Elle

The Sandle vs. The Work Boot

92 posts in this topic

Justin,

As a lot of people do, you have taken an abstract of a study and without knowing the full context of the study come to a conclusion of what the cause and effect was or is. In your link there are many examples that show some improvements in the productivity of a certain project or unit. No where in your link does it explain the variables that were controlled or not controlled (the method), such as the money to back a project before and during or even something as simple as setting rational goals before and during.

Ray

Actually, I know quite a bit about many of those studies. In fact I've see the Colonel responsible for one of the US Marine's projects present a case study of his project in full uniform.

Maybe I'm overly sensitive, but you seem a little combative.

Theory of Constraints is a subject area in which I have quite a deal of experience. Experience I'd be happy to share if asked.

However, rather than asking, you've presented an arguement that consists of no more than multiple 'appeals to authority': yours, the US Marines and GE.

Ironically, the US Marines has a considerable history with TOC (they have been an early adopter). Furthermore, I have just returned from Chicago, where I ran a workshop for a group of executives from a GE division.

I stand by my claim that you do not maximise the output of a (goal-seeking) system by maximising the output of the system's components. I think if you re-read my posts carefully you'll discover that this claim is not as contentious as you seem to assume.

What's more, if I've done a poor job of communicating, I'm happy to elaborate if asked.

Justin

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Just wanted to pop in to second Justin's endorsement of Eliahu Goldratt's book, "The Goal". I have also read Goldratt's "It's Not Luck". They are unusual in that they express his views on business management in the form of novels.

It's not well known, but Eli was (and perhaps still is) a fan of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and emulated the style of the latter when writing The Goal.

Justin

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Justin,

You still have not answered my question, name a company or team that has long-term growth by slowing down their top producers? Should we have asked or ask Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Larry Byrd, or Magic Johnson to stop shooting. Playing with people that are better than oneself but having them choose to slow their effort and talents down just for you will never enhance anyone long-term.

If it seems like I am combative that is not my intention. But, when I ask questions or make factual statements and people do nothing but discard them I then have no further time for discussion. The main reason I gave my own insight is because I lived it in reality, not in a study (which you discarded.) And, the reason I gave the GE example is because of their past fundamentals lead by Jack Welch which made them one of the most profitable companies in the world. These are real, the results are real which is something that most people discard because it was not part of a controlled study. I disagree.

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Actually, I know quite a bit about many of those studies. In fact I've see the Colonel responsible for one of the US Marine's projects present a case study of his project in full uniform.

What you call multiple "appeals to authority" I call facts of reality. I would like to question your Colonel and ask him how many people were in the specific unit before they applied the TOC theory or did the just put a group together for the study? Did the amount of people remain the same and if so was it the same original people as the study began with? Did they do anything else, such as have the members set goals or new standards? I would like to ask him how they picked the people to be part of the group? I would like to ask him if any extra funding went into the group which allowed them to buy they specific parts needed without delay? I would actually like to go and ask the group members that actually did the work what happened on a daily basis?

For those that do not know a Colonel in the Marine Corps is a high ranking officer that does very little physical day to day work. He is an observer and administrator and sometimes a leader of men. Below the Colonel is a Lt. Colonel who would usually be in charge of a battalion with his executive officer usually being a Major. Below the battalion level are company grade officers such as Captains and Lieutenants and even these people are not doing the day to day work. Below these people you have Staff NCOs (E6 thru E9), NCOs (E4 thru E5), non-NCO's (E1 thru E3). It is usually the E1s thru E5s that do the day to day work on getting the equipment ready. These are the people that you want to talk to and get the real answers from.

In a company of Marines you constantly have people doing extra detail work, such as mess duty, guard duty, base clean-up duty and many other duties that take these people away from their daily activities for as little as a week or up to months at a time. There are also other things that always come up within a regular unit such as general sickness, medical operations, leave (vacation), parades/ceremonies, temporary deployments, transfers and many more things that are out of one's control. I would like to know if your study group had to deal with any of these situations and if so how?

