Creativity and Curiosity

Creativity and Curiosity

Just give them a pencil and paper and let them write whatever comes to mind with no thought of spelling, grammar, or coherence. We don’t want to squelch a child’s creativity.

I’ve heard this “advice” until I am sick of it.

Study any artist. Especially the great (and creative) ones. They all learned, usually through a teacher and mentor, the basics of color, proportion, composition, and anatomy. The creativity came with using the basics in new ways–seeing things others had not. Picasso was great as a “realistic” painter, but then he decided to try to find the essence of the object or person he was painting. He pushed the boundaries with cubism.

You could pick up a guitar and start strumming and picking. Or–you could learn sounds and notes. Tune the guitar. Learn some basic chords. You only need to learn D-C-G and you can play hundreds of rock and folk songs. Just experiment different rhythms within the pattern. Maybe try an added note–go ahead, throw in a C-9 to the progression. If you only learned C-A minor-F-G, you could play around with the progression and play another hundred early rock songs. You’re only truly creative when you can build on the foundation of what works.

Writing is communication. Humans have known just about since the dawn of communication about logic. When you are expressing something, it must proceed logically. Spelling helps us convey the correct word (and it helps if you turn off autocorrect on your iPad, for example). Grammar helps us express a clear idea. Try the book “Eats Shoots and Leaves” or is it “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves”.* Do you get the different meanings? Logic helps us lead our reader to understanding.

We do the same thing in automation or software. We know the essentials of if-then-else logic or arrays or programming APIs. We build on them to construct systems.

No, it’s not “creativity” that we need to worry about in that way.

The real crime is when we kill a child’s (or an adult’s) curiosity.

I love this little poem from Rudyard Kipling:

I have six honest serving men. They taught me all I knew. There names are What, and Where and When; and Why and How and Who.

*There is a story about a Panda who walks into a bar. He orders a sandwich and eats it. He then pulls out a gun and shoots the bartender. He left. Lying on the bar was a field guide to Pandas where an editor had inserted a fatal comma.

The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling

The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling

How about you? Do you feel like you know everything you need to know? Do you hate asking people for directions?

Whether you are in business or ministry or family–do you have all the answers?

While I usually write about technology, I’ve learned the hard way that people are as important as the technology. I’ve seen my technology implementations fail because of the failure to get people on board. And how often have we seen people in critical situations fail to communicate at the cost of people’s lives? All through failure of asking appropriate questions.

Edgar H. Schein writes in his book, “Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling,” that many people would rather fail than admit their dependency on another person. That is, by asking them a question and admitting that someone else has an answer.

How about succeeding together?

Try Humble Inquiry. Asking questions implies that someone knows something I don’t–even if they are a subordinate, or younger than I, or from a different background. I must humble myself to ask someone placing myself in a position of learner to someone superior to me in this situation. It is the opposite of what we are taught in our culture which places emphasis on telling.

I’ve talked often about the skills of listening. Often we need to ask questions to elicit something to listen to.

Schein says, “The kind of inquiry I am talking about derives from an attitude of interest and curiosity. It implies a desire to build a relationship.”

We must slow down to ask and then listen.

Again Schein says, “I find that the biggest mistakes I make and the biggest risks I run all result from a mindless hurrying. If I hurry, I do not pay enough attention to what is going on, and that makes mistakes more likely. More importantly, if I hurry, I do not observe new possibilities.”

Let’s think about this comment in the context of hazardous situations

He points out in our “Do and Tell” culture, the most important thing we need to learn is to reflect. Before doing something, apply Humble Inquiry to yourself. “Ask ourselves: What is going on here? What would be the appropriate thing to do (Wow, there are hundreds of men right now who wish they had asked themselves that question)? On whom am I dependent? Who is dependent upon me?”

In other words, become more mindful.

“The toughest relearning, or new learning, is for leaders to discover their dependence on their subordinates, to embrace Here-and-now Humility, and to build relationships of high trust and valid communication with their subordinates.”

Schein was an MIT professor and business consultant. You can substitute parent for leader and use the ideas in family.

Read and digest the book. It’s short and not technical. Good read.

Next Generation Workforce: Concern or Opportunity

Next Generation Workforce: Concern or Opportunity

How much should we worry about the next generation manufacturing workforce? An email came through late last week from an organization that I’d heard of but never had any dealings with—Junior Achievement. Press release was titled, “Labor Day Blues: Three-in-Four Parents and Teens Concerned Global Competition and Automation will Make it Difficult for Next Generation to Have a Successful Job/Career”.

