The Spreadsheet, Factory Floor, and Goodbye Columbus

My life exists in a hybrid world. I was born before personal computers and CDs. Stereo had just been invented, and there were not many FM radio stations. You learned how to use a slide rule in high school, and, if your school had them, you got to use those mechanical calculators, that could estimate logarithms and trig, let alone crunch decimal numbers.

Now, we have all this electronic stuff and computers. We can build buildings with them, and solve just about every problem. I believe the electronic spreadsheet is one of the most powerful things every invented, and I also believe it is one of the most misused.

A bit of spreadsheet use might go like this. Here, I can save the company some dough by eliminating network hardware maintenance and wipe away the budget for network hardware upgrades. Oh, and, by the way, I want the network speed increased. Why isn’t it running faster?

Spredsheets are great. You can run what if I did this scenarios to look at all the impacts from different budget decisions. But just tweaking numbers in a spreadsheet doesn’t take you to the factory floor. That is, just moving numbers in a spreadsheet does not give you the experience of what moving those numbers actually does.

In your life, you probably don’t work in a factory, but your factory floor is there, nonetheless. It’s wherever you work. I’m just using factory floor as the name to describe where the works gets done. Those who make decisions in a room never having walked on the factory floor miss out on what is really going on and why a process taking us from point A to point B does not always work the way we would like.

And that brings me to Ron Patimkin from Goodbye Columbus, a 1969 film about the merging of classes.

To me, one of the funniest, saddest, and most poignant moments in the film is Ron, having returned from Ohio State on a basketball scholarship, is now a manager in his father’s plumbing supply business. After all that education and playing basketball, the only job Ron can have is holding a clipboard telling workers who already know their jobs loading a large supply panel truck, to keep moving along.

That’s what seems to be going on these days. We want a tasks to happen, don’t understand what it takes to make it happen, and then say to those who report to us, C’mon, c’mon, keep moving.






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