Just because the people you choose to surround yourself with agree with you does not mean you are right. I have stated before that great minds might think alike, but raving lunatics often see eye to eye with each other too. There is no shortage of evidence to support that statement. As many as ten minds wallowing adjacent to each other in the foulest part of the sewers of California thought alike and proceeded to gang rape a little girl over the weekend. That in itself proves that thinking alike is hardly proof of correctness, let alone greatness.
The crux of the scientific method is to form a hypothesis and then go out and look for something that can disprove it. The scientists and logic folks would say that only when you have given it an honest effort to prove yourself wrong – your idea passes every experiment you can devise – no peer or expert can refute you – are you onto something.
We are surrounded with examples of failure resulting from inbreeding – people and organizations that cloister themselves in order to assure that no one will ever disagree with them. Their theories do not undergo anything like the scientific method. They are like the three college kids in Connecticut who tied the doors to a few dorm rooms shut, then loaded the dorm microwaves with popcorn and set them to cook so long the smoke alarms would go off. Driving their buddies wild with panic when they found themselves trapped in what they thought was a burning building was the apparent goal. There is not much doubt that, had they run the plan past just about anyone who was at home, in bed, sober at 3 AM when the scheme was hatched, they would have heard a well reasoned contrary opinion to their brilliant idea.
The failing media outlets Kevin wrote about are in trouble largely because they are out of touch with their customers, and they are out of touch because they have set their own thinking up as the gold standard and do not air or print anything that contradicts them. They no more want to hear contrary opinions than those college kids wanted to hear what their parents would have thought about their popcorn plan. So they continue on the same intellectual path – getting validation from each other and wholesale rejection from their customers outside the circle.
Same goes for our egg-headed friends over at Harvard as they engage each other in another silly debate over the nuances of their silly theories concerning manufacturing, innovation and the flatness of the earth. They have a closed circle politely debating shades of agreement, but they are not the least bit interested in having anyone from outside the club refute their theories. Some guy named Yoffie says we don't need manufacturing because Google, Amazon and Salesforce.com can carry the economy. Let some hayseed with a 2.8 in management from Kansas State try to jump into the fray with a comment telling the good professor that those companies employ a total of 34,000 people to get $38 billion in sales, while Whirlpool has twice the people and half the sales – and Whirlpool outsources everything it can get its hands on. His theory has a great big gaping hole – manufacturng creates jobs – information for services doesn't. The naysayer from the flatlands won't get far because their beautiful theories cannot stand outside scrutiny. The Harvard Club are not the least interested in facts that run contrary to their thinking, so they close the doors and limit membership to people who they can count on for validation.
This is really not much different from the push back I occasionally get on my One Day Assessments when I urge a reconfiguration to Value Streams, or a conversion to Lean Accounting. It seems that lean only applies to Japanese owned car companies with factories in Scott County, Kentucky – everyone else is different. Because I am not from around there I cannot possibly understand the culture that makes lean impossible in their plant; and I am not from their industry so I simply do not understand that they are unique and what works for everyone else just doesn't fit their business model. I often feel about as welcome as mom and dad saying, 'you guys really don't want to put that popcorn in the dorm microwave and tie all the doors shut'. It leaves me scratching my head at those companies willing to pay me good money to come in, agree with every recommendation and observation I make, then tell me they aren't going to do any of it because it just won't work in their situation.
This unwillingness to even listen to differing opinions often happens when the boss has a very fragile ego – and it is amazing how many such insecure bosses there are. The criteria in many companies to get ahead is agreement with the boss. No contrary facts or opinions are tolerated. The culture of the 'yes man' is still alive and well in many companies and it is a huge barrier to improvement. To make matters worse, lcokstep agreement with the boss' views is often seen as a measure of teamwork – disagree with the boss or introduce a new idea and you are not a team player. This is the actual impetus for many, many of the One Day Assessment calls I get. The boss doesn't really want my opinion any more than he wanst anyone else's - he wants me there for 'outside validation' of the opinions he has already formed. What a waste of my time and the company's money!
When I go out on one of my assessments and the company is not doing well, I can almost count on running into an internally focused management team that is long on why thinking other than their's is unwelcome. At the other end of the scale, I occasionally get called into companies that are doing very well. They are those rare companies that not only accept but actively solicit outside challenges to their thinking. Those are the excellent few. They are engaged in a scientific method of sorts – not content that they have the right answer as long as there is a chance something better might be out there.
