Thursday, April 24, 2003

On Dandelions--Tools

What about the tools to use on getting rid of dandelions? If the weeds themselves are a metaphor for waste, might the tools be a metaphor for how we go after the waste?

  • Simple tools work. The tool my wife handed me when I started was designed for popping dandelions. It had a wooden handle, somewhat like that of a screwdriver, a shaft about 10" long and a v-shaped tip, designed to grab the lower part of the root and force it up from below. No moving parts. No batteries. No high-speed Internet connection required. And, it worked.
  • Even effective simple tools can be improved. As well as it worked, after 90 minute of weeding, I observed a large blister forming in the palm of my right hand. By pushing down, time and time again, I had embedded the handle into my hand. The improvement? I have a large, rounded cap in mind that I’m going to fit the tool with before I go out again.
  • The improvement ideas come from those with the blisters. Not a tool designer in a lab or a machine shop. ‘Nuff said.
  • Why not use a spray? I asked myself that question, especially after I felt the blister work up. The answer, I concluded has to do with the complexity of the system.
    1. When our boys were younger, we had a simple back yard. The objective for the yard was to have a lot of smooth, uninterrupted grass to serve as a combination soccer/baseball/football/freeze tag field.
    2. As sports and neighborhood games gave way to cars and girlfriends, the goal for this expanse of grass changed. It became the canvas for my wife’s artistry in flowers, vegetables and shrubs.
    3. So, when the yard was simple, a broad spray of Ortho’s WeedBGone was perfect. It couldn’t do any damage to anything else because there wasn’t anything else to hurt. It was deadly on the dandelions.
    4. Today, though, the risk of "collateral damage" to tender spring flowers is much higher. The dandelions would still go away but do I risk losing all the tulips on a windy day? No way. A wide application of a comprehensive herbicide is clearly too risky.
    5. Therefore, in a complex yard, a focused, targeted waste-removal strategy was in order.
Taiichi Ohno said the central question was not eliminating waste but finding waste. Once you find it, it is then relatively easy to eliminate. I hope this set of discussions, using dandelion removal as a metaphor for a waste-free business system, helps you to learn better how you see the waste, the weeds, in your system. Then, find the right tool and the right teacher to go practice it and get good at it.

I hope this is helpful.

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