Getting back to your roots.


The Daily Show's John Oliver was interviewed on KQED's Forum a few weeks ago. Along with some very clever observations, he mentioned how he loves doing stand-up comedy and tries to perform a few times per year. He also mentioned that Jon Stewart -- despite the administrative and creative burdens of producing four shows per week, to say nothing of writing a book and organizing the Rally to Restore Sanity -- also goes on the road to do stand-up. (Again with Jon Stewart? What's with me and Jon Stewart?) And that's nothing compared to Jay Leno, who still does about 150 nights of stand-up each year on the road. All three of these comedians have their roots in stand-up. Going back on stage is a way to refresh themselves, challenge themselves, develop new ideas, and perfect their art.

If you're an engineer, or a doctor, or an architect, and you've moved out of your area of specialty into "management," are you still in touch with the techniques needed in your field? Or have you lost a feel for what it takes to get the job done?

In most organizations that I've seen, many of the managers and executives no longer have a feel for how long it takes or how difficult it is to do something. As a result, strategic initiatives from management are often divorced from the reality of actually getting the task done. This leads to unrealistic timelines, missed deadlines, overburden, stress, and frustration.

Getting out of the corner office and into the gemba on a regular basis means that you see and learn what it takes to accomplish daily work. You'll know how long it takes to perform preventative maintenance on a machine, how difficult it is to update a critical spreadsheet, or how time-consuming writing a proposal can be. And that knowledge will either lead you to help figure out how to do the job more quickly and easily, or, at the very least, will give you an appreciation for how the sausage is made.

Whether you want to call it getting back to your roots or simply going to the gemba, the act of seeing (and if possible, doing some of) the work will sharpen your skills and help you to execute on your strategy more effectively.

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