July 2006

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July 20, 2006 R #

"Have I been wasting my time, again and again, hundreds of thousands of times?"

Quote of the day from our tour of the Intel plant today. Just one of the possible scary realizations that accompanies changing a process an assembly line worker has been performing for years on end. Chopping 15 seconds from a process implies those 15 seconds have been wasted... hundreds of thousands of times. That adds up.

Several of us took a trip to hike Mt. Washington and camp a few weekends ago. It was my first time in the Appalachians, and it was better than I expected. I could honestly visualize some worthwhile ski terrain when the snow falls. The weather was perfect down low, but up top it was gusting a good 60-70 mph. (a scant elevation ~7,000 ft.)

We've been getting incrementally more stacked with our workload. We had three exams this week and the last, in addition to our regular homework and case preparations. The sleep deprivation is catching up with everyone. But we still find time to enjoy life here in Boston.

They had a ski lodge type thing at the summit, so we crashed for an hour or so while it rained outside. But we still got rained on hiking down, took a different trail, and had to shuttle back to our cars.

Sometime along the last couple weeks we had several LFM alum working for Honeywell come visit us, along with a corporate VP. We did dinner later, and at my end of the table we spent most of the evening talking with a 2000 LFM who is now the VP of Manufacturing and Supply Chain for Honeywell's Aerospace division. that's a $10B division. Fun and interesting conversation.

I asked about the culture of mediocrity that has become prevalent in Aerospace and what he's seeing in Honeywell regarding that. He was definitely familiar with what I was talking about, but what he's doing about it is great. He convinced Honeywell to allow him to start this manufacturing and supply chain focus a year ago, and has built a team of over 150 so far in their plants all over the world.. and he as been hiring people from outside aerospace as much as possible.

Initially he got a lot of resistance to his hiring decisions. "They have no background in the industry or the products. How can they possibly do a better job?" He hired people based on raw talent and capacity to work hard. A year later, he has the same people who were criticizing his decisions now asking for more people who can do such an effective job.

(Orange Thursday: Probability exam with Dr. Barnett)

He developed enough credibility and power in his own position that he could challenge the old aerospace assumption that aerospace is too complicated and difficult for people from other industries to compete. Now he's proven the effectiveness of raw talent, no matter the industry background, and is creating exactly the type of cultural changes that I believe are required to perpetuate the American Aerospace prominence.

I'm sure he's not the first person to have tried to make these changes. But now that the industry is primed to get an overhaul whether they like it or not, the right leadership has the opportunity to really implement the changes that can give the industry a rebirth to once again become efficient in generating cutting edge technology. I'm glad to see it happening.

It's not often that I am the weak link of technical competence in a group. In my team here, I'm pretty sure I'm the weakest link. At BYU I was the weak link among my friends who I did my homework and studying with. I was good enough to keep up, but certainly wasn't leading the group. It's the same scenario here, in about the same proportion. I don't like slowing others down. So goes it. I guess we all have deficiencies we have to deal with. I still don't like it though.

Another LFM team. We were split into eight teams of six for the summer.

The 4th of July has been my favorite holiday for the longest time. Boston puts on the best 4th of July fireworks show I've ever seen in my life. Hoards of people show up for a big party along the Charles, and a barge stacked full of fireworks lights up the sky for half an hour. I think I'll be flying into Boston every 4th from now on.

As predicted, Ilyssa got mad at me for posting that picture last month. She told me to replace it, but I can't replace pictures from previous posts (it would be morally depraved). Consider this the replacement.

July 24, 2006 M #

I took this weekend to head back to Colorado and see my brothers. It's the first time all five of us have been together since Lake Powell about two years ago.

It was a good weekend. All too short.

We each happened to have some reason for this being a good weekend to be home. Brandon just returned from Mexico. Greg and Erica got back from a month in China and Tibet. Justin came in because the rest of us were here. And my 10 year high school reunion was this weekend.

Go Chargers!!!

I wasn't sure what kind of turnout to expect, but I estimate a hundred or so from our class of around four hundred showed up. I was surprised at how quickly we recognized everyone, and how rapidly names came to mind. About half are living in Colorado. It seems like 80% or more are married with a kid or two. In general, everyone seems to be doing well. It was fun to connect again. And one girl I've known since 5th grade is living just two T-stops away from me in Cambridge, and will be working at MIT in the Fall.

July 26, 2006 W #

I watched Hotel Rwanda with my team tonight. We'll be discussing it during our Leadership class on Friday. I hate academically discussing things like this; evaluating "leadership characteristics" in the midst of all the bullshit that goes on while people are hanging by the skin of their teeth just to keep themselves and the people around them from getting slaughtered. During that 100 day interval in 1994, Eight Hundred Thousand people died. One of our readings breaks that down to 8000 lives a day, more than five lives a minute.

The movie focuses around the Hotel manager, the people he was able to save, and ends with the anomaly of him and his wife surviving with their kids, adopting his wife's brother's kids, and escaping that hell hole to live their lives in Belgium. It's appropriate to finish with something of a "hopeful" ending (although the music and smiling children at the end almost make it feel like a "happy" ending). It's appropriate to conclude with a hopeful ending, but in a way, all it does is make it easier for people to do just as the American reporter stated in the beginning (after shooting the footage of the genocide happening in the city and across the countryside).