What I am trying to point out is that in the day to day operations you will have to deal with these items constantly and in a controlled study I doubt they did. I want to know how they dealt with some of the situations that I mentioned above. Did they replace the person when he got called out to do mess duty for a month? Did they replace the person when he received the shoulder surgery and was out of work for 6 weeks? In the real Fleet Marine Force, there are no replacements coming for you. You have to make due with what you have, even if that means that you come up short.

So, can you or your Colonel answer those questions?

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Justin,

You still have not answered my question, name a company or team that has long-term growth by slowing down their top producers? Should we have asked or ask Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Larry Byrd, or Magic Johnson to stop shooting. Playing with people that are better than oneself but having them choose to slow their effort and talents down just for you will never enhance anyone long-term.

Ray

I know very little about basketball, but I think if you encourage each member of the team to maximise the number of times he attempts to shoot a basket you will significantly diminish the performance of the team as a whole.

In fact, this is exactly what happens with junior teams in many sports (soccer, hockey, etc). Players all attempt to score goals, rather working together. 'Working together' necessarily involves periodically reducing one's rate of work.

But, let me respond to your reaquest for a concrete example.

The GE division I consulted with each week was suffering significantly as a consequence of individuals (and workgroups) all attempting to maximise their individual productivity. Sales was pursueing every opportunity it could find, including those that put a significant load on engineering.

As well as servicing its commitments to sales and production, engineering was attempting to develop speculative new products.

Production's workload was fluxuating wildly as a consequence of the finite capacity of sales and engineering (and this fluxuation was being amplified by the interplay between the three departments).

Because production also has finite capacity, this fluxuation was resulting in both a higher cost burden than those of competitors and sub-optimal customer service (poor on-time delivery performance, etc). Futhermore, because production relies on suppliers and other channel partners, production variability was resulting in inaccurate forecasts and what's called the 'bullwhip effect' (where small fluxuations are amplified within a finite capacity system with imperfect information flow).

All of these (quite significant) problems were caused by each department (sales, engineering, production) attempting to maximise their individual outputs.

Our solution will be to get all departments (and external parties) to synchronise their rates of work with production. In other words, production will beat the drum to which all the other functions march.

This will necessarily mean that many individuals actually have to work slower in order to maximise the performance of the system as a whole.

Is my point clear now, or do you need additional concrete examples?

In response to your previous post, you have grossly underestimated the scale of the reengineering projects performed by the US Navy (and Marines). For example the Perl Harbour shipyards project involved many thousands of personnel (and contractors). The results quoted on the website I pointed you to are correct, and statistically relevant -- but you'll have to take my word for that.

You'll also have to accept my word that the details of the GE division referenced above are correct. For fairly obvious reasons, I won't be able to name the division, share financial information or allow you to interview the division's executives.

I must say, I don't understand your degree of skeptism. I typically assume that fellow Objectivists are both intelligent and honest.

Justin

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I must first say that I am not a skeptic, as a skeptic is someone that doubts the certainty of knowledge.

But, I first think that one your theory is named incorretly and two that you do not create greatness by constraining/restraining everyone's output to the lowest individual. I also think there is a better term which I would call utilizing, but utilizing is just one aspect of many that is needed to make a company great, profitable and efficient.

I think to run a company that is going to be around and be prodcutive you must do some of the things I mentioned in earlier post. First you look for great people to be employed then you hire them through a very selective process (like Microsoft or Navy Seals.) A good leader would then train the personnel and this could be done in multiple ways. Then a good leader would utilize his personnel to their fullest potential and within the overall company or group vision. One final item would be rewarding the personnel in accordance with company, project and individual goals achievied but all of these being inline with the company vision.

What I am saying in different terms is that I do not think your ideas on constraint/utilize are correct as the only thing needed to obtain profit/efficiency. I also think that the term utilizing is a much more precise concept but still is only one part of a larger picture or group of items neede to achieve profit/efficiency. Because if all you do is constrain a bunch of lazy people you will never get ahead I do not care how many levels of contraint you put upon them.

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Both of your suggestions will increase the speed of the skull.

But neither change will invalidate my example. The boat will still travel at a finite speed. And this speed will be -- at any point in time -- determined by the slowest oarsman.

