Saturday, May 30, 2009

An Example of Elegance

I just finished Matt May's new book In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing, which I had been waiting for.

Matt explores the elements of Elegance in innovations of different types - technological elegance, fast food elegance, architectural elegance, elegance in top athlete training, elegance in art, etc. This variety of fields covered makes it truly an interesting book and for a business book it talks very little about business.

He defines the key elements of Elegance being Symmetry, Seduction, Subtraction and Sustainability.

Symmetry helps us solve problems of structure, order and balance. We notice a lack of symmetry, which is why we can exploit it to our advantage. Elegant solutions can have part of the symmetry missing, and our brain fills it in to make it elegant.

Seduction captivates any attention and activates any imagination. By giving only partial information and leaving something to the imagination, open to temptation, and we are compelled to find answers.

Subtraction helps us solve the problem of economy. Doing less, working smarter. Stopping and thinking of what can be removed to solve a problem - in stead of adding more features and acting upon them.

Sustainability is about achieving and keeping the maximum effect with minimum effort. Sustainability can be achieved With just enough symmetry, seduction and subtraction. If you subtract (remove) too much, the solution will not be sustainable.

While I was finishing the book this morning I saw an ad that seduced me. It was an add by fashion house Gucci, but subtracted to contain a plain T-shirt and a canvas shopping bag. Gucci, along with other top brands, was promoting a movie by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, a master of elegance in photography capturing the symmetry and sustainability of our planet.

The movie will have a unique multi-platform release on June 5th - World Environment Day - in cinemas, on TV, on DVD and on the internet in 14 different languages and in public places like the Eiffel Tower, Paris and Central Park, New York.

I have seen his pictures in two exhibitions and in his books. I bet this movie will have all the Elements of Elegance - Symmetry of landscapes, Seduction to know more about where they are and what the surroundings are like, Subtraction of anything unnecessary to the visual beauty, and Sustainability of our planet, on World Environment Day, and for the years to come.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Power of Being Organized

I visited two Japanese factories this week and I was impressed on how extremely organized their production lines where. This got me thinking about the Japanese manufacturing line, the Montessori classroom and Google - and the power of being organized.

One of the principles of Lean manufacturing is 5S, a philosophy and a way of organizing and managing the workspace, especially a shared workplace (like a shop floor or an office space), and work flow with the intent to improve efficiency by eliminating waste, improving flow and reducing process unevenness.

5S is comes from a list of five Japanese words which, transliterated and translated into English, start with the letter S:

Phase 1 - Seiri (整理) Sorting: Going through all the tools, materials, etc., in the plant and work area and keeping only essential items. Everything else is stored or discarded.

Phase 2 - Seiton (整頓) Straighten or Set in Order: Focuses on efficiency. Arranging the tools, equipment and parts in a manner that promotes work flow. For example, tools and equipment should be kept where they will be used (i.e. straighten the flow path), and the process should be set in an order that maximizes efficiency. For every thing there should be place and every thing should be in its place. (Demarcation and labeling of place.)

Phase 3 - Seisō (清掃) Sweeping or Shining or Cleanliness: Systematic Cleaning or the need to keep the workplace clean as well as neat. At the end of each shift, the work area is cleaned up and everything is restored to its place. The key point is that maintaining cleanliness should be part of the daily work - not an occasional activity initiated when things get too messy.

Phase 4 - Seiketsu (清潔) Standardizing: Standardized work practices or operating in a consistent and standardized fashion. Everyone knows exactly what his or her responsibilities are to keep above 3S's.

Phase 5 - Shitsuke (躾) Sustaining the discipline: Refers to maintaining and reviewing standards. Once the previous 4S's have been established, they become the new way to operate. Maintain the focus on this new way of operating, and do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways of operating.

Seeing this in implemented in Japanese production line, reminded me of some of the principles at the Montessori classroom. It is amazing how many similarities there are between them.

All materials in a Montessori classroom are kept in order.
1) There are only essential items.
2) For every thing there is place and every thing is kept in its place which is normally labeled.
3) At the end of each task, the learning area is cleaned up and everything is restored to its place.
4) The materials are standardized and have a way for the child to check their own work.
5) This clean, tidy, calm and child friendly environment is maintained in every classroom around the world.

