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  • Writer's pictureElliot Washor

Elliot Washor's TGIF 04.26.2024

“Are you with me now” A J Ryder

Up for a little wizardry?

Wizard Wand made by Nova, a San Diego Met student


On a visit to the San Diego Met, Elyse Burden and I ran a focus group with students about their new start-up businesses. There were five students and their businesses ranged from jewelry making to aquaponics to baking to making ‘Harry Potter’ wands out of wood. Like other BPL schools but unlike most other schools, our students can develop their own business and then form a working group of adult mentors and peers around their business for support.

So, what did they want more of? Here’s a few things:


  • More advice from adults about starting a business like theirs  

  • More support to start-up the business. The state bureaucracy is a bear to set up a business.

  • More advice on how to market and price their items

Wizard wand made by Nova, A San Diego Met student

 All great questions and because they were actively putting all of the pieces together, they knew it from the ground up. Later on I asked: Why did they do the business? Not surprising, it was more than just about making money. They wanted freedom, independence, meaning in their lives and choice.


What I learned was how easy it was for them to use their interest to start a business and that these types of youth entrepreneurial ventures are needed in every youth development center and school. The students are all self-motivated and all they need is the right adult and peer support.


What did they learn? They didn’t realize how hard it would be to start a business and how much you have to know. One of the beliefs I have about learning that is sorely missing in most schools is if, students can learn how hard it is to do something well, they have learned a great deal. This comes from asking the self-assessment question: How do you think you did?


Darling, Let’s Make Love on This PlaneRachel and Vilray

I don’t think so!


On the same day I went to this focus group, I read an article that Frank Wilson sent to me about the problems over at Boeing. Probably 20 years ago, Frank introduced me to Nate Jones who among other things was Jay Leno’s car mechanic. Nate also consulted with Boeing on how to recruit better engineers and that’s how I have an initial connection to:




This is a story about manufacturing planes but for me it is way more. The reporter traced the story back to the beginning where Bill Boeing was a stickler for details and quality. He would close his shop rather than put out slipshod work. The shop floor was where all the planes were manufactured and the tools were made. It was the place where workers and engineers worked closely with one another. This way of crafting and building planes served Boeing well until they became a company run by businessmen beholden to shareholders rather than a company run by people on the shop floor who knew what they were doing.


Parts is parts?


The new CEOs got rid of their machine shops and off-shored, outsourced and off-loaded the work to factories all over the world. All this done, for the sake of profit and efficiency or so they thought. In essence Boeing lost its how-to memory and the know-what that is embedded in making but more important, they lost their culture which was their raison d'être and in essence they lost their soul.


Since the fiascos of two similar Boeing plane crashes killing 346 people, a door falling off a Boeing plane in-flight and tons of other mishaps, Boeing started looking at how to bring it back home, change their ways and perhaps adapt to what others had done in the meantime. One story was about the rise of Japanese manufacturing that was done in-house on cars and planes. After WW2, the Japanese had less funds than the Boeings of the world so they improvised on what they learned from American manufacturers and developed three concepts: kaizen – renewable cycle of improvement; gemba – place of making value where managers had to get a thorough understanding of the shop floor where they comprehended the assembly of the whole; and mudawaste.   


The result of being on the shop floor and acknowledging the knowledge of practitioners was costs fell and errors dropped in a renewable cycle of improvement, or kaizen.


All of this resonates about how we do what we do and how others do what they do. At the ASU GSV Conference, we saw lots of companies cutting corners because they didn’t know what they didn’t know and really didn’t want to know it. Their bottom-line was a bottom-line. It was like the less they knew about learning the more profit they could make and the more quickly they could scale.


When businesses, schools, youth developments are run by businessmen of this mentality, they off-load the work, they lose the understanding of each part they off-load and relinquish responsibility for quality. If students off-load their work to AI, does the same thing happen? Remember: “The children are watching!”


I loved that our students were grappling with their business start-ups adding green and who their customers are into their business equation. I love when we grapple and argue about how to do what we do to get better. I love when I was asked to surprise Carlos on a podcast where the hosts, Kwaku and Aaron were interviewing him about his book, Finding Your Leadership Soul and they wanted me to briefly chime in about Carlos’s leadership. I’m paraphrasing here but what I said went something like: Yes, by being an advisor, principal, coach and regional director and co-executive director, Carlos knows how to put the toothpaste in the tube. This is great. But today one word among many I’m choosing to describe his leadership is that he has COURAGE, the ‘grace under pressure’ to stand for what he believes. Courage is where actor and act come together around love, care and vulnerability and actually do what is meaningful to you, your family and your community.


See you on the shop floor!


Be well!

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