Even if, through careful selection and training, you end up with oarsmen who have identical capabilities, you will still have -- at any point in time -- a slowest oarsman.

Oh, I understand completely. I am not disagreeing with the theory, I am noting an extremely important fact: that it is possible to increase the overall performance by taking the "overall minimum" into account, and replacing or training the slowest rowers so that they're going faster. Given a contest between the skulls, if each one is being operated with maximum efficiency (everybody in sync with their slowest rower), then the skull with the fastest slow-rower will win. That reflects the nature of a competitive environment. Just because your current organization is "doing its best" at the moment, it may not be good enough even at optimal efficiency with given resources. So you change the parameters of your resources.

There's another possibility too: that the slowest rower is *so* slow in comparison to the other rowers that overall performance would be increased if he took his oar totally out of the water and let the others row. That's an important point to make, even if an uncomfortable one. (The implication of course is that there are situations where firing the worst people will result in an increase in company productivity, even if you didn't replace them; in a classroom, it would be that removing a student with far less knowledge or intelligence would greatly increase the progress of the rest of the class, assuming a context where the slower student had to show progress; etc.)

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I understand what Justin is saying, though it seems almost counterintuitive. Perhaps it is because we've all experienced the frustration of sitting in a classroom where we've been held back--and wasted precious time--while the teacher teaches to the slowest student (to pick an example that most have experienced).

It is "holding back" that frustrates the ambitious individual. How does management handle that? I can't see that you do the company any good if you have some of your best people frustrated and dissatisfied.

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I understand what Justin is saying, though it seems almost counterintuitive....

It is "holding back" that frustrates the ambitious individual. How does management handle that? I can't see that you do the company any good if you have some of your best people frustrated and dissatisfied.

I also understand what Justin is saying. I just do not agree that it is the fundamental to long term vision, progress or growth which is what the sub-title of this thread is. I also think that continously holding back the most productive will in the long term cause them to leave if other things do not change.

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...The implication of course is that there are situations where firing the worst people will result in an increase in company productivity, even if you didn't replace them...

There definitely are situations like this; I've seen them. On more than one occasion, a group I was in lost an incompetent or unproductive member (either through being fired, or because he quit), who was not subsequently replaced. The result was that the other members were able to accomplish so much more because they no longer had to deal with incompetence. And the final product was done sooner (and of higher quality) than it would have been.

In one case, one of the programmers of a small team quit suddenly. We really didn't have time to go hire somebody else, so we just figured we'd roll up our sleeves, work harder, and we could still make our schedule. In fact, though, we ended up benefitting - with less work to do - because we no longer had to make allowances for an incompetent person. (Having somebody on the team who doesn't do his work well, so that the other people have to constantly redo his work and make allowances for his code that doesn't perform correctly, is very time consuming and demoralizing.)

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I understand what Justin is saying, though it seems almost counterintuitive....

It is "holding back" that frustrates the ambitious individual. How does management handle that? I can't see that you do the company any good if you have some of your best people frustrated and dissatisfied.

I also understand what Justin is saying. I just do not agree that it is the fundamental to long term vision, progress or growth which is what the sub-title of this thread is. I also think that continously holding back the most productive will in the long term cause them to leave if other things do not change.

Ray and others

The primary question being debated in this thread is whether the output of a team is maximised by maximising the output of individuals.

I think that I have shown that -- in an environment where division-of-labour has been applied; resulting in resource dependencies -- the answer is clearly 'no'.

Now, where the management of people is concerned, it is the job of an effective manager to get the individual to measure the contribution he is making -- or not -- to the success of the team. And NOT to view his individual productivity in isolation.

Let's be real. A person who is working hard, generating work-in-progress (WIP) that the resource downstream from him does not have the capacity to process is NOT being productive or productive when evaluated in the context of the team as a whole.

If I had a person in my firm who willfully ran-up WIP to the detriment of the organisation as a whole, I'd sack his dumb derriere and I'd be happy to see the back of him.

In our firm, our people evaluate their contribution to the firm as a whole, so we seldom have this problem. However, when management manages by encouraging the development of local efficiencies, then management shifts individuals' focus from the team to themselves and screws up the performance of the team as a whole.

