A chance reading recently provided a thought from Henry Thoreau that I think is worth sharing. Thoreau said:

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when
one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”

The quote caused me to reflect on an incident some years ago at a film manufacturer:

I had been asked to visit with a team of engineers and scientists to troubleshoot a process problem on the production line.   While I had no special technical understanding of this process, the project manager felt that “another pair of eyes” might help to discover the cause of impurities deposited on their finished product, polarized film.

invisiAfter a short meeting, our team of erudite problem-solvers took to the floor, which, in this case was a one hundred foot long automated coating line. Film wound in serpentine fashion through prep, coating, drying and slitting zones over dozens of stainless steel rollers, accumulators and knives.   When the two technicians manning the line were told to take a break during our investigation, I objected and asked if they could work with the team.   One of our team, a gentleman with a PhD in Chemistry, grunted disapproval and then declared that he had isolated the problem in the process and had a solution. “MEK on this roller,” he said, pointing to a large stainless cylinder.   He turned to one of the techs and barked at her, “Wash this down with MEK.”

Both technicians glanced over to me, one of them shaking his head slightly.   “What do you think?” I asked them. One tech responded tentatively, “I used DI water for a similar problem in the past.” I glanced back to the problem-solving team, but no one was paying attention. In a slightly elevated tone, I repeated the tech’s idea. “She says that DI water has worked for cleaning in the past.”

After a short pause, our PhD chemist replied with an air of condescension, “Just use the MEK.”

By now, dear readers, you may think you know where this story is headed.   And you’re right! After several hours of experimenting with MEK, the team decided it was not working. “How about trying the DI water?” I asked. The project manager shrugged and replied, “Ok, let’s give a try.”

The cleaning with DI Water worked; the residue of impurities on the film vanished. To my amazement at the end of the day, the team thanked me – not the technicians – for the idea.   I corrected them, but I’m not sure they understood. To paraphrase Henry Thoreau:

“The greatest insult that was ever paid me was when
no one asked me what I thought, or attended to my ideas. “

Are you attending to the ideas of your employees, or are they invisible?   Please share a thought.


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5 thoughts on “Invisibility

  1. Kevin Spradlin


    Great point! I have my own example just this week. We have experienced an issue with a new part launch in assembly. While product engineering is working on a “new design”, we have to replace the current design with proven part solution. To make a long story short, a group of managers in a room decided what we believed was the best process for replacing the part. However, I met with my team on the floor to communicate the issues and ask what their ideas and thoughts were in how to process the replacement part. As you can imagine they had much better ideas and thoughts on how to develop the process than we could ever think of. I guess the lesson here time and time again is that the ideas of the many are always better than the ideas of the few! All you have to do is ask. Further, the engagement you get from these types of activities brings even greater return over the long term.

    Best Regards,

    Kevin Spradlin

  2. David Bueford

    Great post this happens too often in manufacturing environments. Engineers, supervisors and managers are always in rotation what Deming referred to as the problem of mobility in management. It’s with the production crew that you will most likely find decades of continuous service. Maybe one day organizational culture will evolve and recognize that on the job experience can be as valuable as book learning!

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