It’s not magic but it can feel that way!
Will Sampson

Lots of things in business present themselves as “solutions” that will instantly cure all ills and launch you to the stratosphere of business success. There’s the new machine that will multiply your productivity by some amazing factor or the business consultant who claims to have the secret sauce to smooth out all of your bottlenecks.

I think we are all familiar with the expression, “If it seems too good to be true, it likely is.” There’s no silver bullet, no magic wand, but in reality, some changes can seem that way. I’m fond of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s dictum, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Sometimes the magic happens when your eyes are opened to new possibilities that might come from new technology. Yes, sometimes a new machine can be transformative. But let’s be realistic. As many gains in productivity that can be had from a new machine, it likely still will just move the bottleneck elsewhere in your production flow. And not all production problems can be solved with a new machine or a robot.

Sometimes the magic involves people. Are they doing things in a coordinated fashion? Is everybody on the same page with how they do things so you achieve consistent results? What would happen if you reorganized jobs, processes, or procedures? Are you listening when your workers tell you there’s a better way to do something? The “magic” of some consultants is really no secret. It’s that they have been to enough plants to quickly see some of the problems that you might be too close to for your own good.

It is often stunning what can happen with a few changes in procedures, shop layouts, or just getting teams and individuals to more effectively coordinate with each other. Sometimes you find there are as many ways of doing something in your operation as there are people doing it. What happens when they finally get together to compare notes and jointly develop a standard procedure that everyone follows for maximum efficiency? 

Is that magic? Maybe so. But it doesn’t take a top hat and a magic wand to get it done. It does, however, take a willingness to open your eyes and try new things. 

I’m convinced that one of the reasons business owners and production foremen are so easily convinced that the solution to their problems is new machinery is because they can see the machinery in action, doing what they want it to do. It might be in a video, on a showroom floor, or in a trade show booth, but it’s real, and it’s working. It’s a lot easier to sign on the dotted line for that shiny piece of metal and electronics than it is to visualize how a change in people (if you can find them!) or procedures will work out. For that matter, there’s no guarantee that such a change will work out at all. Compare that to the recorded speed rate on a machine.

The magic is in the vision and the magic words are, “Open your eyes and open your mind.”


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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.