Ryan McCormack’s Operational Excellence Mixtape: April 5, 2024

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Thanks, as always, to Ryan McCormack for this. He always shares so much good reading, listening, and viewing here! Subscribe to get these directly from Ryan via email.

News, articles, books, podcasts, and videos about how to make the workplace better.


Operational Excellence, Improvement, and Innovation

What would you pay to not lose a finger?

Elimination is thought to be the best method to mitigate risks for safety, quality, or otherwise. But what will consumers pay for it? SawStop holds patents on table saws that can detect a finger before it gets cut (which happens a lot more than people may assume), but few consumers are willing to pay the premium for the digit-saving technology. SawStop's solution is to lobby for government regulation to mandate the safety mechanism – which historically has been successful for many safety technologies. Still, SawStop's litigious nature may be making their true motives clear.

Lean in woodworking

Speaking of woodworking, Brad Cairns shares his thoughts on what an increase in automation in woodworking means for lean thinking. Brad reminds us that automation is not counter to lean, despite some lingering myths. 

Listen as if lives depend on it

Boeing, like other organizations, deliberately separated headquarters from production and created greater distance between senior leaders and engineering. Boeing heard the engineers' warnings but wasn't listening.

Align Your Innovation Initiatives to Strategy

Too often, innovation and operational excellence functions become dumping grounds for projects or novelties that no one knows what to do with. This results in wasted resources, duplicate efforts and alienates talent. Use a portfolio team and governance process to ensure your innovative talent is supporting the most important strategic goals

A/B Testing

Experimentation is essential for improvement and innovation. A/B testing was rarely discussed 20 years ago when I was learning deeply about designing workplace experiments. Still, in the digital age, A/B testing is an affordable, efficient, and invaluable experimental technique, yet I find it is underutilized by work-facing improvement teams, and when used, lacks rigor.

Before embarking on A/B testing, I recommend following this intro A/B testing checklist to avoid some of the pitfalls of A/B testing

Remembering Daniel Kahneman

Embed from Getty Images

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel-prize-winning psychologist, passed away on Mar 27th. Kahneman was famous for his experiments that demonstrated that people aren't particularly rational thinkers and his storytelling ability that transcended all disciplines.

Kahneman's best-selling book Thinking Fast and Slow, which explores the human mind and posits that it uses different systems, System 1 (Fast) and System 2 (slow and deliberate) was widely read by improvement and innovation enthusiasts. More recently, Kahneman's book Noise made stories about our flawed judgment mainstream, at a time when misinformation remains rampant.

One of my favourite podcast episodes in the last few years was when The Knowledge Project hosted Kahneman on episode 68. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in behaviour change.

Jason Zweig published a great tribute to Kahneman in The Wall Street Journal, The Psychologist Who Turned the Investing World on Its Head (free reading link).


Creating a Culture of Improvement

The Ongoing Search for the “Flat” Organization

Many of us have fantasized about an organization without bosses. Indeed, the desire for a ‘flat' organization as a cure for bureaucracy and misery goes back as far as Weber (and further if you want to get anthropological). There have been some examples of sustainable and failed experiments in recent times. Much has been written about the benefits of the flat structure (check out Corporate Rebels or anything by Gary Hamel), but traditional hierarchies remain stubbornly ubiquitous.

The CEO of Bayer is attempting to run the “flat” structure experiment at scale. We will be watching to see what happens. 

Cultivating the Innovation Mindset

Ideally, innovation isn't a department or lab, but a shared mindset. That's a tall order and takes years to cultivate at scale. Here's how Claus Jensen, Chief Innovation Officer at Teladoc Health cultivates an innovation mindset.

Believe in Better

It's pretty straightforward – striving for better has predictably better consequences than not. Believe in better.


Coaching – Developing Self & Others

Seek Flow and Slow Productivity

The 2010s were rife with books, articles, and videos on “life-hacking” and personal productivity. It has left many of us yearning for flow states, a love of craft, and “slow productivity”. I thoroughly enjoyed and related to Kelly Stout's brilliant essay Is It Even Possible to Become More Productive?

Avoid the Hubris Trap

Hubris can have worse consequences than narcissism. Avoid the hubris trap

Become more coach-like

Michael Bungay-Stanier, author of now-classic coaching books The Coaching Habit and The Advice Trap, appeared on Connecting the Dots with Skip Steward. I enjoyed this refresher on how leaders can show up more coach-like.


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Ryan McCormack
Ryan is an operational excellence professional with over 18 years experience practicing continuous improvement in healthcare, insurance, food manufacturing, and aerospace. He is an avid student of the application of Lean principles in work and life to create measurably better value.

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