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Ishikawa’s Rule

Part of my job used to be making manufacturing better: safer and more profitable. Much of the time, that involved making more product with better quality at less cost. So, I learned as much as I could to avoid wasting time, money and the good will of folks doing the making.

As with all things involving lots of money, there are charlatans galore in manufacturing, each one more eager than the last to advise about their ‘secret sauce’ at astronomical expense. And, there are a few people who not only know stuff but understand their subject.

My experience puts the frequency of their occurrence at about three in a hundred. I’m not saying all the other 97 are charlatans, but the earnest ones among them still don’t truly understand. They’re just selling as hard as they can because that’s where the money is.

So what about the top 3%? If there’s a Manufacturing Sainthood somewhere, Kaoru Ishikawa belongs in it. He was a professor at Tokyo University and one of the most practical, thoughtful and insightful engineers of the 20th century. His books are manufacturing ‘ground truth’, as the infantry saying goes. From beginning to end, there is no padding or fluff. My take is that he really understood people who do honest work and want to go home feeling a sense of pride in what they do. He, like me. didn’t have much use for slackers, parasites or hucksters of baseless ‘self-esteem’ as a magic panacea.

And that brings me to what I think is the professor’s most profound insight and admonition:

 Always suspect the data

From plant floor calibrations to political polls to reconnaissance on a battlefield to ‘adjusted’ sets measurements, it’s hard to go wrong if you use Ishikawa’s Rule. Let’s take four examples from current headlines:

“Sea Levels Rising!” or Fudging the Data — Turns out the keepers of the data have plugged in a ‘factor’ that raises the continents. Then they substitute Sea Volume for Sea Level to get the headline they want. They just made this up and fudged the data because measured sea levels haven’t changed for a decade and they wanted to say they rose.

“Huge Radiation Leak!” or No Data at All — Have you noticed that there is never any data in a nuclear scare story? Can’t imagine why. Maybe because no one dying or being injured makes it less scary. That pesky data is so distracting when it disagrees with the ‘Revealed Truth’ of some influential, secular Cargo Cult.

“Chrysler Pays Back Fed Bail Out!” or Omitting Key Data — Turns out no money went back to the taxpayer. The billions were just shifted to a different account and the “bail out’ account went to zero. Then the Feds issued a new ‘loan’ for the same amount under a different title. On the streets of Chicago, this is called a Shell Game. But, thanks to a murder rate higher than Baghdad, most of the street-level practitioners there have moved off the street and into City Hall.

“Voters Oppose ‘X’” or Skew the Sample — If I want a result that supports the political left, I just ask my question to a much bigger fraction of those folks than exists in the voting population. If I want to support the political right, I do the opposite. To get an even bigger skew, I slant the question with some degree of “Are you still beating your wife?” bias.

As Rodney Dangerfield used to say, “I got a million of ‘em!” But, you get the idea. So, whenever you hear anything beyond “The sun will rise tomorrow,” I urge you to: stop, think and use Ishikawa’s Rule.

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