Don't Just Stand There,

Do Something!


Roy Lobenhofer

Modern Casting – July 2001

The first time I heard the command “Don’t just stand there. Do something!” was my first week working in a foundry. That was also the first time I’ve seen a cupola runout. I’m not sure the order was even directed to me, but I did take it to heart – I did something. I got out of the way.

 I was still marveling at liquid metal making noises like water splashing when I heard “Do something!” In retrospect, I’m sure getting out of the way was the best thing that I could have done at that time.

Quick Decision-Making

 Like every other person working in foundry management I have heard that directive or similar calls to action several times since then. Initially the directives bothered me because every time I heard them it seemed that we were facing a problem that no one knew how to handle. The idea that I was supposed to take action without knowing what to do and with no organized plan to determine the right action irritated me.

During science classes in school, I learned that the best way to solve problems was to change one variable at a time. One gathers information to evaluate the problem, devises a number of possible solutions, selects the most probable, devises a testing procedure to evaluate the solution, runs experiments, gathers data and evaluates the results. If the change doesn’t work the next variable is tried. Unfortunately, that technique rarely satisfied my boss when I heard the “Don’t just stand there!” line.

Through most of my foundry career, I railed at the stupidity of the demands for action even though I didn’t know how to find the right solution quickly and accurately. I was convinced that immediately “doing something” wasn’t the way the expert said it was supposed to be done. As a result, rushing into action without a plan was foolish. It took me some time before I realized some logic existed behind those calls for immediate action. 

The first thing I noticed was that calls to actions were rarely about the same problem more than once. It seemed that once I was prepared, no one called for action again on that particular problem. I wasn’t told to “do something” about 1 ounce after the first year or so. Was it because I learned how to be closer to the problem in my boss was comfortable getting while wearing his new suit or was it because I was already doing something about the problem? I think the latter.

Bringing about Change

The boss was still making his demands for action. It wasn’t runouts anymore; it was about reducing costs, quality issues or parts a customer needed. My idea of trying one solution at a time proved as unpopular with these issues as it had been earlier with the runout problem. But through all of this, I also began seeing a pattern. When I examine cost they weren’t reduced until I tried some new approaches. The same thing with quality or specific parts – problems weren’t eliminated until I began doing something about them. Nothing happened until I took action.

Now, it’s my turn. As a consultant it’s not considered good form GL at your client, “Do something!” While it’s tempting, I tried to find a less confrontational way to say it. Consultants are asked to help address problems that usually do not require immediate response like the runout example. While the lack of urgency does provide time to plan and even use the scientific method, it also delays taking action. In many cases, it seems that management wants to have endless meetings about problems, while I would rather attempt to quickly resolve them. 

In most cases, the boss doesn’t want to make a mistake. If he really knew what to do, the problem wouldn’t have occurred in the first place. It’s only natural that he wants to ensure the decisions he makes are the correct ones. Meetings are held to develop the plan, and one meeting leads to another because an even better plan may exist. While everyone will admit the perfect plan is virtually impossible, there can always be a better one, so the meetings continue.

Through these situations, however, one truth remains unbroken; the only way to begin solving a problem is to take action. Planning doesn’t improve anything. The “scientific method” doesn’t make things better. Only the actions that come as a result of the meetings and planning have a chance of bringing about change.

So, if you’re facing a problem, picture that old boss getting red in the face and yelling, “Don’t just stand there, do something!” and then do it. If that doesn’t work, then do something else!

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