An organization cannot improve unless it is a learning organization, and a learning organization is continually generating new thinking and is willing to have open and honest challenges from every corner – especially from ideas coming from outside of the inner circle. Inbred thinking only leads to five legged cattle, failed newspapers, irrelevant college professors, burnt popcorn and bankrupt companies.
Kuwabatake Sanjuro says
There is a thread of anti-intellectualism in some posts that is disappointing. Lean has much to teach. To simply complain “they don’t get it” it waste. How do we get Manufacturing taught in schools to people that otherwise will go into studying fancy financial products no one understands? How do we get from where we are to whatever ideal you are proposing?
Bill Waddell says
The “anti-intellectualism” you note is no more than pointing out that the academics have chosen to ignore opinions outside of their inner circle, and to shut out all data that does not support their theories. You ask what I propose be done about it. My answer is that we do nothing. They are digging their own graves of irrelevance and the events of the last year have undermined elite B-School credibility far beyond anything I could have accomplished with “anti-intellectual” posts. The United States did not become the greatest manufacturing economy the world has ever seen on the basis of anything the Harvard Business Scool contributed, and it does not need the Harvard Business School to get back on track.
If my “anti-intellectualism” is a call for anything, it is a call to the lean community and to our elected officials to ignore the academic elites. 80% of manufacturng already does ignore them and there is an anti-Wall Street, anti-intellectual backlash growing in the United States that will keep shoving them out of the mainstream.
They are cited in this post simply as closed to learning, along with many groups including much of the media and the management of many companies. I did not write to get them to change, or even to complain about them. I cited them as a warning to manufacturing managers – If they are too internally focused and only listen to themselves, they will end up as irrelevant and goofy as the faculty of the B-Schools.
The intellectuals have chosen to stay on the sidelines in the manufacturing arena, and to focus on finance. Given the quality of their contribution to the global and US economy I would just as soon they stay there.
Another example that hits me, as an independent, smack in the face is the rise of political extremism on both ends of the political spectrum. How many left-wingers seriously listen to Fox or other conservative outlets; how many right-wingers turn away from O’Reilly and Beck to consider Maddow and Obermann? Nope, each side whips themselves into a frenzy because they simply listen to and effectively feed off each other, agreeing with each other, without seriously considering any other opinion. No wonder independents look to each side and wonder why they are further and further in the distance… and each extreme looks at independents as moving further and further away from their exalted position.
You need a few extremes to test the boundaries, but the majority need to listen and thoughtfully consider other opinions to find the middle ground of reason.
What a great post. The culture of the company I currently work for is a ‘Yes Man’ culture. My attempts to challenge the management thinking, ‘think out of the box’ and stretch their minds has done me no favours. The guys who agree with everything the MD says and laugh at all his jokes (even the bad ones!) are the one’s on their way up the career ladder. I alone will not change the mindset so the easiest thing for me is to move on.
Jason Morin says
“The ‘anti-intellectualism’ you note is no more than pointing out that the academics have chosen to ignore opinions outside of their inner circle.”
Just like you have chosen to ignore anything that comes from someone with a PhD because, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Nothing good can come out of a PhD with no real-world experience.”
Bill Waddell says
Actually Jason, I wrote,
“When the academic elite take on business problems with no real knowledge or experience, very little good is going to come of it.”
“Management – good management, lean management – requires equal parts head heart and gut in every decision. Brains; as well as empathy and compassion; and common sense and experience. The PhD’s and MBA’s certainly have the head part down cold. But if you have to be able to model something for it to be true, and all you know came from books, then the heart and gut elements are not going to a part your recommendations.”
If you can cite a case in which a PhD or a B-School professor with no experience in manufacturing made a noteworthy contribution to manufacturing, I will happily stand corrected.
Far from ignoring them I have been reading what the B-School elite have to offer for 35 years. As the post demonstrates, I was on the HBR web site just the other day. If you visit it you can see my comments. On the other hand, when was the last time you saw a comment from an Ivy League business professor here? Or ran into one at a lean conference?
Peter in France says
Another great article, Bill (note ‘great’ rather than ‘good’!!). You’d really got the bit between your teeth.
In France, we also have our gang rape and popcorn equivalents. How’s this for one (http://www.ladepeche.fr/article/2009/10/29/704058-Meurtre-de-Brens-Jacky-assassine-pour-800.html, sorry, copy and paste, couldn’t work out how to insert a link)from this week? A 62 year-old murdered by a) an 18 year-old, b) 33, c) 43…. and d) 71. What kind of 71 year-old hangs round in gangs with kids 53 years younger? And vice-versa.
