Are you a Manager or a Couch Potato?

couch po·ta·to

Noun A person who spends little or no time exercising and a great deal of time watching television.

What can you learn in the Midlands?

I live in the Midlands, We make cars in the Midlands.

A while back I thought I’d go and have a look, see what I could learn from my cultural heritage, so I booked myself onto a couple of factory tours.

My first lesson in efficiency

The first tour was a Jaguar plant in Coventry.  It looked pretty much the way you would expect it to look.  A big overhead conveyor belt with half built cars gradually crawling along, at every stage bits being added, people scurrying about with equipment and parts, busy as ants.

And there were plenty of cars.  Parked all along the interior walls. There is a lot of wall in a factory that size, and every inch had a Jaguar parked next to it, nose to tail, a snake-like traffic jam.

It struck me as a bit odd, so I asked the guide what they were doing there, after all a ¾ built Jag is still worth a fair chunk of change.

He smiled at my naïvety,  explaining that it is all important to keep the line running.  It gets very expensive very quickly if the line stops .  So when there is an issue, the quickest and easiest thing to do is take the problem car off the line then park it against the factory wall to fix later, that way they are sure the line keeps moving.

Obviously the most efficient thing to do.

My second lesson in efficiency

With my knowledge of efficiency deepened  I set out on my second tour, this time a Toyota plant near Derby.  To my untrained eye it looked pretty much the same, people, parts and equipment, all the same, except for one thing.  Unadorned walls; the only cars I could see were the ones moving along the production line.

By now I was a manufacturing genius, so I asked the guide, where are all the half built cars?  Surely you have errors, things do go wrong and stopping the line is expensive.

He admitted that it is expensive, and unfortunately they do have errors, so they urge their staff to stop the line the minute something looks wrong.  But they don’t take the car off the line, they fix it there and then and make sure it never happens again.

Yes he said, it is painful, yes he said, it is expensive, but a bit of short-term pain is worth the long-term gain.

Couch potato management

The analogy is obvious so I won’t labour it.

  • On the one hand, an organisation that takes the quick and easy way out, orders a pizza and sits back to watch TV.
  • On the other, a business that takes the pain, fixes the issue, or to stretch the point gets off its backside and starts moving.

The difference?  It wasn’t technology or training.

It was all about mindset.

Instant gratification versus long-term gain.

The tragic analogy

Sadly the analogy goes further.  Couch potatoes die young.

Four years ago the Jaguar plant closed down.  Hundreds of people lost their livelihoods.  Apparently it “ceased to be economically viable”.

What is the mindset in your business?

Couch Potato

Read another opinion

Image by RubyGoes


  1. I have many years of experience (now retired) in a Toyota manufacturing facility. I can assure the reality of their production is much different than what you experienced. Just In Time and the principle of stopping production when there is a defect is not what it seems to the casual observer.

    If you are interested in further discussion of the this issue please contact me by email…far too many eyes looking at this blog.

    Be encouraged!

  2. James. A good point well made. I spent a lot of time in a Jaguar factory too in the 80s. The thing that struck me was that the people I met were first rate engineers and production workers, and their skill and enthusiasm would equal or beat the best of the rest. But they didn’t get to make this type of decision, which is why that factory also closed.

    The decisions were being made by people who seemed to deal only with costs and not ever with value (particularly the value of their human capital). I often observe the same blinkered approach, where customer service (and the people who deliver it) are viewed as a cost item, rather than something that delivers value.

    So you’re absolutely right that this is about mindset, but only some of the minds, I think!

    • James Lawther says:

      Thanks for your comment Guy. You are right, it is only some of the minds, I suppose it matters how senior those minds are


  3. Hi James,
    What a fantastic way to make a really good point. I found myself at the end of the first story thinking…..hmm good point, sensible approach. And then, found myself feeling slightly dim when I read the second story.

    What seems sensible on the one hand is always worth a second look to make sure we are not just being lazy.

    Thank you,


  4. HEllo James
    Great, great point. Coming from a ‘rationalistic’ mindset we are deluded in thinking that we have access to ‘truth’, the ‘single right way’ and that our ‘way is the ideal/best/right way’. What we forget is that we always, always, make sense of the world and orient ourselves through a hidden horizon of understanding. Without such a horizon we simply cannot make sense of the world and orient ourselves and then act on the world.

    Your example shows that the horizon of understanding that Western managers (esp Anglo-Saxon) bring to the world is radically different to that of the Oriental managers. And all horizons of understanding are not equal. As i once said to CEO the routes to efficiency is path laden with landmines that can undermine effectiveness. Take Zappos, they way they operate is not efficient when it comes to the way they operate their supply chain. Yet, they consciously choose to do that for the sake of effectiveness – fast turnaround, many shipments, to get the shoes to the customers the next day so as to create “wow” in the customer! Why do other companies not follow because that simply does not make sense given their mindsets – which are focussed on efficiency, especially efficiency of the parts rather than the whole.


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