Friday, December 19, 2008

Last comment on the subject - maybe

Seemingly at risk of degenerating what I view as an interesting and valid debate, I have decided to move here to comment further, rather than offend.

Paul Beckford has just posted his latest comment on the discussion and I strongly recommend reading it, there are some very profound points in this post. He referred to a great quote by Konosuke Matsushita the founder of Panasonic. My search for the origin of Konosuke's speech led me to a slightly different version, and I don't know which is correct, if either, but the words are very pertinent so I thought I would show them here -

"We will win and you will lose. You cannot do anything about it because your failure is an internal disease. You firmly believe that sound management means executives on one side and workers on the other. On one side, men who think; on the other side, men who only work. For you management is the art of smoothly transferring the executives' ideas to the workers' hands. We, in Japan, are past that stage. We are aware that business has become terribly complex. Survival is very uncertain in an environment filled with the unexpected and complications. Therefore, a company must have the commitment of the minds of all its employees to survive. For us, management is the intellectual commitment by the entire work force, without self-imposed functional or plastic barriers."

Reading around a little further, I found another great quote -

"The untrapped mind is open enough to see many possibilities, humble enough to learn from anyone or anything, forbearing enough to forgive all, perceptive enough to see all things as they really are and reasonable enough to judge their true value."

I am only recently beginning to realize and appreciate just how many great people have distilled knowledge and wisdom down to just a few very meaningful and powerful words and thoughts.

Building on some of Paul's comments, there must be many great examples of creative craftsmanship in other disciplines out there. Thinking of a chef, I love watching Gordon Ramsey in action in his 'Kitchen Nightmares' TV show. His knowledge of business and holistic thinking about his craft is what makes him so successful. A chef cannot be someone who entrusts others to locate the best farms, cut, prepare and season all his ingredients and place them in front of him so he can just cook them.

Changing the focus a little, could it be that even management itself is actually just a label for the collective responsibility? This is a literal interpretation from the speech above, but I think perhaps it is. I question its validity as a profession in its own right as much as that of software architect. In fact, anything you cannot easily define is questionable. If someone tells me they are a pilot, I know what they do. Ask a manager and you will get a very hazy definition and each manager will say something different. What is the job of a manager? Its wide open to interpretation but from my perspective, it is to support your team and remove the problems that stand in their way. Stopping to ask yourself why the problems got there in the first place is more valuable and root cause is often some other organizational anti-pattern much of which could be avoided by having committed minds act as a collective force. In a small startup there is little room for these additional roles, its all hands on deck to produce business value so you can start to turn a profit as soon as possible.

Some time back, I read an excellent book called "The Goal" by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. The one lesson to take from this book above all else, is that you are in business to make money. Whenever I stop to think about all the extra 'busy' work people in an organization can create, I stop for a minute and think - does this contribute to the goal of the company? It is surprising how often the answer is no.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for digging up the original Konosuke quote. Your version is just an extended snippet from the same speech, and all the more powerful for it.

I originally stumbled across his words when looking into the background of Lean thinking and the ideas of Deming. You are right these are profound words of wisdom.

Interesting that you should speak of the goal of work. For the Japanese the goal of work is collective well-being. It goes back to the medieval clan system in Japan, where loyalty to the clan was everything, and the well-being of the clan was seen as more important then the interests of the individual. So the mission statement for Toyota California is something like "To increase the prosperity of California by providing stable and rewarding long term employment and in so doing contribute to the economic success of the entire US".

Perhaps you can track it down, but the focus is community and society, not the individual. In the west a company is a vehicle to meet the needs of individual investors. So capital is king and there is no shame in laying off a whole community of workers just to ensure that a small number of share holders maximise the return on their capital.

The Japanese see this as short-term and dishonourable. Investors in Japan know that they play second fiddle to the community (the employees). They don't mind because they know that the employees need to be fully engaged if they are to win. In the long term both share holders and employees do win. They win BIG.

This goes way beyond Software and I have never found the time to follow it up myself.