Those of you who have read any of my stuff will know that I usually try to work something of the historical background of different facets of manufacturing in whenever I can. Over the weekend, while working on some background for a piece on employee participation in the continuous improvement effort, I came across some pretty convincing evidence that a slave by the name of Jo Anderson was actually the mechanical brains behind the famous McCormick reaper; and that Cyrus McCormick was more entrepreneur than inventor. In the course of it, I had an opportunity to swap emails with a fellow by the name of Don McClure, a marketing consultant from Memphis, who is something of an expert on slave inventions.
I also saw the latest episode of Spielberg’s "Into The West" and was reminded of the technical innovations made by the Chinese immigrant laborers that enabled the transcontinental ralroad to blast through the mountains when the American engineers were stymied.
My curiosity aroused, I dug further and came across a guy by the name of Victor Aocho, who qualifies as the greatest inventing ‘geek’ of all. This Mexican immigrant not only invented adjustable wrenches and reversible motors, but is the inventor of the ultimate symbol of the geek – the pocket protector.
History is full of fabulous inventions, companies built and fortunes made on the strength of ideas that have come from the least likely corners of American society. It occurred to me that it is true that our American diversity is truly our greatest strength. A factory is the greatest of all melting pots. In a typical plant, hundreds of people come together every day from different cultures, religions and economic backgrounds; with education levels and experiences covering the entire gamut; of both genders and all ages.
What an incredible advantage we have to be able to muster a gang that has the ability to look at a problem or an opportunity from every conceivable angle. Many of the countries with which we compete are terribly limited by state schools, state religions and limited immigration. Everyone working in their plant has the same life experience set. They all look at the world from the same point of view.
Corralling this American diversity into some semblance of coherenecy is often akin to herding cats. We can hardly agree with each other on the menu for the company picnic. But it seems well worth the squabbling that typically accompanies having everyone involved. We have unique access in the United States to a fantastic idea machine. I suspect we can take much better advantage of it.