Monday, December 28, 2009

A Candle and some Cabbage

I had the entire week off for Christmas and had an outstanding time with friends and family. On Saturday, we had the Huff Christmas. It is pretty amazing how much it still stings to have Christmas without Grandma physically present. Yet, her spirit lives on in and through us. We have a candle that we light in her memory. (I’m not sure if pictures show up on facebook from my blog so you can click here if you are reading from facebook and don't see a picture.) This year my dad asked me to share a memory of Grandma. Coincidentally, I had been contemplating a blog post that was going to include a reference to a story from my childhood.

My brothers and I were very fortunate to grow up two fields away from our grandparents. Consequently, we spent a great deal of time with Grandma. She would read us stories and play games with us. Of course, she prepared the best lunches and always asked if we wanted milk. (I don’t think we could have ever drunk enough milk to appease her!) One fond memory from my childhood is that Grandma would cut up cabbage and put a bowl of it on the kitchen floor. Then, she would tell me to pretend that I was a little rabbit and eat it from the bowl for a snack – no fingers allowed of course. Cabbage never tasted so good! (I have always liked cabbage.)

So this is a pretty goofy little story. Yet, for some reason it really came to mind during this Christmas season. It has something to do about not worrying about looking goofy. It has something do about living boldly, freely, and imaginatively.
(By the way, I think this picture also captures another theme quite beautifully - light in the darkness. Maybe it is not really a different theme at all.)

Monday, December 21, 2009


On Saturday evening, I spent about six hours out in the cold and snow playing my trumpet and sharing some news. In fact, the news was so great that we, the heavenly hosts, shared the news 89 times. Of course, it really didn't seem like 89 times because a miracle occurred in the form of Wooden Peel pizza appearing right in front of us. I broke one of the cardinal rules of trumpet-playing enjoyed several pieces of delightfulness.

So what is this good news that I mention. Well, it is the greatest news of all time. Unfortunately, I don't do a very good job of sharing this news. In fact, as I write this on my parents computer (yay for dial-up Internet), I am a little dismayed to think that over all of these years, the Holy Walk is the one time in the year that I explicitly share this news with others.

Yet, after twenty-nine years (okay, I was not even a year old when the very first Holy Walk was right outside the window of the room where I'm typing), the message is still fresh. In fact, the message is still fresh more than two thousand years later.

I know this for a fact.

I am convinced of this.

When the 88th group (each group averaged about 25) came by at 11:11 PM, something happened.

Normally, when I do the trumpet fan fare and exclaim, "Fear not,..." the shepherds and sometimes also the guide kneel. Once in awhile a young kid or two and a parent might also kneel. Something different happened though at that late hour. Several members of the group kneel ith the shepherds. Then, I watched as the members of the group looked at those kneeling and at each other. Then, collectively, the remainder kneeled. My eyes are watering right now with this image of a group of middle school kids and their parents kneeling on hillside outside of lowly Bremen hearing a proclamation of hope.

I think many of them were probably yearning for something.

In fact, I am confident of this.

Why? Because I was yearning for something and we are all people and deep down we all share some longings and desires.

I was yearning for the manger.

In fact, I said to some of the angels that I really wanted to go to the manger.

Unfortunately, I didn't.

Why? Probably for some of the same reasons that the people in the group were hesitant to kneel. It was cold. Someone else might see me. It was just toogoofy.

Well, on Sunday morning, I still longed for the manger and felt compelled to head over to Bremen United Methodist for church. As I was sitting in the pew, I heard the pastor say, "People want a glimpse of the manger."

Why? Because all of the sudden in that one glimpse, God is real. God is right there in the quagmire of shit (no really, I know for a fact that animals leave a mess - I scooped it plenty of times growing up on the farm) that is part of our human existence.

God is right there in a dirty, grimy manufacturing plant. God is right there when the tears blur the vision - when someone dies, when the world does not make sense. God is right there when we hesitate to be ourselves - even among friends.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Play Date

Well, I'm happily on vacation for the next week and am looking forward to this time of relaxation and rejuvenation. It might sound extreme, but this past week was a pivotal week in my transition this fall from the plant in Bremen to Lafayette.

It just became clear to me that we are making progress.

One of the highlights of the week was publishing my first newsletter for the fabrication facility.

It is called Fab-ulous Times. My hope is that it will be a newsletter to share improvement and best practices. We don't do a very good job of spinning our successes. We focus way too much on the negatives. This newsletter is just one step in the direction of improved communication. In addition, we started to make the initial steps toward empowering our production associates. My hope is that strategic, incremental steps will lead to more actively engaged employees. These steps are coupled with more tangible successes including turning in over $150,000 of engineering change requests that appear to be on track to approval in entirety.

I bring up the newsletter, though, because for me this newsletter was an example of playing. It ended up being a spontaneous decision to write up the articles. It also allowed me to get back to something that I really enjoy doing. I have kind of tucked away my interest in journalism over the years but some of my best memories from school were as the yearbook editor under the direction and guidance of Mrs. Smith. The nice part about the newsletter is that my boss is 100% on board. (He thought the title was great, too.)

So as I join my loved ones in preparing for the celebration of Christmas, I am particularly mindful of playing. This advent season, I have spent much time reflecting on God-in-the-Bod, Jesus. In sending a baby, a child, it is almost like God is saying, forget about playing by the rules. Forget about worrying about tomorrow. Forget about jumping to conclusions. Forget about feeling utterly inadequate. Forget about what others think of you. Instead, it is like God is saying, my Son, Jesus, needs a play date.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Play vs Play

Well, to continue from my last post, some definitions would be helpful. Many definitions of play exist. Probably the most common usage involves sports, and this definition is what good old Merriam-Webster gives first for play.

1 a : swordplay b archaic : game, sport c : the conduct, course, or action of a game d : a particular act or maneuver in a game: as (1) : the action during an attempt to advance the ball in football (2) : the action in which a player is put out in baseball

Ooh, swordplay. Now that sounds dangerous. But this is not really the definition of play that I have been thinking about. Although, in a round about way, I actually have been thinking about this, too. Okay, I'm confused, too.

No, the definition of play that captures most what I have been thinking about is nestled in about halfway through the M-W entry.

3 a : recreational activity; especially : the spontaneous activity of children

And, yes, this is the definition that I'm interested in most.

Back to the bike ride from the previous post...

When I started out on the ride, I knew where I was leaving from and where I was going to end up (back right where I started). However, beyond that, I did not have a plan. That is what is so powerful about this type of activity. As I think back over the years, some instances of this type of spontaneous activity come to mind.

Just last year, a few people were over to the house and we played music. We weren't looking at any music. We just played. It was amazing. Wrong notes did not exist. We weren't worried about how others thought we sounded.