A new survey from Junior Achievement USA (JA) shows that 77 percent of parents are “concerned” about their children’s ability to have a successful job or career as adults in light of global competition and automation. The same percentage (77%) of teens said they share similar concerns about having a successful job or career in the future because of global competition and automation. The survey of 1,204 parents of school-aged students and 1,000 teens was conducted by ORC International for JA.

So I thought, this is interesting, but is it new? My parents were worried about my future employability when I graduated from high school a long, long time ago. I probably had some concern about my kids, but I’m generally more optimistic and have higher expectations, I guess, than others. (They are both doing well.)

Just wondered if they had run this survey every year for the past 50 would there be any trend? Or, are they just rushing to capitalize on the current state of media who relishes negative news?

Then I thought about some (not all) parents I run into through my soccer work. I’ve met the “helicopter parent”. They have kids who referee soccer, too. I’d imagine parents with that mindset would be concerned—probably for the rest of their lives.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t let my optimism get in the way of preparation. The JA CEO is on the right track here.

“Education and skills are going to be critical for the next generation’s success in an ever-changing workplace,” said Jack Kosakowski, CEO of Junior Achievement USA. “Many of the entry-level jobs we know today won’t be around in the next decade, and many of the jobs of tomorrow haven’t even been conceived of yet. It’s important we encourage our young people to explore post-secondary education, whether that be a university, community college, or a technical or trade school. Having some level of technical training is going to be critical for future career success. A high school diploma or GED just won’t be enough for many jobs.”

The Future Workforce Survey

In the survey, nearly half (45%) of parents said that they were “extremely or very” concerned about their children’s prospects for future employment, while almost as many teens (40%) had the same level of concern.

The survey was conducted in conjunction with the fall rollout of Junior Achievement’s work- and career-readiness programs. For more detail on these and other JA programs, visit JA’s programs page.

Methodology

This report presents the findings of ORC International’s Online and Youth CARAVAN surveys conducted among a sample of 1,204 parents of school-aged children and 1,000 13-17 year- olds.  These surveys were conducted live from June 29 to July 6, 2017, for the parents’ portion and from July 11 to July 16, 2017, for the teens’ portion.

Respondents for this survey are selected from among those who have volunteered to participate in online surveys and polls.  Because the sample is based on those who initially self-selected for participation, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated.  All sample surveys and polls may be subject to multiple sources of error, including, but not limited to sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question-wording and response options.

About JA

Junior Achievement is the world’s largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their future, and make smart academic and economic choices. JA programs are delivered by corporate and community volunteers, and provide relevant, hands-on experiences that give students from kindergarten through high school knowledge and skills in financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. Today, JA reaches 4.8 million students per year in 109 markets across the United States, with an additional 5.6 million students served by operations in more than 100 countries worldwide.

–Gary Mintchell

Are We Too Old To Be Creative?

Are We Too Old To Be Creative?

Are we too old to be creative? I don’t even know you, but I know the answer.

No!

When I reached 30, I was really bummed. Over the hill. No great mathematician, so they said, ever had a significant discovery after age 30.

But then, I was no mathematician. But still, was life over?

Be Creative

Actually I have never been more creative and productive than over the past 20 years. And I’m way past 30, now. And The New York Times this month ran an article with some proof that creativity does not necessarily end at 30. It leads with a 94-year-old inventor.

It states, “There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that late blooming is no anomaly. A 2016 Information Technology and Innovation Foundation study found that inventors peak in their late 40s and tend to be highly productive in the last half of their careers. Similarly, professors at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Hitotsubashi University in Japan, who studied data about patent holders, found that, in the United States, the average inventor sends in his or her application to the patent office at age 47, and that the highest-value patents often come from the oldest inventors — those over the age of 55.

Keep reading. Try new things. Learn a different language. Go for new experiences. Ask questions.

Marketing

 

Speaking of geniuses. Did you hear about the TV advertisement that instructed your Google Home (OK Google) to search for ingredients of its sandwich? There is another reason not to have one of those devices that is always listening to you. The other being Amazon Echo (Alexa, buy a book…). I do not have one installed. There is one disconnected in my closet. Here’s a New York Times article on the ad and one from TechCrunch.

