Never Stop Learning – Manufacturing Leadership

Never Stop Learning – Manufacturing Leadership

“I am still learning” wrote Michelangelo at age 87. That’s one of my goals in life.

Seth Godin ran across this idea from the other direction. He wrote this week in Fully Baked:

In medical school, an ongoing lesson is that there will be ongoing lessons. You’re never done. Surgeons and internists are expected to keep studying for their entire career—in fact, it’s required to keep a license valid.

Knowledge workers, though, the people who manage, who go to meetings, who market, who do accounting, who seek to change things around them—knowledge workers often act as if they’re fully baked, that more training and learning is not just unnecessary but a distraction.

The average knowledge worker reads fewer than one business book a year.

On the other hand, the above-average knowledge worker probably reads ten.

Show me your bookshelf, or the courses you take, or the questions you ask, and I’ll have a hint as to how much you care about leveling up.

Where Do You Get Information?

I wrote yesterday’s post about getting information spurred by the thoughts of Jessica Lessin, founder of The Information. This is a Silicon Valley technology news site that is funded by subscriptions. No advertising. No worrying about pressure from advertisers to write something nice about them.

She recently wrote about the recent trend toward company CEOs or CTOs writing a piece, say on Medium, and then sending links and a quote to a few “trusted” sources in the media. She was seeing these stories picked up and passed along verbatim. No analysis or value add.

That is just what the PR people were hoping. How do they get their message out unfiltered. I’ve been advising marketing people along this path for years.

I knew a guy in my business similar to me who would just copy the press release and call it an article.

I have no problem learning about new products and solutions and technologies in the market from the source. Note: You do have to wade through an awful lot of hype and superlative words to get to the news. I don’t advise that, but marketing people seem to have no confidence in what they are peddling, so they resort to verbal overkill.

But when you go to a magazine or other source (like mine), you surely expect some perspective and analysis.

Where do you go to get this information? What do you trust?

Speaking of information

This piece in the MIT Sloan Management Review, Why Learning is Central to Sustained Innovation, seems to fit in with these thoughts. How do you create a learning environment for your people development culture?

Many managers think they can create better products just by improving the development process or adding new tools. But it’s skilled people, not processes, that create great products.

The authors, Michael Balle’, James Morgan, and Durward K. Sobek II, note, “We frequently visit companies where managers say they want to improve their product development capability. they want to learn how learn principles and practices can improve their ability to innovate while reducing costs and improving quality. When we inquire about their approach to human resource development, we often hear, as one vice president of product development recently told us, that  ‘of course, people are our most important asset. Se we recruit and hire the top people from the best universities and get out of their way.’

However, the only things many companies actually do under the heading of people development is to have an annual training-hours target and a travel budget for sending employees to conferences. If managers really thought that people were their greatest asset and that it’s the energy and creativity of employees that drives innovation, why do companies do so little? Why doesn’t growing and developing people excite them just as much as installing new additive manufacturing equipment or the latest cloud-based collaboration tool?”

It takes leadership concerned with a learning culture, beginning with the leaders. Are they always learning? Reminds me of James Truchard, founder of National Instruments. He had such tremendous curiosity. He passed that along to the organization in many ways. Everyone wanted to be like that.

Millennials and learning

In his On The Edge Blog, Keith Campbell, wrote:

Is a culture of entitlement contributing to the workforce skills gap?

There has been a lot of discussion of the entitlement mentality of today’s young people as they leave college and expect that they are owed a well-paying job starting somewhere near the top.  On today’s news, there was a discussion about some interns who decided that they were entitled to a work environment that operated the way they wanted it to, and they proceeded to challenge the employer’s policies (yes, the same employer that was kind enough to give them their first work experience). They were summarily fired. I was recently asked by a parent to provide some guidance to a son who had received a mechanical engineering degree, but had no job.  I suggested that he consider companies such as packaging machinery manufacturers or packagers – not only because they are hiring mechanical engineers, but because they offer exciting careers. But after a few minutes of speaking with him, I learned that he knew more about how the engineering workplace operated than I did (after 30 years), and he felt entitled to wait till some job came around that suited his vision of engineering.