One of my favorite memories from growing up on the farm is building straw forts with Matt. We would spend hours up in the barn building forts and crawling through tunnels trying to protect ourselves from an unseen enemy.

For some reason, all this is weighing on me heavily during this advent season. I'm going to try explaining in the next post (or two).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why is it sometimes so hard to play?

After my last post, I have spent additional time thinking about playing. While contemplating this not so deep concept, I asked the question, “Why is it sometimes so hard to play?” My mind quickly wondered back to a boy who was absolutely terrified about learning how to ride a bike. I was so afraid that Mom must have pretty much given up. In fact, she ended up having Cindy teach me how to ride bike in town. Well eventually, I must have finally figured out how to ride. I still have the George Washington Avon bottle that Cindy gave me as my prize for being able to maneuver that two-wheeled beast on my own.

I think this memory has a lot to do with why it sometimes seems so hard to play. In many – maybe all - cases, playing makes us kind of vulnerable. I mean, let’s face it. It really hurts to fall down on the gravel driveway when attempting to ride bike. Yet, even as recent as a few weeks ago, I was so thankful for the opportunity to explore the countryside around Rensselaer on my bike. And yes, it is still seems kind of vulnerable – especially with the shoes hooked into the pedals. I’m sure it would still really hurt – probably even more so today – to end up on the ground. Yet, for some reason it is okay, in that situation, to let go and play.

But, there is more to the story...

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I struggle a great deal with work. This past week, though, I learned a lot about these struggles. By Tuesday evening, I had ended up in a pretty dark place so I decided to call Mom on my way home. I told her that I was just so tired of the roller coaster ride. I told her that I must just have a wire crossed or something that keeps me from having any type of ongoing satisfaction with work. I told her that I just couldn't understand why school is so fulfilling and work is not.

Well, she brought up the toy farm collection. When Chad and I were younger, we used to play with our 1/64 scale farm collection. This collection is quite impressive and includes a house, garage, 2 barns, cow building, pig building, horse building, grain bins, and silos. It also includes pigs, horses, cows, and people (young and old of each). Other details include 3 types of fences with opening gates, sand box, swing set, and porch swing. Of course, we also all of the necessary farm equipment to maintain the operation. So Chad and I would spend hours filling the ping-pong table with our farm collection. Then, as soon as we were done setting everything up, I would head back upstairs.

Mom reminded me that this would frustrate Chad so much. Why? Well, we never actually played with our collection. We just spent hours setting it up. So Mom's wisdom, "Todd, you need to remember to play."

She's right.

It can't all be about strategy, lay-outs, and projects.

At some point, there has to be some time to play - to enjoy work.

Somehow, by the end of this week, this was happening. I had an unexpected phone call and also an unexpected visit. Results started coming in to the tune of over $65,000 in savings on one project with another $100,000 in process and another $35,000 on deck.

This all boils down to a sense of balance and perspective. I'm not sure what the next steps will be but I'm definitely going to remember to play.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Maxwell's Law of the Picture

Recently, I completed an analysis of my company. The object of the paper was to compare and contrast the company with Biblical principles shared by Steward (2007) in Doing Business by the Good Book. I learned a great deal in the process of completing this study. In the process, though, I became concerned about sounding too critical of the company. Then, I realized that it is going to be necessary to step it up several notches. No longer is it just going to be possible for me to tweak technical variables and get the results that I want and the organization needs. Why? Well, people are involved. People with their own values, skills, and interests.

One of the strategies that I came across is Maxwell's (2007) Law of the Picture. To encourage desired behaviors, Maxwell reminds that it is necessary to identify positives examples and then affirm the behaviors. This seems pretty simplistic but it certainly sounds like a good start. This is a strategy that I'm going to try using intentionally this week. We'll see how it goes.

By the way, thanks to Trent for supplying the picture from Wii bowling and tennis night. Pictures like this certainly affirm taking Wii seriously (or something like that).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Jumping to Conclusions

I like to think about areas outside of business. In fact, people in business should probably spend a lot more time thinking about areas outside of business. Lately, I have been thinking about the dynamic of a band. Probably this is on my mind because I really miss playing in the band at church.

Let's say a band has a vacancy. What are the factors a band leader might look at to fill the vacancy?

Ability to get along with other members
Stage presence

I am not a band leader so their are probably other characteristics to consider.

Now, an outsider might quickly jump to conclusions that the most important characteristic is skill. However, suppose someone has a great deal of skill yet does not know how to play as part of the group. An outsider might hear the candidate audition and be wowed by the performance and focus only on the skill. The outsider might jump to the conclusion that the highly skilled performer will be a perfect addition to the group. Yet, when the candidate tries out with the group, he or she does not blend in at all with the rest of the group. Why? Because the candidate wants to stand out from the group and demonstrate his or her superior skill.

The outsider is blinded by the skill and hires the candidate on the spot.

The band leader, though, thinks about the situation differently.

Maybe the band leader really just needs another person on the stage to fill it out.

Maybe the band leader is looking to diversify the group.

Maybe the band leader is looking for someone with a deep sense of commitment to the group and to improvement.

It is not just about skill or any other common pillar (e.g., years of experience, educational background, work ethic, appearance). It is a package deal.

Friday, November 20, 2009

On Leadership

It seems like a long time since my last blog post. This week is probably the most intense week of the Applied Management Concepts course because our individual papers are due this coming Monday and group papers are due the following Monday. Meanwhile, we have the weekly case study and also need to prepare the PowerPoint presentation for our group paper. Needless to say, this week has included quite a bit of extra writing and editing.

Of course, leadership is the hot topic in the management class so I have spent significant time reading and writing about leadership. Last night, though, I witnessed leadership in action - at a 2nd grade music concert. Jenn's second grade program was last night and the kids did an outstanding job. They came into they gym in an organized fashion. The kids were enthusiastic. They smiled and did all of the motions. They knew all of the words and sang them out.

Yet, oddly enough, the leader was not physically there. Jenn left school sick yesterday and had to miss that concert that she had worked so hard to prepare. However, it was quite clear that even though Jenn was at home sick, she was with the kids in spirit. I could totally sense her presence in the choice of songs and the kid's enthusiasm.

This captures so much about what leadership is about. She inspired her students in such a way that the show could continue - even without her physically being present.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Yesterday, Jenn and I enjoyed the beautiful sunshine by taking an afternoon bike ride. Jenn rode her mountain bike. I rode my racing bike. (My hybrid wouldn’t fit in the car to bring to Rensselaer.) So as Jenn observed, she had to pedal about ten times for every one of my pedals. I hope that she won’t be upset with me for sharing that she felt bad for holding me back. I told her that there was no reason to feel bad. When I started running and biking in 2008, it was a very spiritual thing – right from the start. It was never about times or paces. It was more about the journey – about shared experiences.