The question is how obnoxious do you need to be to be an effective marketer?

I hate, Hate, I say, those pop-ups on Websites. And all the other tricks I see to get you to click. Ever seen those things at the bottom of the WeatherBug app? Even the marketers know that most clicks are due to error. People are frantically trying to click the vanishing X that makes the ugly thing go away. Then they click the ad and get carried off to some place they don’t want to go.

But Website owners need money. Marketers will pay well even for obnoxious, accidental click ads. The poor users, well, we just get a degraded experience. No wonder we don’t go to the Web like we once did.

Digital Thread

Can HMI/SCADA Software Be the On Ramp to the IIoT Digital Thread?

Craig Resnick, vp at ARC Advisory Group wrote a provocative article on the role of HMI/SCADA and the IioT.

These are interesting comments about the state of manufacturing software, “The Digital Thread often combines manufacturing software that provides real-time, role-based HMI dashboards with Ethernet networking technology, using Big Data, HMI/SCADA and analytics software, sensors, controllers, and robotics to help optimize industrial asset performance and availability in an edge to cloud world. This enables end users and OEMs to collect and analyze asset performance and operational data in the network, often from connecting disparate systems, from the factory floor to ERP, providing an ‘industrial-strength’ data analytics solution that combines role-based manufacturing HMI dashboards with real-time manufacturing KPIs for decision support.”

“The Digital Thread has, for example, driven the convergence of HMI/SCADA and MES platforms. Increasingly, these converged HMI/SCADA and MES platforms help users visualize both key automation and business metrics and KPIs, such as overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and energy savings, to help maximize the productivity and profitability of their businesses.”

This idea of things converging around MES is intriguing. There are so many applications gaining traction, along with interesting standards for data transfer, databases, analytics, visualization. All this, and I’m not sure where the money-making places are right now. Maybe writing smaller communication apps and mobile apps that can be sold to big companies?

Manufacturing Jobs In America-Part 2

Manufacturing Jobs In America-Part 2

Mobile Workers in Production PlantManufacturing jobs—will they be people or robots? Whenever I am presented with an either/or I tend to think why not both or neither. Four choices, not two. In this case, three choices since neither means no manufacturing. And every country on God’s good Earth wants manufacturing. Just check out all the government initiatives underway.

Within the past week, I’ve seen two articles in local newspapers—The Sidney Daily News and The Dayton Daily News—parroting the New York Times article about how robots take jobs away from people.

This week was the biennial edition of Automate—the trade show of Association for Advancing Automation (A3). A3 released a white paper for the show, and I had a chance to sit with two association executives, Bob Doyle and Alex Shikany, to discuss the findings and analysis leading up to the white paper Work in the Automation Age: Sustainable Careers Today and Into the Future.

“As a representative of over 1,000 companies and organizations making up the automation ecosystem, A3 believes it is critically important to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the relationship between automation and jobs,” said Jeff Burnstein, A3 president quoted in the press release. An admirable goal.

My take is that I agree with pretty much everything they found with one addition—I still believe that manufacturing enterprise executives bear much blame for problems with manufacturing in America. Such things as management-by-spreadsheet, no passion for products or customers, faddish reactions (such as unintelligent offshoring), and lack of investment.

Technology Makes Lives Better

We discussed that humans have been developing technology to increase production and make lives better probably since there were humans on earth. Recent discussions that cover only the past 250 years or so with technology advancing from steam to electricity to IT-driven human prosperity and quality of life have all advanced.

Let’s look at a summary of findings. Here are some surprising facts.

Manufacturing Jobs

More robots, more jobs.

As employers add automation technologies such as robots, job titles and tasks are changing, but the number of jobs continues to rise. New technologies allow companies to become more productive and create higher quality products in a safer environment for their employees. This allows them to be more competitive in the global marketplace and grow their business. We see this in the statistics: over the seven-year period from 2010 to 2016, 136,748 robots were shipped to US customers—the most in any seven-year period in the US robotics industry. In that same time period, manufacturing employment increased by 894,000 and the US unemployment rate decreased from 9.8% in 2010 to 4.7% in 2016.

