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Wasted Values: A Lesson in Leadership

We know the old lesson: every team reflects the values of their leader. But what does it mean today in the light of the IoT?

My first job out of college was as a production manager for a book publisher out in an unlikely suburb of Cleveland. We were a small team that tended to make very good products—we had an editor with authentic New York house chops and a print shop that carried the stains and scars earned from decades of quality bookmaking. Our writers were top notch, our niche rarified and unique.

The problem was, we had no shipping department whatsoever.

Instead, we had a cramped room in the basement stacked to the ceiling with teetering piles of inventory. Every Friday, a couple of editors and I would head down to that dungeon with a stack of Amazon orders and cram boxes full until our arms gave out.

We were not good at this job. To put it mildly.

Books went in crooked, sideways, with carefully designed cover art stacked upon carefully designed cover art, guaranteed to rub each other to smudgy bits on the road. And that was at the best of times.

After a few months of this, we ran out of packing material, and the big boss told us to just "make do" until he found room in the budget for these extra costs.

So we made do. We used dismantled boxes bent just so, reams of computer paper, printer's proofs, whatever we had. Eventually, the stack of damaged returns got so high, we started ripping them up to use as fill, too.

For some reason, the finances never turned around enough to fix the problem. No matter what we did, something was always dragging down our accounts. I'm pretty sure those ultra-heavy boxes and all of those battered returns may have had something to do with it.

This is the memory that kept playing in my head as I worked through our cover story this month. In it, Sealed Air's Tonya Jennings highlights how the PackOS technology can help overcome exactly the kind of pack-room waste my team demonstrated.

But I think it goes beyond IoT gadgetry and high tech solutions, and into a really powerful lesson on values and leadership.

Everyone at the office was extremely fastidious—we edited with care, we made good deals, we operated as lean as possible. We showed an overwhelming attention to detail in everything we did. Except shipping—an anomaly that came straight from the top.

Through his work, my boss showed us exactly what he valued in the business. He valued relationships; he valued quality books and clean copy. But he did not seem to care much about processes. And he certainly didn't give a damn about packaging. 

So in the end, we gave him exactly what he wanted: good books from a good community of authors, chaotically produced, with a mountain of unnecessary shipping costs.

On the face of it, this is a very old lesson. You know the one: every team reflects the values of their leader. But it also highlights a new version, updated to the world of IoT.

My boss didn't care about shipping, sure. But he had no idea that that value was hurting the business. If he had known, he certainly would have purchased the necessary tools and would definitely have trained us to use them.

The problem was, in those pre-IoT days no one had any idea what they didn't know. There was no spreadsheet, no accounting, no objective information about what unnoticed deficits were hurting the business.

Maybe this is the real power of IoT. It's not just the added efficiency or quality, but the access it provides to the real-time results of unintentional errors. It's less a beacon for high-tech growth, and more a floodlight illuminating all the unexplored corners of our operations.

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