Philosophy, Productivity

Century Gothic, the new Helvetica!!

Fonts copyI’ve been on a quest for nearly a year or so to change the opinions of many to change their default font to Century Gothic. I am not sure what the appeal of this simple font is to me but, prefer it to any other font in the library. The smooth curves of the letters and the simple straight forward design of each downstroke is appealing to me in a minimalist way. I believe the no-nonsense way the letters are displayed, the minimalist, no frills purpose each letter exudes when put to page (or screen) gives this font a characteristic that stands apart from it’s brethren and thus my appeal.

I first came upon the font only a couple of years ago when putting together a presentation for work. The company has the standard font of Arial Black, ugh. Not putting it down or anything but, Arial Black (though simple in its own right) is just bulky and seems, well bloated. I was not a fan of the script I was seeing on the slides I was creating for presentation, so I decided to play around a bit and began my quest for the better font.>

I had read about Steve Job’s obsession with fonts, which began in a college calligraphy class he had sat in on. This passion bled through to the fonts of the Mac and later onto all of Apple’s devices, much to my pleasure. Steve broke the boundaries of an industry steeped in stuffiness and “tradition”. He entered a world of the white shirt, blue tie arena with a pair of ragged jeans, t-shirt and well for the most part…that was it. Shoes were option if not neglected and well ties were not even a concept…though that changed once Apple gained notoriety and publicity but, that is another story.

Steve’s passion for perfection broke the molds of the industry. Helvetica, the most popular font at the time and most widely used was a saturation in the market. It was so widely used that a change was immediately seen. That change led to the realization that perhaps doing things as they’ve always been done need not apply. I believe Apple became the computer for the artistic partially in part because Steve Jobs refused to allow Apple to become ordinary. Apple began as a unique company and has remained so mainly in part because of Steve Jobs’ guidance.

Apple has gone so far as to even creat their own fonts for their products specifically for the reasons I was looking at Arial Black with disdain and irreverence. There was something so ordinary and plain about the font that I yearned for change. When I would write a paragraph in the font Arial Black I would often times find myself having to re-read certain sections of the text because the letters would often blend together and become blurs. Everything would become a fuzzy black streak across the page. I don’t have this problem with Century Gothic. The kerning as it is called (the space between letters) is too small compared to the width of the letters themselves and thus causes me, who speed reads, to blur the words.

Century Gothic does not enable this issue. The width of the letters in conjunction with the kerning provides a smooth flow across the page. I was quite turned on to Century Gothic after I saw it on the big screen during my presentation and a comment afterwards was made in private regarding my font choice. The facility manager came up to me to point out that he had noticed the change in font and that he’d been looking at the same font for the past twenty years and the change was nice. It had given the presentation an upbeat appearance and added youth to the presentation.

That alone was not enough to seal my commitment to the font though. It was after a conversation with my wife that bound us together, for better or worse. We were coming home from a wrestling match one late Saturday afternoon…(sidenote: we have a two wrestlers in the house a 9 & 8 year old and much of November through March is spent dedicated to the sport…our Saturday’s are spent traveling to matches & tournaments and so we usually have a good bit of time to talk about weird stuff like font choices…back to our regularly scheduled program)…and got on the subject of presentations.

My wife was trained in high school to give presentations and had gone so far as to regularly given presentations of various subjects to school and government officials at the youthful age of 17 so she was quite aware of everything that went into preparing a presentation. Though rarely did she use something like PowerPoint she is quite knowledgeable in font choices. So, I was talking at great length about changing the corporate font to Century Gothic and he face lit up. Not understanding this I further questioned her to find out that for quite some time she too had been using the font in her everyday job. She found the font easier to read and determined it a better font. That was the moment I knew forever more, Century Gothic was my font.

Thus far I have spread my passion for this font further into the company I work for with hopes to one day change the standard Arial Black to Century Gothic with the marketing department and guidelines. The font is a gives a good contrast to the page allowing just enough white space to show while at the same time enabling a person to read quickly the text provided. This is my plea to the world to give Century Gothic a try and let it into your daily writing.