I still remember one late night with my back on the wet grass of the football field just gazing up at the stars – in awe. For some reason, an inner voice had said to try running the school block mile – and compared to those many times in high school, it was easy. Then, Trent, Ben, and I took off on some awesome bike rides. We would be out in the middle of the country or one of the local towns – belching, honking the horn at dogs, taking pictures, sometimes even singing. The fall of 2008, Jim and I swam almost every morning. That was amazing to hit the water after lifting as the overhead lights above started to brighten. So yesterday, Jenn and I shared a journey – a journey through the countryside – a journey through God’s creation.

Last evening, after we returned from our ride, I headed over to the fitness center to sweat it out before church. (This week, one of my goals is to sweat so much that my t-shirt is entirely drenched. Pretty cool, huh?) Yet, as I drove onto campus, I felt compelled to stop by the grotto – and pray. Then, I walked over to the chapel and continued praying. My prayer was for direction… for wisdom… for guidance… for vision.

I am learning more and more that taking this time is critical. Right now, it is so important in my work. Like the experiences above, work is also something spiritual for me. Now, I am beginning to understand why it is so frustrating. It is not about dollars. It is not above the bottom line. It is about something much deeper - something that is difficult for me to put into words.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Today, we had our health screenings in preparation for the new health care plan.

(First, a side bar... I couldn't find my swipe key to get into the plant. It is a virtual fortress without they key. So I waited around for someone to come to the door at the shift change and then raced up to the designated screening location. It was vacant. I immediately thought, "Oh, crap. I rushed around and it wasn't even today." Well, tt had been relocated upstairs.)

Of course, upon getting to the top of the stairs, one of the people running the screening asked for my name.

"Todd Huff," I replied.

"Huff?" one of the workers replied.

They continued on by saying that they were waiting for me. They had seen a sign at the training room located in the Bremen facility. The sign says:

Caution: Huff at Work

I'm not sure if this is good or bad, but they proceeded to hear two shifts worth of commentary on me.

One thing I can say for sure, though, is that this made the health screening a most enjoyable experience. It was like this was an ice breaker. At each step in the screening, the conversation just continued merrily along. In fact, I heard about their experience with the Bremen Inn. The lady even showed me pictures!

So really, this taught me a lot about connections. I certainly had no idea that a goofy sign put up by my coworkers would have such extended ramifications.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Last night, I went to church at Horizon in Bremen. This is the church that has been a huge part of my life over the last few years. Over the past few years, I went on two mission trips to the Dominican Republic, went on retreats in Vermont and Wisconsin, played keyboard in the worship band, and served on the management team. The people are like an extended family and it was so wonderful to catch up with them last night.

Last night, though, was very different. Pastor Jim did something totally radical. Horizon is not really known for doing things like everyone else. Jim changed things up even more last night. He threw the typical message, or sermon, right out the door. He threw out the message style of the pastor standing on a stage and lecturing to the congregation. He threw out the message style that expects the congregation to just listen and absorb what is being said. Ironically, he jumped off the church bandwagon and landed right back in the Bible:

1 Corinthians 14:26 (The Message)

26-33So here's what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. If prayers are offered in tongues, two or three's the limit, and then only if someone is present who can interpret what you're saying. Otherwise, keep it between God and yourself. And no more than two or three speakers at a meeting, with the rest of you listening and taking it to heart. Take your turn, no one person taking over. Then each speaker gets a chance to say something special from God, and you all learn from each other. If you choose to speak, you're also responsible for how and when you speak. When we worship the right way, God doesn't stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. This goes for all the churches—no exceptions.

Now, for any of you that have ever gone to church, does this even sound remotely familiar to what you experienced? Last night's service was the closest that I have ever attended to resembling this model... and it was powerful. The message became a dialogue. People were engaged and sharing thoughts and insights. Several people gathered at the chalkboard after the service and continued the discussion for at least a half an hour. No one raced to get out of the church after the end of the service. Why? Because this was real. This was about people discussing and sharing. This was about empowering the congregation to be active contributors.

I was left wondering about traditions. The scripture is quite clear about church gatherings. How have our man-made traditions evolved so far from what is written in the Word of God? It was kind of like a light bulb moment at church last night: "Oh, now this is what church is supposed to look like. Duh."

Yet, this is not isolated to the church. On Friday, we were investigating one of the machines and realized that the annealing chamber no longer had nitrogen ports. All annealers are supposed to have nitrogen ports. Yet, somewhere along the way, someone unknowingly covered up the nitrogen ports, and they were quickly forgotten. Then, we are looking at the machine on Friday and that light bulb moment happens: "What the heck happened to the nitrogen ports?" So Andy pulled off a plate and added ports. This is likely one of the reasons for color variation in our copper. Yet, something so obvious had become hidden over time.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


I am currently taking an applied management class in Indiana Weslyan's MBA program. Before starting the class in Lafayette, I was thoroughly enjoying reading and writing. Learning had evolved into a profoundly intrinsic part of of my life.

On Monday, as I was driving home from class, I became utterly frustrated by this class. We are working on a group project that involves the analysis of a fictitious company, CanGo. We have a CD that has a series of vignettes and other features such as financial data and memos. We are supposed to watch the vignettes and then evaluate the company and make recommendations.

This is frustrating because before this class I was already doing this for real. I spent a lot of time thinking and even writing about my observations. So I'm left wondering why we are studying a fictitious company. Why aren't we looking at our own companies or researching other companies? This project is quite stale compared to the real thing.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Light in the Cave

Last week, I officially moved into my new office. I knew that something was very different. However, it didn't dawn on me until when I was packing up at the end of the day.


I have affectionately been referring to the plant as a cave.

Consequently, it is amazing to have the sun shine through the windows and shed some light into the cave.

This actually is the first time that I have had an office windows. This really has shown me the importance of a good working environment. Having a window to the outside sure makes a difference.

This is actually what I have been trying to start fostering in the plant. Last week, the copper team members had an assignment. They had a series of questions and were required to discuss them with an operator, subject matter expert (outside of the facility), and another team member. I was unsure about the response. However, I was pleased to learn that nearly everyone completed the assignment. When one of the team members discussed his findings, I was pretty shocked by his enthusiasm. Later, one of the subject matter experts shared his thanks for the dialogue. More and more, I am starting to become convinced that is what it is all about. The technical side alone can only go so far. Communication and opening windows to the light will go the rest of the way.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Business Networking

Well, I have just a few minutes to write before class. The pace has picked up a bit more over the last week with class starting again. I have devoted any "extra" minutes to read, studying, writing, and, of course, raking leaves.

This past week, I also went to a business networking event in Indianapolis. I had a great time talking with students, alumni, and faculty from my alma mater, St. Joseph's College. It was particularly exciting to meet up with the CEO of a company that I interned with in college. He is an amazing businessperson - probably because he knows how to surround himself with truly the best people possible. His business has seen remarkable success - even in this sluggish economy. So having the chance to catch up with him was certainly a great part of this event. Some of his other secrets to success are present in some additional comments that he shared.

