The Rock and the Shoe

Monday, February 16, 2015

You can ignore that cold draft sneaking in under the winter door, and just cram a rolled bath towel against the opening.  You can ignore the slight hesitation every time you press down on the accelerator; that is until your gas mileage drops to 9 miles per gallon and climbing into third gear hurts.  You can ignore the dulled talk radio chatter in your neighbor’s cubicle until your callers wonder just what in the heck is going on there behind the phone. 

But like drafty doors and leaky cylinders, there are some things that won’t be ignored.  My old friend at Honda, Rick Mayo, told me one of his favorite stories: “The Rock and The Shoe.” 

Mayo was a purchasing engineer, which meant that he and his team had the special responsibility of visiting, living and working with suppliers. He was trained by Teruyuki Maruo to trust his senses — sight, smell, taste, sound — and to know within minutes of stepping on a production floor whether the machines were running right and where the problems were. 

No doubt Mayo subscribed to the idea that a flaw, a small accident or a change in the sound of a machine is a gift because it leads us to deeper observation and cause-and-effect problem-solving. 

But sometimes we just don’t catch it — the gift — because it wasn’t loud or big enough, or because we’re procrastinating, waiting (and hoping) that spring will come soon and eliminate that draft, or hoping that we can just get through a few more months with that engine problem.   

Sometimes procrastination works, and we call it caution, and sometimes it doesn’t, and then we call it disaster.

Here is how Mayo illustrated the procrastinator’s dilemma. If you have had the experience of walking with a small pebble in your shoe, you will remember that although you can ignore the discomfort and hobble on down the road a bit, eventually that small stone hurts. You start to favor the other foot, and your walk becomes a painful, injured gait.

 “How much longer on this path?” you ask, as if the shoe could answer.  You try to distract yourself with looks to the horizon and a pause for a drink of water and a few bites of a protein bar.  You stop and watch a flotilla of ducks lollygagging on the pond, but the minute you’re up and moving again, that stone, that little stone, feels like a rock and now it hurts with an insistent pulsing that won’t quit. 

Poor performing businesses are the rock in the shoe.  Although they may be tolerated for several miles, eventually their business partners will stop by the side of the road to locate the trouble. 

When that irritating pebble is discovered, it is removed forever.  If there is a supplier in the portfolio that always delivers just a little bit late or a little bit early; if your logistics provider provides tracking information three days old; or worse, if a long-standing customer costs your business more than it’s really worth in receivables; then it is time.   (See Firstronic CEO John Sammut’s “Customer Rationalization Matrix.”

Patricia Moody
Patricia Moody

Named by Fortune magazine a "Pioneering Woman in Manufacturing," Patricia E. Moody, The Mill Girl at Blue Heron, is a business visionary, author of 14 business books and hundreds of features. A manufacturing and supply management consultant for more than 30 years, her client list includes Fortune 100 companies as well as start-ups. She is the publisher of Blue Heron Journal, where she created the Made In The Americas (sm), the Education for Innovation (sm) and the Paging Dr. Lean (sm) series. Her next book about the future of manufacturing is The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Copyright Patricia E. Moody 2013. With permission.