Lean, Philosophy

Lean & Minimalism

CA Beach 2014 - oct copy

Minimalism is a concept that has taken like wild fire, from minimal lifestyles to shoes to wardrobes, the term proliferates the web.  I first learned of Minimalism from Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus from the blog The Minimalists.  I, having studied Buddhism and in particular Zen, was intrigued by the site initially only to find my self returning daily for more.  The concept, Minimalism, was new to me but, deep down it wasn’t.  My years of Eastern study had ingrained the concept within me but, was being buried by my Western consumerism.  Their story changed things for me.

I no longer looked at “my stuff” as treasures but, as functional items.  I began to pick random items up and ask, “do you belong here?”.  I found myself putting items aside to test whether it had a need in my life.  Eventually, I realized I had a lot of things sitting aside but, now they had congregated together for nearly three years and hadn’t moved.  The concept, so appealing as it is, was met with such resistance that I never committed and continued to accumulate “stuff”.

Lean seems to suffer a similar fate many times.  I have seen too many deployments met with the same enthusiasm only to end up in the same spot at the end of the year.  There is resistance and not enough force [commitment] to push through the “what if’s” and just flipping do it.  I am currently watching this happen and have no ability to help, which annoys the shit out of me.  Some people just don’t get it!

I’ve been contemplating the whole “deployment” subject and how to make the transition into a Lean environment more palatable.  The concept, introduced to me by Joshua and Ryan, better known as Minimalism is where I need to start.

Take a fresh deployment, you start off by training and moving into 5S and creating value stream maps and then coming up with kaizen events to hold and then you can start using all these cool tools you were trained about initially.  No one ever bothers to ask, “Do you really know how to use the tools in your tool box?”  “When to use them?”  How to match tools together to create a tag team like Shaq & Kobe?”  That is stuff only a few can answer.  There are few if any on hand during an initial deployment that can answer those questions.  Good Practitioners take for granted that the masses will understand the depth and meaning of Lean.

Lean, like Ulysses or Shakespeare, cannot be understood fully (let alone mastered) the first time through.  Lean is a hands on, elbow deep, dirty philosophy to “get”.  I hope I’m not painting a horrible picture here.  Yes, you may get a little dirt on you.  Yes, dealing with naysayers is tough at times.   In the end Lean, when embraced by all, works to create an ever evolving, ever improving business.

I believe Lean deployments are like opening a fire hydrant to get a drink of water; too much, too soon.  We overload the masses with new terms, ideas, the cool tools and start putting pressure to change the culture.  Instead perhaps we should start teaching the philosophy that enables Lean to be synonymous with continuous improvement.

Slowly, I don’t mean over the course of several years (though many Lean deployments I’ve seen take longer than a few years just to get started) but, over the course of several months begin to digest the principles behind Lean.  Subtly ease 5S into the workplace without even mentioning it’s name.  Under the guise of learning the business and team building create a value stream map that is easy to read and easy to digest.  There is honestly no need to need an engineer, database expert and a mathematician present to be able to translate the value stream map.  And, above all else, do not start out with setting quantifiable goals to gauge how Lean you are.

Treat it like kindergarten baseball, no one keeps score; play for fun!  Too often competition gets the best of people and getting to the next level becomes more of a priority than actually embodying the essence.  I was fortunate to work for a Fortune 100 company early in my career.  In the near ten years I was there the word Lean was never mentioned or alluded to.  Years later I compare how they ran their business and Lean and the parallels are amazing.  I had learned the essence of Lean without ever being taught Lean and it wasn’t until I truly understood and grasped Lean that I was able to put two and two together.
Lean, Philosophy

Leaning out the Culture

Why is lean such a difficult concept to accept in America?  Every deployment I’ve ever been a part of has had at least a few individuals that would just try and spoil the soup and to what end?  I have sat down with a number of Lean Practitioners in many different industries within the US to get their thoughts on this matter and the following is a summation of those conversations.  It’s a shame that the US has such a hang up with the philosophical principles driving Lean.  Unless one enters a company with a strong cultural affinity towards Lean the transition can be a painful experience.  This is unfortunate because the benefits of Lean are immeasurable.

