Toy Dogs and the trouble with short-term thinking

Last night was one of those unfortunate, frustrating nights in our house.  At 3:10AM, the dog decided he needed to go out into the yard, which caused him to prance loudly around our bedroom until we woke up to let him out.  Although he woke up both my wife & I, I was awake enough to get out of bed first (which rarely happens), so I let the dogs into the yard, brought them in, and went back to bed.

About 15 minutes later, before either of us could fully doze back to sleep, the 3-year-old started to cry in his bed.  It was just a bad dream, and he went back to sleep quickly, but when I came into his room I moved his toy dog over on his bed to make room for myself.  The button on the dog’s paw that causes it to sing and talk was now easily triggered every time my son rolled over onto it, which we discovered about 5 minutes after I went back to bed.

My wife, aggravated with the singing, got out of bed and went down the hall into my son’s room, and simply moved the dog over, expecting it to finish its song and then go silent.  Too tired to take a look inside the dog and switch off the battery back, she stumbled back to bed hoping the problem would go away.  Of course, by now, the 3-year-old was awake, and playing with the dog – hitting the buttons over and over to listen to the dog sing and talk.  Then, it became my turn to go and try to calm him down, which was impossible, and by 5:15 he was ready to run and jump, so we got up and went downstairs to watch some cartoons while I tried not to bang my head against a wall until I fell into unconsciousness.

Most of us have been in situations like this, or at least similar to it.  Tired, frustrated, stressed out – we seek a quick solution to an immediate problem, ignoring the potential long-term consequences.  For me, I simply moved the dog over rather than putting it someplace where it couldn’t be triggered accidentally.  My wife compounded the problem by just moving the dog and not taking a moment to find the off button.  As a result of taking care of an immediate problem, we ended up with a much longer-term one:  the toy dog kept on singing and the 3-year-old kept on playing, leaving us both tired, frustrated and grumpy as hell for the rest of the day – which will culminate with trying to get the kids to bed (and this time with the dog switched off, which he won’t understand, which means he won’t sleep well….).

Taking a few extra minutes to solve a problem for good seems like an onerous burden when you’re in the middle of the firefight.  That exact same behavior, however, is what leads to the next firefight in the first place.  Although we instantaneously reward ourselves (even with just a few more minutes sleep) for taking care of an immediate problem, we need to remember that solving the bigger problem usually means thinking about the longer term, and that alone will usually guide us to much more long-lasting solutions that allow us to avoid the next problem altogether.

The state of the blog (and the blogger). Or, how did I get here & what am I going to do now?!

ON THE PATH TO THE TRUTH

On the path to truth by Chryssalis on deviantart.com

March is the 2 year anniversary of this blog.  It has had a lot of ups and downs, gone through some periods where I did very few updates and considered killing the site altogether, but I am proud to say that I’m still here.  To be honest, I couldn’t image NOT writing this blog.  It’s one of the most gratifying things I’ve undertaken and continues to be a terrific learning experience as well.

I started the blog about 1 year after my introduction to Lean via a GBMP training class, almost 1/2 finished with an MBA program and, of course, looking to the future and using the blog as a way to grow my network.  Two years later, I’ve finished the MBA and have had opportunities to interact with people from many different professions, in a way that is down-to-Earth and honest.

Looking back, a lot of those initial posts aren’t great, but they also aren’t nearly as bad as I thought they were, either.  I can point to a few distinct phases in the writings I did over the past couple years that help me remember what things were on my mind and what interested me, personally, professionally, or intellectually.  True to the blog’s title, I gave myself permission to meander a bit from subject to subject, and write down my thoughts as I experienced things from day to day.

I’ve discussed Lean a lot on this blog.  Lean, you could say, offered me some much-needed evidence that I wasn’t completely out of my mind.  What my Lean training showed me was that the things I experienced at work that frustrated me so greatly had been noticed by a great many other people who were passionately working to change them.  I attended the 2010 Northeast Shingo Prize conference and heard a talk given by Lesa Nichols on the concepts of mura and muri and the “people side” of lean, which put into my mind that the workplace itself can be, and should be, much more focused on the cares and concerns of the people doing the work.  As a result, I have discussed mura and muri on the blog several times since.

I’ve also written a great deal about project management and the dynamics of project teams, which I’ve built up quite a few observations on over the past 12 years or so working in Program Planning & Control.  More recently, I’ve been blogging about workplace change, management improvement, Lean and ROWE, in particular.  It’s fairly well understood that the typical workplace is broken.  The expectations placed on people to live with this broken system are tremendous and unfair.  The vast majority of workers are frustrated and hollow – which is no way to live a life.  ROWE offers some solutions, but while the concept is enormous, its practical applications across all possible environments is still in its infancy.

Once in a while I talk about family life, too, and I attempt to integrate some of what I’ve learned about project management and Lean into those discussions, too.  I find there’s a tremendous amount of insight into just how all these theoretical concepts and tools work when you apply them to something that really matters – like your own family and your household.  There’s nothing more salient to me than finding a way to apply what I believe should be the way to do things, intellectually, to the day-to-day concerns that we all have to deal with, emotionally.  That’s the true intersection of life and work, in my humble opinion.

There’s more to the Lean and ROWE discussion, however, than just those two concepts.  What I see for the blog as I look into the future, is more discussion of Operational Excellence, which includes but is not necessarily limited to Lean, and how those concepts can be applied to the larger concepts of virtual, flexible work.  Clearly the world is trending in that direction, with the rise of technology that is enabling greater mobility.  The tools and methods that make Lean work so well, however, will need to adapt to this changing workplace.

This changing workplace brings a number of challenges.  Management styles will need to adapt, as will working styles.  Security concerns are massive, too.  Nonetheless, it’s a space not explored in any great depth that I have seen, which appear to make it ripe for the picking.