Ways of organizing a company and organizing work fascinate me. I loved Jason Fried’s book, now almost seven years old, Remote: Office Not Required. Much work can be organized so that a worker does not need to commute to an office. Even in manufacturing we have technologies such as connected AR and remote vision and apps where engineering experts need not even be in the plant to troubleshoot a problem.
Matt Mullenweg founded Automattic and WordPress. His bi-weekly Distributed podcast explores the world of distributed work. The latest is an interview with Jason Fried. It’s worth a listen.
Jason Fried, the co-founder and CEO of Basecamp, collects mechanical watches. He appreciates their simplicity. He once wrote in a blog post, “When I look at my watch, it gives me the time. It asks nothing in return. It’s a loyal companion without demands. In contrast, if I look at my phone for the time, it takes my time. It tempts me.”
Speaking of podcasts, here is my latest, number 201. You are an engineer in a factory or plant. The machine or process is down. Production has stopped. The general manager is yelling. The CEO has vowed to investors, customers, and media that he’ll sleep in the plant until production is back up. I’ve never had it as bad as the people at Tesla with Elon Musk beating on them, but I’ve lived that life.
I helped start a magazine with the stated editorial goal of writing about the intelligent application of automation.
After several years of Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems, Industry 4.0, digital twins, digital transformation, I think it is past time to look at our projects in terms of how do we employ technology intelligently for improved profitability, work conditions, quality, customer satisfaction, supplier satisfaction, and environmental sustainability.
Thank you to my sponsor for another year–Inductive Automation.
Also on YouTube.
We sat through two-and-a-half hours of presentations preparing us (writers, thinkers, journalists) for the coming two days of technical meetings. Speakers included the CEO, various vice presidents, and, oh, yes, three teenaged inventors.
Do not throw up your hands and mutter about “kids these days.” That’s a disservice. I am at an event sponsored by the technology supplier Rockwell Automation called Automation Fair. By the way, the company’s 28th annual gathering and my 22nd visit. The numbers of younger people, women, and “minorities” attending increases every year, and this year kept the trend up and to the left.
But back to the kids. The company sent out a challenge through various social media to students inviting them to invent something that would solve a social problem. The top three were given an all-expense trip (with parents) to Chicago to attend Automation Fair.
These three gave the best presentations of the day–content, presentation skills, poise, command of the audience. Yes, they had mentors, but that’s the key. Instead of complaining about kids, give them a useful challenge and then mentor them.
One project solved a problem with sump pumps not keeping up with ground water resulting in flooded basements. Areas of the US had large amounts of rain this spring and early summer flooding many basements. Many of the audience probably wanted to sign up to buy one.
Bullying remains a serious problem in schools (and other places where kids congregate). One young inventor came up with an anti-bullying backpack. It included a battery pack, two wifi-enabled web cameras, and communication. In a bully situation, the owner could quick-call an authority (parent, administrator, whatever) and show live video of the bullies. It also records to the cloud.
Sanitation kills more people throughout the world than just about anything else–lack of sanitation, that is. In many places, people just defecate in the street or wherever. Simple toilets requiring little to no water to operate widely available would save millions of live. The third young inventor actually invented such a device.
Make a difference. Find a way to mentor someone. Make it a discipline.
One last thing, Maria Kassarjian, executive director of Edesia, spoke on the efforts of her company, by the way using automation technologies from Rockwell, to create nutritional food packs to be sent to areas where malnutrition is a huge problem. The products contain peanuts, a nutritionally dense food, for both nourishment and also to introduce infants to nuts in order to reduce the prevalence of nut allergies.
Here is my latest podcast. You can also subscribe in Apple Podcasts, Overcast, or other podcast sites.
From Clark Griswold’s cereal crunch enhancer to some of my experiences in engineering and manufacturing, I ponder how we need to work to benefit our customer and our society rather than being harmful and hurtful. Brought to you by Ignition 8 from Inductive Automation.
Oh, the crunch enhancer? Yeah, it’s a non-nutritive cereal varnish. It’s semi-permeable. It’s non-osmotic. What it does is it coats and seals the flake, prevents the milk from penetrating it. Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Technology is for the benefit of humans. It has been ever since some human figured out a better way to trap a gazelle or plow a field.
Except for my wife, who hates soggy cereal, how much benefit is there in cereal varnish?
Or the product manager at Facebook working with engineers and psychologists figuring out ways to keep attention fixed on the app so that an additional few ads can be served up?
