All entries for Monday 11 October 2010

October 11, 2010

And so it (really) begins…

Quite an interesting day today. I'm not surprised by that, if that's what you were thinking, just commenting. I imagine there'll be many more like it to come with this course. Paul is better than most previous 'lecturers' or even teachers that I've ever had, at keeping my attention (especially considering I was somewhat sleep-deprived!). I suppose that's partly because the classes aren't exactly conventional. We're free to speak up and make a point at any time, or ask a question, and if no-one does, we're usually prompted to at regular intervals anyway. I much prefer this more interactive method of learning to being talked 'at' as I have been for most of the rest of my time in university.

Of course, this is one of the reasons I chose MBE - I was hoping for something genuinely quite different. To digress from talking about the module for a moment, I want to say that I think the way my generation takes in their information has changed from what might have been the case with our parents, or even 5-10 years ago. We've grown up with a rich, interactive tool - the internet - which allows us to find information almost instantly, on almost any topic. This has allowed us to indulge in idle curiousity, but also reduced the need for a long attention span in some respects. For me, and certainly many of my peers, but not all, it is pretty hard to successfully take in information in a lecture situation. The problem might not lie with us - there's a great Confucius quote that springs to mind: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." That pretty much sums it up for me anyway, and the interactivity of MBE really appeals to me for that reason. The 'doing' - in this case, always having the opportunity to engage in active discussion helps me to remember and understand.

Then again, some of the viewpoints that came across during the post-video discussion grated with me a little. To catch you up, we began looking at Creating Business Excellence today. We watched a great and inspirational video about W. Edwards Deming, a man whose work I've come across before, but never really looked at in depth. It seems he was the father of modern-day quality management theory. Clearly, he's been an inspiration to Paul, who's been showing that video for 20-odd years (along, perhaps, with adopting his haircut :P). It invoked a lively debate about the merits of trying to get the best out of workers by empowering them, versus treating them as drones doing extremely specialised tasks. Perhaps you can tell which side of the argument I fall on? I've always been somewhat socialist in my tendencies, and I'm sure I might get accused of it here (if anyone is actually bothering to trudge through all this drivel...;-)), but it seems to me, that following the Google model of engaging as many brains as possible is bound to lead to greater overall success than leaving all the decisions up to a few elite managers who dictate how everything else should run, when they are not experiencing the difficulties of workers, and are therefore clueless as to how to truly improve processes, but merely spend their time running 'quality' tests as per Deming's red-bead experiment.

To the gentleman from India who considered workers to be disposable, or "a dime a dozen", I couldn't disagree with you more. In my opinion, you're gonna get a lot more out of happy people who enjoy working for you, who like the challenges they face every day, and are well-renumerated, than you ever will from those who are nervous about being fired for having an opinion or getting out of line, etc, just because everyone knows someone else could do it for cheaper or in worse conditions. The whole point we are discussing is EXCELLENCE. You're never going to achieve it, if your favourite practice exists in a race to the bottom, where low labour costs are your goal. Karthik raised the point that it IS about low costs - people want cheap t-shirts, and giving workers the time to think lowers their productivity. That's true, but they know their process better than anyone. If you gave them the time to think, and empowered them to the point that they'd express that opinion to you, don't you think a few of them might occasionally come up with something that could save you a whole lot of money anyway, and give you a happier, better workforce in the process. Everybody wins. Kind of.

Someone else asked if Paul thought this utopian organisation existed, where everything was just as he described it should be. To that person, I think you were missing the point. Perfection, or the ideal, is of course, unattainable. The process to find it, and get close to it, is why you're doing this degree, and a worthwhile goal itself.

Finally, just a quick word about my group for the tasks ahead. We met briefly earlier, and laid out a plan of attack for the next few days. I think we'll work well together - everyone is nice and friendly, and pretty onboard with the idea of working co-operatively. At this point, I couldn't ask for much more :-)

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