"I know you will do well in the future - just don't try to force it. Enjoy what you are doing, continue to challenge yourself, and continue to look for opportunities to use and develop your talents. Eventually you'll be at the top and you will have enjoyed the process of getting there. It's not about you being successful - it 's about you helping others be successful."

Yes, I'm pretty sure that this type of attitude is what has taken this particular CEO to the top.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Wearing the Pink Shirt

This month has been Breast Cancer Awareness month and each week we get an email reminder to wear pink on Friday. The HR representative also makes a pitch at Thursday's staff meeting. But, of course, the guys tend to opt out of this. Sure, we will wear the little stick-on bows, but none of the guys have worn a pink shirt to work so far.

For some reason, I was thinking about this last night on the commute home. (I do have quite a bit of thinking time now.) I asked myself why I would not wear pink shirt to work. Sadly, the reason boiled down to embarrassment or concern about what people would think of me.

Well, it quickly dawned on me that these are not reasons at all. Instead, they are excuses.

Considering all the suffering that people with breast cancer go through, wearing a pink shirt to work is the very least that a person could do.

So I went to Walmart in search of a pink shirt.

I locate one.

It is as small. That is the only pink shirt. Usually, I get a medium.

But I notice that it is on the $5 rack. So I pick it up and head to the register. My thought is that even if it shrinks too much to wear again after a couple washings, $5 is probably okay to spend.

Well, I get up to the cash register and the cashier enters the number from the tag because the bar code is missing.

The cash register reads $1.07.

I say that it is $5. She says that it is$1.07.

I kind of take it as an omen of sorts.

Anyway, this all kind of really struck home today because I'm having trouble with my platelets again. So wearing my pink shirt, I stopped by the Arnett Hematology an Oncology building to get a blood test.

I was kind of struck by the words on the sign. I was there for the Hematology part but a lot of other people go there for the Oncology - the cancer - part.

I was just led to think about the sick and suffering.

We take so much for granted. Like I've said all week here at work, it is so easy to get into a cave - to have myopia. Yet so much more is going on in this world - a lot more than we can even begin to fathom.

(By the way, the blood tests came back better than expected and I feel great so we are waiting to see what next week brings.)

Take care,


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Job Shadowing

Last week, I spent almost the entire day working with one of our employees here.

The purpose of this job shadowing day was to understand his workload and identify opportunities to make his efforts more effective. I quickly found out that the reason we were not necessarily seeing things the same way is that our expectations were different.

I was expecting him to make decisions, try new things, identify problems.

He was afraid to say anything. He was afraid to question his data. He was afraid to trust his own observations. For example, at some point in the past, he was told to run the drawing solution concentration between 5.5 and 6.1%. He was not allowed to ever run outside of these values.

However, the operators have been having wire breaks. I am not used to running concentrations that low and inquired with some subject matter experts. Even the supplier of the product did not recommend running with the concentration that low.

Come to find out even, the person I job shadowed had questioned the concentration.

He just didn't say anything.

So we increased the concentration by a percent and the wire breaks went away.

Today, I witnessed something awesome.

This guy was putting up temperature guidelines on the necessary meters to monitor solution temperatures.

The best part, though, was that after he put them up, I saw him taking operators around and explaining how to manage the temperatures.

This transformation started exactly one week ago.

Monday, October 26, 2009

First Fruits

Several of my more recent posts might have seemed a bit critical, cynical, or pessimistic. In reality, that is not the intention.

Have you ever had a sore throat?

A bad sore throat.

So bad that you can't seem to be able to get out what you are trying to say...

and people don't understand even if you try.

I guess that you might say that I've kind of had a sore throat when it comes to work-related issues. Now, though, I'm starting to get a voice back. This hasn't happened over night.

However, some keys to this transition:
  • Reading the Bible - I think the ethical mishaps of so many companies are evidence enough of needing a strong foundation for work in business. The Bible has started to become more of a foundation for me in my work. Yes, I still get angry, still swear, still handle a lot of situations poorly. Yet, as Maxwell says in in the Maxwell Leadership Bible, the Word of God is a "guide, guard, and gauge."
  • Returning to Creativity - I am lucky to have a few close friends who are extremely creative. They see things differently. They spin things differently. They look at things from different angles. Jenn and Trent are prime examples. Check out Trent's blog to see some of his photography. Jenn is a music teacher. She is always coming up with new ways to teach music. I think the fact that some 70 elementary kids come to school early for choir practice is evidence enough of the impact of her creativity on the students. In college, I was all about creativity. I played in the bands, acted in a couple plays, designed innovative lesson plans, and wrote award-winning papers. This creativity never went away, but perhaps the expression of this creativity was a bit stifled.
So back to previous posts: Why Not? and What Does Pizza...? After just being totally open with our lubricant supplier and providing data and research, the walls started to crumble on Friday in the form of an email.

They want to explore new technologies with us.

They are interested in field studies.

They believe alternate chemistries are indeed available that could help us with some of our quality concerns.

To use the phrase of a former teacher, "I'm tingling."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Manufacturing Accounting 101

First, I am not an accountant.

However, I do like numbers and math.

I also like ratios.

This past year, I began studying expense ratios. My preference is to take expenses and break them down into dollars spent in specific categories (e.g., tooling, lubricants, hubs) per pound produced. Expressing the ratio in this manner is helpful for three primary reasons:

  • It avoids the divide by zero error if, within a given time frame, no money is spent within a category.
  • It makes it possible to determine quickly the dollars saved or lost compared to a previous time frame or to another facility.
  • It corrects expenses for volume produced. This has been particularly meaningful during this down economic time. If volume is down, expenses like tooling should be down by a similar percent.
Above, I have included a true example of this type of analysis to demonstrate the value of this type of detail. For Expense Category I, Facility A has spent almost double the number of dollars pound per pound as the facility spent last year. It has spent almost five times the number of dollars pound per pound as Facility B has spent year to date.

This concisely demonstrates significant discrepancies, and I quickly facilitated strategies for improvement at Facility A.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The "Pissed Off Gene"

I am reading this great little book by Hugh MacLeod, Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity. Quite frankly, I have not ever read a book that makes more sense to me than this book does. The 18th key to creativity is “Merit can be bought. Passion can’t” (MacLeod, 2007, 73). In this section, MacLeod discusses what he calls the “Pissed off gene.” Without pissed off people, nothing gets done.

I’m not sure that pissed off in this context has as much to do with anger as it has to do with passion.

Being pissed off involves passion.

It involves recognizing that we live in a screwed up world that needs each of us to step up and take action.

