The office & the factory

I’ve been thinking alot about the differences of various businesses I’ve been involved with. I invested the formative years of my business life working in consumers goods companies. Classic fast moving consumer goods companies that thrived through industrial revolution and then boomed during the TV industrial complex.

I’ve since invested most of my time in service based internet businesses, startups and advertising. They both have relative advantages and disadvantages that I only ever realised once I had time to digest the dynamics in each of them. The most interesting observation I’ve made is the difference when the office and the factory are the same thing. This occurs in  service / web based business. In consumer goods the office and factory tend to be separated.

The key advantage that the consumer goods scenario has is that the office is not linked to output. It creates time for thinking. The immediate concerns of what needs to ship today are somewhat removed. The urgent, doesn’t get in the way of the important. Yet, the challenge here is that we can become out of touch with how things work.

The key disadvantage of  the service scenario (office is the factory), is we don’t have as much time to think and consider. There is always something that needs to be created, done or fixed. Over time our mental flexibility declines as we get absorbed in shipping what we make and meeting deadlines. Yes, we know what is happening, but we get too close to it. We lose vision and creativity via also ‘being’ the production process.

The important thing for startups and marketers alike is to know which environment we are operating in, and to work real hard on the area of disadvantage.


7 Comments The office & the factory

  1. Scott Kilmartin

    Very relevant for me in my world, where my office is at the factory.

    It makes me think of the famed designer Philip Starck’s office answering machine message. “…morning time is for thinking, we’ll return your call in the afternoon when we ‘do’…”

  2. Steve Sammartino

    It’s actually going to become more of an issue as things increasingly move in house with easy to use / easy to build digital tools. We are so busy doing we stop thinking…. and in order to think effectively we also need to stop.


  3. Michael

    It is the whole we need to be ‘shipping’ to make money and anything that effects that product going out the door seems to be the most ‘important’ to do thing all the time.

    You sort of need to put into this case a cultural element into the equation as well.

    The culture of how the boss handles things and what he/she sees as important!

    The culture of the business at the beginning when it is a one man band needs to change as the teams get bigger – otherwise (I have had experience in this) the creative/planning/energy flair gets ground out of the new recruits because they feel they have to fit into the culture to make it in the company.

    Must be thinking very deep today for an answer like that..


  4. Steve Sammartino

    Yep, this question I’ve raised in the blog post is bigger than the part I wrote about… it is certainly a cultural factor.

    A big problem I’ve experienced is that companies say they value intellectual horsepower and thinking, yet don’t allocate any time to it….


  5. Andre Sammartino

    The deletious ‘in-housing’ aspect can be seen right down at the individual office worker level. Should I be really spending so much time thinking about the formatting of a document, the design of a presentation (shoddy as it will be), the workings of that photo copier, the configuration of my computer, or complying with some onerous expense claim process?

    Offices used to have much clearer separation of tasks. Indeed it used to look a lot more like an assembly line. Watch an episode of Madmen and see how delineated work roles used to be in white collar factories. Those creative guys (for they were all men) certainly got a lot of time to be creative (oh, and drunk, and sleazy)!

  6. Steve Sammartino

    Yep, you raise a good point. The deletion of secretaries (not trying to offend anyone) has resulted in highly paid senior executives spending their days typing emails instead of running the business and making decisions…. it’s the greatest cost saving folly in corporate history.


  7. Brett Duncan

    Andre – Yeah, I want a couch in my office like Don Draper so I can nap between, well, drinks.

    Steve – here’s what I see all the time: we all want more time to think about big stuff, but when time does manage to open up, we gravitate toward the tactical “nows.” I’ve often said that no job description includes “read and answer emails,” and yet that’s what most folks do today. When we have nothing left to do, it’s normally because our inbox is empty. Something’s wrong with that.

    I gotta get me an old-school secretary ….


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