Or the engineers doing some fantastic work on digital voice recognition which could do great good for disabled people or help in dangerous situations instead figuring out how Alexa can spy on people 24 hours a day to accumulate data on when people are home to be sold to telemarketers or to governments to find terrorists or political opponents?
Ethics at work concerns developing things for the benefit of people and society. But weapons developed for defense could also be used offensively. Something good could be used to corrupt us. Or undermine us.
Ethics is both what we do and what we fail to do.
Mostly ethics should be in our awareness. At the end of the day one question we can ask ourselves, “What did I do for the good today? Where did I fail to act where I could have made a difference for the good?”
The last person (well, maybe not totally the last) that I thought I’d listen to on a podcast would have been Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries and famously a supporter of “right-wing” causes.
But, there he was on the Tim Ferriss podcast.
No, I’m not going down the political rabbit hole.
It’s all about working together ethically to do something for the benefit of as many people as possible.
I thought I had noticed a difference in the actions of Koch over the past few years, and I was right. He discovered that there are issues where he shared values with people who had divergent views on other topics. For example working with a number of noted liberals to make progress on prison reform.
Listening to him I’m reminded of all the people–politicians and business and church people alike–who draw a line and refuse to work with people on the other side. There is bitterness, acrimony, division.
Or even the political Founders of the government of the US who warned us about the need for ethical behavior for the success of the union.
I may not agree with Koch on everything, but I love his optimism still alive in his 80s and his mission to build things that help others and help society.
This mission works in whatever country you live in. I have met people from Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Europe, even China with that same passion.
It reminds me that technology should be in the service of improving society and humans in general. It should be much more than making a very few people billionaires while exploiting us.
Can you think of a mentor who has helped you grow either personally or professionally? Perhaps a teacher? A boss early in your career? When have you mentored someone? How did it work out?
I can remember a teacher or two who helped guide me. My first supervisor in manufacturing would put me in situations where I couldn’t help but grow. My problem then was that although I could do the work intellectually, my interpersonal skills were sadly lacking. Especially in the manufacturing environment of the time that placed a premium on strong personality. I can still remember moments when he set me up for a confrontation forcing me to be forceful. I think the other guys liked it because I was almost the only “college kid” there. The old guys loved to poke at the college kid.
Many people have begun studying mentorship. We talk often about mentoring young soccer referees as the best way to move them from the classroom to a successful career.
I recently ran across this older article in the Harvard Business Review by Anthony K. Tjan. His research revealed four things that the best mentors do.
Before he gets to the four things, he notes that mentors he studied consistently “do everything they can to imprint their ‘goodness’ onto others in ways that make others feel like fuller versions of themselves. Put another way, the best leaders practice a form of leadership that is less about creating followers and more about creating other leaders.”
- Put the relationship before the mentorship. All too often, mentorship can evolve into a “check the box” procedure instead of something authentic and relationship-based. For real mentorship to succeed, there needs to be a baseline chemistry between a mentor and a mentee. Mentoring requires rapport. At best, it propels people to break from their formal roles and titles (boss versus employee) and find common ground as people.
- Focus on character rather than competency. Too many mentors see mentoring as a training program focused around the acquisition of job skills. Obviously, one element of mentorship involves mastering the necessary competencies for a given position. But the best leaders go beyond competency, focusing on helping to shape other people’s character, values, self-awareness, empathy, and capacity for respect.
- Shout loudly with your optimism, and keep quiet with your cynicism. Your mentee might come to you with some off-the-wall ideas or seemingly unrealistic ambitious. You might be tempted to help them think more realistically, but mentors need to be givers of energy, not takers of it.
- Be more loyal to your mentee than you are to your company. Of course, we all want to retain our best and brightest. We also want our people to be effective in our organizations. That said, the best mentors recognize that in its most noble and powerful form, leadership is a duty and service toward others, and that the best way to inspire commitment is to be fully and selflessly committed to the best interests of colleagues and employees. Don’t seek only to uncover your mentees’ strengths; look for their underlying passions, too. Help them find their calling.
And Tjan makes a couple of final points: The best mentors avoid overriding the dreams of their mentees. At its highest level, mentorship is about being “good people” and having the right “good people” around us — individuals committed to helping others become fuller versions of who they are.
This is all based on research as is befitting of the Harvard Business Review. It is also wise guidance.