The only time that this doesn't occur is (a) when the firm has only one person and (:( when all resources work strictly in parallel (i.e. there is no division of labour). With the exception of recruiting firms and other similar service providers, you rarely find (:lol: anymore.

This is because of the profound increases in organisational efficiency generated by division-of-labour.

If there is a serious interest, I'm happy to talk more about exactly how one does manage effectively in a resource-constrained environment under division-of-labour. But I'm not convinced that this thread is anything other than a battle of wits. If so, no problems, but I'll dial out.

Justin

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...The implication of course is that there are situations where firing the worst people will result in an increase in company productivity, even if you didn't replace them...

There definitely are situations like this; I've seen them. On more than one occasion, a group I was in lost an incompetent or unproductive member (either through being fired, or because he quit), who was not subsequently replaced. The result was that the other members were able to accomplish so much more because they no longer had to deal with incompetence. And the final product was done sooner (and of higher quality) than it would have been.

In one case, one of the programmers of a small team quit suddenly. We really didn't have time to go hire somebody else, so we just figured we'd roll up our sleeves, work harder, and we could still make our schedule. In fact, though, we ended up benefitting - with less work to do - because we no longer had to make allowances for an incompetent person. (Having somebody on the team who doesn't do his work well, so that the other people have to constantly redo his work and make allowances for his code that doesn't perform correctly, is very time consuming and demoralizing.)

I have experienced many situations like this in warehouses and factories. Getting rid of a slow worker has almost always resulted in overall increased productivity. The morale instantly lifts, energy and competence sharpen, mutual admiration grows, pride at the end of the day is maximized.

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I have experienced many situations like this in warehouses and factories. Getting rid of a slow worker has almost always resulted in overall increased productivity. The morale instantly lifts, energy and competence sharpen, mutual admiration grows, pride at the end of the day is maximized.

No problems with that at all. In fact, I think most managers cling to incapable people too long, doing enourmous damage in the process.

But 'dismiss the slowest worker' cannot be a generic management approach. There will always be a slowest worker!

And sometimes the constrained resource isn't a worker, it's a machine.

In the TOC world we have a general five-step approach to ongoing improvement:

1. Identify the current constraint

2. Decide how to exploit it (maximise the yield on its finite capacity)

3. Subordinate everything to the constraint (get all other resources to march in time with the constraint)

4. Elevate the constraint (increase its capacity; either by replacing or augmenting the resource)

5. If the constraint; shifts, go back to 1.

Note, in this approach, 'exploit' comes before 'elevate'.

In many cases, the slowest resource can be made significantly more effective by shifting tasks to other resources, better priortisation of tasks, performing quality checks prior to this resource to ensure it doesn't work on defective items, etc.

Real management is more science than art.

Justin

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Justin,

I do not think that anyone here on THE FORUM does not understand your ideas. I also do not think anyone here disputes that their will be a constant "weak-link" that will always have to be overcome, that is the nature of business and capatilism.

At Wal-Mart in the late 1970's they were having problems with distribution and third party distribution companies. Their way around this problem was upgrading to automated distribution centers linked to the stores and the suppliers and to also get rid of the third party companies. Then they were able to increase the total of their distribution centers which allowed them to deliver product faster than their competitors by about 3 days.

Another example of constantly striving for improvement comes from NUCOR. In the late 1990's a 23 year old engineer, who had worked summers at the NUCOR mill while earning his degree, came up with a way to save NUCOR $1.5 million annually. He did this by designing metal shims to replace supporting screws and lubricant that were under the rolling line. The shims did not need to be lubricated and actually enhanced the output of the machines while also allowing less down time which saved the company over $1 million dollars a year in manintenance costs.

John D. Rockfeller while walking through one of his refineries (which he did very often), noticed a welder welding 40 weld spots on a 50 gallon barrel of oil. He asked the man if he had ever tried welding 38 instead of 40, the man said no. They tried 38 which did not hold without a leak, and instead found that 39 worked withhout a leak. The one less weld on the 50 gallon barrels saved the company many thousands of dollars per year in the late mid 1880's freeing up this money to be spent on other resources.

