If you're an engineer, you may have heard this book referred to, possibly by management, but there's a good chance you haven't read it.
I remember a meeting long ago in which the plant manager came in and told us that his bosses were going to start basing the business on Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... And Others Don't, by Jim Collins.
I'm pretty sure I visibly rolled my eyes, or maybe even sighed. Covering up your emotions isn't something I learned from this book (but I am, I hope, better at it now).
Overcoming my initial skepticism, I did start reading this book. It studies 11 companies that made the transition from "Good to Great" using a selection process that's well outlined in the appendix. The book was written in 2001, so you may have to overlook one or two companies, but all in all, it's a good read. Below are a few of its themes that can be applied to anyone, not just business leaders.
This is the idea that a company should focus the business on something where three things intersect: what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be the best in the world at, and what drives your economic engine.
This certainly makes sense for a business, but it can be appplied to engineering as well. Many of us would enjoy playing video games for a living, but it's likely we wouldn't be the best in the world. Additionally, making a living at it would be nearly impossible unless you're extremely good. On the other hand, you might get some enjoyment out of designing video games (or even more mundane software). It should pay the bills well, and you can be passionate about it.
Keep on track
Along with the "hedgehog concept" is the idea that if you know what it is you want to accomplish, you shouldn't change your focus all of the time. This is equally important in engineering, as a half or even an 80 percent done project is useless much of the time. We (or management) should be selective as to the projects we take on, but strive for completion.
One theme that seems like a great fit for EE Times was what great companies used technology for. Technology was successfully applied where it was needed, and not just for the sake of being "new." Everyone loves new shiny toys, but sometimes older methods work just as well or better. In my line of work, a PLC is nearly always the correct solution for running a machine. On the other hand, cams can function for decade upon decade if no timing changes are needed. No need to fix something that isn't broken.
Reason for greatness
To quote Good to Great, "the real question is not, 'why greatness?' but what work makes you feel compelled to create greatness?" I thought that was a great line. Maybe it's a hard thing to find in your current job (and maybe you haven't looked hard enough), but it's a good line to remember when looking for a new one, or even starting your own venture!
Besides maybe some personal growth or introspection, one can't overlook the possibility that management may one day decide to "revolutionize the business" using this book. Having read it, you might give the manager a little more credit when he or she brings it up!
— Jeremy Cook is a manufacturing engineer with 10 years' experience and has a BSME from Clemson University. In his spare time he enjoys writing for DIYtripods.com.