Things Will Never Be The Same

There is no escaping discussing the effects of the Coronavirus / covid-19 / SARS-CoV-2 infection and disease. Almost everyone in the world is affected in one way or another.

The meme of the week seems to be working from home advice. The Rework podcast lately is a two-part Q&A with Basecamp leaders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Basecamp has always had a remote work culture and this podcast captures the excitement. I’ve been working at home for more than 25 years. Almost all of the advice I’ve heard will get you on the right track. If you have questions, you can comment or send me a note. I’ve convinced a few companies of the benefits of remote workers.

So, whenever anything happens, pundits crawl out of their burrows and speculate about what all this means for the future. “Everything has changed. Nothing will ever be the same,” constitutes their collective mantra.

The truth is that every day something happens that changes the way we live, work, or think. Sometimes just a little thing; sometimes a bigger thing. Will this crisis change the way we work and live? Probably a little. But I bet we return to handshakes and hugs when things pass over. It’s a natural urge for most cultures. Probably the same for our supply chains. And our health care systems. In other words, we seldom learn and apply from a previous situation in order to prepare for the next one.

It’s like travel. “We’ll never fly again. Either it will be a virtual meeting or we’ll drive.” I’ve heard that one. But as soon as the crisis passes, we’ll rediscover the value of the face-to-face meeting.

I’m seeing one conference after another announce moving to a virtual meeting format. There have been many technologies used for virtual conferences over the past 20 years. I’ve even participated in one or two. Tried to listen to a few. These are tough. It’s hard to set aside 2-3 days while you’re still in the office to devote the time to a computer screen whether listening to a keynote or to a panel. I can last through a half-hour presentation. More time than that is difficult for me.

It has gotten to the point for me that when I go to a conference most of the value comes from 1-to-1 discussions and casual conversations in the hallways, coffee shops, and bars. Perhaps there is a speaker at a session I’d like to hear. Sometimes a keynote is excellent. I mostly do not like the panel format, but there are times when it is a worthwhile discussion rather than four 5-minute presentations (that run over time) followed by routine questions. The virtual conference is a poor substitute.

Culture, fashion, experiences seem to be described over time more like sine waves than straight lines up and to the right. Or, I prefer the model that French Jesuit paleontologist, philosopher, and priest Pierre Teilhard devised-a spiral looping upward each trip around similar to the last stage yet building on it to a new reality. Things are the same, yet different.

In a few weeks, we will all be back at work—but with cleaner hands. And perhaps a better appreciation for how we spread germs and viruses.

Industrial Leadership—Beyond The Buzz

Have you heard “digital transformation” until your ears ring? Every supplier, every analyst, every consultant promises to take you on the digital transformation journey.

Pause and reflect. Aren’t you already using many digital tools in your business and production processes?

Are marketers and gurus trying to induce panic in you with FOMO (fear of missing out). These days we have plenty of people inducing panic and fear with health concerns. Do we need to add to that with fear that when production returns we will be left in the dust by the digital few?

What I have seen as I tour manufacturing and process plants is a triumph of good leadership using sound management and judicious application of technology to solve problems that improves the business. And treats people well at the same time.

In my own journey, I learned about the importance of sound data from the ground up. And working with people to improve processes. Later, I learned about computer applications and digital technology as I implemented an early MES system that improved processes and life for inventory control and cost accounting. These savings paid for the system. And we had barely tapped the potential.

Then as a quality assurance manager I studied W. Edwards Deming and and the work behind the Toyota Production System pioneered by Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda, Japanese industrial engineers, who developed the system between 1948 and 1975.

What we learned was good leaders working with all people involved identified and solved problems adding digital technologies into their tool set as they helped solve problems.

The worst thing was when engineers wanted to apply technology just because it was new and cool. It has been several years since I’ve seen or heard of “over automation”—at least until Elon Musk blamed his Tesla production problems on it.

People like me who are not beholden to a particular supplier or type of solution can help find the way that works for what your culture and problem require. It’s important to consider both. Trying to change everything at the same time is a recipe for certain disaster.

As we sort through the sickness mess we’re in now, we also need to remember that startups after a prolonged shutdown never go smoothly. Machine problems that were previously hidden by continuous running suddenly demand immediate attention. People take some time to return to speed and focus.

If you are still in production or trying to develop a product or process specifically for this outbreak, remember that it is hard for you and all your employees and contractors to maintain focus when fear and worry linger in the recesses of their minds. Anti-stress breaks and encouragement for nutrition and sleep help build the immune system and keep them in the race.

And rather than focus on social media negativity and panic, check out some of the positive sources for information such as Peter Diamondis.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay focused on solving problems.

How We Think – Personal Development

For your personal development, I just finished and highly recommend a rather big (530 pages), but readable, book on thinking–Surfaces and Essences: Analogy As The Fuel and Fire of Thinking. The authors are Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander. You may remember Hofstadter from an earlier book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.

