#18 Learning the Power of Process from the Dead Masters

by | Jan 16, 2009 | Blog | 0 comments

Forget 2008? The miserable year of financial meltdowns, fraud and extreme fluctuations in fuel prices. Not yet. For those of us involved in process, 2008 brought more turmoil. We lost three great process thinkers—at least those of us lucky enough to have come under their spell. Now’s a good time to remember them: Michael Hammer, the influential business writer, visionary and consultant; Richard Magoun, The Clorox Company Vice President who helped lead Clorox’s process transformation, and Tomas, the Therapy Pet and Canine Good Citizen dog.

Yes, Tomas, the dog. He died Dec. 30 from osteo sarcoma (bone cancer), just over six years old. Tomas wasn’t just any dog; he was a master at process. He was a pure natural as the topic was never covered in his classes (agility, obedience, and puppy socialization). He excelled in three process areas: end-to-end thinking, observing, and continual improvement, which the two-legged human masters advocate. (For information about them, see #12 Tribute to Michael Hammer, an Authentic Communicator & a True Visionary.)

  • End-to-end thinking. Skilled process thinkers have the ability to see and manage the performance of a multi-step, multifunctional business process from end-to-end, as a seamless whole. Tomas quickly figured out key multi-step processes—especially ones that he believed had an adverse impact on him—and he managed accordingly. For example, whenever Tomas saw my husband take a skillet (any size) from a kitchen cabinet, Tomas scurried to the door and asked to go outside where he could sit in peace. To him, the skillet was a tool that meant: sizzling noises on the stove, which bothered his ears; possibly some smoke, which bothered his nose; the use of the ventilator hood above the stove, which bothered his ears; and then less remotely but still possible, the smoke alarm going off, which really bothered his ears. For him, it was better to avoid the process, rather than suffer through it. He also figured out that the chances for him getting a bath increased exponentially when we parked on the Mud Puppy’s side of Pt. Isabel, his favorite dog park. He would run to the sides and back of Mud Puppy’s, the “tub & scrub” dog washing facility and dog toy emporium, but never directly in front of it.
  • Observing before acting. As most dogs, Tomas watched his humans very closely. He couldn’t read in the traditional sense, but he could deduce signs, which triggered how he acted. For example, he interpreted the syncing of my smart phone as the end of the official workday and time to go out to the dog park. When the syncing noise ended, he’d get up, dance and run to the door. However, whenever I picked up my smart phone, but left my wallet on my desk, he’d hang back waiting for me to realize my error and pick it up. Tomas knew that my putting on lipstick signaled I was going out and he should go along. (He believed in the policy, “No dogs left behind.”) However, Burt’s Bees lip balm sent a different message. He knew we were staying home. And when we returned from an outing, he remained reclined on the car seat until the car engine was off and the garage door started to close. Only when he heard the motor of the door did he get up and prepare to get out of the car—even if a human had jumped the gun and already opened the car door for him. This wasn’t a safety issue for him, I’m sure. (It was for me.) Instead, this was a routine, predictable practice that worked.
  • Continually improving. The old adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” applies more to their humans than to dogs. Tomas always appeared interested in improving upon a process—if it benefited him. For instance, at an early age, once he mastered drinking from a Camelbak and other water bottles, he turned up his nose at drinking from water bowls while on hiking paths or at the dog park. He liked being served. Plus with the bottle at his eye level, he could use his drinking time to look around and see what else was going on. (It’s not just we humans who multi-task.) Toward the end of his life when the cancer had spread to his lungs, which made him very winded, Tomas started taking longer routes to avoid stairs. This was totally counter to his earlier practice of bounding up and down stairs, which he did even as a tripod, to save a few steps.

As a Bernese Mountain Dog, whose roots are near the Swiss city of Bern, Tomas also called upon his Swiss heritage. He was very detached from emotions and politics—which is an admirable trait of process masters. He also embraced the dog motto: “If you can’t eat it, play with it, or pee on it, leave it alone.”

Tomas was a great teacher. I learned process from him. His many pup pals learned the three R’s: wrestling, running and resting. We all miss him.

And here’s to a happier 2009….Meanwhile though, as the LEAN Communicator, I’ll continue to ask: What would Dr. Hammer do? What would Rick do? and What would Tomas do?



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