Everyone knows about the glass being half empty or half full. I used to feel bad about having such a hard time seeing the glass as half full. I’m not sure that seeing it half full is the right way to look at things anymore. Seeing the glass half full conveys a sense of complacency. Seeing the glass half full conveys a sense that things are really okay.

No, things really are not okay.

Things are broken.

Things have to be fixed.

So let’s see the glass as half empty, get pissed off, and fill it up.

Maybe even let it overflow.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Clock in. Turn off mind.

I heard something very troubling while shopping at Kohls the other day. (We were doing our part to stimulate the economy.) We ran into a friend who shared a story from her work. She heard one of her coworkers speaking with a production associate: “We pay you from the shoulders down not the shoulders up.”

I call bull shit.

Sorry to be blunt, but that is one of the saddest things that I have ever heard in my life.

Yet, unfortunately, that is what manufacturing runs the risk of doing to people. Manufacturing can turn people into work horses – creatures just plodding away pulling the plow. That is not how we are designed. I don’t care if we are talking about chemists, janitors, teachers, garbage people, farmers, receptionists, dentists, or librarians. We have minds. We should use them.

I recently had a conversation with one of my coworkers. As seems to happen so frequently now, it started out with me asking a question:

“Why does the level of this tank change all of the time?”


“Well, I’ve been told it is because we change the valve settings?”

“I’ve been told?”

Stop right there. Notice the question. I didn’t ask what for what he had been told. I asked why the level in the tank changes. Level changes in tanks suggest volume changes. Volume changes suggest concentration changes.

It turns out that the concentration did change.

The volume in the tank had changed. It had nothing to do with changing valves. It had nothing to do with what someone else had said. It had everything to do with people not knowing how to maintain the evaporative losses of the system.

It is time for change.

It is time for manufacturing to honor the fact that people have brains.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why not?

Recently, I spent some time learning about alkyd varnishes. I still have a lot to learn about them so if I am in error on anything here, please let me know. Two of the components of alkyd varnishes are fatty acids and polyols. Interestingly enough, fatty acids and polyols are present in certain lubricant formulations as well. Interestingly enough, varnish films can change refractory patterns and the perceived color. Interesting.

T: Are these lubricant formulations susceptible to form varnishes under any conditions?

S: The chemist says, “No.”

T: Why not?

No reply.

Okay, so maybe I’ve been coming across a bit critical in the last few posts. Really, that is not my intention. In fact, I wish people would ask these same questions of me. I wish they would challenge me. In fact, do it right now.


Because if we are not being challenged, we might as well keel over right now.





Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What about the gray area?

This past week, I had a rather interesting conversation regarding copper strip. This particularly copper strip is wrapped around aluminum and the seam is tig-welded. Before being wrapped around the aluminum, the strip is cut to ensure a uniform edge. After looking at numerous breaks with the seam visible, this step in the process sent up red flags because anything that has to do with cutting must wear. The resulting conversation:

T: How do you know if the cutting tool is in good working condition?

S: Well, we know it is bad when we see a burr.

T: So you have good cuts and you have bad cuts. What about the gray area in between?

S: It is either good or it is bad.


Monday, October 19, 2009

What does pizza have to do with drawing solutions?

Our lubricant supplier for the drawing machine solutions likes to bring in some pizzas for the plant. I’m not inherently opposed to pizza. In fact, I like a few pieces of pizza from time to time. I’m not inherently opposed to promoting goodwill between the customer and supplier. However, this past week, I was left wondering, “What does pizza have to do with drawing solutions?”

Recently, I had asked this particular supplier if any elevated temperature studies had been performed using their products. Most of our production (90%) ends up being processed at elevated temperatures. My review of the literature left many question marks flashing in my mind regarding the stability and reactivity of components within these products at elevated temperatures. They indicated that no one in the industry has completed these analyses. They also said that they have five chemists. Basically, this translated in my mind, “How dare you even suggest our product could pose problems at elevated temperatures because we have five chemists. Because we have five chemists, why would we even think about doing elevated temperature studies?”

So meanwhile, I’m back in my makeshift lab conducting elevated temperatures studies when this smell starts permeating into the room. It is the smell of pizza. I hear the representative socializing with one of our maintenance workers (I’m not sure what that has to do with lubricants either). This is frustrating. So I make a request: “Why don’t you use our ‘pizza fund’ as the start of a research and development project for the products that we buy?”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Supplier Issues

Supplier Relations

Last week, a supplier visited to discuss the components of their products and any possible implications that they have in downstream processes. One of the processes is of particular concern because it involves exposure to temperatures up to 200 ˚C for 30 seconds to several minutes. I have completed a fairly significant review of the literature on one class of chemicals used in the products in question. The literature alludes to the possibilities of desorption and decomposition at elevated temperatures.

Unfortunately, the research specifically in our industry appeared to be limited. This is troublesome to me because the vast majority of our product is processed at these elevated temperatures. In fact, the representative said that he was not aware of any research completed at these elevated temperatures. Quite frankly this left me wondering when the industry in question will come out of the dark ages. As far as I can tell, there have not been any truly significant developments in years. This is certainly what we have observed from this industry within our organization. The time is ripe for research and development. The time is ripe for change.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How was your day?

This is a question that Seth Godin (2008) asks in his book, Tribes.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sift through boxes of my work over the past few years. It was a great to get rid of the junk that had accumulated. However, this also proved to be a pretty difficult experience. I came across an extensive research project and the resulting paper that we shared with a customer. Behind my bookshelf was a brainstorming diagram about wire breaks. The team had written ideas on Post-It notes and then we placed them on a sheet to summarize.

This was difficult because something changed over the last few years. I guess it was me. I kind of closed up for awhile and became very cynical and angry towards work. So my answer to Godin’s question was not particularly positive. Yet, deep within, this was so wrong to me.

In looking through Facebook each Thursday and Friday, how many people do you see that write about being glad for the weekend? On Sunday, how many people write about not believing that the weekend is over? Yeah, I’m always glad for the weekend, but at the same time, why are we glad for the weekends? If it is because work is boring, mind-numbing, or stifling, then perhaps something needs to change. If it is because we are angry, frustrated, or hurt, then perhaps something needs to change.

The past few weeks have been quite an adventure in my new role. After overcoming a brief setback due to my blood problem, ITP, the days have gone by so fast. They have been filled with a new energy and a new sense of urgency. This is in due partially to one of my coworkers. He has taken time on many occasions over the past few weeks to offer words of encouragement and advice. (Special thanks to Jenn as we start learning how to deal with our schedules during this new time for us.)