But what does this have to do with Google? I can think of two things

1) Being organized:
Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

2) The Montessori classroom:
Both of Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin attended Montessori school in their childhood. My guess is the have learned something about the power of being organized then.

And I think I need to take a closer look at my office desk and our office space tomorrow...

Photo by Trenton Schulz

Sunday, May 17, 2009

In Pursuit of Elegance

I can't wait to get my hands on Matt May's new book In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing which will be published next week.

His recent ChangeThis manifesto provides a sneak preview of th content:

Matt's previos book The Elegant Solution: Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation is one of the most referred to books in my blog. It captures what I have been doing for the past 15 years in my career - applying to knowledge work what I learned from studying industrial management, production control, quality management and organizational development.

I have referred to his book in my previous posts:

Mind of an Innovator:
Innovation, problemsolving and learning employ the same iterative process—blending supposition, logic, creativity and reflection.

Ideas Come from Everywhere
The Toyota organization implements a million ideas a year.

That’s a fact, he says. It is their greatest source of competitive advantage. It’s their engine of innovation. But more than that, Toyota has created a culture where every idea counts. It’s an environment of everyday innovation as a result of fanatical focus on getting little better, daily.

Long Term Goals
Toyota implements 1 million ideas each year. He continues, Do the math: 3000 ideas a day. That number, more than anything else, explains why Toyota appears to be in a league all their own, playing offense on a field of innovation, while their competitors remain caught in a crossfire of cost-cutting.

My Management System
an excellent book about Toyota’s innovation system which is built on learning: “Learning and innovation go hand in hand, but learning comes first.”

In Search of Simplicity
The first step is to start a war on complexity, which can be identified by inconsistency, overload, and waste – all of which unnecessarily consume the resources of time, effort, space, and money without adding value.

His ideas are universally valid and can be easily transferred to knowledge work in the office.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

How to Have Much Less Stress

During the past months I have been under quite some stress caused by unexpected difficulties in many areas of life. One by one these difficulties are being solved and my energy level is back to normal. When you are feeling stressed, one thing to do is to

Turn to your friends, family and mentors for advice!

While I was planning to write about stress, John Spence whose blog I follow, did me a favor and posted the outline of his stress workshop:

John Spence Workshop number one: Dealing with Stress and Anxiety

Step one: make a list of the top 10 things that give you stress, anger, anxiety and frustration in your life right now.

Step two: give each of the items you wrote a rating from 1 to 10. A score of one indicates that this is a stressor for you, but it does not really affect you too much - it is basically an annoyance, a nuisance. At the other end of the scale is a rating of 10, which means that this item is highly stressful to you and it causes a tremendous amount of frustration and pain in your life. Score each one now.

Step three: next to each of the stressors you have indicated, write either a “C” for the items you have control over — that you can directly impact, change or very strongly influence. Or write “NC” which indicates that although this might be a stressor for you, in reality there is nothing you can do to truly impact it. These are things like the economy, the government, taxes, other people… things that you might have a little bit of influence on but there is no way that you alone can dramatically change this issue. Be very honest with yourself when assessing each of your issues from step one.

The goal then is to have the courage and discipline to take massive control of the items you wrote a “C” next to and get those scores as close to one or zero as possible…AND… learn to completely let go, as much as a humanly possible, of anything on your list that you wrote “NC” next to.

It is the one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned: that the majority of pain, anger frustration and anxiety in most people’s lives… is caused by things that are completely out of their control. Even though there is literally nothing they can do to make any kind of significant impact on them, day in and day out they worry, stress and get angry over things that they should just try to put out of their mind and forget about. Learning to take control of what you can control, and letting completely go of what you will never control is one of the most important life skills anyone can develop.

Step four: Write out five specific and realistic ACTION STEPS that you can take right away to begin to take proactive control of the items you wrote a “C” next to. Hoping they get better, waiting for someone else to fix them, wishing they will go away on their own… not a good strategy. Getting busy on taking strong, positive control of them… a very good strategy indeed!

See also John Spence Workshop number two: The Happiness List for increasing the positive side of life while this stress workshop was aimed to decrease the negative side of life.

Now it is time to relax for the weekend!