I could list more examples but I think I have gotten my point across. Good companies and thier personnel recongnize their weak-links and then work to overcome them, this is what companies that work under capitalism do or they go out of business.

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No problems with that at all. In fact, I think most managers cling to incapable people too long, doing enourmous damage in the process.

But 'dismiss the slowest worker' cannot be a generic management approach. There will always be a slowest worker!

That is dropping the context, at least, in my abstract example and in the more concrete examples mentioned in replies to it. To harken back to your rowing example, if every rower is within a few percent of each other on the average, and they represent the top people in the world, then you probably can't improve things very much, at least in the short term, and probably never beyond a certain human physiological limit. The context is weakening the entire team by the inclusion of somebody who is far less capable than the average, representing a problem that can readily be fixed with a dramatic and nearly immediate improvement. And actually it is covered by your point, viz: 4. Elevate the constraint (increase its capacity; either by replacing or augmenting the resource)

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From what I can discern, I don't think there is really any argument here. No company can stay in business by remaining static, nor by keeping people on board who slow production. From what I understand about Justin's posts, he is saying that you need good people, and part of any worker being good is understanding that he is a member of a team that must act together towards a common goal. Anything else is counter-productive. No matter how good any individual is at their work, if they are a part of a larger project, that work must integrate with everyone else's work, or the work isn't productive to the whole. What good is all one's brilliance to a company if it works to trash the overall process of production. How will that be different from the slowest man; though the cause is different, the effect is the same.

If an individual comes up with something innovative, that innovation must be integrated into the rest of the productive process, and this is done by bringing the whole into the process, so that one groups' work melds with another groups' to make the change. Using Ray's Wall-Mart example, when Wall-Mart changed their method of distribution, the main offices changed, among other things, the way they handled purchasing, and the individual store managers would have changed, among other things, the way his employees handled incoming merchandise, and the way he kept track of his inventory. In other words, an innovation in one part of the whole process meant some kind of change in the rest of the process.

None of this means that the individual employees ought to be anything but the best one can hire to do their job, it only means that a part of their job is to mesh with the rest.

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That is dropping the context, at least, in my abstract example and in the more concrete examples mentioned in replies to it. To harken back to your rowing example, if every rower is within a few percent of each other on the average, and they represent the top people in the world, then you probably can't improve things very much, at least in the short term, and probably never beyond a certain human physiological limit. The context is weakening the entire team by the inclusion of somebody who is far less capable than the average, representing a problem that can readily be fixed with a dramatic and nearly immediate improvement. And actually it is covered by your point, viz: 4. Elevate the constraint (increase its capacity; either by replacing or augmenting the resource)

Phil

'Dropping the context'? I'm not sure you need to invoke a logical fallacy; I was simply returning from your tangential point to the central theme!

I wasn't keen to labour the point about the incompetent resource because I figured that the solution to this problem is obvious, and that it is the less common scenario.

You've already identified the solution to the incompetency problem (replace the lazy bugger)!

And, in reality, it is more likely that the constrained resource will be the most capable person (or machine) *not* the least capable. Have you ever noticed how (particularly in a knowledge-work environment) the bottleneck tends to be the subject-matter expert?

Now, you seem to imply that you will be better off with world-class resources, where the capacity of each is within a few percentage points of the mean.

This is not necessarily the case.

When the location of the constraint is patently obvious to team members it is more likely that the stronger workers will instinctively work in-time with the slowest (and exploit the weakest worker's capacity, as discussed previously).

However when all have similar capacities, it is more likely that -- in the absence of intelligent management intervention -- all will pursue local optima (row as fast as possible).

Now if you doubt this, consider that there is a whole field of management thinking dedicated to line-balancing (balancing resources so they have equivalent capacities). The assumption is that, if capacities are equal, all resources can work like crazy without generating waste.

As discussed earlier, the pursuit of local optima in an environment where division-of-labour has been applied will result in chaos and a dramatic reduction in output.

