What can the world learn from manufacturing? The one lesson I’d point to is how it can teach us to have a positive outlook.
Manufacturing is dynamic. It’s constantly changing. New processes and technologies are always emerging, full of promise and potential. Most manufacturing companies recognize the value of continuous improvement as an important principle. This means being on the lookout for new processes and techniques that can increase productivity, reduce costs and enhance quality. It promotes a positive, optimistic attitude that is naturally hopeful and expectant. The underlying belief is that the current situation can be made better. “Good enough” should be temporary.
The concepts of lean manufacturing certainly reinforce this outlook. Lean manufacturing brings a disciplined, systematic methodology to the effort of continuous improvement in service to the customer (and hence, in line with the demands of the marketplace). Lean focuses on moving to ever-less-wasteful operations. The lean journey is always on the road to a brighter future.
Applying this positive outlook would be useful in our approaches to other aspects of life. For example, it helps buffer and deflect the influence of negative criticism, which often dominates both our private conversations and our public debates. A habit to develop is an appreciation for what is good and a vision for how to make it better. This shifts the focus from the destructive to the constructive, from tearing down to building up. Changing the views of others is not the point. The point is to keep one’s own mind uplifted and be disposed to taking positive action—that is, to be doing that which leads to improvement.
We must have ideals, but we should also accept that attaining them may be impossible in this imperfect world. Every quality system in manufacturing confronts this same imperative. No production process or workpiece is perfect. That is why manufacturing tolerates tolerances. Deviation happens. Yet measuring, recording, analyzing and addressing deviation is the usual path to improvement. It makes progress possible.
So in a shop or plant where continuous improvement is instilled or where lean principles are genuinely embraced, the like-minded are united in goodwill. Literally, everyone purposefully wills what is good and desires what is better. It’s management’s responsibility to channel this feeling toward realistic and practical goals. That is the essence of sound leadership.
The capacity for a positive, appreciative viewpoint is sign of strong leadership, not only in a manufacturing company, but also in any field or occupation. It should be considered when choosing leaders, too, such as in next month’s political elections. Which candidate can help citizens see and appreciate what is working well? Which one best shares a vision of how to make things better? Used here, “making things better” is a figure of speech, but it is quite literally the truest meaning of manufacturing.