WFH Daily #156: The ability to tap tacit knowledge

August 26, 2020: Russell Ackoff on problem solving; TAMG Episode 5—Vijay & Shravan Bhat talk money; A leap into quantum computing; The burden of power

Founding Fuel

[Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay]

Good morning,

In The Art of Problem Solving, a classic published in 1978, Russell L. Ackoff, a management consultant and a professor at the Wharton School, shares this story:

“Several highly trained engineers were trying to instrument an old steel making furnace to determine the temperature of the steel in the centre of the furnace. They were doing this on the shop floor while the operator of the furnace, who had received no explanation of the activity, stood watching them. After several unsuccessful tries, the overheated and frustrated technicians took a break. The old man then asked them what they were trying to do. They indulged him and explained. He diffidently said that he could tell how to do it without instruments. They indulged him again and asked how.

“The old man, who was chewing tobacco, expectorated, placing a large wad of spittle onto the side of the furnace and then consulted his wristwatch. In a few seconds he ‘announced’ the temperature.

“When asked for an explanation, he said his predecessor had taught him that by timing the evaporation of spittle as he had done and multiplying it by a number he had been given, he would get the temperature at the centre of the furnace. The technicians smiled indulgently.

“Days later when they had found a way to instrument the furnace, they decided to have fun with the old man and test him. They did so much to their regret. He was right.”

Physicist Enrico Fermi, who once calculated the intensity of a bomb by calculating the distance travelled by a few pieces of paper that he released from his hand, would have been happy with the old worker. 

But, Ackoff’s bigger point is not about the wisdom that comes from working on a shop floor, but an organisation’s willingness and ability to tap that knowledge. Often leaders look at one space for solutions, thereby precluding some of the most creative and effective solutions. 

In this issue

  • Vijay and Shravan Bhat talk money
  • A leap into quantum computing
  • The burden of power

Have a great day.

TAMG: Vijay & Shravan Bhat talk money

Last Saturday, father-son duo Vijay and Shravan Bhat went live to discuss a theme few Indian families discuss heart-to-heart. Money.

In most cases, the patriarch calls the shots. But the Mumbai-based Vijay Bhat had given the theme much thought because it is a thorny one. He had discussed it with his wife Nilima and they had arrived at an understanding that they must discuss it with their children at an appropriate time. 

When Vijay and his son Shravan got together on Episode 5 of Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation, moderated by Harsh Mall, three themes surfaced.

  1. How do the two generations identify value when it comes to money?
  2. How do they navigate money problems in tough times?
  3. When conflicted between money and loyalty at the workplace, what is more important—seeking more money or following your passion?

While there was much friendly banter, there was disbelief as well at various points. 

It took a while for Shravan to soak it in when Vijay said “I actually fell off the income cliff thrice in the last 20 years…”

In much the same way, Vijay had to acknowledge Shravan’s point of view. “There's a stereotype of young people that we keep changing jobs just like that. We do it because we have to try and earn more. The cost of college tuition has gone up so much relative to salaries. The only way to make that jump is to change organizations.”

Dig Deeper

A leap into quantum computing

This Saturday, the mother-son duo Amrita and Shoumik Chowdhury will be in conversation on the trajectories their lives have taken in the pursuit of science. Shoumik is a final-year undergraduate student at Yale University pursuing a degree in math and physics. He is deeply interested in quantum systems and is clear he wants to stay invested there. His mother Amrita had attempted to take the path he wants to travel on now. “My mother, in particular, was in the semiconductor industry for a time and even helped to develop and patent the fabrication technology for Intel’s early Pentium chips. According to her, there are similarities between our time now and hers then,” he writes.

But Shoumik points out, “A slight difference, though, is that artificial intelligence is here today and can be used to tackle some of the world's most challenging problems—among them, the coronavirus.”

Clearly, the needle has moved and there are questions on Amrita’s mind who knows much as well.

Dig Deeper

  • My leap into quantum computing
  • August 29 at 7:30 PM on Facebook Live: In a new episode of Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation on Saturday, the mother-son duo will discuss how to stoke a love for frontier science and what it takes to commit to the long and hard journey of study, research and cutting-edge innovation. Register here

The burden of power

(Via WhatsApp)

That’s a nice way to place the burden of power in place. Anything that got your attention? Let us know on our Slack channel or tag us on Twitter @foundingf

If it’s previous editions of this newsletter you’re looking for, they’re all archived here.

And do bookmark Founding Fuel’s special section on Thriving in Volatile Times. All our stories on how individuals and businesses are responding to the pandemic until now are posted there. 

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel 

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