Upgrade Your Story Pt.2 – Facing Your Fear of Fights

Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.

-Bruce Cockburn

The dump truck industry is under fire, and for good reason. It’s broken. It has been broken for quite a while. And at times it appears to want to stay that way. While everybody in the larger family served by dump trucks will readily admit there are serious problems, those in the position to be able to do something about it know that change will be greeted with cynicism and pushback. While technology now exists to remove the tumor and bring the industry back to health, many will certainly start kicking as soon as they catch sight of the knife.

Fear of change, even good change has always been an obstacle to progress. Today in the dump truck industry it is no different. So often the right thing to do meets with stiff resistance, like a plate of vegetables before a kid. But a loving parent has a duty that, when carried out in love, will someday be deeply appreciated.

In a campaign to win a war, some battles can be avoided. And because of their importance, some battles must be fought.

In my former line of work we saw how this resistance to the solution played out.

A LESSON IN MEASURING STUFF WELL

My father and I operated a company that specialized in measuring the volumes of stockpiles using lasers and software. When we started, stockpiles were usually calculated with roll up tape measures, the same way it had been done since trigonometry was invented. This method was cheap to perform but wildly inaccurate. If 5 different people measured the same pile, you were likely to get 5 very different measurements. While every operation measured their piles, you would have been hard pressed to find a man willing to bet even $5 the numbers were really accurate. Billions of tons of aggregate inventory were created by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to extract it from the ground. Yet nobody knew how to measure it with any level of confidence.

Since this is the way it had always been, and since there was no solution in sight, the mining industry adopted a tolerance for this inaccuracy that was highly problematic. With no way to get a definitive answer, over or under-reporting to make the books look better was easy to justify, like pocketing a quarter found on the street of a ghost town.

But while everyone got used to the problem, it didn’t change the fact that nobody ever knew how much rock was truly on the ground. This caused major problems. True production couldn’t be measured. Neither could efficiencies. If material was being stolen it was difficult to trace. Tempers flared. People lost jobs and dishonesty was easy to hide. Good men and women were wasting countless hours trying to reconcile their accounting using inaccurate measurements. The problem was time consuming and very expensive. The simple inability to measure these piles accurately was a bane on the industry’s existence.

So you would think a real solution would be celebrated and joyfully embraced, but this was not the case. At least not usually.

No Welcome Banners

My father pioneered the use of reflector-less lasers and volume software to help begin the transformation of stockpile measurement from an “artform” into a true science. Accuracy went from +/- 30% to under +/- 5%. Overnight a technology-aided service allowed measurements to be both accurate and repeatable. Efficiencies could be measured. Stolen material could be tracked down and dishonesty was much more difficult to hide.

But people who’d gotten used to the “flexibility” of the old system were now afraid of the consequences of light being shined into dark places. Great technology produced measurements that were very difficult to “adjust” like they had been used to doing. Many managers had operations passed down to them whose books had been so messed up that accurate measurements would now put their necks on the chopping block. But while this new technology made the truth available, severe pushback came from those who felt their security was being threatened. That makes sense, of course. At the time nobody really knew the extreme high cost of their ignorance, either corporately or personally.

What our wiser customers soon discovered is that truth is a godsend. It is both liberating and efficient. But even as the transition from a dark room into the sunlight is a difficult and even uncomfortable transition, so it is with bringing your secrets to the table. The desire to do things above board required a battle, perseverance and conviction. Nobody likes a battle, but there are simply some things we must fight for. Isn’t that the role managers and owners are entrusted with? To accept the responsibility to grow and guard their territory with zeal? Yes. This is when we, as leaders, are at our best. Cultivating and defending.

Because of this resistance to change, even though all admitted it was for the good, it took years to integrate this technology into a tech-averse good ol’ boy culture. In the end it was a salvation, but in the beginning, it took some brave managers and accountants to embrace it with conviction. Once that happened the entire industry began to change for the better. Today it is considered evidence of dishonesty if some similar form of technology is not used to verify accurate inventories. High speed scanners and cameras strapped to vehicles and drones are now almost universally required methods of measurement. With that problem solved the industry could now move on to solve the next big problem.

Everyday Heroes

How many times throughout history has progress been, at first, difficult to swallow?  And the inevitable been resisted? Every battle requires a champion who looks like an idiot at first, like David with the giant.

The heroes of that story were not me and my father. They were the quarry managers that had to fight the status quo to get the entire organization thinking better and expecting more. It’s they who took risks with their jobs and invested hours in making the transition from darkness into light. They had to have courage to invest a little money so that they could then save a lot of money.

But as we were navigating the resistance to our technology, my dad must’ve told me 100 times:

It’s pioneers who take the arrows.

Maybe so. But having been a part of that movement I got to see skeptical and even depressed quarry managers, some on the verge of tears, be transformed into company heroes. I experienced men with plug in their lip singing and dancing their way over to me in steel toe boots to shake my hand in thanks for helping them eliminate their biggest job fear.  We also got to see justice served and dishonest people dismissed. It was so very satisfying to equip good people to cultivate, defend and even expand their territory.

Pioneers willing to face the hostiles along the frontier made a better story for us all.

It will always be so.

Cheers! to those willing to face their fear of fights.

 

Attack on the Emigrant Train, Thomas Hill (1829-1908)

 

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