My cell phone was vibrating like a dryer set at hyper-speed, and my wife’s name popped up on the screen. My first thought was that something had gone wrong. I did tell her to call only if there were problems with the movers. I was on the other side of town, a prisoner at the Department of Motor Vehicles, waiting for my turn to be seen.
There wasn’t much I could do if there was a problem, but I took her call anyway. “The removal guys are asking what a shed is,” she said, laughing. To date, that is the oddest statement my wife has made during our monumental move from Scotland to America.
One of the many boxes in our sea freight that had just arrived had “shed tools” written in indelible ink on at least two sides. This was put on by the packers at the Scottish end, trying to help their American counterparts by directing them where the box should go. Although I found it hard to believe, the team of movers in Louisiana apparently had no terms of reference for “shed.” Surely the word was one of the first that humans coined after they invented the wheel? Or maybe before they invented it, since sheds are where so many things get cobbled together.
In any case, I knew the “shed tools” were actually something else, and I was happy that the box had arrived. It meant that I would be able to release my shed projects on my new American colleagues, very soon. The shed tools were games I’d made to help co-workers understand quality principles. They were the results of many hours spent in the shed—or “man cave,” as my wife calls it.
A word about UK shed culture is in order here. I suspect our terrible weather drives a great many people to spend hours fettling, making, and practicing their art forms indoors. On a typical rainy Saturday or Sunday, you’ll find men in drafty, cold, wet, and moldy little wooden structures, with a dim light illuminating them at their hobbies. I, too, had my own little shed thing for a time. In fact, I had two sheds, both used in the highly efficient manufacture of my quality training games.
Sometimes I like to take people out of their comfort zones to get them to think about something differently. And after working with grown men who acted like children most of the time, it occurred to me that playing games at work might help me influence them faster. This was the motivating force behind my shed projects; the inspiration came from a training course where I was introduced to W. Edwards Deming’s Red Bead Experiment. If you’re unfamiliar with it, I implore you to read Henry R. Neave’s account of it in chapter six of The Deming Dimension (SPC Press, 1990). The concept behind the experiment is that the “process”—white bead manufacturing—is contaminated with red beads.
Possessed by the idea of running this experiment at work, I was determined to get my hands on all the materials. I wondered whether it might have been turned into a children’s board game, but I had no luck when I looked at the local toy warehouse store. Likewise I searched the Internet high and low without any success. However, I refused to abandon the idea. There was only one recourse left to me, and I took it: “To the man cave!” I cried, in the spirit of a 1960s caped crusader episode.
First I formulated my list: beads, lots of them; paddle with holes in it to pick up the beads; a big rectangular tub to hold everything. Although there was an excellent crafts supplier in my town, it turned out they didn’t stock red beads. So I settled for black and white ones, since the principle was the same.
Next, the tub: I headed to IKEA, and it didn’t take me long to find tubs in almost limitless sizes. I did get some strange looks from other customers when I emptied my large bag of beads into the different options, looking for the most suitable size.
The paddle was next. I knew I would have to fabricate this, but I hadn’t considered how or with what. I sat in my kitchen having a cup of coffee, looking out the window at the shed. The fact that I didn’t have the last necessary element perturbed me. How could I make this paddle? As I set my coffee cup down, still hot, onto the chopping board in the kitchen, the solution presented itself. My wife still hasn’t forgiven me for absconding with that chopping board, although I do have a very elegant paddle as a result.
That was the first quality training game I made. I have since made three more, each designed to get a different message across, and all produced in my little wooden shed.
Now that we’re living in America, I no longer have a shed. However, we do have a very nice spare bedroom in our apartment—or rather, we did have a spare room. It now serves as my man cave.