I recently returned from a 4 week visit to Asia. I had the opportunity to see many old friends and to make some new friends as well. I visited three countries, one of which was new to me.
Although I felt like I accomplished a lot during this trip, I was happy to get home to family and familiar surroundings again. I realized that the words “family” and “familiar” have a common root and surprisingly similar meanings. That made me start thinking about how we interact with our surroundings on an everyday basis.
If you have read An Engineer’s Guide to Solving Problems, you know that I am a fanatic about tools. The best engineers are masters of their tools. They do their work with the tool becoming a direct extension of their mind. You can see it in the way they “drive” the tool to get reliable and repeatable results very quickly.
The term “tools” means more than oscilloscopes, voltmeters, spectrum analyzers, and screwdrivers. Sometimes it can mean something as simple as a time-keeping software package (or three different time-keeping packages when your organization is badly managed). Or maybe one of your key tools is the mechanism you use to share information with others within or outside your organization.
Likewise, one can witness frustration and inefficiency when a company (or a customer) is constantly changing the tools, or the rules for interaction or communication. Too much effort is expended in simply learning or overcoming the limitations of the new tool or system. Given enough time and motivation, you will eventually conquer a bad tool or system. You will learn shortcuts and workarounds to allow you to keep your sanity.
But what happens when the environment is constantly being changed due to poor management or even worse: management-by-fad. Many of you have experienced this unfortunate situation, where management is constantly looking for the next golden bullet that will slay all of their foes with a single shot.
Instead of seeking constant, steady, and small improvement, management keeps hoping to find a quick-fix or magic solution. So they keep changing the environment. This might include small tools or large systems, but bad managers like this, never really give anything a chance to work before imposing the next “grand plan” onto the helpless employees, vendors, or customers.
A level of fatigue sets in, not unlike jet-lag. Soon you are expending all of your energy battling the system, instead of solving real problems presented by the product requirements or implementation. Productivity and creativity go down the drain, washed away in a self-made storm of excess effort.
You would not do that to your (vendors/customers/employees) would you?
In any case, it is good to be home again. Home: where I know how to find the right tools and can apply them quickly. Please don’t discount familiarity and stability as significant assets in productivity.