My daughter Ava is a good student. She just finished 6th grade and her report cards always look like they have my initials all over them. She is a self-starter and a self-finisher. Which means that while I would like to be more involved with her academics, she usually doesn’t need my help.
Her final science project of the year finally gave me a chance to get involved. The assignment was to build a Rube Goldberg Machine that incorporated at least four simple machines (#physicstalk).
For those of you who aren’t down with RGM, a Rube Goldberg Machine is a machine, device or thingy that uses a chain reaction to perform a very simple task in a very complicated way. I love this kind of project. It combines science, creativity and whimsy (Did I mention that in college I majored in whimsy?)
The Big Question
The project was a mixture of problem solving fun and you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me frustration. But helping Ava with her RGM set off a series of linked thoughts in my head. My Father Brain nudged my Business-Owner Brain which produced the question:
Are organizations unintentionally creating Rube Goldberg Machines to do what should be done easily?
It shouldn’t be that hard.
Most organizations develop processes and procedures, whether officially or by default, that are way too complicated. What should take a one person a few minutes to complete turns into a complicated chain of events, with too many sign-offs, too many check-ins, too much standing in line, too much discussing and not enough doing.
Check yourself before your wreck yourself.
Chances are that you have an RGM in your organization. But instead of being whimsical and entertaining, it wastes time, adds costs and has a negative impact on customer service.
If you notice an overly complicated process within your organization, or in your interactions with your partners, vendors or clients, let them know. Businesses need this kind of feedback. Because it is really easy to make an easy task difficult.
Taking a fresh look.
When I started the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I reveled in the opportunity to make our processes simple. I also have a long-term vision of the business that should help us avoid unnecessary complexities. But we are not perfect. We will also require regular evaluations and feedback from our team, partners and clients to make sure we are not complicating what should not be complicated.
Rube Goldberg Machines offer good opportunities to teach children about physics. They offer great entertainment. In fact, I would subscribe to The Rube Goldberg Machine channel if such a thing existed. But within organizations, let’s not overcomplicate. Let’s always look for ways to de-complicate our processes and procedures to make sure we are not wasting time or money.
In case you were wondering…
*I envisioned Ava creating a small contraption on a table in our basement. But that’s not Ava’s style. She created a large machine in our driveway, despite the fact that she would have to set it all up and take it all down every day until she completed the project. She finally completed a successful run at 8pm on my birthday. Which meant that my birthday was spent doing a lot more tweaking of components than celebrating me. But that’s what parents do.
2 thoughts on “There is the easy way, and the Rube Goldberg way.”
Great stuff as usual Adam. I have been involved with orgs that place high value on the RGM folks as they are seen as critical to move an idea from silo’d one-offs to operationalized strategies. Great in theory, but the result usually nets out an over-baked process that at best, creates ‘warm pee’ ideas and disengaged teammates.
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Thank Chris! Yes, we need to continuously evaluate and balance our desires for scalability with the inefficiencies that so often sprout from the resulting processes. Because nobody wants to feel like they are wading through warm pee.