Archive for August, 2010

The Dumb-Ass Filter

Companies pursue lots of ideas; some turn out well and some badly. Since we can’t tell with 100% certainty if an idea will work, bad ones are a cost of doing business. And it makes sense to tolerate them. The cost of a few bad ones is well worth the upside of a game-changer. It’s like the VC model.

However, there’s a class that must be avoided at all costs: the dumb-ass idea – an idea we should know will not work before we try it. It’s not a bad idea,  it’s beyond stupid, it’s deadly.

A dumb-ass idea violates fundamentals.

What’s so scary is today’s ready, fire, aim pace makes us more susceptible than ever. Our dumb-ass antibodies need strengthening. We need an immunization, a filter to discern if we’re respecting the fundamentals. We need a dumb-ass filter.

To immunize ourselves it’s helpful to understand how these ideas come to be. Here are some mutant strains:

Local optimization – We improve part of the system at the expense of the overall system. Chasing low cost labor is a good example where labor savings are dwarfed by increased costs of logistics, training, quality, and support.

A cloudy lens – We come up with an idea based on incomplete, biased, or inappropriate data. A good example is financial data which captures cost in a most artificial way. Overhead calculation is the poster child.

Cause and effect – We don’t know which is which; we confuse symptom with root cause and correlation with causation. Expect the unexpected with this mix up.

Scaling – We assume success in the lab is scalable to success across the globe. Everything does not scale, and less scales cost effectively.

Fear – We want to go fast because our competition is already there; we want to go slow because were afraid to fail.

What’s the best dumb-ass filter? It’s a formal and simple definition of the fundamentals. Use one page thinking – fundamentals one page, lots of pictures and few words. There’s no escape.

How to go about it? Settle yourself. Catch your breath. Let your pulse slow. Then, create a one pager (pictures, pictures, pictures) that defines the fundamentals and run it by someone you trust, someone without a vested interest, someone who has learned from their own dumb-ass thinking. (Those folks can spot it at twenty paces.) Defend it to them. Defend it to yourself. Run yourself through the gauntlet.

What are the fundamentals? Do they apply in this situation? How do you know? Answer these and you’re on your way to self-inoculation.

What if manufacturing mattered?

What if it was cool to make stuff? What if we advertised manufacturing’s coolness like we advertise beer and cigarettes? Who would be the celebrity spokesman?

What if we took as much pride in university manufacturing programs as with their football programs? What if great manufacturing programs were as profitable as great football programs? What if fans jammed college stadiums every Saturday to cheer manufacturing competitions? What if they were televised like football games? Who would host the pre-game show?

What if manufacturing was valued like professional sports? The World Series of Manufacturing, The Super Bowl of Manufacturing, The World Cup of Manufacturing? Who would do color commentary?

What if manufacturing thought leaders were celebrated like sports legends? What would kids want to be when they grew up? Whose face would be on the cereal boxes?

What if government understood the importance of manufacturing? Who would lead the charge?

Flags Without Sting

We live in the country. Trees and wildlife all around. Can’t see our neighbors. A great place to be if you like the outdoors. We have two dogs – Abe and Lola.

The dilemma: How to let the dogs run around outside but prevent them from running off into the wilderness? The technological solution: an electric dog fence, an underground wire around the perimeter, a receiver hung on the dogs’ collars, and little white flags to designate the safe zone. The rules are straightforward and clear: 1. Stay within the perimeter and it’s happy happy: strut around, bark at smells and sounds, and guard the perimeter against the invading UPS truck. 2. Go outside the perimeter and all hell breaks loose: a nasty jolt from the collar, tail between the legs, and general disorientation. All is well.

But it’s not purely a technological system. There are dogs involved – thinking beings. They must understand the rules, they need training, and they must live within the system day-to-day. No matter what the situation, even if not covered in the training, they must stay within the perimeter or pay the price.

The people world has a similar dilemma: How to give the right amount of freedom and set the right limits. Boundaries are established, though not as formally or as simply as the flags; we live within the perimeter day-to-day or face consequences, though shock collars should not be used; and the thinking beings are more important than technology.

And, there is no right way to place the white flags – perimeters can be too big or too small; there is no right consequence level – the jolt can be too severe or too muted; and there is no perfect training – too much or too little. However, there must always be respect for the thinking beings.

One day I was in the yard with Abe and his new, high powered collar intended to stop his socializing, when a deer crossed the driveway about 50 meters outside the perimeter. Without hesitation, without consideration of consequence, he broke ranks and exploded though the perimeter – right through without a yelp, flinch, or twitch. He was in the moment, he did what he was made to do, he lived up to his genetics, he was all dog, he was himself. It was beautiful to watch him tear down the driveway.