Less often discussed is the entitlement mentality of employers.  I see employers also acting as though they are entitled to the workers that they want, when they want them and with the skills that they need.  There was a day when there were multiple qualified applicants for each open manufacturing job.  Employers had to use various screening mechanisms to pick from among the qualified.   But those days seem to be behind us.  Automation has raised the bar for entry level employment while high schools have arguably lowered the bar for graduation and reduced the diversity of programs, driven in large part by increasing state and national control.  The gap between the unemployed and unfilled manufacturing jobs is growing wider.

I’m currently sitting in a conference session. A speaker mentioned about Millennials and their work ethic. Sounded like Campbell above. I think that is a misplaced thought and terrible generalization. Remember when we talked about Gen X and the “slacker” mentality? I’m in a room about evenly divided with Boomers and GenXers. The GenX guys and gals are doing some really good engineering. But I remember when many of them asked how many months it would take before they would be CEO. Sounds more like the exuberance of youth than a generation thing.

The question remains. How do you keep learning? Where do you get information? How are you helping others learn?

Industrial Merger and Acquisition

Industrial Merger and Acquisition

Marissa Mayer Yahoo

One set of questions popping up frequently over the past few years among corporate executives of industrial technology supplier companies concerns response to the Industrial Internet of Things regarding industrial merger and acquisition.

Are we in the IIoT market? What acquisitions should we search out to further exploit the IIoT? Should we look at expanding into other aspects of the IIoT market?

Executives analyzing the IIoT system check out networking products plus sensor products plus analysis products. Should I buy into an adjacent area?

One of my favorite new media sites is The Information. It is subscription only. Maybe a model I might morph to someday. Jessica Lessin and her team have assembled a top quality news site covering Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and start ups.

Jessica wrote recently about Yahoo and all the vultures, er companies, circling around to see what sort of deals they may get picking over the various parts of the company that is obviously for sale.

She made this point, “But these two reasons reflect the biggest mistake companies make when it comes to M&A. Executives focus on how a potential deal would help the company get into a new business. But those type of deals, while attractive in theory, often fail miserably. On the other hand, deals that help companies double down on a core business do much better.”

She offers some examples such as AT&T’s purchase of John Malone’s TCI cable company in the late 1990s and News Corp’s $580 million acquisition of MySpace in 2005.

Her advice to those itching to make a deal—just like Pilates, look to your core.

“But the best deals strengthen a company’s core business. The reason is simple: Organizations act in their self-interest; it is how they make money and keep growing. That’s their DNA, more than wishy-washy things like whether employees wear suits or hoodies or work out of a loft or a high-rise.”

Example? “Google pulled that off when it spent $3 billion for DoubleClick in 2007, for example. It was a steep sum but Google already knew search advertising. DoubleClick helped it grow further by selling the similar products to similar customers with display.”

If I’m advising a company again today, I’d pretty much stay with what I thought three years ago—be wary of buying into adjacent or new market areas. To do so requires a clear strategy—and a lot of money.

The only one in the IIoT space of which I’m aware right now is the effort by PTC to enter that space entirely through acquisition. See my post. PTC has acquired at least four companies in the space. A couple it bought for technology. Two it paid huge premiums for. I’m guessing they see such an upside revenue stream that the premium looked small in comparison.

Do you see any other major IIoT plays? I mean other than the German companies focusing on Industrie 4.0 (sort of IIoT plus)—Siemens, Bosch, and others. Rockwell Automation with Connected Enterprise. ABB, GE, and Schneider Electric on IIoT. The big companies are simply focusing efforts they’ve made for years into the new paradigm.

But are there startups to watch? Mid-level acquisitions? Any excitement out there at all? Let me know.

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