Living inside a Box of their own making


If you are reading this you might be very wise. If this is all you read, then not so much. But if it is one of a few different manufacturing or business oriented sites you it then kudos to you!

No, I am not that self-absorbed. My point is that I often provide a point of view that is contrary to – or at least different from – that you might find on most other lean manufacturing focused sites. Few folks do that. Rather, they spend their time dwelling on information that reinforces what they already know, and confirms that which they already believe.

Case in point:

Warren Buffet “reads the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the New York Times, USA Today, the Omaha World-Herald, and the American Banker in the mornings.”

Virgin America CEO David Cush “reads his daily papers, which include the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, and Financial Times.”

Girouard, CEO of Upstart and former president of Google Enterprise: “For news, he scrolls through the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.”

GE’s Jeffery Immelt says, “I typically read the Wall Street Journal, from the center section out. Then I’ll go to the Financial Times and scan the FTIndex and the second section. I’ll read the New York Times business page and throw the rest away. I look at USA Today, the sports section first, business page second, and life third. I’ll turn to Page Six of the New York Post and then a little bit on business.”

Starbuck’s Howard Schultz “picks up three newspapers: the Seattle Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.

You get the picture.

What is disappointing – but not really very surprising – is not that they read the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Financial Times, but that those publications are all they read on a regular basis. Where do they learn anything new? Where do they read something that challenges their thinking?

There is nothing wrong with those publications (there is, but my point is not to bash them for publishing nothing but variations on the same old themes every frickin’ day for the 30 some years I have been following them). Actually I read them too – or at least skim them and usually find nothing of any particular value. I mean, give this a quick read and you can see that the New York Times found it marginally newsworthy and deserving of an obscure article when this guy discovered that constraints matter and engaging employees is a good idea. But these are merely a couple of the 31 different news sources I hit every day, along with 12 blogs and a Google news search of manufacturing. Most of those sites don’t get more than a minute of my time on any given day because that is usually how long it takes to skim the stories and determine there is nothing new or challenging.

Just as disappointing – but also not surprising – is that they read about money and CEO-ing instead of things about their products. Why isn’t Howard Schultz leaping out of bed to read about coffee? Shouldn’t Immelt be spending his time reading about refrigerators and jet engines?

The sorts of things going on in small and medium sized manufacturing businesses – the problems their execs deal with, the initiatives they pursue, the cultures they are molding – are not at all like the things you read about in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. They are managed, for the most part, in a completely different (and almost always much better) manner. The folks leading them spend more time day to day focusing on their products and customers than they do about how much their business is worth to owners and potential buyers. They pursue different strategies and almost all get better results than the big publicly traded guys … but the CEO’s of the publicly traded companies would never know that from reading the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times.

Continuous improvement starts with our own brains. How we can anyone continuously improve if they aren’t continuously learning? How can a leader expect anyone in the business to ‘think outside the box’ if they live their entire business life inside a box of their own making where business is limited to mergers and acquisitions, stock buy backs, headcount minimization and keeping up with which country currently has the cheapest labor?

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