Where is Respect for People in this day and age(and, no, I’m not that old to remember the war)? I’ve seen the first few comments on your post. Most of us are in agreement (although it’s healthy to see a little rebellion from Kuwabatake). Most of us are in agreement. And I have my own pet hate to add in the ‘I Love Making People Suffer Because I Have An Acute Inferiority Complex’ category.
About five years ago, I simply gave up applying for jobs. I can’t say I applied for that many but I would say that a good 80% never even bothered to reply, whether I’d sent it by post or online. And I realised that there was no way I would want to work for a company who has so little respect for people that a minute to print a standard negative reply and stick it in an envelope was a minute too much to waste.
I can’t complain. I’m a lot better off as my own boss, taking the time to reply to people who take the time to write to me. My concern is for my 14 year-old son who may not have the same confidence and ability when it’s his turn to start looking for a job.
Although I suppose he could always try and hook up with the odd 71 year-old or two.
Keep up the good work
david foster says
Actually, a significant % of PhDs…including PhDs in academia…really don’t deserve the title “intellectual.” An intellectual should have broad knowledge & interests, and should also be fluent in dealing intelligently with abstractions. Many of the current PhDs fail on both these counts–they are too narrow in their knowlege (too often limited not just to their own field, but to whatever is trendy at the moment) and often tend to reify abstractions, rather than understanding that “the map is not the terrain.”
It may be time to revive the term “clerks” in its medieval sense.
Jason Morin says
“On the other hand, when was the last time you saw a comment from an Ivy League business professor here?”
Well the first step would be to tone down the rhetoric. You make excellent points and many of your arguments are valid, but your delivery is too cynical and judgemental of others. No one is going to come here and listen with an open mind when you constantly bash their university, their degrees, their intellect, etc. I’m not saying any of them would listen anyway, but you may find 1 or 2 in a 1000 that do.
“If you can cite a case in which a PhD or a B-School professor with no experience in manufacturing made a noteworthy contribution to manufacturing…”
Well, I work in logistics so I’ll provide at least 1 example there. But I want to re-iterate what I said in earlier posts…PhDs see and observe things other do not. And they have the skills to model what they observe and develop theories. But it is usually others (engineers, managers) who are able to see the potential business application of these theories. Using you’re reasoning, Bill, one would say very little good can come from Albert Einstein’s theories and work because he never spent time in a factory that built rockets or satellites.
Appalachian American says
I believe America is in trouble Bill.
America’s problems stem from our inability to effectively work together and our generally second class treatment of customers.
America was able to get by in the past because the foreign competition wasn’t that stiff and other countries were not yet going after our markets.
I’m sure what I’m saying won’t be popular, but America needs to take a serious look in the mirror.
Our political system seems to promote animosity and discord. There’s no colder or more sterile a customer experience than dealing with the agencies of the Federal Government. I don’t care which party’s in power, it doesn’t seem to matter when you are dealing with these folks. I’ve never had a good customer experience with any kind of Government bureaucracy. There’s nothing like the rigidity created by bureaucracy and unions.
I have been disappointed with quality and customer service from American companies. In the past it was considered dishonorable to let your product disappoint a customer. But that has changed and today’s attitude is that if the product makes it past the warranty period, the customer has nothing to complain about. Somehow the primary focus of many of our companies became; 1) Shareholder value creation 2) Getting the Executive Compensation Package right and 3) Satisfying the Union to get the contract signed without a strike. Whatever resources were left over can go toward improving the product. The result is that most of the time, American products become inferior over time.
The East Coast Elites – aka Wall Street appears to be one of the main drivers. I’d like to know the total dollar amount that has been bilked out of the American People over the last century by Wall Street. Is Warren Buffett in the house? America would be better off draining that cess pool and investing in low cost index funds over long periods of time.
I don’t have much faith in the Republicans or the Democrats ability to right the ship. Corporate greed has basically rotted the Republican Party from the inside out. There’s a big difference between a Rural Republican and a Corporate one. The Democrats seem to be all starry eyed about the opportunity afforded by the near implosion of Wall Street. They continue to believe that Government can solve nearly all of our problems. Apparently Cuba needs to be 90 miles from Washington D.C for them to be able to see things more clearly.
