From the CEO: Knowing where to draw the circle

AME | June 11, 2021


Isn’t funny when you know someone for years and then find out something tremendous about them. That’s the feeling I had when I recently learned that AME volunteer, Bill Baker, was recognized with the Engineer of Distinction Award from his alma mater, University of Mississippi.

Many of you have probably interacted with Bill during his time volunteering with AME. He’s been a Southwestern Region board member, an AME Excellence Award assessor, a conference chair, and the editor of Target, among many other roles that he continues to play. He’s worn so many hats with AME that I shouldn’t be surprised that he had some hidden experiences in his past that I didn’t know about! And yet, I was excited to learn that as manufacturing manager back in the 1960s and 1970s, Bill worked on mass spectrometer experiments for NASA’s Apollo 15 and 16 missions, and in 1972, a device Bill worked on was used on the moon’s surface as part of the Apollo 17 mission. How cool is that?

Many of us have different experiences in our background that can come into play in our lean, continuous improvement world. We might think of these as different arrows in a quiver that we use depending on the situation. You might encounter an obstacle and think back to a situation at a different company that might be applicable. Or you might draw upon an experience from early in your career when you are thinking about how best to lead people. Having a variety of experiences gives you a full quiver to take into any situation.

Those in the continuous improvement community often consider themselves lifelong learners. We voraciously consume information, tools, and ideas in hopes that they will help us move one step closer to operational excellence. But in our pursuit of knowledge, we must also be wise about how we apply what we’ve learned. It’s not just about consuming the information, it’s about knowing how and when to apply what we know.

There’s an old story in the consulting world about a worker who retires after 30 years of running a machine in a factory. A few weeks after retirement, the factory manager calls in a panic because the machine is now malfunctioning. They’ve been through all the instructions and troubleshooting, but they just can’t get it to run correctly. The former boss asks the worker to come in and look at it. So the worker goes back into the facility, walks to the machine, listens to it plugging along for a few minutes, takes out a Sharpie and draws a circle on a metal panel on the side of the machine. The worker tells the boss, “Open up that panel and you’ll find a belt that’s loose.”

A week later an invoice for $1000 arrives at the factory from the retired worker. The boss is outraged at the price tag for the 10 minutes of listening and circling the worker did. The boss requests that the worker itemize the invoice to justify the price.

The next week a new invoice arrives. It simply says:

  • Sharpie: $1
  • Knowing where to draw circle: $999

Using our experience and knowledge appropriately is a gamechanger for our organizations and ourselves. Fill your quiver with as much knowledge as you can (AME proudly provides a variety of events, best-practice content and, of course, our conference to help in that regard!). Then be vigilant in how and where you apply what you’ve learned. You never know when your work on a lunar project — or perhaps something less audacious — will be applicable in the future.

As always, please stay safe and keep looking out for one another.