My new goal is to answer the title question in the positive at least most of the time. If the majority of the time ever starts to sound negative, then it will be time to make some adjustments.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Life Starts Now"

Recently, I ran through the campus of my alma mater, Saint Joseph’s College. Banners hanging through campus proclaim, “Life Starts Now.” The question that came into my mind on this particular run was, “What if each of us said this every morning the moment that we wake up?” It doesn’t matter if we are 18, 24, 29 (that’s a great age), 35, 50, or 100. Education level doesn’t matter. Job status doesn’t matter. Relationship status doesn’t matter.

Two people recently shared plans that embody this spirit. One courageously approached his employer and indicated that he really wanted to turn his part-time position into a full-time position. Another shared the desire to move from teaching into school administration because she believes that she can make more of a difference in that capacity. Thanks to both of you for your dreams and your inspiration.

Friday, October 9, 2009

An Interesting Change

In Factories (Part II), I recorded some comments heard during some investigations:

“I just do what I’m told.”

“I’ve worked here for 3 years and have never touched those valves.”

“I don’t know which gauge you are talking about. We’ve never had to know that before.”

“Oh, the other shift quit doing that a long time ago.”

Today, in the waning hours of the work day, I hunkered down in my make-shift office to analyze some data involving two current projects. Honestly, I was pretty much spent after an intense week and needed some time to try and process data and get organized for next week. (For those of you who know me, staying organized is an ongoing battle. That is an understatement.) Anyway, as I was working on some spreadsheets, one of the production associates came up to the door and said:

"We have a reel that has issues. I know you are looking into all of this and wanted to let you know. Here are the tags from the feedstock reels."

Okay, rewind one week and the same person said, "I just do what I'm told."

It is pretty amazing the difference that one week can make.

I'm looking forward to recharging this weekend and hitting it hard again next week.

I'm not settling.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tool of the Trade: Digital Blue QX5 Computer Microscope

Surface defect on supplier feedstock (60x)

My cart

Yesterday, I had to make a quick run to... Toys 'R' Us.

I analyze copper wire breaks and it is helpful to be able to send picture of these wire breaks. It just so happens that the Digital Blue QX5 Computer Microscope works great for this application. (Click on the link for features.)

Unfortunately, due to my recent re-location, I had my microscope but not the software. So, desperately needing to use the microscope, I headed over to Toys 'R' Us to get another microscope and the software. To my dismay, they did not have it. However, I kept picturing this disk in my mind. I just couldn't see figure out where it was. This morning, though, at 5:40 CST, I woke up and realized that the disk was in a box right next to my bed.

At the plant today, I quickly took pictures and sent the necessary correspondences.

The Digital Blue QX5 Computer Microscope is great for the manufacturing environment. It is inexpensive ($80) but gets the job done. It is portable. I take it right to the production line. It is also pretty resilient because I dropped it on the way into the office this afternoon. It still works!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Project Pitfalls: Influencer Buy-In

Recently, I spent time reading Nehemiah in the Maxwell Leadership Bible. This book is loaded with lessons on leadership and project management. In Nehemiah, the book’s title character identifies a project, rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. However, before beginning the project, Nehemiah is careful to evaluate key stakeholders of the project. In this evaluation process, he identifies King Artaxerxes as one of the key influencers that needed to be on board for the project to be a success.

Projects will not succeed without the buy-in and support of key influencers. A few years ago, I started a project without the support of a key influencer. At the time, I knew that the project would not succeed without his buy-in and ongoing support. However, rather than rectifying the situation, I let the project slide for several months. In hindsight, I guess that I was scared or did not want to be a nuisance or take up his time. Honestly, though, we ended up running around in circles for several months. I was pretty embarrassed by the floundering project. Eventually, though, we gained the support of the key influencer and the project turned around rapidly. He made it a priority in the organization and we reaped significant savings. Nehemiah 2:1-9 affirms the need to obtain the support of key influencers. They provide resources and support that ensure successful completion of projects (Maxwell & Elmore, 2007). Without them, it is probably more worthwhile to work on something else.
Maxwell, J. C. & Elmore, T. (Eds.). (2007). The Maxwell leadership Bible (2nd ed.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Project Pitfalls: The Elusive Project Y

I love projects.

I hate projects.

It is kind of this love-hate relationship.
New projects are exciting. Everyone wants to improve. Everyone wants to solve problems. That is why I love projects.

However, projects can also be very tricky. In our modern world of ever-increasing instant gratification, people want results, uh, yesterday. So it is really easy to start identifying potential causes of the problem. (Everyone wants to be the hero, right?) Of course, then, it is easy to start manipulating variables. Yet, what happens when it is difficult to monitor the results of those manipulations?

The issue is that sometimes it is necessary to unplug a little bit from the frenzy of the latest crisis (project) and take a few moments to reflect on the situation. Recently, we have started to address a serious quality issue within our organization. However, this is not the first time this issue has been examined. In fact, I’ll admit working on it for nearly a year back in 2004. Yes, we identified some of the variables causing the quality issue. Unfortunately, years later, it is quite apparent that more variables exist.

What is the problem? Well, the project Y (defect) is a bit elusive. The defect typically does not manifest itself until the product has left the building. It appears maybe two or three weeks after shipment. Okay, so this makes it difficult to monitor the defect. The time lag also makes it difficult to correlate the presence of the defect with actual production data.

So last week, I had to face reality, pause, and reflect on the problem at hand. This is what I hate about projects. I am so eager for results that it is hard to just relax for a few minutes and rationally evaluate the situation.

The answer became quite clear. We needed to develop a method for causing the defect to occur in-house. Because the appearance of the defect is a function of time, we are attempting to develop a 24-hour heat-aging test that will cause the defect to occur without degrading the sample due to the presence of the heat. We also are in the process of acquiring an instrument that will provide quantitative results. These results will hopefully be more robust than previous qualitative observations. Initial work late last week looked promising as we started to observe qualitative and quantitative differences between treated samples. Once we finish developing our method, then we can finally deep-dive into the process and solve this problem once and for all.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Week in Review by Guest Bloggers from Facebook

This week, several folks from Facebook left some powerful and thought-provoking comments on several posts. Just wanted to include these for those of you not on Facebook.

A Troubling Conversation

"Work should be a profession, a career, a calling, not just a job. It is more personally satisfying that way and easier to see that you make a difference." ~ Rob

"Do you know about Brother Lawrence and his work Practicing the Presence of God? Any work we do can be infused with God's presence if we make it our mission to do so. It is an amazing concept." ~ Carol

Factories (Part I)

"More people need to WANT/DESIRE to make a difference." ~ Rhonda

Factories (Part II)

"Don't forget to look at management for buy-in to needed change. For systems change, it is difficult to have success without buy-in from the top." ~ Carl

"Most organization do not have the incentives (or culture) in place to create what might appear to be the more logical way to get things done." ~ Terra

"If an employee feels ownership of their position, be it machine or otherwise they will look at every gauge or valve and respond to it as if it were their car, house or other possession. This starts with management giving employees the feeling that what they do matters and makes a difference. Many "factory" environments are toxic due to bad ... read, more management. Your team is only as good as you are and you are only as good as your team. Motivate by example, lead with compassion, walk alongside and talk with kindness and respect and watch they employees grow." ~ Melodie

I'm looking for links and books on these and related topics. I'm also interested in hearing more!

