While visiting a foundry, Mr D, a veteran engineer struck up a conversation with me. “I’m not very happy with young engineers these days,” he said.
“What makes you say that?” I asked, rather surprised.
“They constantly get wrapped up in technicalities. For example, they’re obsessed with the milling machines. As soon as they hit the shop floor they pour all their energy into modifying the tools: changing the blade material, adjusting the angles, and so forth.”
“I understand the importance of good milling when finishing up products,” he continued. “However, it’s far more important to invest resources towards improving our casting accuracy. That way we can create products without milling in the first place; a goal this factory’s had for some time.”
“Even after explaining this, young engineers still obsess over milling theory. I wonder if their education is to blame.”
There is a big difference between having skills and knowing when to use them. The overriding goal at this factory was to create desirable products faster and with less waste. Improving casting techniques and eliminating milling altogether would go a long way toward achieving this. Spending company resources on unnecessary improvements certainly would not.
The young engineers measured their contribution by how many skills they could use, but rendered themselves useless by squandering them on menial tasks. It is an example that demonstrates that while having skills is good knowing when to employ them is of fas greater benefit
- Singo, S. (1959) Kaizen and the art of creative thinking. Pp 57. Enna Products Corporation and PCS Inc, Bellingham, USA