"People just look at it on TV and say 'That's Horrible!!!', and then go back to eating their dinner."

But what can you do? Is it the responsibility of America or France to step in and stop the genocide? How do you sort out the ethical paradoxes when the outcomes are unknown? Do you think anybody knew Rwanda was going to erupt in genocide like it did? We could just ignore it in futility.

I don't think the situiation is futile, but like any disease, you can't just treat the symptoms. You must understand the forces causing the conditions, and the interactions between the conditions and the forces. Only there can you develop and implement a feasible solution.

I've written it before, and having thought about it again, I remain convinced that the only way for such destructive interaction to depart from this earth is through commerce. The most effective way for people to overcome prejudices and biases is to trade goods and services on a voluntarily beneficial basis. This is the only way to stop the genocide before it starts. Academically educating people won't do it. Having people hold hands and sing songs won't do it.

Equal and voluntary interaction must somehow permeate people's daily lives, and the most engaging thing we do on a daily basis is earn a living. No matter what your race, country, or culture is, everybody must earn a living. The most effective way to build understanding and connection among people is through the ways in with they earn a living.

I'm sure our discussion on Friday will include some element of the Manager's "leadership" ability and tactics in saving 1,200 people. In my judgment, his character was influential in the outcome, but when 800,000 people are slaughtered, credit must predominantly be given to luck. His characteristics helped to influence the circumstances, but all the leadership in the world wouldn't have made a difference if the roll of the dice hadn't landed in his favor time and time again.

The leadership characteristic of the Manager that I want to praise is his ability to run a profitable hotel in an environment of general corruption and prejudice. Within his hotel, before the genocide, he employed and entertained people who were growing beyond the cultural hate. His effective management enhanced his employees opportunity to earn a desirable life for themselves. His effective management leveraged their efforts to earn a life for themselves that was worth living. The people who worked in his hotel had something to loose if genocide ran rampant, even if their particular race won the war. Under mundane conditions, the Manager increased the people's ability to envision and earn a better life for themselves. That is where his leadership was most effective, and those leadership traits are the most valuable in a country like his (not only his country, but in every country, even here in America).

The hotel Manager was living and enabling his employees to live "The American Dream." The American Dream doesn’t have to be labeled “American.” The music at the end of Hotel Rwanda demonstrates in the lyrics that it is the principle, not the label that is important. The American Dream is the catalyst in human interaction that enables a society to constructively develop. This is the catalyst that encourages human interaction to be mutually constructive. Human psychology and sociology carries forces by which it reacts to circumstances in predictable ways (or at least understandable) (on both an individual and collective level).

The substance of "The American Dream" is the opportunity to earn a desirable life for yourself.

In order to have peace throughout the world, The American Dream needs to shine in the opportunity horizon of every person in the world.

But since anything labeled "American" inspires reflexive reactions which can sidetrack from the intended meaning, I think it would be necessary to create a different label for the dream, or more analytically termed "the constructive catalyst," that carries the meaning, without carrying the biases already attached to the term "American."

I'll have to get creative sometime and invent a phrase. It's not coming right now.

Whatever slogan forms (and I'm open to suggestions), the meaning is definable, and that's important.The catalyst (one of them) for world peace:

Everybody needs the opportunity to earn a desirable life for themselves.

July 30, 2006 O #

The Public Gardnen across the street from the Boston Common (and 1 1/2 blocks from my loft!!!) is one of the best places on earth to read on a Sunday afternoon. I love living in Boston. Every day when I walk to school and walk home, I still feel like I'm traveling. This place is great.

Our discussion on Hotel Rwanda on Friday went very well. The class focused around ethics, leading to the purpose of business ethics, asking the question of how we define what is right and wrong in situations with so many unknowns and gray areas. People operate under psychological and organizational mechanisms that can lead them to do things they would never anticipate doing, and often with "good intentions." I won't even begin to track through the thoughts discussed, but it was very worthwhile.

We also had two VP's from GE come speak to us for our Lean / Six Sigma course. The reason our professor brought them is is because he wants us to be exposed to other views and thought processes on the matter. The best part of the session was the fact that these two didn't totally agree on where GE should go with these efforts. One of the guys was recently brought into GE after thirteen illustrious years with Toyota. They both stood on solid ground... it was good to see their interaction.

"I am here to challenge the way GE has been doing things."

Our instructor, Steve Spear, is somewhat a rock star of Lean / Six Sigma, is one of the more widely published leaders, and it certainly shines through in his drive for the principles.

Another thing also stood out to me on our plant tour of Raytheon on Friday. Every time an aerospace company gives a presentation, they throw up a slide with some sort of Organization Chart. I saw it all the time in Northrop Grumman, and frequently saw it with other aerospace corporations in Los Angeles. They're always showing who reports to who in the hierarchy!!! No other industry to speak to us at MIT has done that!!! I think it's indicative of the internal culture. We did a case on IBM in 1993 a few weeks ago, when the company was on the path to irrelevance (even Bill Gates had written them off), and their new CEO had to make some drastic changes to turn them around. He succeeded, and one of the primary efforts he made was to make the company less internally focused, and more customer focused. One of the self centric symptoms was the obsession with org charts. IBM was doing several things far worse than what I've seen in Aerospace, but the indicator could be worth noting.

And it's been another fun weekend on top of all that.

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