Archive for October, 2009

Tools, training, time, and a great piano teacher

It was Monday night after dinner.  My thirteen year old son and I got in the car and started on the drive to hockey practice.  I drove and he texted.  I was in the middle a struggle to come up with a topic for this post.  My son finished a text, snapped his phone shut, and blurted out “Mozart wrote a note to his dad.  He told him that he thought silence was the most important part of music.”  I responded, “Really.”  “He was a rule breaker,” he said.  He paused then continued, “The music of the time was smooth with a regular pattern.  But he did things that weren’t pleasing to the ear like using 7th notes and Bs right next to B flats.  Do you know what else he did?”  “No,” I said.  “He put a fermata right in the middle of one of his pieces.  That’s a rest that’s as long as you want it to be.  When you use a fermata you can stop, go out and get a cup of coffee, and come back later and start playing and that’s okay.”  “Really,” I said.

I dropped him off at the rink and pulled into a parking spot so I could write in the car (don’t knock it until you try it).  I jotted down some scattered thoughts, and it hit me.  Jackie!  It was Jackie.  His piano teacher was behind all this.  That morning she taught him about Mozart.  I now had my topic.

Jackie is a great piano teacher – really great.  Sure, she’s got the pedigree, but more importantly she has the ability to reach my son.  She can help him grow his thinking, help him think differently, help him build new thinking for himself.  And this new thinking isn’t the kind that stops at his head, but makes it all the way into his chest.  He feels this new thinking in his chest.  We can learn a lot from Jackie.  I want to look at her system for teaching new thinking, which she does under the cover of teaching piano, and compare it to how we improve our engineering thinking under cover of developing new products.  Sounds like a stretch, I know, but I’ll take a shot at it.

The framework for Jackie’s system can be described by the three Ts – tools, training, and time.  Let’s start with tools. Read the rest of this entry »

Problems are good

Everyone laughs at the person who says “We don’t have problems, we have opportunities.”  Why do we say that?  We know that’s crap.  We have problems; problems are real; and it’s okay to call them by name.  In fact, it’s healthy.  Problems are good.  Problems focus our thinking.  There is a serious and important nature to the word problem, and it sets the right tone.  Everyone knows if the situation has risen to the level of a problem it’s important and action must be taken.  People feel good about organizing themselves around a problem – problems help rally the troops.

In a previous post on innovation, I talked about the tight linkage between problems and innovation.  In the pre-innovation state there is a problem; in the post-innovation state there is no problem.  The work in the middle is a good description of the thing we call innovation.  It could also be called problem solving.

Behind every successful product launch is a collection of solved problems.  The engineering team defines the problems, understands the physics, changed the design, and makes problems go away.  Behind every unsuccessful product launch is at least one unsolved problem.  These unsolved problems disrupt product launches – limiting product function, delaying launches, and cancelling others altogether.  All this can be caused by a single unsolved problem. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s a tough time to be a CEO

2009 is a tough year, especially for CEOs.

CEOs have a strong desire to do what it takes to deliver shareholder value, but that’s coupled with a deep concern that tough decisions may dismantle the company in the process.

Here is the state-of-affairs:

Sales are down and money is tight.  There is severe pressure to cut costs including those that are linked to sales – marketing budgets, sales budgets, travel – and things that directly impact customers – technical service, product manuals, translations, and warranty.

Pricing pressure is staggering.  Customers are exerting their buying power – since so few are buying they want to name their price (and can).  Suppliers, especially the big ones, are using their muscle to raise prices.

Capacity utilization is ultra-low, so the bounce-back of new equipment sales is a long way off.

Everyone wants to expand into new markets to increase sales, but this is a particularly daunting task with competitors hunkering down to retain market share, cuts in sales and marketing budgets, and hobbled product development engines.

There is a desire to improve factory efficiency to cut costs (rather than to increase throughput like in 2008), but no one wants to spend money to make money – payback must be measured in milliseconds.

So what’s a CEO to do?  Read the rest of this entry »

Innovation, problems, and stomach aches

In the last post on innovation I said I’d provide data on number of hits for a post with innovation in the title.  Well, apparently the word recession is more relevant than the word innovation as there were 50% more hits with recession.  Next time I should use both recession and innovation in the title and see what happens.

In the last post on innovation I left off with the notion of an operational definition as a way to assign meaning to the word innovation.  I ended with a question — can you put your hand over your mouth and point to innovation?  In other words, what can we observe to bring innovation into the range of our experience?  Starting with the state of things before innovation – what does it look like?  And what about the state of things after innovation – what does that look like?  And what does it look like to transition between the states?

Starting simply, the state before innovation is defined by a symptom statement, an ill-defined, un-actionable statement of something undesirable.  It has not yet risen to the level of an actionable problem statement, but clearly there is a realization of an undesirable situation.  Here are several examples of symptom statements. Read the rest of this entry »

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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