Don’t let the size scare you off. It is quite an enjoyable read packed with everyday examples and ending with the fascinating examples of mathematicians pursuit of solving quadratic equations and the development of Einstein’s thinking as he came up with his many theories that explained gravitation and mass-energy unity.

Analogy is the selective exploitation of past experiences to shed light on new and unfamiliar things belonging to another domain. Analogy-making is the lifeblood of cognition. It is also is the wellspring of creativity. As they explore analogy making, they touch on the education establishment’s tendency to believe in teaching things–especially science and math–with formal logic rather than analogy. This latter is ironic because so many advances in math are accomplished through analogy and not through formal logic.

This book’s summary of research and story of stories added to my knowledge and experience about how importance of story over lists of facts. Even in science and technology. Partly because sometimes what we take as facts really aren’t. I am betting that you all have developed new technologies or applications because you’ve visualized them first and then proceeded to search for the appropriate solution.

Go dive into the story. It’s fascinating…and life-changing.

What We Read

I interrupt the regularly scheduled programming for this public service announcement.

There was a section of a political science class I took somewhere around 1968 where we discussed media and politics. (Yes, Virginia, that was a topic oh so long ago.)

We did some research and discovered, hold on you won’t believe this, that people tended to read what reinforced their political views. People of liberal persuasion tended toward The New Republic (liberal in those days) and people of conservative persuasion read something else (I forget this morning the title, probably something with Bill Buckley).

This morning I was scanning a couple of my carefully selected news sources that used to just provide me with short, to-the-point news items. Unfortunately, they are slipping into the mainstream “journalism” news + analysis stuff.

Today’s lead on one site was–hold on, you won’t believe it–people tend to watch TV news that supports their political philosophy. Conservatives watch Fox, liberals something else. They even looked at favorite TV shows.

I could almost feel the breathless exclamations of surprise through the prose.

I believe that it is Heraclitus I could paraphrase as saying there’s nothing new under the sun.

Since I haven’t watched TV news outside of what I’m forced into in airport gate areas for 30 years, and I don’t watch any of the TV show genres they mentioned (occasional episodes of “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” along with a diet of European soccer didn’t make their list), I guess I remain firmly in the “no political party would have me” camp.

So, go read what you read and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about your choices. You will feel better, and then you can go out and develop and apply technology to make our industrial and manufacturing systems operate ever better.

Leadership As Getting Outside Yourself

Leadership As Getting Outside Yourself

I once wrote on leadership every Friday on another of my blogs. Then I felt as if I’d run out of anything meaningful to say. Publicists offer me books to read in order to review. I’ll share one I just received Friday–Formula X: How to Reach Extreme Acceleration in Your Organization by Jurriaan Kamer and Rini van Solingen. It was published in Dutch last June; the English edition will be available Jan. 28.

It is European, so the protagonist is known as a Managing Director rather than General Manager or COO. And the conceit regards Formula 1 racing.

I say protagonist because while the book is about leadership and organizational change, it is written as a story or “fable”. In that regard it reminds me of The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt.

The protagonist is bright, yet clueless. The story weaves business and personal problems. And it is through learning from how a Formula 1 racing team operates that he learns how to organize the company, build teams, and achieve goals. It is only out of despair that he finally wakes up, gets a clue, and builds a winning team and relationship with his wife.

Sort of a journey from micromanager to orchestra conductor, if you will pardon the change in metaphor.

Whereas Goldratt was building a Theory of Constraints for optimizing production (it’s a 1980’s book, but still valid), Formula X steps back and looks at organizing the company and all its silos and disfunctions. It’s a blend of Lean and SCRUM (from programming) and Holacracy and other newer ideas.

The model is FASTER (as in racing cars must become…).

  • Focus and clarity
  • Accelerate decisions
  • Simplify
  • Team engagement
  • Elementary physics (Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics, but don’t worry about that)
  • Rhythmic learning

The authors use such Lean principles as Respect for People, daily stand ups (quick meetings), a form of 5S, using the people to find root causes of problems along with experimenting to find solutions.

Good stuff.

Leadership As Getting Outside Yourself

What Sort of Person Will You Be in 2020?

A soccer referee friend shared this on another site. Being a personal development fanatic, I collect these habit disciplines, sort through them annually (or more often), and make intentional decisions about what sort of person I wish to work toward this year.

Check out this list.

Nine Evidence Based Guidelines for a GOOD LIFE:

1. Exercise your body and your brain every day.

2. Count your blessings.

3. Try to see others’ point of view.

4. People, not things, make you happy.

5. Work to earn, to live. Don’t live for your work.

6. Keep reminding yourself: It’s not all about me.

7. Just teach your kids how to cope.

8. Use your conscious reasoning to slowly make the changes you want.

9. When stressed, process your worries consciously.

Follow this blog

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.