If you don't understand why, consider the simplest possible system: two (real-world) resources of equivalent capacity, operating at full speed; one directly feeding the other. Ask yourself, how much inventory will be captured in this system, now and in the future?

Of course, the answer is that the inventory will tend towards infinity over time.

So now, imagine the consequences of balancing resource capacities in a typical project (or production) environment and encouraging resources to pursue local optima (which was the assumed optimal management method at the start of this thread). As management pursues local optima, work-in-progress tends rapidly towards infinity. Because few managers can actually tolerate infinite WIP, the system has a built-in conflict that will cause chaos.

In reality, we do NOT improve the performance of processes by attempting to eliminate the slower oarsmen. Aside from the fact that these tend to be the most capable resources (in all but the most dysfunctional organisations) we do not want to balance capacities.

We actually want to deliberately unbalance them!

In practise, we identify the most critical resource and then deliberately add capacity to every other resource, organisation-wide, to force the constraint to stay in the one location.

We can then use the constraint as the pacesetter for the rest of the organisation (and we can use the contents of the queue of work in front of the constraint as a source of management intelligence).

For me, this subject is like an onion that becomes more fascinating as you peel away layers.

However, it may be -- as Ray infers -- that you guys are all much smarter than this new kid on the block, and I'm insulting you with stuff you figured out in grade school!

(If so, I'll happily retreat back to my corner.)

Justin

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No matter how good any individual is at their work, if they are a part of a larger project, that work must integrate with everyone else's work, or the work isn't productive to the whole. What good is all one's brilliance to a company if it works to trash the overall process of production. How will that be different from the slowest man; though the cause is different, the effect is the same.

Spot on Oldsalt!

Your last sentence (above) hits the nail on the head. If the slowest soldier is marching as fast as he can, he's doing his bit. If a faster man is sprinting on ahead, he is willfully inflicting harm on his colleagues. Local efficiency optimisation should be recognised as a cardinal sin in any environment where division of labour is applied. Remember, that's what Elle's manager was encouraging.

Justin

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From what I can discern, I don't think there is really any argument here. No company can stay in business by remaining static, nor by keeping people on board who slow production. From what I understand about Justin's posts, he is saying that you need good people, and part of any worker being good is understanding that he is a member of a team that must act together towards a common goal. Anything else is counter-productive. No matter how good any individual is at their work, if they are a part of a larger project, that work must integrate with everyone else's work, or the work isn't productive to the whole. What good is all one's brilliance to a company if it works to trash the overall process of production. How will that be different from the slowest man; though the cause is different, the effect is the same.

If an individual comes up with something innovative, that innovation must be integrated into the rest of the productive process, and this is done by bringing the whole into the process, so that one groups' work melds with another groups' to make the change. Using Ray's Wall-Mart example, when Wall-Mart changed their method of distribution, the main offices changed, among other things, the way they handled purchasing, and the individual store managers would have changed, among other things, the way his employees handled incoming merchandise, and the way he kept track of his inventory. In other words, an innovation in one part of the whole process meant some kind of change in the rest of the process.

None of this means that the individual employees ought to be anything but the best one can hire to do their job, it only means that a part of their job is to mesh with the rest.

I understand what you are saying, but in general, I would get rid of the slowest worker (meaning here exceptionally slow) and encourage everyone else to get up to the speed of my fastest worker---which we might call "meshing with the best".

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However, it may be -- as Ray infers -- that you guys are all much smarter than this new kid on the block, and I'm insulting you with stuff you figured out in grade school!

(If so, I'll happily retreat back to my corner.)

Justin,

I think if you stay around here long enough you will find that Objectivist will question you on almost everything that you write, which in proper context is not a bad thing. If a person makes a mistake and someone else can point out the error it works out in the best interest of both involved which is what I find happens here very often. If a person comes up with a new theory and puts it "out there", the constant questioning call allow one to become more precise on their theory or discard it as invalid. I am not saying the person did not have the knowledge, just that different people will raise questions that they themselves did not think about or concern themselves with.

Some of the reasons I am on this forum and only this forum is that the people are very bright and constantly strive to integrate new knowledge. A second reason is that my time is limited and I choose this forum as the the best place to gather more information that enhances my life.

