As I browsed through the CD containing the presentations for the Shingo Prize conference, I happened to read the paragraph we submitted as an exhibitor:
“The Society of Manufacturing Engineers is dedicated to bringing people and information together to advance manufacturing knowledge. We are internationally recognized by manufacturing practitioners, companies and other organizations as their source for information, education and networking. Through our member services, publications, events, professional development resources and chapter and technical community networking activities, our Society keeps professionals up to date on trends and technologies. Through recognition activities and industry alliances, we promote an increased awareness of manufacturing engineering and advocate for improvements and investments in education.”
I seem to be unable to look at a piece of writing without critiquing it or trying to improve it. This makes me miserable, because no one asks me to do it, and no one’s all that interested in knowing how I’d rewrite something, except some of the newsletter authors, who know what they are in for. And, after all, who crowned me arbiter of all things written?
Nevertheless, something really bothered me about the paragraph, something more than that it was too long. It’s more or less the same paragraph I’ve seen or written for almost 20 years. So what’s wrong with it?
It suddenly seems wrong because I’ve changed, not paragraph describing SME. Lean has pushed me toward a greater focus on people, even if I thought I was pretty respectful in the first place.
That paragraph betrays the headquarters-centric mindset many of us in the Ivory Tower in Dearborn hold. “We” bring in the money, conduct the events, publish the magazines and books, and generally create value – or so we’ve thought.
Let’s do some parsing –
The Society of Manufacturing Engineers is dedicated to bringing people and information together to advance manufacturing knowledge. What does “Society of Manufacturing Engineers” mean here? Is it the people at headquarters who decide how to bring people and information together? Or the members who use an organization as a gathering point for sharing knowledge?
If it’s HQ staff, does it matter much if they are “dedicated”? Or does “dedicated” refer to the collective will and purpose of the members of the SME? Does a thing – an organizational entity -- feel dedication about some worthy activity? Could it be that people have dedicated the formation of an organization to a purpose?
Moving on in our sentence, facilitating the sharing of knowledge that takes place where people or information is gathered is a pretty useful thing. If the focus changes to the people who have knowledge and to share, maybe this could say, “Manufacturing professionals come together to share knowledge and pool information through the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, advancing the practice of manufacturing.” I’m not satisfied that that’s the best sentence yet, but I consider it an improvement. It’s a start.
My posts get too long, so I’ll stop here for now. But how would you open this paragraph?