America just needs to let go.

Whenever the term Lean is introduced the initial thought immediately goes to the phrase, “flavor of the week(month).”  This term was popularized by the band American Hi-Fi but, more so coined by ice cream shops as their premier or special flavor and has been synonymous with new and exciting “programs” companies put out to improve the business.  Many times falling by the wayside after a few months or so until a new “program” is brought to the forefront.  I relate this to the “Peter Crying Wolf” syndrome and soon the latest “program” is understood to be a fad and not to become too engaged.  When this behavior is taken with Lean it creates a great distance between the Practitioners and the masses.

The philosophical principles that drive the tools of Lean are unable to gain any traction because the people never allow Lean to move.  They remain disengaged expecting Lean to be another fad or “flavor of the month”.  But, what happens when a company “pushes” Lean and enables Practitioners to really drive Lean into the organization?

Why does it remain a difficult endeavor even years into the deployment?

Even when Lean is adopted by some areas or groups of an organization because of the silo effect of many corporations, the benefits of Lean are not seen.  When asked of those groups to speak on their journey, much of the time all that is heard is “hard work”, “trial and error” and great deal of commitment required to get the “ball rolling.”  I will admit anything put into an existing system that disrupts the “flow” of that system creates a need for attention which could be interpreted as more work however, the hour you take today will save you the day you spend tomorrow.

Lean can be implemented in a manner that is less disruptive than many have experienced.  Often I hear that when a company begins a Lean implementation, the company either hires a consulting firm to train a few individuals to act as Practitioners in addition to their “day job” or they send a number of individuals to be trained in Lean Principles but, ultimately have the same expectations.  Either way the company is expecting these individuals to add on to an already full day and typically results in a poor attitude towards Lean.

Rarely does a company enable or hire someone(s) who will focus their entire being into a Lean deployment.  When this does happen though the second part must be full support and adoption by the top leadership team.  It must be driven down through the organization allowing Lean to become the way they manage the business.

Going further into a Lean initiative I have only seen one instance of a company starting at the top and truly driving Lean down from the top but, even then was met with quite a bit of resistance.  Finally after talking with many different owners and practitioners I feel it boils down to culture.  That big nasty word we’ve even created curriculum around to train people to deal with, CULTURE.

 Is culture really a deal breaker in any deployment? 

Many times there is nothing in place that “forces” a team, group or department to embrace the Lean philosophy and use the tools in the toolbox.  Some of the more successful Lean deployments have gone so far as to change personnel in areas to those who would promote and were in line with Lean philosophies.  I am not suggesting firing the department and starting fresh but, there are times when people are so toxic that purging the system of that toxicity is necessary to move forward. 

Removing “effective” from an organization and taking that step back is daunting however, there are times when taking that step back is required to enable the organization to move forward.  Toxins spread quickly and often result in killing any ground gained initially, taking the deployment back past the initial stages because there is animosity and unacceptance looming in the air.  Any attempt at re-deploying is met with greater resistance.

If those at the top are not embodying Lean what is the motivation to follow?
One must remember that the US is only less than 240 years old whereas, many other countries Japan specifically are far older and more importantly have had far less influence over their base culture.  Japan, which is where Lean was conceived and born, has a much different mindset and culture than that of the US.  These cultural differences enable the acceptance of Lean.  Culturally speaking Lean is Japanese.  Just as the philosophical principles of Buddhism, martial arts such as aikido or judo, and even manga are looked at quizzically by many citizens of the US, Lean is looked at with much the same reservation. 