We have been given so much. With these gifts come great responsibilities: to share, develop, grow. Thanks for being a part of this past week's journey.

Coming this week:

Project Pitfalls

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Factories (Part II)

In my previous post, I alluded to certain dangers related to working in a factory. These dangers became quite apparent while undergoing some recent investigations. Production associates (more commonly referred to as operators) are the heart and soul of the manufacturing operation. They are also the eyes and ears of the operation. They see the product. They hear the bearing that is going bad in a machine. They feel the product as they are setting up a production line.

All of this is great.

Yet, a certain danger lurks beneath the surface and is captured in conversations.

“I just do what I’m told.”

“I’ve worked here for 3 years and have never touched those valves.”

“I don’t know which gauge you are talking about. We’ve never had to know that before.”

“Oh, the other shift quit doing that a long time ago.”

(By the way, these comments aren't limited to production associates.)

As Godin writes, “The organizations of the future are filled with smart, fast, flexible people on a mission” (Godin, 2008, 41).

This leaves us with some choices.

We can do things the way that they have been done for decades. We can claim ignorance. We can pass the buck to someone else.


We can change for the better. We can learn. We can innovate.

Godin, S. (2008). Tribes. New York: Penguin Group.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Factories (Part I)

I'm now in my sixth year of working in a factory. Honestly, I hesitate to write the word factory. It would be great to call it something a bit more glamorous like a manufacturing facility, for example. However, at the end of the day, the best and most realistic term is in fact, factory. Over the years, my role in the organization has changed and evolved. Areas of study have included copper wire breaks, lubricants, interferences in ultrasonic welding, oxidation of copper, electron-beam crosslinkable compounds, and continuous vulcanization thermodynamics. Technical issues are definitely present in this industry.

However, a bit of a stigma is attached to factories. By their very nature, they tend to be repetitive. This can become a bit dangerous. (See Part II.) Seth Godin writes, "What you won't find in a factory is a motivated tribe making a difference" (Tribes 39).

My question:

Why not?

Why shouldn't there be a motivated tribe making a difference?

This is my new goal.

I want to help develop and be a part of a group that wants to make a difference.


Well, let's see.


Livelihoods of families.

Products made right here in the USA. (Might sound a bit old fashioned, but oh well.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009


In the past, I'm sure that I have blogged about dreams.

We all have dreams. (I hope so anyway.)

Kids seem to be most open about their dreams.

Have you ever heard any of these?

"I want to be police officer when I grow up?"

"Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be a musician."

Have you ever seen any of these?

Kids with red capes jumping from sofa to sofa. (Superman)

A kid who says, "I want to be like you when I grow up."

One of my dreams is to teach. Although I teach within my organization (or at least make the attempt), I still want to be able to teach in a more formal setting.

This past weekend, someone asked about when I would be done with my MBA. She said that she'd like to get me on the adjunct faculty list when I'm finished.

Bingo. The light bulbs start going off in my head.

All of the sudden, some new-found direction entered into picture. The day-to-day activities have started to have more meaning with this new possibility ahead.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Troubling Conversation

Recently, I had a very troubling conversation with a friend. However, the ramifications of what were shared are so prevalent today that I should not have been so shocked.

In summary, she was told that her work was “just a job.”

However, this person does not view her work as “just a job.” In fact, she views her work as her mission, perhaps I might even be bold enough to suggest her calling.

I share her desire for work to be more than “just a job.” Work and mission should go together. The challenge is to make this a reality each day. It is very difficult and I fail at this probably more than I succeed. However, in the depth of my heart, I have a longing for work and mission to dance together hand in hand.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Defending Mediocrity

I have slowly been reading Seth Godin’s Tribes. This is a short book so I’m not sure why it is taking so long to read. However, it will be a focus in the next month during this break from class. Early in the book, Godin writes about the status quo. Interestingly enough, this has been on my mind as evidenced by some earlier blog posts. In his discussion on the status quo, Godin writes about mediocrity: “Defending mediocrity is exhausting.”

Defending mediocrity is exhausting.

What does this look like?

Well, whenever anyone presents data for dashboards such as up-time, productity, quality, or cost-to-produce, there has to be some kind of response:

“Oh, we just don’t have enough time.”

“Our people are too busy.”

“We don’t have the needed resources.”

Another example: Lately, many businesses are adjusting health insurance benefits to reflect health data from key measures (e.g., BMI, diabetes risk, heart health).

Again, there has to be some kind of defense:

“We don’t have time to exercise.”

“It is in my genes!”

What would happen if all of the hours defending mediocrity or the status quo were captured and used to change the world for the better?

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Jesus Lives Here"

Saturday was Homecoming at Saint Joseph’s. It was an amazing day that started with a 5K and ended with a cook-out. However, the most important part of Homecoming is the opportunity to renew relationships. True friendships withstand distance and time. Conversations begin again almost from the same point that they end. These are the people that you think about and pray for even when the distance seems so far and the time seems so long.

This Homecoming was also special because my parents came. Earlier in the week, it became apparent that I needed help. I needed a bed and some furniture but was really struggling to figure out how to get these items. So I called Mom and explained the situation. It is so difficult for me to ask for help sometimes. However, on Friday Dad called and said that he was going to bring the bed. Mom ended up getting off call at the hospital and they both came. It was a special time to eat lunch together with Jenn, Dad, Mom, and Troy.

At Mass, Fr. Tim shared an anecdote from working in the grotto. One morning he was working in the grotto and overhead a conversation. Apparently, a younger sibling was with his brother or sister in the grotto. They were walking by the cave and the younger sibling said that he liked coming to St. Joseph’s because "Jesus lives here." He was referring to the statue of Jesus in the cave.

As I reflected upon the weekend, this is one image that stayed in my mind. Jesus does live here. One way I sensed his presence this weekend was in the renewal of relationships and the action of my parents.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Earlier this week, I was in a bit of a crisis situation.

Yes, a serious crisis.

I had toothpaste but didn't have a toothbrush.

What a sinking sensation to be getting ready for bed and then all the sudden realize, because of a series of events, no toothbrush.

Ironically, I had a spare toothbrush in my car just a few days earlier. (It was from my recent visit to the dentist) But my brother, Troy, needed a toothbrush. (That is another story in itself.) So when I forgot my normal toothbrush, I didn't have a back-up.

Well, it was not going to be possible to sleep without brushing my teeth.

So the only option was to use my finger.

Let me tell you that the finger does not work. My mouth felt pretty nasty.

