Imagination’s Obituary

einsteinAnytown, Any Country – Imagination died on Friday, May 14, 2010, following a long and courageous battle with continuous improvement.

Imagination was born in a time long ago in a place we no longer recognize. Nurtured by her parents Individualism and Free Thinking, Imagination had a wonderful childhood. As a youngster, she was known to make significant contributions to science and technology. Galileo, a long time friend of Imagination, credited  her with new thinking about our solar system as well as the invention that made it all happen – the astounding telescope. To the end, Galileo’s support of Imagination never wavered, even after his relationship with her led to the incarceration that shortened his career.

Stories like these are commonplace throughout history. Selflessly, Imagination helped many people throughout her life. She took a behind-the-scenes approach to her work, and never sought credit. She was known to be involved with the most important thinking of our generations including: the Round Earth Theory, the Theory of Relativity, the internal combustion engine, the first lunar landing, and Velcro.

In recent years her health declined as the two new thinking systems, lean and Six Sigma, tricked companies into severely constraining their thinking, and, eventually, there was no longer a place for her. Though she battled valiantly, she finally succumbed to their rhetoric.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to The Anti-Lean and Six Sigma Foundation.

Click this link for information on Mike’s upcoming workshop on Systematic DFMA Deployment

6 Responses to “Imagination’s Obituary”

  • Jim:

    Mike – you’re right on here, and as design engineer of many years – it’s hard to watch it happen virtually everywhere you go. I remember my first boss out of school, a gruffy old Navy mechanical engineer told me (while smoking a pipe): “As a designer you have to either invent something new, or make something better, every day. Push the envelope, ask questions, never develop a ‘comfort zone’. That’s your job. That’s your mission”. He’s long gone – but I never forgot those words. Today I look at it as something different, but then again not so different: pigeonholed expectations and risk aversion to a fault.

  • Rahul:

    Mike – This one hits the nail on the head. It is applicable in software development in addition to manufacturing and possibly others as well.

  • It is our duty, as engineers and scientists, to revive it. It is exactly imagination that we need in order to start a new economic and technological paradigm. Lean did not quite deliver zero-waste and all the decades of “continuous improvement” almost left us without manufacturing in the US.

    Disregard the bean-counters and all the pushers for cheapness and mediocrity at the expense of quality, originality and elegance. Follow your talent and imagination.

  • Mike,

    I worked with an absolute expert on Lean/Six-Sigma. He was in the business for 20 years, had studied under some of the Japanese masters, and was a pushy, Type-A, guided missile. Define the outcome and light the fuse…then head for cover. Although he could be very charming and quite good a palsmanship (he’s Irish, after all), once focused on a mission, everything else had a low priority. And, he got things done! Smart managers liked him, political managers quickly lost patience and didn’t appreciate the occasional collateral damage, even as he saved them millions of dollars.

    Working with a pushy project manager in a big corporate environment, like my friend, did did create considerable personal challenges. We locked horns on a number of occasions, mostly when he tried to pull a fast one on ME, just to get the job done. Uncool. Not, unexpected though.

    I’ve been in engineering, IT, and business for over 20 years. Worked for several Fortune 50s and done consulting, too. I’m fairly diplomatic with people, but absolutely hate somebody telling me what to do or trying to trick me into something. I’m also a blue-sky kind of guy that enjoys pondering the “next, new technology” on a regular basis. I’m a Renaissance man able to build or fix most any thing. I’m fiercely independent, frequently rock the boat, and have stepped on many a toe. Don’t get me wrong…I’m no Liberal/Socialist. I firmly believe in Capitalism, Freedom, Conservatism, and all good things that are America. There is a reason certain people end up running companies, because they know how to make the shareholders money. And, I respect that.

    It’s hard for Right-brained people, like myself, to deal with Left-brained types, like my friend.

    But, I’m here to tell you that it can be done.

    We had a good couple of years and made a ton of good things happen in our company.

    Lean/Six-Sigma is a scientific problem solving framework, that requires historical data, IE: something in place already. It can be complicated, rigid, and needs an expert practitioner running the program. Managers and companies always seem to have trouble understanding the important principles or somehow get refocused on new jobs, so usually short change the effort. Too bad, because it really works well for making processes the best they can be. I’m absolutely certain that my friend worked to deliver the highest possible quality products ad services. Others didn’t always share his commitment, in spite of their rhetoric.

    The mindset of blue-sky projects is totally different than Lean/Six-Sigma. As you said, people need time to think and experiment. As an experienced, independent, innovator it is not for the faint of heart. Both types of people need to believe in themselves, because they are driven by some different motivations. Both types need to push for what they want. The sense of accomplishment, is however, the same. And, that can be a bridge to the two worlds.

    And, don’t forget that innovation like new inventions, paradigms, and such are “future” concepts, not historical data based, like Lean/Six-Sigma. Different ends, time wise.

    The good news was that We both applied our particular skills and seemed to balance each other out. I think that is an important key. And, it can only happen with the right circumstances and honest effort on each person’s part. We’re still friends. It is questionable whether the collaboration would scale upward past individual personalities.

    Sadly, the economy and politics have conspired to force us both out of steady, full-time employment.

    I agree with you that the latest innovation craze is getting a little silly. The swing from Lean/Six-Sigma to Innovation Whatever has been dramatic. Reminds me of TQM and now “the Cloud”.

    My solution. Get more consulting work, be innovative in spite of everything, charge ever increasing rates, and keep marching into the future.


    Rob Reilly

  • I would encourage you to look at Agile Project Management as opposed to Lean, it has much of the same background but is empirically driven and free from much of the process control straitjacket of Lean.

  • […] for it; and it’s unpredictable, it has been leaned out of our work. (Actually, she’s dead – Imagination’s Obituary.) We squelch imagination yet demand more innovation. That’s like trying to make ice cream […]

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