Nov 4, 2007

Start your week with joy

Conference-going for many people has a pattern: Anticipation, your first impression, inspiration, immersion, euphoria, exhaustion, and evaporation. Admit it - if you attended the recent Association for Manufacturing Excellence conference last week in Chicago, or any other really good conference, your head is bubbling with so many ideas and intentions that you can't keep track, you take lots of notes, hand out lots of business cards and you intend to spend Sunday putting it all in order and making a plan. Then on Monday you will go to work and make a difference. But eventually the euphoria dissipates and you're dragged back into budgets, politics or bad news.

But maybe you are better at handling your conference experience than I am. First, instead of spending Sunday composing follow-ups to all my new friends and thinking about what I will do with my new ideas, I slept 14 hours and woke up at 4:30 in the afternoon. Then I read a magazine and ate some breakfast. Took a shower and washed my hair. In short, completely wasted the day. But the thought of my little blog wasting away without me to feed it made me drag out my laptop. If you can't do the perfect thing, do something leading in the right direction, I thought. There is one thing that remains with me from the conference -- and it's something musical.

On Tuesday, the keynote speaker was Benjamin Zander of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. Doc Hall, Lea Tonkin, Pat Panchak and I missed most of the session as we talked about what Target magazine might bring you in the coming year. Drifting in to the Hilton's huge breakfast room for the last 15 or 20 minutes of his speech, I learned that Zander had promised the audience that they would be singing Beethoven's 9th "Ode to Joy" symphony, in German, by the end of the hour.

Well, it was more than a speech - he strode all over the stage, drew on flip charts, told story after story, confessed his years of practicing his craft in an unenlightened way, and transmitted a zest for life and energy for making one's daily life mean something. He told how he was asked to speak and refused several times because of a schedule that required him to conduct performances both Monday and Tuesday night. He finally agreed because of AME's ability to bring together a thousand people devoted to doing things better.

And yes, we did sing a few lines of the music, in German, after a few tries of not fulfilling all our possibilities, with a real joy. Fascinating!

On Thursday, Matthew Lovejoy told how his company went from complacently thriving to being on the rocks in a few short months in 2001. After turning a deaf ear to lean manufacturing for a number of years, Lovejoy decided that if he had to bet the company on something, he'd bet it on lean. His story was believable and instructive. At the end, a mirrored disco ball descended from the ceiling and began to revolve. The Bee Gees started singing "Staying Alive." I was disappointed that Lovejoy didn't show us any dance moves or perform the song karaoke-style, but he made his point. He also apologized for leaving us with one of those songs that you can't get out of your head.

On Friday, as I walked the three blocks to the Chicago Hilton, I realized that I was humming the Ode to Joy. Relieved that I wasn't hearing "Staying Alive," I realized that joy was a signature of this gathering of people from all over the world who want to kaizen - to make change for the better.

I hope that your Monday starts with the sound of Beethoven -- try Googling something if it's not in your i-pod -- and that you're holding on to the joy of learning and improving for as many hours or days as you can.

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