My oldest son Robert (or as I call him, Rob) put me onto a new book by Malcolm Gladwell entitled, What the Dog Saw. Strange title isn’t it…..at least until you read the book that is. Malcolm Gladwell has a writing style unlike any other author I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. In the preface to his newest book, he talks about how he really never wanted to be a writer…he wanted to be a lawyer and then in his last year in college he decided he wanted to be in advertising. He applied to 18 different advertising agencies in the city of Toronto and for a while he had all 18 rejection letters taped neatly in a row on the wall of his office. Gladwell thought about graduate school, but his grades weren’t good enough. He then applied for a fellowship to go somewhere exotic for a year, but he was rejected. He tells us that writing was the thing he ended up doing by default simply because it took him forever to realize that writing could be a job. He thought that jobs were things that were serious and daunting…writing was fun.
Gladwell explains that along the way, writing has never ceased to be fun and he hopes that buoyant spirit is evident in the pieces he writes. Nothing infuriates Gladwell more than someone who reads something of his or anyone else’s and says, angrily, “I don’t buy it.” He asks, “Why are they angry?” He explains that good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head – even if in the end you conclude that someone else’s head is not a place you’d really like to be.
Like Malcolm Gladwell, this blog is not intended persuade you, it’s intended to at least make you pause and think about what I’ve written and make you want to read more. Bruce and my sole goal in writing these blog postings and our new book Epiphanized that was released this week, was not intended to persuade you, but rather to share some of our successes (and failures) that we’ve had along the way. It is our hope that business leaders will at least think about and try some of the things we’ve have written about. If we make you think….and then try….then we’ve succeeded.
The real message in this new Gladwell book and the genesis of its title, What the Dog Saw, is in an article he includes in this book about Cesar Millan, the so-called dog whisperer. For those of you not familiar with this character, Milan can calm the angriest and most troubled of dogs with the touch of his hand. Gladwell originally asked the question, “What goes on inside Millan’s head as he does that?” which is what inspired Gladwell to write the piece. But it seems that after Gladwell got halfway through his story, he realized there was an even better question: When Millan performs his calming magic, what goes on inside the dog’s head? Or as Gladwell says, that’s what we really want to know – what the dog saw.
After I read those lines I began thinking about how that same question applies to the things that many of us attempt to do, continually improve processes and systems. It’s not necessarily important what we see, it’s what our clients and bosses see that’s really what we want to know. When we go into companies or if we’re asked to fix things in our own companies, we usually investigate and find obvious things that must have been there for a while and we wonder to ourselves, why haven’t they already been fixed? We all delve into the issues and we can usually always find the source(s) of the problems and then we fix them. But the question I ask myself is, “What did I see compared to what the process owners saw?” Or better yet, “Why do we see things differently than the process owners”? Shouldn’t we all be seeing the same things?
I’ve given this a considerable amount of thought and I’ve come to a conclusion. I’ve written quite a bit about the need to focus your improvement efforts on the system constraint. I’ve talked quite a bit about the need to do things that result in systems improvement rather than things that result in localized improvement. My conclusion is, this message must be counterintuitive and to some people, it’s illogical. Most people are simply taught the opposite of what I and many of you preach. Most people are taught that things like high operator efficiency is a good thing and that if they could just increase it everywhere, then the entire process is better off. In my last four postings, the subject was performance metrics and what Bruce and I tried to make you think about was the fallacy or erroneous belief that this metric, efficiency, motivates the right behaviors when in fact, it motivates the polar opposite behaviors that inhibit optimal profitability.
Like I said earlier, we’re not trying to persuade you, just trying to make you think about what we’ve written and if somewhere along the way you become epiphanized, then we have succeeded.