DiCaprio’s 11th Hour

I went to one of the opening shows of Leonardo DiCaprio’s new “documentary movie.” It, and what he is doing with it, are fantastic. I highly recommend it. A discussion followed the movie, led by Brian Gerber, one of the film’s producers, and Gil Friend, a friend who consults on environmental and sustainability matters. How is a discussion after the movie for an anomaly? Really it was something more than a “documentary.”

Three things impressed me about the presentation, aside from the fact that it was well done and showed the disastrous situation clearly, with lots of grounding: First, it showed clearly that there is already at work a broad constituency of people actively at work to do something about the mess. Second, while it pointed a finger directly at businesses as major contributors and culprits in the situation, it did not blame businesses for the situation. Third, it laid the responsibility for the mess, and for cleaning it up, squarely in the hands of you and me.

Here’s the trailer.

Go see it!

Five Great Wastes

Following a conversation with my friend Jim Selman, I decided to dust off my story about the kinds of things that I think are going to be the most important “wastes” of the time that is coming. Taiichi Ohno of Toyota fame was my original inspiration for this line of thinking.

Historic inventions are often built from historic difficulties, and they are always accompanied by new distinctions. At the end of the Second World War, the people of Japan were in terrible trouble, their morale, productive capacity, and international relations demolished. An engineer named Taiichi Ohno, in the enterprise today known as Toyota, began the task of building a new capacity for Japanese production, on top of Henry Ford’s designs, with some important additions. Ford incorporated everything into one plant; Ohno designed for operation in a network. Ford went all out for volume, and minimized variety, in the interpretation that this was the most efficient way to support the US market, and make the money that he needed to support enormous investments and pay his workers enough to buy his cars (roughly doubling the historic pay for that kind of employment). Ohno built a production system that would optimize scarce capital and raw materials, allowing efficient operation with small production runs. The operational heart of Ford’s designs were the way the engineers designed the coordination of the work; Ohno’s design was centered in processes that built the capacity of each person on the production floor to take responsibility for the quality and coordination of their work. Ohno’s inventions became the foundation of the quality movement that swept the world starting in the 1970s and 80s. Continue reading

Why is construction so backward?

Hal Macomber and I have been talking about construction messes for many years. He regularly says good things on his blog, Reforming Project Management.

I use the word “mess” to refer to a situation that cannot be responsibly characterized as a problem, or even as a collection of problems. A problem is something which, by virtue of the idea that there are “solutions,” presents itself as sufficiently well understood that skilled and intelligent people can bring solutions to it. A leaking faucet or a car that is not working is a problem. An automobile accident is a problem. A simple illness is a problem. Modern construction is not a problem. It is a mess. It begs for a historical reconstruction and the creation of new interpretations, from which whole new approaches to making offers, organizing the work, and conducting the work, will be born.

Yesterday Hal cited an article in the Boston Globe entitled, The Industry that Time Forgot, by Barry LePatner. In the article, LePatner talks about the recent extraordinarily rapid repair of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, as an example of evidence that other futures for construction are possible. The author says, among other things, “The modern construction business hasn’t changed significantly since the first steel-frame skyscrapers began to rise in the early 1900s. Early tall buildings such as the Tribune Tower in Chicago and the Woolworth Building in New York grew too complex to remain under the purview of a single “master builder,” the architect who knew and supervised every detail of the project. Instead, each required an assembly of specialists — electricians, plumbers, heating contractors, excavators. Dozens, then hundreds of companies arose to handle those systems, each a local family-run shop that drove its truck to one project at a time. Today, in 2007, that’s still basically how the business works.”

What a wonderful opportunity!

As I write, I am listening to Scott Joplin’s Heliotrope Bouquet, from 1907, and the music fits perfectly. A lyrical piano piece 100 years old that would have been lovely accompaniment to a segment of a Charlie Chaplin comedy – perfect music for “modern” construction. Click here to hear the music played on YouTube by Andy Koehler.

John Prewer, called “the Godfather of modular construction,” recommended that I read Why is construction so backward a couple of years ago.

Anybody out there read it? I have found that most of my friends in the construction industry are not even aware of its existence.

Interview with Fernando Flores on Blogging

Conducted earlier this year by Rosario Lizana, the full text of the interview can be found here.

The site is set up so that I could not cut and paste from it, so you will have to go there to see what he said. The interview is less than a page in length. In it, Flores talks about his blogging, what he doing with it, about language and what it is to give an opinion, and about bullshitting. The interviewer interpreted that he was talking about Harry Frankfurt’s book, but as one person commenting pointed out, Fernando Flores was talking about bullshitting decades before Frankfurt published his book.