Stick around I think you will find THE FORUM very beneficial.

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From what I can discern, I don't think there is really any argument here. No company can stay in business by remaining static, nor by keeping people on board who slow production. From what I understand about Justin's posts, he is saying that you need good people, and part of any worker being good is understanding that he is a member of a team that must act together towards a common goal. Anything else is counter-productive. No matter how good any individual is at their work, if they are a part of a larger project, that work must integrate with everyone else's work, or the work isn't productive to the whole. What good is all one's brilliance to a company if it works to trash the overall process of production. How will that be different from the slowest man; though the cause is different, the effect is the same.

There's not an argument if you put it in terms of integrating your work with everyone else's, but the oarsman metaphor implies more than that. When the oarsman individually strives to work to his potential, then its inherently in conflict with everyone else, but in a real-world business situation that is absolutely not the case. E.g., in software development, you can work as fast as you want, you just move on to a different task if you get done sooner than expected.

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From what I can discern, I don't think there is really any argument here. No company can stay in business by remaining static, nor by keeping people on board who slow production. From what I understand about Justin's posts, he is saying that you need good people, and part of any worker being good is understanding that he is a member of a team that must act together towards a common goal. Anything else is counter-productive. No matter how good any individual is at their work, if they are a part of a larger project, that work must integrate with everyone else's work, or the work isn't productive to the whole. What good is all one's brilliance to a company if it works to trash the overall process of production. How will that be different from the slowest man; though the cause is different, the effect is the same.

There's not an argument if you put it in terms of integrating your work with everyone else's, but the oarsman metaphor implies more than that. When the oarsman individually strives to work to his potential, then its inherently in conflict with everyone else, but in a real-world business situation that is absolutely not the case. E.g., in software development, you can work as fast as you want, you just move on to a different task if you get done sooner than expected.

I think this disagreement is one that would greatly benefit from concretes. It depends. There are tasks like lifting a patient onto a gurney, or the sculling/oarsman example itself, in which you need symbiotic cooperation, and many on the other side of the scale where one person can work to his limit to get the job done. Like any other common sense catch phrase, this one needs context. Even SJW's example of an application development project, where the work has been divvied out and one programmer can knock out a dozen components faster than others can write one, can work both ways: Sometimes, one developer can develop an entire system by himself and move the company forward in capability. Sometimes, on a complex system development project, each developer can unit test their component(s), but must wait for the completion of others to do an integration test and helping others get their job done might be preferable to continuing to crank out components, but deliver the system late, because the common environment wasn't ready for test.

I think that, if you think of real world examples in which people working at their top capacity are a detriment, you'll find that most often these are just poor communicators, with provincial view, understanding and caring about only their own piece of the pie and not understanding that there is a whole pie to worry about. That is part of the job of management, to channel these individuals of limited viewpoint productively, giving them the acknowledgement they deserve while making sure that they are not gumming up the works through personality conflicts or by delivering over-engineered solutions that might be hard or expensive to maintain or expand, etc.

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Even SJW's example of an application development project, where the work has been divvied out and one programmer can knock out a dozen components faster than others can write one, can work both ways ...

No, the example you gave was an individual working on the wrong things. I said that in the real world individuals can work to their full potential.

What else is there to do on the boat but row? Nothing. In the real world, there's tons of valid things to choose from. As a manager, it's your job to identify those things and keep individuals working to their own individual capacity. It's not valid to compare rowing a boat too fast to picking the wrong things to work on.

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Justin - I don't think we've been disagreeing here, but perhaps have a different approach to looking at the overall problem. Your focus seems to be on the implementation details for optimizing a given set of capabilities. I acknowledge that it's an interesting and important problem and I don't disagree that even "within a few percent" of rowers still need to be synchronized (to take that one example). But my focus has been on improving final results, including competitive results. Analysis of an optimal system should include the corollary problem of how to improve its output by modifying its parameters - or perhaps modifying the way the system works entirely in order to better utilize resources.

I do have some mathematical background and have worked on non-linear curve fitting programs (with many parameters), so I understand the idea of local vs. global maxima/minima.

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