Wisdom is meant to be passed along

After two years of working away from home to build up his bank account, our oldest son Chris has returned to Frankfort and taken a job with Earth Tools, a small company we first encountered over ten years ago when we moved to the farm and found ourselves in need of a walk-behind tractor. It had always been in the back of Chris’s mind that he’d like to work for Earth Tools–as well as set up a homestead in their vicinity–and so when a position came open he jumped at the chance. Nominally he’s the office manager, but in general he looks around for useful work to do and proceeds to do it.

Although mainly a retailer, Earth Tools has a production process of sorts–assembling and testing various configurations of machinery, sometimes modifying or even manufacturing implements. The flow of orders needs to be managed, which can lead to unexpected and unintuitive difficulties that cause things to pile up. Like most small operations they generally chalk this up to the “busy season”, but because I know some things about production scheduling issues I’ve had an ongoing conversation with Chris about ways in which the process might be improved.

A few weeks ago, for the first time in a very long while, I started remembering things about production bottlenecks. In particular I remembered a book, The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt, which was required reading in my circle during the late 90s. Not only was Goldratt’s way of thinking revolutionary in production circles, it was a good introduction to production issues for someone coming to them for the first time–essentially he had stripped away a lot of analytic mumbo-jumbo to create a model that is mostly common sense. Since Chris was new to this–not to the issues themselves, since he saw their effects everywhere, at work and in everyday life, but new to thinking about the issues–I thought it might be a good place to start. I ordered a copy of The Goal (along with copies of most of Goldratt’s other books–thank you AbeBooks!), read through it again for reassurance that it was as good as I remembered, then handed it to Chris.

After reading it, he said something to me that was very gratifying: “This is the same stuff you’ve been telling me for years.” Gratifying in part because, even though I hadn’t thought specifically about Goldratt and his insights for nearly twenty years, I had apparently internalized his lessons to the point that I was in effect living them out, applying his wisdom in visible ways and passing it along to my kids. And gratifying especially because I had not only made that wisdom available to them, but in such a way that they had internalized it themselves, at least enough to recognize it when presented in other ways by other people.

A blog post is a very narrow, restricted means of communicating, inadequate to the task of passing along wisdom as described above. But though blogging is by no means the entire mechanism, it is one of many tools in my kit, even in raising children–both Chris and Maggie have told me they are glad they read my blog posts as I wrote them, and sometimes go back in search of old ones to refresh their memories about how I think. When it comes to my readership I am much less concerned that what I say is internalized–but writing here does make for a good discipline for becoming understandable. Whether the reader ends up understanding what I write is partly out of my control, but I want it to be largely out of my control, due to willful misunderstanding or sheer lack of interest on the reader’s part, not unskillful writing or thinking on my part.

Plus there’s also the blunt fact that if you can’t explain something clearly, you probably don’t understand it as well as you should. So for the (few) things I think I know, it’s a healthy challenge to write them down for others to read. I learn as I write, and I learn more as I hear my thoughts repeated back to me and say to myself, “No, that’s not at all what I meant.” And when I hear my thoughts repeated back to me accurately–well, I don’t learn anything then, but I’m very, very gratified when it happens.

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