I appreciate The Republic giving me the opportunity to be one of the community contributors, and as an introduction to my writing approach and my history (besides the many letters to the editor I have written over the years), I wish to set the stage for you in reading my writing.
I spent many years helping companies improve the way they produced products and services based on the revolution created by a few Japanese car companies in the early 1970s and ’80s. I began this work at Cummins in the early ‘80s, when this approach to manufacturing was really foreign to American corporations.
What I discovered in those early years was that to achieve this high level of quality and low cost required a different mind-set. I based my career on helping to shift the way we viewed how work gets done and how we best organize to support that. What I learned was that this mind-set was very beneficial to all aspects of life, and that is what I will write about. And it all starts with the word “and.”
I will start with a metaphor that is so very familiar to all us Hoosiers. (Albeit that I am an adopted Hoosier.) And, of course, that is basketball.
To create a high quality and winning basketball team, every good coach knows that he must have excellent individuals and excellent team players. To have a group of highly capable shooters who only want to build their personal stats may win some games but, ultimately, they will not be a championship team. And if you have a great group of team players who do not spend time in the gym developing their personal skills, you will not have a winning team.
It is always both individual and team. This is true in companies, in families, in government and all aspects of life. We have a responsibility to constantly develop our own talents and our ability to help and support those around us.
The mind-set of this is what I would call the “both/and” way of thinking, versus the “either/or” way of thinking. What I found in my work was that many of the people I dealt with were of the “either/or” way of thinking and saw life as a personal competition.
It was a dog-eat-dog world where everyone was on their own to succeed or not. They saw that helping others was weak and contrary to their own gain. They saw the world as a place of constant conflict and battle. It was either them or me. They simply could not see that it had to be a balance of helping others and increasing one’s own skill and competence.
When I visited some of the most competitive companies in the world, I saw this balance in full display. Yes, people wanted to get ahead and get promoted, but they also saw that making their team or unit or department more effective was just as critical. The results of this way of working were far ahead of the companies where there was a constant battle of individual struggles.
This also applies to the traditional labor/management struggles. Ultimately, they are on the same side of making the company succeed and sustain success for both. But I found many, on both sides of that, lived in the “either/or” mentality of “us versus them.”
Our society is a collection of individuals and a collective of individual talents. It is both. We need to develop people who can see that the success of the whole is not a diminishing of the individual, and the success of the individual does not come at the expense of the greater good. We all need both.
It our personal responsibility to grow and develop our capabilities and then use them to make this world we live in a better place. It is never an either/or deal.
Columbus retiree Tom Lane is the latest addition to our contributors for the weekly Community Column. He served as a consultant to a number of companies in his career. In recent years his has been a familiar name to readers of The Republic’s Letters to the Editor column. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.