I have been lucky enough to witness (and in some cases be a part of) several overturns of conventional wisdom. I remember hearing how quality “costs money” and “we can’t afford higher quality.” Now, it’s common to think about quality and value perception strategically.
I remember working with factory schedulers where they were driven by measures, such as utilization % and unit cost allocations, to build massive amounts of inventory (some of the consequences of which were quality problems!). Now, it’s common to use Just-In-Time and Theory of Constraints concepts in production planning.
Our US auto industry is emblematic for this movement. In the early and mid ‘80s I was working with several automotive companies. At this point, the domestic industry still had a dominant market share (in the US), but companies such as Toyota, Nissan, and Honda had made significant gains in share. Remarkably, those Japanese firms weren’t all that secretive in what they were doing. Yet, I saw opportunities to apply these techniques (many of which did not have Japanese origins) repeatedly be ignored by US firms. Now, many of the “heresies” of the past are integrated into the standard practice.
What could account for this strategic myopia? Lots of factors — perhaps years of being big and successful. On the other hand, these people were NOT stupid (of course, there are always exceptions — on all sides). Many of the talented were among the most adamant against the new ideas. I wish I could say that I was very talented AND saw the new “light.” In fact, I was too naive and untrained. For me, the “new” did not have to displace the “old.”
“In the beginner’s mind there are endless possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.”
— Shunryu Suzuki – Zen master
As a consultant and project manager I’ve come to realize that the value my clients and teams receive is often due less to knowing things (but please don’t tell them), and more to being able to “see” new things — and a need to ask questions.
Over the next week, let’s explore some of the ways we, as project leaders, are are encountering conventional wisdom that need overturning (or at least some improved interpretation!) and how we do it.