Variety is The Spice of Life
Some decades ago, I taught statistical process control to a group of non-engineer, non-statistician, non-manufacturer folks. This was before Six Sigma was a gleam in Jack Welch's eye, so statistical process control didn't have the raw sexual magnetism that draws people to it today. I began each class saying "processes vary" as a way to bring home the idea that process "control" is a beautiful but impossible dream. Because it's the nature of the physical world that as that ball bearing rolls against another ball bearing, it will wear down a tiny bit. And a micron difference in the size of a ball bearing can cause an imperceptible wobble in a tiny gear that causes a nanosecond delay in a process that multiples and so on and so on and so on until an automobile manufacturing line fails. I knew this as a kid when I learned that for want of a nail, a battle was lost.
But it's not just ball bearings. I vary. I'm different each time I take a breath and each new version of me ends up learning about the world differently every day. The butterfly flapping its wings across the planet stirs the air that brings a wind that blows pollen into my nose, resulting in an allergy pill at bedtime that makes me need extra coffee this morning. Coffee that was introduced to a metabolism that is a day older than yesterday's metabolism and caused, among other things, an obsession with mirrors.
Why does this matter? Because every day the work processes you face are different than they were yesterday. They are managed by people, software, and hardware that live in the physical world and so are bound by its rules. Your customers are different, too. They're influenced by politics, weather, and economics as well as their own lives. So then, life has new meaning every moment, every day. Today's meaning included side-view mirrors. It also includes working on a team with people who also vary, who are also new versions of themselves today. Somehow we've got to figure out how to make meaning out of the time we'll spend together today in pursuit of some goals.
I never got the mirrors right, but I can work on them again tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow's version of me will know more.
This is a re-post of an article I published on LinkedIn in 2017