Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gold Rush Ignorance of Ignorance.

Flipping through channels on the idiot box I came across some “reality” show called “Gold Rush: Alaska”. The 2 half episodes I watched were hilariously stupid.

When I first tuned it in some guy with a beard who was apparently in charge of the mess was talking about how he was removing the guy who knew most about a piece of equipment and was going to change the equipment set-up.

I watched them totally destroy the set-up of the equipment, blame the guy who knew the most and was (according to the distributor) getting it to work correctly and then toss the equipment aside because it didn't work. Then they beat the knowledgeable guy up and kicked him off the show.

Pure idiocy.

So here these guys are, three quarters of the way through the time frame they have to accomplish their goals and they are blaming everyone else for their problems.

Someone must have clued in the guy in charge because he invested in a consultant to come and tell them what they were doing wrong. According to the distributor of the “wave table” equipment they also came out and showed the guys how to work the equipment properly.

Essentially a bunch of guys who didn't know what they were doing went out figuring they could do something and they failed to learn from their mistakes. They selected a scape goat to blame instead of learning and when that failed to produce results they decided to actually try and figure out what they were doing wrong.


Mechanically they almost, but not quite, had a clue.

Separation of material from water is a pretty simple process in concept and all the current systems work about the same. The process I am most familiar with is with industrial water clarification.

In all systems dirty water flows over an angled surface. Heavy stuff drops to the bottom. Floating stuff goes to the top. The clearest water is pulled out from between the two. How clear the output water is depends on water velocity and the weight of the material being separated out and the angle of the separation system.

From reviewing the instructions on gold separating systems on the web the angle is quite variable and depends on the type of dirt being separated out from the gold. There is no universally correct angle for all kinds of dirt and gold.

In working with industrial water clarification systems I know that what we want is a consistent material flowing through the clarifier. This is the most important part of the process. Changes to the material coming in influence the results dramatically.

These guys figured this out apparently. The consultant they hired came in and told them to change the angle of the primary sluice set-up and install some different geometry in the clarifier based on the material they were clearing out and to use some pre-screening on the incoming material to make it more consistent.

If these guys had not been so arrogant and ridiculous it might have been sad to watch themselves humiliate each other. Instead it was hilarious.

Couple of rules.

1: The machine didn't screw up. The machine worked the way it was designed, built, set-up, maintained and operated to. It ain't the machines fault.

2: The machine works within defined parameter ranges. If the machine has ever produced the desired results and does not produce those results consistently there are uncontrolled variables influencing the outcome.

In the case of the guys on “Gold Rush” it was all about the quality of the incoming material, the system set-up and the inexperience of the operators. This applies to both the “wave table” and the primary sluice system. The variables in the system were not properly controlled. Period.

3: It is managements fault. It is not the fault of the operator, the designer, the builder, the set-up person, the maintainer or the operator. In “Gold Rush” the guy in charge said “we are going to run this the way I want to” and made the fact that failure was the responsibility of management obviously clear. In most situations it isn't quite that obvious, but, as Demming said “It's management's fault”. Period.

Machines do not run the way people "want" them to run and computers have taught us this more than anything else in history. Machines run the way they are designed, built, set-up, maintained and operated to run. Some guy believing he can make a machine he is clueless about run "his way" by force of will is just plain stupid.

Management controls variables. Primarily people variables and also any other variables in the system like incoming material, proper selection of equipment, etc, etc. Management manages variables.

When the system fails it is because variables were improperly controlled. People variables. Material variables. Equipment variables.

Earlier in our marriage my wife overdrew my checking account. Not just once, but several times. How did she do that? Because I did not effectively control her access to it. Why not? On my part it was a process of training. She really didn't think over drawing a checking account was a problem. Eventually she did and she changed her behavior. I eventually succeeded in helping her manage money better. At this point she manages money about as well as I do and this is typical.

The student becomes as good as the teacher and no better.

Did my wife think of herself as a student? No. She thought she was managing money and knew there were some problems but nothing important.

I mention this because it is a perfect example.

There are two ways to learn. Either someone tackles a situation with an “I can learn to do this” attitude or someone tackles a situation with an “I can do this attitude”.

My wife tackled money with an “I can do this attitude” and it took a lot of problems before she realized she was screwing up and leaned how to manage money.

The guys on “Gold Rush” did the same thing. They tackled the situation with an “I can do this” attitude and it took a lot of problems, even beating up and kicking a scape goat off the project, before they stepped back and decided to actually learn how to do the job.

Often situations like this result in Aesop's “fox and the sour grapes” mentality and people just quit. They decide they are not capable of correctly managing the situation as it exists and it isn't worth the trouble. Divorce. Business failure.

In my experience women typically tackle industrial jobs with an “I can learn how to do this” attitude. Men typically tackle things with an “I can do this attitude”. Huge difference.

People, like me, who often succeed at things other people believe are impossible always tackle jobs with an “I can learn how to do this” attitude. I become my own teacher and nothing is impossible given the resources. I am infinitely capable of learning from my mistakes WHEN I identify those mistakes correctly.

Bad managers always expect that a job that has never been done before can be done. Good managers know that a job that has never been done before can be done when we take the time to learn how to do it.

Identifying mistakes is key.

I worked with a guy who had a masters degree in engineering and supposedly knew something about statistical analysis. He read in a book that “all distributions are normal distributions”. Not true. All natural distributions are normal distributions.

There are skewed distributions and multi-modal distributions that occur because uncontrolled external variables are influencing the distribution. These are unnatural and abnormal distributions. The multi-modality of the income distribution in the United States is a great example of an unnatural and abnormal distribution.

Uncontrolled variables. I think we talked about that earlier.

This is how you identify the existence of uncontrolled variables. The distribution is abnormal, non-Gaussian.

This is how you identify bad management. Uncontrolled variables. Abnormal, unnatural distributions.

In other words, if you are not getting what you expect stop and figure out why. Fix it or fail.

If the distribution is unnatural, abnormal, fix it or fail.

Typically the problem will be an improperly defined or uncontrolled variable and once located it can either be properly controlled or properly defined.

That is how you learn how to do the job.

Simple in theory. Impossible to achieve with clueless people who think they know what they are doing OR stupidly believe that an unnatural, abnormal, process can be maintained.

Bottom line. Know how ignorant you are and you will always be aware you don't know what you are doing.

If you are open to believing that you can make mistakes you can identify them. learn from them and correct them earlier in the process.

If you know you don't understand exactly what you are doing you will always be learning and always improving. People stop learning when they think they have a clue.

Ignorance is not a bad thing.

Ignorance of ignorance always causes failure.

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