Standard vs Passion – Who Wins?

Dabbawallahs - Lunch box delivery service

A lot of management gurus like to refer the Bombay Dabbawallahs operations as an outstanding example of excellence in logistics. The 120-year old business operation is often quoted as compliance to the 30-year old six-sigma business management strategy implementation standard in the India context. I couldn’t help but to laugh out loud when I heard the statement.

I didn’t laugh at the homegrown lunch box delivery service model, which was developed and perfected by a group of individuals who have very little or no formal education in the area of logistics; I laughed at the management gurus. What I have witnessed so far is too much of theories and standard management procedures that have jammed up the thinking process, especially for managers who supposedly need to think out of the box to improve their daily operations.

When a crude system like Dabbawallahs can meet the so-called six-sigma standard, it doesn’t mean that the management gurus have to pack and go home, it sparks another interesting topic that worth to ponder.

A lot of big corporations are willing to pour millions of dollar for experts to guide them through, yet they’re still struggling to comply with the ISO 9000 or six-sigma standard. The question is, why can an illiterate system in Bombay easily achieve the standard and yet they’re not bothered to claim the pride, or care to be audited by any International Standard Organization?

Many MBA graduates like to boast all sorts of jargons and buzzwords in their conversations, ROI, SWOT, SMART, sometimes even FART and etc to show-off their management knowledge, but what I see is a lot of mediocrity, ordinary managers who proud to follow the plain rules and running the daily errands, and for the bosses, please don’t hold your breathe for any breakthrough from them soon.

Even though they are stuffed with knowledge, they are like zombies without PASSION, the key element that leads to any success story. Yes, passion is what most of the career managers lack of in today’s corporations. It is clear to me that ones get jobs done with knowledge, but ones deliver distinct results with knowledge and passion.

Excellent result is driven by passion; it is not driven by six sigma or ISO 9000 standard. And sometimes you even have to bend some standards to achieve success.

It’s just like a famous quote of Dr Ian Malcolm in the movie Jurassic Park, "If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it's that life will not be contained .…….. life finds a way." If you’re longed for improvement, of course you will find whatever way to improve it, be it six-sigma or zero-sigma.
The Bombay Dabbawallahs are hiring 5000 people, and dispatch 300,000 lunch boxes to and fro on a daily basis. With a huge 7.5 million transactions in a month the system averagely only reported 3 errors per month. Of course they deploy a fantastic system of their own, but the system is definitely driven and perfected by passion, and not by any international standard.

I like to bend some business standards myself, and set my own standards. I don’t hold any company meetings all year long, I don’t need marketing manager to produce me a business plan that should send a shock to some MBA students. And our official FingerTec website is surely not fit to any corporate standard.

An article, “Being Steve’s Boss” in Bloomberg Businessweek the October 25-31 issue interests me. Somehow it assures that my being not standard shouldn't be a barrier to me achieving success.

An anecdotal story: A friend of mine was at meetings at Apple and Microsoft on the same day. And this was in the last year, so this was recently. He went into the Apple meeting (he’s vendor for Apple) and as soon as the designers walked in the room, everyone stopped talking because the designers are the most respected people in the organization. Everyone knows the designers speak for Steve because they have direct reporting to him. It is only Apple where design reports directly to the CEO.

Later in the day he was at Microsoft. When he went into the Microsoft meeting, everyone was talking and then the meeting starts and no designers ever walk into the room. All the technical people are sitting there trying to add their ideas of what ought to be in the design. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Everyone around him knows he beats to a different drummer. He sets standards that are entirely different than any other CEO would set.”

Aha, I’m not the only CEO that requires the designers to report directly to me, Steve Jobs too. :-)

by Teh Hon Seng, CEO, FingerTec HQ

Dabbawallahs - Lunch box delivery service A lot of management gurus like to refer the Bombay Dabbawallahs operations as an outst...

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