What’s happened to common sense in the workplace?

The Secret Engineer

Our anonymous blogger casts his (or her) eye over the day-to-day issues that face engineers in the office and on the shop floor, where she (or he) plies his (or her) trade

Here at Amalgamated Products Limited we take our work very seriously and, as such, constantly look for ways to improve ourselves and our products. The latest voyage into the realms of greater efficiency is through the adoption of a methodology which, for the sake of this column, I shall call ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’.

While engineering seems to be the natural home for this, and is taking the lead in its implementation, the ethos could be rolled out across the company, making the overall potential benefits quite significant. Whether this happens remains to be seen but for now we are buoyed by the fresh enthusiasm of a new and optimistic future.

Today, I had my introductory course in the Seven Pillars and the thing that struck me most is that it all seems rather sensible and straightforward. By this, I mean there was no huge revelation or even any counter-intuitive ideas to be grappled with.

However, I was rather struck with something while our evangelistic tutor was holding forth. Unlike my school days it was not the board rubber flung by an exasperated teacher as I sat looking out of the window and daydreaming. No, it was that the Seven Pillars are Japanese in their origin, which was particularly significant in that so too were the other widely adopted work management techniques he referenced. Equally all of them shared the characteristic of being the formalisation of ‘common sense’ resource (in its widest sense) management.

This rather leads one to ponder: why aren’t we doing it anyway? It could be something to do with our innate mindset. For myself I am rather thankful that the homogenisation of the planet has yet to remove the subtleties of divergence between differing cultures. I don’t think this results in any one view being better but, rather, that different views can bring forward benefits for all.

Even so, I cannot believe that European companies never worked in some way to the Seven Pillars formula, perhaps only as the application of knowledge hard won by some hoary-handed son of the lathe. If this knowledge is correct, how did we lose it? For instance, was it through the increased influence of professional managers and non-engineering departments?

Is it only the Japanese who can stand back and see these new techniques?

Perhaps, looking to the longer term, it is the nature of an industry to grow ever more sophisticated; building established practice upon established practice until eventually the simplest of underpinning concepts are lost – an ungainly series of adopted processes that can only be cured by ‘resetting’ and starting afresh.

Surely the only important question is: ‘Is it only the Japanese who can stand back and see these things?’ The advantage British companies would have if they could originate and implement one of these new techniques first is obvious. I cannot help but wonder if we have academics actively seeking to provide this edge, or must we always follow what others are already doing? Then again, perhaps they are too busy practising their board-rubber throwing technique.