Who else read Paul's book? I couldn't put it down...
So just last weekend I was explaining to a young couple how having kids actually goes. I explained that in prep, during pregnancy, etc, you make some sort of parenting set of ideals. Imagine how it's going to go. But then you have the kid, shit hits the fan in a million little ways, and you find yourself changing your ideals, failing, succeeding in some ways that are hardly ever enough in your mind for some reason...
It's a mad series of on the fly decisions that just matter so much to you. Failure, no matter how small, hurts. Because it's you, yours, your cerebral outpourings in times where you don;t have time to polish your cerebral for the sake of looking good. Yet you can't imagine the world any other way, nor would you ever not do it if you had another chance. (though you think differently on a particularly bad day lol)
Having a business that actually matters to you this much seems to be a lot like having a child you actually want to give the world to.
Two nice literary touches:
The narrative is punctuated by Paul constantly running numbers through his head. It's the drum beat of the story. It is more powerful then trying to explain this feeling in words, IMO.
Also--the storyline is a rare approach, much like one of my most favorite books, "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Many writers had tried to explain goulags in USSR, including Solzhenitsyn, but nothing has ever done this as effectively as this book that simply runs through the motions of one day. Explanations come with events and come back more thoroughly as needed, with the next events.
Hats off Mr Downs, you made a left wing frenchy employee actually get a glimpse of what it's actually like to be in your shoes. And on top of that it read easily, like sitting with an old friend at a bar telling you a story that makes you forget the time.
It will not change work--I do what I can no matter what. Simply because I spend most of my waking hours working, and enjoy working. Where I need improvement is knowing when/where to stay or go.
I don't think being a business owner going through these struggles is like an immediate pass to the Awesome List. Some people really don't deal that well with having a big brain child with an audience. Some really do.
Next time I see some really strange looking behaviour I may have a bit more patience to try and see if Mr Boss Pants thought/felt themselves in a corner. And have the compassion to be patient while they figure it out.
So I guess it does change something :)
I'll return a question with a question: how hard is it to hear an employee's opinion about a process? Does it often feel like a reproach on your brain child?
I personally welcome it when an employee has a suggestion for improving something to do with our work processes or workplace.
As Paul pointed out in his book, very few people in our shops can see a place for improvement or even recognize the need for improvement. Many of these people can work for years without making a single suggestion for improvement. I think Paul Down let the guys off pretty easy by equating laconic somehow with heroic. I think a lack of engagement reflects intellectual laziness.
Something for Paul's crew to bear in mind is that you never want to be 40 year old working for a 50 year old. That 50 year old is going to retire before you're ready to quit working. Much better to pull a little harder on your oar to help keep your boat in the water on that day.
That being said it's not particularly a good idea for people to just jump in and solve problems as they appear. You need to have some kind of protocol for changing methods so that the memo can get distributed properly. If you "heroically" find a work-around for an engineering problem or mechanical process a lot of valuable information can get lost before a solution is created and hard coded into the DNA.
Your engineer needs to know when it breaks so he can help to keep it from breaking again.
There are several reasons for protocol. Mostly they exist to help make the company more viable. This is a good thing for everybody, even left wing french employees.
One of the most useful protocols is the documentation of train wrecks. The coast guard does this regularly and the people who sail over those waters are grateful for this protocol because they actually have skin in the game. Having skin in the game somehow makes a lot of this easier to understand.
If problems are solved out on the floor without updating the office then the problem will likely continue to occur. This could be an engineering mistake that causes rollout shelves or drawer boxes to be rebuilt or it could result in a batch of cabinet doors having an Ovolo profile when they were supposed to be a Shaker profile.
In the seminal article 'Decoding the DNA of Toyota' the authors compare how work is processed in western job shops (low volume - high mix) vs how it is done at Toyota. In western shops training is done by a tribal elder and what training you actually receive depends on who does the training. A lot of times when the newbie is trained he is instructed to try it himself and if he can't solve the problem come find the trainer. "But I expect you to try!" to solve the problem is how the lesson ends.
In this paradigm you have effectively made the least experienced person in your organization in charge of corporate policy. If he or she can find a work-around that satisfies them then there is no mandate to inform management about the problem.
This approach ensures variation in the outcome and since the methods and outcome are so random there is a significant disconnect between cause & effect. The longer it takes for management to learn about the problem the more information is lost.
We can absorb a certain amount of stupid when the economy is booming. When the economy goes the other direction, however, is when we have pay the costs of stupid. If we can develop policies that encourage craftsmen to be more business like in their approach then these "heroic" craftspeople have a higher likelihood of continuing to be employed.
I think that the hardest part about stepping back is when things are so busy that people in charge have lost control. Overflowing garbage, no room to move, angry floor people, stressed out management. Newbies left untrained that no one has time to even set them on a task.
And I'm not judging-- busy, making mad cash for more than elite clients. Its just so dang hard to shut up and let it unfold. But now I know that there is more to the story then the next deadline or even overall success. There's people that want to hold the reigns and keep it that way. And taking them away when they stumble is not the answer.
I'm going to have to find something else to tie up my own cerebral energy. Perhaps its time to buy a boat again.
I just finished the book and have to say that i loved it. I found his transparency very refreshing. He is not trying to sell some method or trying to tell you how to do anything, it is just the daily trials that keep us all on our toes and make owning your own business interesting. I would recommend it to everyone who is in the wood products industry as well as other small business owners. I just gave it to one of my key employees to read and i am interested in his thoughts. I think it will be enlightening for him to see the unabashed reality of being the boss.
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