Featured Product
This Week in Quality Digest Live
Quality Insider Features
Master Gage and Tool Co.
Why it matters for accurate measurements
Ian Wright
MIT and ETH Zurich engineers use computer vision to help adjust material deposition rates in real time
Scott A. Hindle
Part 4 of our series on SPC in the digital era
Etienne Nichols
It’s not the job that’s the problem. It’s the tools you have to do it with.
Lee Simmons
Lessons from a deep dive into 30 years of NFL and NBA management turnover

More Features

Quality Insider News
Exploring how a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse works
High-capacity solution using TSMC’s 3DFabric technologies
EcoBell paints plastic parts with minimal material consumption
August 2023 US consumption totaled $219.2 million
New KMR-Mx Series video inspection system to be introduced at the show
Modern manufacturing execution software is integral for companies looking to achieve digital maturity
Study of intelligent noise reduction in pediatric study
Results are high print quality, increased throughput

More News

Kevin Meyer

Quality Insider

Of Maps, ERP, and Basic Thinking

We must learn to think again

Published: Friday, October 4, 2013 - 15:01

A hat tip to Mark Graban for pointing out this article on a problem the Fairbanks airport has been experiencing with Apple Maps. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. (OK, it’s still funny.)

“There’s a way to get to the Fairbanks Airport, just don’t ask your iPhone for help. Apple has disabled driving directions to the Fairbanks International Airport after a glitch in its maps app guided drivers to the edge of a runway instead of a terminal, airport spokeswoman Angie Spear said Friday.

“Previous directions on newer iPhones and iPads guided drivers to the edge of the tarmac instead of the correct route to the terminal. In incidents Sept. 6 and Sept. 20, drivers went through a gate, past warning lights and signs, and then across an active runway, to reach the terminal.”

Now there’s obviously a bunch of bad things happening here: the app, of course, but also a physical security system that lets folks just drive right onto active runways.

But what really struck me was the lack of extremely basic perceptual and analytical skills on the part of the drivers. How can you drive past warning lights and signs, through a gate, and across runways without realizing that something might just be wrong? That something doesn’t fit conventional experience? Seriously? Are we so entranced and trusting of our world of apps that we can no longer recognize a conflict with expected reality? Apparently so.

I’m obviously dating myself, but I remember keeping real map books in the car, driving blindly around cities like Boston having to stop every couple blocks to check the book, and even ordering TripTiks from AAA for longer trips. A drive, even into a new town, took a certain level of research, analysis, and writing. That often lead to a certain level of getting lost—i.e., failure—and then learning from that failure.

No longer. Now you just turn on the app, and if it seems strange to have to avoid a landing jet along the way, you chalk it up to the vagaries of “the shortest route.” Common sense exempted.

And this is the exact reason why one of my hot buttons are systems like enterprise resource planning (ERP), materials resource planning (MRP), and the like, where gigabytes of data are dumped into a machine, and results are miraculously spit out and displayed on reports or monitors. The results are taken for granted and assumed to be correct, even if they fly in the face of common sense. $50 million in extra chocolate bars? $1 billion in extra Blackberry phones? The system said so; therefore, it must be correct.

We must learn to think again. We have to allow, and encourage our people to think. Training them to read the output on a monitor, or the results of an app, isn't thinking.

A few months ago I wrote a column called, “Learning by Writing... by Hand.” In it, I said:

The process of writing by hand creates understanding, ownership, introspection, and thus learning.

“This is also why I regularly harp on the advantages of scribbling on whiteboards over typing into “the machine” and then coercing those data onto reports or electronic displays. When you write a production number, metric, or problem on a whiteboard, you own that number, you immediately see the relationship between it and the numbers next to it, you recognize patterns and trends, and you may have to even explain it to peers standing around you. Action can be taken immediately to change an unfavorable situation.

“Typing into a computer? Not so much. Somehow those data are mysteriously transformed into other numbers and analyses that you might see a week or even a month later, and the link, understanding, and ownership of that relationship is lost. You end up with a bunch of folks trained to feed the machine, and a different bunch of folks trained to supposedly interpret what the machine spits out. The problem—and opportunity—are obvious.”

Every day I find more examples where this is true, whether it’s managing a factory or using a map app.

Write. Think. Learn. Please, before you hit a plane.

This column first appeared Sept. 29, 2013, on the Evolving Excellence blog.


About The Author

Kevin Meyer’s picture

Kevin Meyer

Kevin Meyer has more than 25 years of executive leadership experience, primarily in the medical device industry, and has been active in lean manufacturing for more than 20 years serving as director and manager in operations and advanced engineering, and as CEO of a medical device manufacturing company. He consults and speaks at lean events; operates the online knowledgebase, Lean CEO, and the lean training portal, Lean Presentations; and is a partner in GembaAcademy.com, which provides lean training to more than 5,000 companies. Meyer is co-author of Evolving Excellence–Thoughts on Lean Enterprise Leadership (iUniverse Inc., 2007) and writes weekly on a blog of the same name.


Every Break You Take (...)

(...) I'll be watching you, sung The Police. And a wise Zen religious man said that he wanted to be aware of every step he made to walk. "Taking for granted" has become a basic process itself, while, some fifty years ago, at school, we where often reprimanded for taking too often too many things for granted: we were grown up to the principle "quod demonstrandum erat", though limited it might have been. In my own business - systems auditor and consultant - I often object that registrars' request for "documented procedures" inhibit thinking processes; but, at the same time, I cannot forget that in all too many companies, the boss says to his or her employees that they're there to work, not to think. It's one of the many difficult balances to get: to work fast without thinking, as any 100-yards runner would do, or to be aware of any step? There's risk in both approaches, the highest risk being in not deciding which risk to take.