Specifically looking at two companies, Amazon had more than 45,000 employees when it introduced robots in 2014. While the company continues to add robots to its operations, it has grown to over 90,000 employees, with a drive to hire more than 100,000 new people by the end of 2018. Similarly, General Motors grew from 80,000 US employees in 2012 to 105,000 in 2016, while increasing the number of new US robot applications by about 10,000. We see similar results from multi-national companies with thousands of employees, to small manufacturing companies.

The skills gap and its impact.

Skilled workers are key to companies’ success and countries’ economic development. Employers rank the availability of highly skilled workers who facilitate a shift toward innovation and advanced manufacturing as the most critical driver of global competitiveness. But studies show an increasing skills gap with as many as two million jobs going unfilled in the manufacturing industry alone in the next decade. Fully 80% of manufacturers report a shortage of qualified applicants for skilled production positions, and the shortage could cost US manufacturers 11% of their annual earnings.

Changing job titles reflect changing tasks.

In the automation age, as in the computer age before it, job titles shift to reflect the impact of technology. A recent study concluded that occupations that have 10% more new job titles grow 5% faster. Just as we saw the rise of entire industries around previously unheard-of job titles in cloud services, mobile apps, social media, and more, we’re seeing similar shifts in the automation age. As lower-level tasks are automated with advanced technologies such as robots, new job titles and industries arise across nearly every economic sector.

Supply and demand and wages.

In the manufacturing industry, which is the largest user of automation today, the skills gap is driving up what are already strong wages and benefits, well over the US average. In 2015, manufacturing workers earned $81,289 including pay and benefits compared to $63,830 for the average worker in all nonfarm industries. And 92% of manufacturing workers were eligible for health insurance benefits. Despite that, manufacturing executives reported an average of 94 days to recruit engineering and research employees and 70 days to recruit skilled production workers.

Bridging the skills gap with innovative training.

Automation age jobs range from well-paying, entry-level and blue-collar positions through engineers and scientists. Stable automation-age manufacturing jobs can start at $20 per hour with just a high school diploma, a few months of automation training, and professional certification. Employers, vocational schools, and universities are offering innovative training approaches that give workers alternatives to the traditional (and expensive) high-school-to-college-to-job route. And employers such as GM are revitalizing apprenticeships, recognizing the significant advantage those programs offer.

Summary

Consider this equation

Automation –> Increased Productivity –> Improved Competitive Position –> Company Growth –> More Jobs

Manufacturing in America

Manufacturing in America

Here we go again—who’s winning the war for manufacturing jobs? Man or machine? Human or robot? John Henry, the steel-driving man, or the steam machine?

Claire Cain Miller wrote the usual type of manufacturing article for The New York Times with the usual click-bait headline–Evidence That Robots Are Winning the Race for American Jobs.  Typically, there was no one from manufacturing quoted, only economists.

Later in my essay, I’ll take a look at where the best manufacturing writing is going on these days (aside from here, of course). Surprisingly, that place is TechCrunch. Founded as a blog-style (the first?) news source for Silicon Valley startups and VCs, it lost its way under AOL, but is getting better. I don’t look at trade journals for this sort of writing. Check it out.

So Miller writes

Who is winning the race for jobs between robots and humans? Last year, two leading economists described a future in which humans come out ahead. But now they’ve declared a different winner: the robots.

The industry most affected by automation is manufacturing. For every robot per thousand workers, up to six workers lost their jobs and wages fell by as much as three-fourths of a percent, according to a new paper by the economists, Daron Acemoglu of M.I.T. and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University. It appears to be the first study to quantify large, direct, negative effects of robots.

In one of the weirdest statements, she asks why productivity hasn’t been increasing, then rebutting her own thesis, she states, “In manufacturing, productivity has been increasing more than elsewhere.”

The study analyzed the effect of industrial robots in local labor markets in the United States. Robots are to blame for up to 670,000 lost manufacturing jobs between 1990 and 2007, it concluded, and that number will rise because industrial robots are expected to quadruple.

The paper adds to the evidence that automation, more than other factors like trade and offshoring that President Trump campaigned on, has been the bigger long-term threat to blue-collar jobs.