As I watched the chase I thought about the power of his singular focus blasting him through without even a yelp. Then the realization – I never fixed the break in the wire – the fence was off. Flags without sting, though Abe did not know it.

The sting would not have prevented the chase, but would it have prevented the next one? I hope not. Perimeters can be too tight and consequences too severe, preventing us from being in the moment, doing what we’re made to do, living up to our genetics, and depriving us from experiencing our full selves.

Maybe I won’t fix the fence – flags without sting seems about right.

Don’t bankrupt your suppliers – get Design Engineers involved.

Cost Out, Cost Down, Cost Reduction, Should Costing – you’ve heard about these programs. But they’re not what they seem. Under the guise of reducing product costs they steal profit margin from suppliers. The customer company increases quarterly profits while the supplier company loses profits and goes bankrupt. I don’t like this. Not only is this irresponsible behavior, it’s bad business. The savings are less than the cost of qualifying a new supplier. Shortsighted. Stupid.

The real way to do it is to design out product cost, to reduce the cost signature. Margin is created and shared with suppliers. Suppliers make more money when it’s done right. That’s right, I said more money. More dollars per part, and not more from the promise of increased sales. (Suppliers know that’s bullshit just as well as you, and you lose credibility when you use that line.) The Design Engineering community are the only folks that can pull this off.

Only the Design Engineers can eliminate features that create cost while retaining features that control function. More function, less cost. More margin for all. The trick: how to get Design Engineers involved.

There is a belief that Design Engineers want nothing to do with cost. Not true. Design Engineers would love to design out cost, but our organization doesn’t let us, nor do they expect us to. Too busy; too many products to launch; designing out cost takes too long. Too busy to save 25% of your material cost? Really? Run the numbers – material cost times volume times 25%. Takes too long? No, it’s actually faster. Manufacturing issues are designed out so the product hits the floor in full stride so Design Engineers can actually move onto designing the next product. (No one believes this.)

Truth is Design Engineers would love to design products with low cost signatures, but we don’t know how. It’s not that it’s difficult, it’s that no one ever taught us. What the Design Engineers need is an investment in the four Ts – tools, training, time,  and a teacher.

Run the numbers.  It’s worth the investment.

Material cost x Volume x 25%

Who killed Vacation?

What happened to Vacation? It used to be a time to let go, to separate from work, to engage with family and friends, to work hard on something else. A time to refresh, to recharge, to renew. Not anymore – a shadow of its former self – paler, thinner, hunched over.

We still stay out of the office in a physical sense, but not in a virtual one. Our butts may be “on vacation” in that we sit someplace else, but our brains are not. They’re still fully invested in office things, running in the background as our butts enjoy their vacation. We’ve got all the downside of being out of the office with none of the upside. It’s almost worse than not having vacation. At least we don’t fall behind when not on vacation.

Who’s to blame? The technology? Our company? I don’t think so. We are. Sure the technology makes it easy: cell coverage across the globe (accept in New Hampshire), fast connections, nice screens, and full thumb keyboards to crank out the email. But, if I’m not mistaken, those little pda bastards still have an off switch. If your thumb can pound the keys, it can certainly mash the off switch. Can’t shut the damn thing off because you want to respond to the emergency work call? That’s crap. Work emergencies don’t exist, they’re artificial, self-made.  We create them to increase the sense of urgency. Don’t buy that? Here’s another rationale: you’re not giving others the opportunity to think while you’re gone. You’re telling them they’re not capable of thinking for themselves, you’re dismantling their self esteem, and hindering their growth.

Our company? Sure, they make it hard to let go, with implications that important projects must run seamlessly, that the ball must still be advanced. But, we’re the ones who decide what our brains think about. We must decide to give others an opportunity to shine, to give away the responsibility to someone who can likely do it better. If you ask the company what they want when we return, they’ll say they want us to come back recharged, ready to see things differently, ready to be creative, ready to be authentic. You cannot be that person without letting go. Without letting go, you’ll return the same worn soul who can but raft downstream with the current instead of swimming violently against it.

Take responsibility for your vacation. Own it, tell others you own it. Tell them you’re serious about letting go, working hard on something else, recharging. Use the all powerful Out of Office AutoReply as it was intended, to set everyone’s expectations explicitly (including your own).

Out of Office AutoReply: I am on vacation.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner