Words, what are they good for?

At work, I’ve recently been given the task of redesigning all my training documentation and plans for Lean process improvement to something else. Apparently, despite successes, some of my leadership team doesn’t believe in Lean. However, they fully expect improvements such as reduced turn around times, quality improvements, and reduced non-value add activities to just happen. That it’s simply expected to occur without any top down pressure or support. Without clear direction or proper tools to measure improvement or even productivity, how can anyone expect to drive improvement in their organization?

Lean is a tool to do that, but since some leaders don’t believe that’s the proper way to drive improvement, we’re having to monkey with the idea of what it means to be an efficient organization. Therefore, I’m going to be rebranding everything to Process Innovation because Innovation. This does an interesting thing, it forces us to change the language we use for continuous improvement. We can’t use words like Gemba (the place where work is done), Kaizen (continuous change), Jidoka (automation with a human touch), Poka-Yoke (idiot proofing). or Muda/Muri/Mura (waste, overburden, unevenness). Using these words isn’t just to try to force people to learn some Japanese. It forces people to slow down and think differently.

Regardless of your thoughts on Malcolm Gladwell, he raises some really valid points about language in his book Blink, where he discusses the example of Korea Air and the usage of English as a language in the flightdeck because it changes the way the first officer and captain think about each other. Lean emulates this idea by forcing English speakers to use Japanese words. It forces people to stop and think about what they are doing. Yes, it’s a foreign word, but the meaning drives a change in behavior simply because it forces the people listening to slow down and think. According to Daniel Kahnman, system 2, deep and introspective thinking, is lazy and lets system 1, Blink thinking, do most of the work. A change of language and specific words triggers system 2 to actually pay attention and not just accept what is said as fact.

Now with Process innovation, I’m going to have to invent my own language and rules to try to force a similar behavior. I’ll have to lean heavily on Lean, Six Sigma, and other improvement methodologies rather than just Lean. However, this might confuse Lean folks.

It’s amazing the impact of a few phrases on changing the way people behave and it’s amazing how they can cause people to react in a negative way. Figuring out how to work around other people’s language hang ups is key for a successful work life, unfortunately.

Net Neutrality, Let your Voice be heard

The FCC is currently taking comments on the net neutrality issue. Please contact them. The agency is currently completely overwhelmed with the feedback on Net Neutrality, but even still, more voices might help tip the scales that are pretty obviously stacked against us. It’s like the scales used to weigh if the witch weighs the same as a duck in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. One of the most important things about net neutrality is the scope that the ISPs actually own in this debate. They are dictating the terms of this debate through money – they make the most, they charge the most, and they have monopolies. This cartoon really helps explain what the ISPs actually own (click here or the picture to see all of the comic).

Economix comix depiction of Net Neutrality

That’s right, basically if you live off a street that says “road not maintained by such and such county”(lots of them where I live) THAT’s the portion the ISP maintains. That’s why a lot of these arguments are over “the last mile.” Basically it’s the mile from their data center that connects to the backbone of the internet to your house. In other industries it might be maintained by one company, but any company can use it. Think about back when you had a modem. You could have that service provided by ANYONE – that’s why AOL got so big they offered free time to just about everyone. Almost everyone signed up and anyone could because the last mile wasn’t maintained by your phone company and had to be shared. DSL still has that requirement only Cable and FiOS don’t and that’s because they were classified as a “information service” rather than a common carrier. The highway above is a common carrier.

If you’d like to see this changed, please go to the FCC and comment (if you can) the link is here: http://www.fcc.gov/comments click on 14-28 and try to leave a comment.

It’s up to us to fight for net neutrality. I’ve left at least two comments. I’ve signed several petitions. I’ve donated to mayone.us all because one of these alone isn’t enough. I’ve contacted by Senator and I know he supports Net Neutrality. If your company is an internet company or uses a large amount of bandwidth on a regular basis see if your company will come out in support of Net Neutrality. It’s the only way we’ll win. We need to get over whelming support.

The digital generation – not special when it comes to the internet

I’m reading a book called Build for Change that has a really good message, but the way that the author talks about Generation Y, Millennials, or whatever the hell else the people born from 81-2000 are called. Essentially, he pushes forwards the theory that because we grew up at the same time as computers were truly personalized and in homes, that these folks some how have a better understanding of the internet. That these folks are more self-centered and all about me and thus harder customers to handle than any generation in the past.

Being born around computers doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a deeper connection with the technology. To some extent, since I’m frequently around computers and know how to use them in a lot of different ways, I’m surprised when I hear people my age or younger that don’t get technology. That learning to code is terrifying or how code works is a foreign concept. I’ve also met a lot of people that are older than myself that know as much or more about computers and technology than I do. Some of them are in IT, but some of them, like my Dad, aren’t truly IT specialists. They just understand that technology is a powerful tool and computers are probably the most flexible tool we’ve ever had.

Social media is one of the tools that the author claims all Millennials know how to use. This is a complete and total misconception. Sure, the kids might have a better idea than the parents, but it’s not because the parents can’t understand social media – it’s not hard to learn – they don’t have the time or the desire to learn the tool. Furthermore, just because you’re interested in computers and other digital content doesn’t necessitate an ability to understand how to use social media effectively. After working at AMD I learned first hand that I was one of the few people at the company that truly understood the tools available through social media and I definitely don’t consider myself an expert or sophisticated user of any of the social media platforms. Many of my older co-workers weren’t fluent in any of the networks, but that’s because they had other things that mattered more.

Social networks are to some extent extremely fast word of mouth networks. The difference is that between some users there used to be an intermediary – like a news paper or TV show – that would share the information with interested parties. Now, if you want Jaden Smith’s thoughts on tibetian monks and she happens to tweet about it, you’ll be able to retweet that instantly. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone has the same reach or that all tweet will be treated equally. In fact because there is STILL an intermediary, algorithms, between trending tweets and hashtags, the reach of a given topic isn’t endless.

I’d also argue that the people that will claim they are social media experts, for the most part, are not Millennials, they are Gen Xers or Boomers. This is an obvious result because they are snake oils salesmen and a lot of social media users know they are full of crap.

The choice to be fluent in a given technology platform or “language” isn’t a matter of growing up with it. It’s about making a choice to devote time and energy to the topic. It’s no different than anything else. The big difference between a parent and the kid, is that the Kid has a lot more free time to mess around, while the parent is out working.

Stupid laws, poor Decisions, and corruption

Uber and Lyft have been all over the news lately. They’ve been getting pushed out of city after city. They have had rulings go against them, like one in PIttsburgh today. The ironic thing is that the Judges were completely sympathetic to the people of Pittsburgh and Uber/Lyft, but had to rule in that way because of the way the law is written. I think it’s fair to say that the judges believe that if the people of Pittsburgh want these services they will have to work with the city council to have the commission responsible for Taxis change the rules so that Uber and Lyft are legal. Uber plans to running through the holiday weekend, in a similar fashion that they are in Austin, Texas where the services are also illegal.

The Supreme Court of the US has ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in a case around if a privately held company has to pay for birth control based upon religious exceptions. However, there have been a lot of points indicating that there is hypocrisy in their approach. Through their 401(K) they own stocks in companies that manufacture birth control. They are willing to pay for vasectomies and vVagra, which seem incongruent with their beliefs. To be internally consistent Hobby Lobby should be against paying for vasectomies as well – the only difference between them and the Pill is that it is on the man not the woman. Should the results imply that Hobby Lobby must be internally consistent and be forced to divest those stocks and be prevented from paying for vasectomies? I’m not sure, but I think that there could likely be a lawsuit over that – forcing Hobby Lobby to explain the rationale of refusing to pay for one over the other. Which may have a different unintended consequence of hours getting cut to Wal-Mart levels and no one getting insurance except for salary employees.

Apparently a DOJ antitrust lawyer was invited to a big Comcast shindig for the Olympics. The only reason the person didn’t go was because of the rules put in place to prevent her from going. I think there are two ways to interpret this. First, she’s sincere and wants to go, but is aware that it could look bad for her and Comcast if she went. Second, she’s sincere and is saying that it would be corrupt if she went even though it did look like a lot of fun. I can see both sides, but I think it’s pretty fair when people assume this is part of the general corruption within the US government. Where the government has a revolving door between the regulated and regulators. How can you hope to not have general corruption though being a decent person. You get to know the people you’re working with and you want to help them because that’s what good people do. It’s the most likely type of corruption to happen – corruption through complicity.

All in all, these three stories don’t play well for the US being a shining light on the hill. We’ve seen the MIddle East blow up of late and there’s a lot of discussion as to why. One reason is that we’re trying to push democracy on people that aren’t ready for it, however, are we even ready for it? Each of these stories shows that we have broken laws that could be captured by business or other entities. I think that for a country to export their version of democracy they need to have their house in order and show how well the system can work. I liken it to process improvement. Porsche is one of the best examples around this – they became some of the best Lean consultants in the world through fixing all of their problems first. You need to build credibility and show you can execute, then you partner with a struggling supplier and build the change together. You cannot force it down their throat.

Our system is broken in many places and the past few weeks really highlights that.