John Bernaden posted this article on LinkedIn, and I responded:

This study just puts some numbers on something that we’ve known for a long time–the days when an unskilled person can find a middle-class level job have passed. There do exist many blue-collar jobs, but the pay is not what it used to be. In my small town that is heavily industrialized, there are 370 job openings in local manufacturing (population of our county is 57,000). These jobs have been open for quite some time. Many people who are not now employed cannot pass a drug test. One manufacturer recently lamented that people show up for work, and then they don’t come back after a day or two. Other jobs do require at least some level of skill. I also recommend this Tech Crunch article, which is a balanced look at the benefits and drawbacks of automation. https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/26/technology-is-killing-jobs-and-only-technology-can-save-them/?ncid=rss By the way, TechCrunch and other new media are doing an excellent job of covering manufacturing whereas the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, which are otherwise good sources, don’t seem to have writers who have a clue about these enterprises.

Brian Heater writing in the above referenced TechCrunch article, Technology is killing jobs, and only technology can save them, noted that the presidential election rhetoric diverted attention from automation by pointing to trade agreements and globalization. He points out Treasury Secretary Steve Munchen dismissing the prospects of artificial intelligence and automation saying, “it’s not even on our radar screen…. 50-100 more years” away. “I’m not worried at all” about robots displacing humans in the near future, he said, adding: “In fact I’m optimistic.”

Heater continues: Colin Parris, the vice president of Software Research at GE, is refreshingly straightforward when speaking to TechCrunch about the topic. “Yes,” he says, matter-of-factly, “there will be job losses.”

It’s blunt, sure. But it’s refreshing coming from an executive at a company so heavily invested in automation. But Parris’ story, naturally, doesn’t end there. His long-term projections — and those of his peers in manufacturing — are actually a fair bit sunnier.

“The only way to fight [job losses],” Parris continues, “is to train the talent that we have. Because in the future, we have to embrace robotics. It allows us to reduce cost. If I reduce cost, I have more money that I can use for innovation. The more money I have, the more new products I can create. The more products I create, the more workforce I can hire.“

That’s a trend that certainly has historical precedent. Technology has had a major impact on the workforce dating back at least as far as the Industrial Revolution — when various tasks became more automated and the types of jobs available changed as a result. At the turn of the last century, 41 percent of U.S. jobs were in or around agriculture. A century later, the number had plummeted to 1.9 percent.

The discussion about training begins to get us on the right course.

First off, I believe that these people talking about robots have no idea what work they really do. They probably don’t even know about the current “co-bot” trend where robots and people collaborate on assembly tasks.

More importantly, the point missing from the discussion—and often from executive suites as well—concerns the value of people. Companies that value people as an asset, seek diversity, and encourage people to use their brains consistently outperform cost-cutters in the long term. There is automation, and there will be automation. Some things are just better done with a machine.

The John Henry story dates back probably to about 1870 to a contest held at a tunnel for a railroad in Virginia or West Virginia. John Henry beat the machine in drilling holes in rocks for placement of dynamite. But they he died from the stress. What we are discussing is not new.

Heater did come close to interviewing a manufacturing person for his more balanced article. “It might take employees out of what we call the ‘three Ds,’ a dull, dirty or dangerous job,” says Bob Doyle of the Association for Advancing Automation. But “[it] puts them hopefully in a different position that creates more value to the company,” he added.

Parris also cites the “three Ds” — referring specifically to flare stacks used to burn off the flammable gas from drilling operations in the Bering Sea. “These flare stacks are exposed to the elements because they’re out in the ocean, and you have to have people climb these things and look to see if there’s rust and corrosion,” Parris explains. “Who wants to do that? They’re dull, dirty and dangerous. It’s a huge problem.”

Heater’s conclusions, But technology has also been a major driver in helping keep companies competitive, so to shy away from it would surely only result in even greater domestic job loss. In order to move forward, we need to embrace technology both as a means of production and a method for producing new roles.

But pulling off such a coup is going to require some massive investments in education, both on the part of the corporations looking to move valued employees into new roles and an education system preparing workers for the real world. Failure to do so will only accelerate the growing rift between so-called low- and high-skilled workers, and the whole of our economy — and future — will suffer as a result.

There was a time we were optimistic about educating people for a better lot in life. Has our society become pessimistic? Hope is lost?

And I have to ask these questions above. Do we as a society no longer believe in the power of education?

I say that as a typical (well, sort of) American. But I know who does believe in the power of study and hard work. That would be immigrants, especially from Asia, but also South of the Border. I know that I’m bucking political winds with that statement. But those families come here, work hard, study hard, so that the children will be successful.

Too many Americans (far from a majority of course), well, they can’t pass a drug test.

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