have been walking the Earth for longer than that. I enjoy reading apocalyptic fiction, but I believe humans, in their current form, will still be walking the Earth in 10000 years. So it's plausible. But it stretches the imagination—it's an idea that is sense and nonsense, possible and impossible, certain and unknowable.

So I'm going to organize the idea a little and pitch it to the Long Now and see if they would go for it in August. I think it would light some minds on fire. I think it would burn the tops of some heads right off. I think it's a fire worth starting.

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