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Management Side
Technical Side
Week of 13 November 2017: Beware of the sizzle when sorting out Innovation & Strategy

Email Jim at jthompson@taii.com

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Over thirty years ago, I worked for Dr. H. Wayne Adickes in the tech center of a major pulp and paper company (you chemistry junkies can find Wayne listed in the references at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meyers_synthesis). When we produced graphs to support our work, particularly when we produced sets of related graphs, Wayne had an absolute rule: the ordinate and abscissa on the graphs must be of the same scale and have the same origin and end values from graph to graph. If you needed a blow up of a graph to show detail, it had be shown as an inset to the graph with attributes that complied with all the other graphs in the set.

Dr. Adickes had seen too many doctored graphs in his experience. No one who worked for him was going to play games with data.

Think about it, every graph you have ever seen was designed to convey the story the presenter wanted to present. Think about what you have done yourself as you set about preparing graphs for a presentation. I know you chose all the attributes of the graph based on the conclusions you wanted to convey to your audience. Everybody does it.

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Save the date! The Pulp and Paper Industry Reliability and Maintenance conference, sponsored by IDCON and Andritz, will be held March 19-22, 2018 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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PowerPoint was introduced after my period of understudy with Dr. Adickes. Sometimes I wish we could go back to those times, for I think we were more honest then. PowerPoint did not enjoy widespread use until sometime after Microsoft released their version in 1990. Today, corporations use PowerPoint specialists to prepare their slide decks. The demand is so high that some corporations have these artists on staff while others contract the services.

PowerPoint is specifically used in some organizations to sell the "sizzle," for the "steak" is without substance. I have seen this many times while observing the development of capital budgets for projects. In fact, most capital budget teams, unless they have years of experience, tend to develop capital budgets that are lots of sizzle, no substance. (But keep doing it! I make a great side income as an expert witness when these projects go bad!) I can expand this further and say, many funding requests involving implementation of innovations or strategies have way too much sizzle and not enough hard work in developing the basic foundational elements. This is why I said that sometimes I wish we could go back to those times before PowerPoint--one could not hide the poorly developed foundational premises so easily in those days.

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Of course, there are many other items besides graphs and PowerPoint decks that can be abused when putting together your innovation and strategy initiatives. I saw a project once where large sums were spent implementing a strategy that was built on erroneous laboratory work. Marketing was pushing for a certain product change; we were all feeling the pressure to perform. About the time we finished modifying the first few production lines (thank goodness, the mistake was found then--we had a total of 96 lines to reconfigure), the lab work was accidentally redone, coming to a different conclusion, bringing the project to a screeching halt. The real tragedy, however, was not the lost expenditures, but that we lost six months in our efforts to beat our competitors to market. That loss was incalculable.

If you are in the room when a fancy presentation is being made, don't be duped by the dazzle. You may not want to embarrass the presenters publicly, but be ready to confront them privately after the show (for that is what it is, a show) and ask them for a private, in depth, explanation of their work. You can be more subtle than confrontational, asking them to "explain it to someone as slow as I am," sort of like Columbo used to do on the TV show--and there I go, showing my age again.

In the area of safety, I have seen more graphs stretched, twisted and turned to make things look better than they are, so many times. Personally, I don't need a graph or a presentation to tell me what your safety record will be. Just let me walk through your facility for fifteen minutes and I'll know--and you will, too, if you are honest with yourself.

Be safe and we will talk next week.
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If you want to see lots of graphs and dazzle, ask us for our media kit! Yes, it is advertising sales season, and we have produced the best media kit we have ever put together. Ask me for a copy today and put my feet to the fire--make me explain it to you. You can get one by calling me on my cell phone--404-822-3412--or emailing me at jthompson@taii.com. As we have been saying, if you like our innovative ways of presenting the news about the pulp and paper industry, I'll suggest you do the following. If you are in a mill and like what you see here, please tell your suppliers what you like to read and who you would like to see them support with their advertising budgets. If you are a supplier, please be aware we are first in news, (we think) we have the largest audience in the pulp and paper industry worldwide and (we know) we have the lowest advertising costs.

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Nip Impressions has been honored for Editorial Excellence by winning a Tabbie Award!

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