This little situation taught me about all the things that we take for granted.

When was the last time you even thought about your toothbrush and its importance?

I never did until this week.

I can definitely say that I'm thankful for toothbrushes and am trying to be more conscious of the little things.

Take care,


Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with my boss about change. In an almost surreal way, I heard these words come out of my mouth, “I’m starting to think that changing positions in an organization is a good thing.” At the end of the conversation, it seemed that we both had reached this conclusion. In my own observations (and experience, for that matter), it is very easy to get into a rut. What might this rut look like? Well, maybe work that used to seem exciting is now boring. Maybe there is a conflict in personalities that makes it very difficult for either individual to grow. Maybe sometimes it is necessary to step out of the picture and let a fresh set of eyes have the chance to problem-solve and improve. Imagine the increase in value of the individual within the firm as he or she has the chance to move into other disciplines or locations. Often, it seems that these changes occur out of necessity – either on behalf of the company or the employee. However, what if changes like this occur intentionally or even strategically?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

New Job Monday

Tomorrow is new job Monday. It has been almost 2 months since the decision was made on the shore of Lake Superior. Honestly, it would certainly be a lie to say that the last few weeks have not been challenging. They have been pretty much a mixed bag of emotions that have left me fried. Yet, tomorrow is a new day, a new page.

Over the past few weeks, one experience that has been most enjoyable is having the chance to pass the rein to Matt and his team that now includes Dylan. Matt and Dylan take ideas and concepts and run with them. I have sincerely appreciated their enthusiasm during this transition and look forward to having a summit with them and others within the next few weeks. Working with these guys gave me a glimpse at what it looks like to work in collaboration with others. My hope is that collaboration becomes an integral part of the new job.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Going to the Dentist: A Matter of Perspective

It is probably safe to say that most people do not like going to the dentist. However, I can honestly say that I enjoy my two trips to the dentist each year. First, the staff at Dr. Tolle's are extremely friendly. I only see some of them two times a year but it is like the conversations just continues seamlessly from the previous visit. Second, my normal hygienist has a daughter that graduated in my high school class. Consequently, she is kind of in the know when it comes to others from our class. It is always great to hear what classmates are doing. Third, it is just great to have about an hour to just kind of rest.

Today, I walked into the waiting room and was surprised to see my brother, Troy, waiting there, too. The crazy thing is that this was actually a rescheduled appointment for me because I couldn't make one earlier in the week and Troy is home from school for our brother's wedding. We ended up being in adjacent rooms and talked across the wall. Jessica, my hygienist for this visit and Chad's future wife's cousin, and I talked about the upcoming wedding and accompanying events. It was quite clear to me that this trip to the dentist really had more to do about people than teeth!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Well it is already Tuesday evening and I really should be focusing on a myriad of other things right now. However, the last two days have pretty much worn me out so a break time is needed. At class last Thursday, we discussed the parable of the talents (Mt: 25:14-30). I have been thinking about this story since class. I guess that this story has always been kind of strange to me because of the word talents. According to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, a talent in the context of the story is:

1 a : any of several ancient units of weight b : a unit of value equal to the value of a talent of gold or silver

Of course, we are used to our more modern definitions:

3 : the natural endowments of a person
4 a : a special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude b : general intelligence or mental power : ability

So the typical sermon over the years has either dealt with investments of money or abilities. And, of course, this story certainly applies to both money and abilities. However, at class, something became more became apparent:

A question.

For whom are they doing the investing?

The Master.

What kind of investing does the Master do?

Well, He invests in the lives of others.

This story really hit me because this is what I have always wanted to do - invest in the lives of others - only maybe I never had the words to understand it. Growing up I always wanted to be a teacher or a pastor. Chad and Troy can attest to that because they used to come to my school in the closet. We had a microphone on the 8-track tape player that I used to use for the "sermons." As far as I was concerned, these were pretty much the only two professions that invested in others. Now, I'm starting to realize that this is a pretty narrow focus and should not be reality and in many cases is not reality. In fact this summer, I witnessed the wonder of someone investing in another person. It was one of the most amazing events that I have ever witnessed.

However, there is one small issue:

Fear (Mt 25:5).

Friday, September 11, 2009

Faith, Learning, and Work?

My favorite part of the management class that I'm taking right now is the faith and learning section. At Saint Joe, I became intimately aware that faith and learning go hand and hand. I recently pulled out some of my old papers and scanned through them. It was awesome to see the integration of faith and learning. As a future chemistry teacher (or so I thought at the time), I also integrated faith into teaching - at least in writing. For me, they seemed to fit together so readily. However, six years later, I am not a chemistry teacher, and I find it extremely difficult to live out my faith in the manufacturing environment. Consequently, this class is beginning to open my mind to the reality that God is present - even in manufacturing. As I embark on this new phase in my career, my hope is to remember that God is present and that there is purpose and meaning in work.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Organizational Culture

Tonight, as I was completing my management midterm, I needed to read part of the textbook (Robbins and Coulter's Management Today) to get some ideas for a response regarding ethical culture. However, two other sub-headings drew my attention: creating an innovative culture and spirituality and organizational culture.

These sub-headings highlight highlight a few ideas.

First, an innovative culture does not happen on its own. It has to be created and fostered. I suspect, though, that it is difficult to create an innovative culture out of an unimaginative, uncreative culture.


One simple word:


Innovation is risky. New ideas are risky. Debates and conflicts are risky.

Change is...


Second, I encounter many people who are dissatisfied with their work. One of the things that I long for is to find some kind of meaning in my work. Apparently, other people share these sentiments. Hey, the topic even made the textbook as part of this idea, workplace spirituality. I wonder, though, what it looks like to actively foster a culture with workplace spirituality.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Nehemiah and the Status Quo

As part of our mid-term, we are supposed to read the first few chapters of Nehemiah and the accompanying commentary from John C. Maxwell. As Maxwell points out, these chapters are absolutely loaded with leadership and management qualities. The great thing is that these characteristics are relevant and even taught today in classes - just maybe under different names. For example, when earning my Six Sigma black belt, we talked quite a bit about stakeholder analysis. The need for this step in the define phase of project management is highlighted in 2:1-9 when Nehemiah approaches King Artaxerxes and in 2:18 when he gets buy-in from the people.

Tonight, while painting under the carport, it occurred to me that Nehemiah is also a prime advocate of my latest mantra: SQS. When Nehemiah learned that the walls of Jerusalem were in ruins (1:3), he "sat down and wept, and mourned for many days" (1:4). Nehemiah recognized a problem and he was pretty upset about it. When I see problems, I also tend to get pretty upset - maybe not weeping and mourning on a normal basis but there are certainly emotions. Then, I quickly try to rectify the situation - oftentimes without analyzing broader implications. Nehemiah, though, does something different.

He prays.