His office had moved up and down the hall and across the building a few times over forty years. Mike was anxious the first time the company was sold but found that not much more than the name on the building had really changed. He didn’t pay much attention after that, other than to greet the new suits who rarely toured the place. He knew that when the safety lines in the factory were painted, there was likely to be a tour.
A few change programs were started, of course, especially when there were new owners. Work had also gone to Mexico and China. But there were new jobs and parts, and new machines had been installed. There were mostly good times and a few not so good. Employees came and went, but not Mike. He had been asked to take a bit of time off over the years, but he was good with that. He had land, a barn, lots of projects, and a wife and kids he loved.
There had been consultants half his age taking up the conference rooms, doing interviews, holding seminars, telling him how to do his job, and announcing cultural changes every few years. Mike knew that you didn’t change culture; you changed the strategy, and the culture followed whether the strategy was any good or not.
There was hardly a job in the factory he couldn’t do. There wasn’t a machine he hadn’t fixed and not a person who wouldn’t go to him for help. Mike was always willing and always had a smile. Everyone liked him. His heart was light. The company even had to change the pay structure just for Mike. His experience was important, and the company knew it. He had no desire to move up the management scale. He grew to love what he did, and how he did it. He loved his family dearly, not like so many others who professed their family came first, but didn’t act that way.
There was an old beat-up wooden conference room table in the big office he used. Two young engineers were parked on the end of the table across from one another. The rest of the table was covered with marked up parts. The careful observer knew there was order on the table. The walls had the biggest whiteboards that would fit, and fresh colored markers. I suppose if you pulled the baseboards off the wall, you would find dust from the old slate chalkboards he had used before whiteboards were invented. There was a bookcase behind his desk. Mike loved to read. His collection was an odd one, stories about people of science, a few I gave him, and some reference books. The most valuable thing on the bookshelf was a collection of over thirty years of Mike’s notebooks. They had just about every technical project Mike had worked on in those years.
Ed Drury taught Mike. Ed used notebooks, so Mike did as well. Ed ran the tool room with technical discipline and a soft heart. He was a brilliant tool and die maker with a long white beard and hair, who came to work at 2AM in his old Jaguar XKE and left before noon. Ed worked for me in the 1980s. He was paid more than I was. He was worth more. Ed was old then. Ed never drank, but smoked dope once in a while, well before the days of testing. No matter, there would have been a work-around for Ed. I didn’t care what Ed did.
I often came to work at about 4AM just so I could learn from Ed. I was young and Ed impressed me. He put up with me and gave me jobs in the tool room. I wanted to learn, to work with my hands, and that impressed Ed. After a few hours in the toolroom, I had to go do my regular job.
Mike had Ed’s old notebooks in a pile next to his. Mike’s notebooks, like Ed’s, had extensive notes and sketches, symptoms, observations, and a description of what had happened and how problems were thought through and fixed. Mike let his young engineers read them, but no one else. No one was allowed to remove the notebooks from Mike’s office. When Mike left for the last time, all the notebooks went with him. They were his.
Mike was a curious man, especially for someone who rarely traveled far from home. The first and last time he had been out of the country, he was 18 years old, Uncle Sam paid for his ticket and he wore a uniform.
When Mike started as a technician at 22, he was a veteran. He was proud of his service, didn’t talk about it, but shared a bond with others who served. What was important, although he didn’t know it at the time, was that he had learned to work with people who were not like him, people of different cultures, and different races. While doing his duty for his country, his life depended on men who didn’t look like him.
Mike grew up in the western part of the United States, a state with an Indian name. If you climbed a water tower, you could see forever. He had a car at 16, paid for it himself, learned to keep it running, and drove too fast. His father, grandfather, and their fathers before them were farmers. Mike learned the patient way of the earth, and how it took a family to work it. Mike had his own grandchildren now, and most lived not far away. He left work once in a while to watch them, to share their lives, not for them, but for himself.
The two engineers who shared his office were lucky, knew it, and proud to work for Mike. They were not long out of school. Roberto was a young Latino man. His mother was from Panama and would do anything to save her son. Imani was a beautiful short black woman with braids whose parents were from the Caribbean. Her mother was a teacher and her father a doctor. Imani had a look about her and a smile that reminded me of a Caribbean paradise.