The way I see it, if a process is not efficient or effective, then it should be improved to remove the waste and increase value creation. I don’t really care if the process is owned by the government or business. Without continuous improvement, waste remains in the system consuming valuable resources. Without improvement, progress will stagnate.
America has also grown accustomed to excuse making at many levels of our society.
In Japan there is much more emphasis placed upon actual results and excuse making is not acceptable. The customer is also held in much higher regard in Japan. There is a general tendency to sacrifice for the good of the group, company, and customer.
Maybe America is just too much of a “what’s in if for me” society now. Maybe we have been conditioned to be such short term thinkers that it’s not possible for us to humbly place the needs of the customer ahead of our own? I certainly think that’s the case for many of our CEO’s, Lawyers, Politicians, and Union Leaders. They stand in stark contrast to many of Japan’s leaders.
I am also not overly impressed with American Academia. I don’t think they are stellar examples of cooperation with Industry nor society.
They seem to have a “Silo” mentality similar to that of Government and Business. It seems that many of them are more interested in prestige creation rather than the “Wealth Creation” of the American people. The practice of tenure also seems to mimic the kind of entitlement mentality that the unions have developed.
America doesn’t appear to even acknowledge there is a problem. The trade and budget deficits should act as warnings for all of society that things aren’t right. I wonder how much industry will be lost before we reach a tipping point and the standard of living declines permanently. I suspect that if the current trajectory continues, the Dollar will be nearly worthless at some point in the future.
Graham Rankin says
I’d like to modestly suggest a contrary view here, that the current Harvard Business Review debate on manufacturing, competitiveness and innovation is actually valuable, at least to some of us. I’ve read all the articles and all the comments, and am in the process of doing so again to compile a brief A-Z of all the main arguments deployed against outsourcing as a default strategy. What struck me was how many of the articles and comments were discussions of exactly the problems Bill also regularly identifies as significant. That trade deficit is indeed hitting home.
For example, Ed Catmull, CEO of Pixar, draws attention to the social consequences of losing a manufacturing base in several comments, and his general views would seem to chime with Bill’s in a recent article for Manufacturing Crunch on ‘The Unintended Racism of Unfair Trade.’ Robert H. Hayes, a Harvard professor, laments the decimation of internal and communal skill bases by outsourcing in his article and in other comments he posts, and the loss of this industrial commons is a regular feature in the HBR series. There are warnings too on the consequences of technology transfer, reverse engineeering and the rise of Chinese innovation and patents, by Gary Pisano (Harvard Prof) and Deborah L. Wince-Smith (President, Council on Competitiveness).
The necessity of being close to the production process to innovate and to improve is also a common theme to many contributors, who see it as essential to the long-term health of the company and the retention of quality thinking personnel who can bridge the divide between just running the company and actually making things. This sounds to me like the sort of endless improvement cycle embodied in the kind of original Toyota doctrines Bill approves of. There are then further insights into the distribution of power within companies, ie rifts between CEOs and COOs, and problems exacerbated by short-termism and accountability to shareholders and performance targets, and many more themes of interest.
For those of us from an educational background like myself, the articles, together with a healthy dose of exposure to the views in Evolving Excellence, represent an invaluable introduction to what’s gone wrong with manufacturing industry in the past. Because the debate however also concerns society, I hope those of us who haven’t got decades of experience in industry can be given a temporary permit to join in, because we’ve seen at first hand how the education process (certainly in the UK) has sidelined engineering in schools in favour of the glorified 50’s secretarial courses that IT in schools largely amounts to, and we’ve had to deal with the confused young people whose route to productive employment in real jobs has been replaced by an amoral and vacuous post-industrial digital agenda. Which evidently can lead to exactly the behaviour transgressions pointed out above.
Yes, some of the Harvard contributors are circling the wagons – in defence of manufacturing industry, and conventional views, as represented by Yoffie, seem to be under fire at last.
Hank Hardman says
Bill, you will never encounter an example of a well-run company run by ivy league PhDs during one of your *buy now* one day assessments *buy now* because 1) they will never hire you because you are strident in your judgement of them, 2) you are accustomed to seeing what fits within your theory and will find a way to write those cases off as “exeptions that prove the rule” and 3) the same reason people who grew up in manufacturing don’t end up as hedge fund managers – the best fit for their education is not for pHDs to run these operations. All you are doing is raising the volume of the Fox News-John Stewart American shouting match, not adding any quality or substance.