How do you Make a Pencil?

In 1958 Leonard E Read wrote an essay about making pencils.

He described:

  • The growing of trees
  • The work of a lumberjack
  • The operation of the saw mill
  • The making of the saw
  • The transportation of the logs
  • The mining of the graphite
  • The production of the rubber
  • The mixing of the paint
  • The sourcing of the chemicals
  • The manufacture of the pencil
  • The development of the machinery

And countless other tasks.

His point was simple, nobody can make a pencil from scratch.  No one person has more than the faintest understanding of all the technologies, activities, supply chains and markets involved.

We live in a very complicated and connected world.

So if you manage a pencil factory

And you want to improve the cost, quality and service you give to your customers there are two ways to manage your business…

Option 1: Run it from inside your board room:

Make that complex system bow to you:

Option 2: Run it from outside your board room:

Wander around and see what you can discover:

Which option is the best option?

No two pencil businesses are the same, so to work out the best way to run your pencil business try answering this simple question:

What could you learn about making pencils?

  • If the answer is “nothing” see option 1
  • If the answer is “plenty” use option 2

This is all fascinating but most of us don’t make pencils for a living

No we don’t, so let’s have a conversation about the computer I’m typing this on, in the coffee shop I am visiting, with the power that was generated…

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Image by @doug8888

 

Comments

  1. James,
    I’m an Option 2 advocate but I see too many people buckling under the pressures and requests from Option 1 types and getting stuck to their desks and emails.

    More MBWA please for so many reasons!

    Adrian

  2. Wow, James, yet another great story to make a great point (pun intended). ;-) And I’ve never really thought about all that goes into making a pencil. Lots of great lessons here.

    I prefer Option 2, as well. Perhaps the difference between 1 and 2 is the difference between management and leadership.

    Annette :-)

  3. James Lawther says:

    You may be right Annette. It is difficult to lead if nobody ever sees you.

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