Mike loved to teach Roberto and Imani. They were eager, and almost always by his side. When Mike was a young man, the company was all white men; no more, and never again. Mike liked it now. He liked differences and knew that little creativity came from sameness. Mike learned from the two kids, as he thought of them, that he loved to work with and to protect. Mike didn’t just love to work with them. Truth be told, Mike loved them.
Even with all the changes the company had gone through with management, engineering, products, and equipment, there was hardly a time when there was a problem in the factory Mike couldn’t figure out. Whenever that did happen, Mike never guessed. He never made a list of variables. He never brainstormed and never fell into the trap of the foolishness of fishbone diagrams. He simply said, when asked what was wrong, “I don’t know.” I was pleased he would ask me for help. We worked on several projects over the years, and solved them together, learning from one another. I think Mike taught me more than I ever learned from him. We both had fun.
What does all this have to do with The Analytic Logic Map?
Most manufacturing problems are solved by people like Mike, people who have years of experience. I submit that more than 90% of all manufacturing problems are solved with Symptomatic, case-based reasoning, with a sound causal explanation of what happened, followed by a solution. When a person like Mike cannot figure out what is wrong Symptomatically based on experience, he needs to turn to the Topographic, model-based approach. And we can help.
In Topographic problem solving, the objective is to learn one thing every day about the physics of function and failed function by forcing a product or process to reveal its physical nature in an effective search for a causal explanation. The search is always based on a process of elimination starting at the effect and working backwards. Any search not based on a process of elimination is a fool’s game, as it diverges into confusion. Effective problem solving, whether Symptomatic or Topographic, must be based on principles of convergence.
When we developed the Analytic Logic Map, we thought the world of professional problem solving was heading in the wrong direction. Good people like Mike, who had built sound problem-solving skills over many years should have been the foundation for the structure of good problem-solving. What happened, I am afraid, is that cumbersome structure based on teaching tools, under the guise that it is more important to know how to build a Pareto diagram, swap parts, and calculate a standard deviation than it is to know how stuff really works. We need more folks like Mike and fewer who want to teach seminars and hand out belts and certificates.
We recognize that people like the ones in this story represent the best and most important part of making things and making things work well. Without such people, and without such a collection of knowledge, your foundation and structure cannot support effective problem solving regardless of tools, belts, and certifications. It is, however, important to capture Symptomatic knowledge, like that in Mike’s notebooks. What will happen when your senior people retire? What happened when Mike took his notebooks home? The structure to capture such knowledge does not have to be complicated. The ability to identify key learning points and turn them into electronic learning is available today. We don’t do it, but we know who can.
Symptomatic reasoning is the way most of your problems are solved. It is based on experience, curiosity as to how stuff is supposed to work, gaining insight, and understanding every day. Technical problem solving is a science. All science starts with a question. Symptomatic problem-solving starts by asking, “What’s wrong?”
Topographic begins by asking, “What’s happening?” but will not work without Symptomatic knowledge on the part of those doing the work. Building an organization that can solve tough problems and avoid problems, demands strategy and structure. The strategy has to start by recognizing the value of people like Mike, and training people like Roberto and Imani.
We have seen consultants shoehorn structure into client companies, structure that benefited the consultants more than the client, elbowing the foundations built by people like Mike and Ed.
Have you adopted structure that might not have been in your strategic interest? Ask yourself if your structure has somehow been named by an outside organization if certifications have become universal, and outside the control of your organization. Ask if positions held by your problem solvers carry names and levels determined by consulting companies and organizations which have become the keeper of the structure.
Was there a change needed? Did you need to improve? Of course, but the roots of your problem-solving organization established by people like Mike didn’t need to be ripped out with the ownership sold off to folks with a so-called strategy based on guessing, belts, and certifications.
The New Science of Fixing Things has built the most effective problem-solving system available, combining Symptomatic you have developed and Topographic problem solving based on Functional Determinism, when you need to develop new insight and understanding of how stuff really works.
We are more effective than any other. We are fast and simple. Our workshops are built on selecting problems and finding a causal explanation. We don’t build your structure. We just teach your folks to solve problems effectively and fast.