I think going forward with a Lean deployment is tricky in any environment but, within the US where being an individual is preferred over being a part of the whole adds an element of disruption.  The consensus remains that a dedicated group of Practitioners educating and deploying with full support of the top leadership pushing Lean down through the organization is the best option to create a Lean culture within an organization otherwise, you’re just pushing a rope up a steep hill.  



Simple Thoughts on the Human Species

The sun is just beginning to peek from behind the mountain was of my house.  The light reveals a subtle fog hovering just above the pasture, almost like a haze.  Birds are singing all around as they begin their day looking for breakfast.  Every ten minutes or so I can hear the passing of a car through the trees; probably carrying it’s driver to work I would imagine.  There is a peaceful calm in the early morning few get to truly enjoy and savor.  Too many of us are on the go the minute our alarm wakes us from our nocturnal slumber.  We are in such a rush to begin “the cycle” over again we fail to pause and reflect on the subtleties of life.  The little things we pass as we sip coffee, listen to the morning news as we drive to work.  How much do we give up to live our lives?  Is this what life is truly about?

This is the thought that runs through my head while sipping hot Chai tea as I stand on my porch watching the Earth come alive this early March morning.  We rise every day to toil at our jobs, many of us carrying stress beyond our control, just to earn enough to repeat the cycle over & over again.  At one point in time there was an endgame, and I don’t mean death, in mind.  That end game strays farther and farther away every year.  Is the human race made to suffer?  Do we perpetuate this suffering by our lifestyles?  

Being fully aware that many of us do not choose our life by plan but, rather fall into it through a series of choices and events, I am not suggesting that we chose to endure hardship.  Though the term hardship carries varying degrees of definition.  The American worker living in the suburbs with 2 cars, a 2K square foot home and living comfortably with their family my feel that being unable to eat out every night is a hardship.  That compared to a family in a third world country unable to eat for the second night in a row because of war or natural causes may feel differently.  Perspective.  

Over the past few weeks much has been discussed regarding the Apple Watch and the impact it will have.  I wrote in an earlier post my thoughts on the Apple Watch and remain holding firm with those thoughts.  I believe the Apple Watch to be a device that is not only impressive technologically but, at the same time exquisitely beautiful.  What Apple has done in creating the Apple Watch is short of amazing and the impact it could have in the medical field unlimited, however, for the lay person I still feel the watch is just an accessory.  Alone it is not worth having, in my opinion, for it must be paired with an iPhone to retrieve its full potential.  Such a first world problem.  

I’m not getting on a soap box in support of helping third world countries, that is a personal choice of an individual to make and I’m not a big fan of pushing social agendas like that.  A few hundred years ago the US was a third world country.  Circumstances and sacrifice have turned that around.  But, are we better off as a society because of these advances.  Every year a new device is created that changes or enhances how we interact with the world.  To what end are they created?  Sure, as a whole we live longer lives but, are our lives more meaningful now than two hundred years ago?  Has our standard of living improved…not physically but, mentally?  Are we a better race because of our advances in technology?

Are we a kinder, gentler and more accepting society?  I don’t think so.  I don’t think we are any further along than we were three hundred years ago.  We continue to fight over natural resources and greed continues to corrupt better judgement of humankind.  It is a shame that we have not evolved as a species mentally, and perhaps mentally is not the term I’m looking for.  I will admit that we are stronger, faster and physically more capable as a whole but, we continue to enslave our fellow human in some way shape or form.  Perhaps much is self induced.  

I am as much to blame as the next person, I’ve worked for Fortune 500 companies most of my adult life and am always looking at the latest Apple keynote like a child seeing ice cream for the first time.  I try to stymie this with practicality however, I’m not always successful. Baby steps towards this is y plan and being grounded helps.  I’m not looking to live a n off the grid lifestyle but, I do believe we, as a society, have the capacity to live whole lives, that do not include creed and corruption.  The human race has endured some horrible trials over the centuries and has thrived…it has the capacity to overcome this short coming and develop into a higher evolved species.