Highly Motivated Ignoramous

In 1995, McArthur Wheeler robbed two Pittsburgh banks in broad daylight making no noticeable attempt to hide his identity. Video tape of the robberies were broadcast that evening on the 11 o’clock news. Within an hour Mr. Wheeler was arrested. While in custody police showed him the surveillance video. Mr. Wheeler was stunned, and continually mumbled “but I wore the juice.” Apparently, Mr. Wheeler was under the impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice made it invisible to video recording devices.

McArthur Wheeler’s story was highlighted in a Cornell University study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The author used his unfortunate story to defend his assertion, “that when people are incompetent in the strategies, they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden. Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.” Mr. Wheeler was certain he had the perfect plan. With conviction he knew he would get away with it. However, the things he did right were the wrong things and he didn’t know it.

When I was a young maintenance leader. I was highly motivated and highly incompetent in the art and science of Maintainability & Reliability. This was a dangerous combination. I had read the books, I watched the videos, and I jumped head first into the shallow end of my competency pool. I had a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) meeting every Thursday that solved 10-30 failures in under an hour. I bought and distributed Infrared technology and sent out oil samples for analysis. I could spew out acronyms that no one at the facility had ever heard of. I was a rising star and people took notice at all the things I was doing and saying. But as Charles Darwin theorized “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” I was sure we were doing the right things the right way, but weren’t becoming more reliable. I was the highly motivated ignoramus.

As the Cornell study suggest it was dual burdened. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I couldn’t realize it. What’s worse was no one at the site could either. The result was a lot of false starts and lost credibility on the floor. Eventually we got the reliability train back on the tracks. It started with a deliberate focus and investment in training. I enrolled as an Inspired Blended Learning (iBL) student with Eruditio to serve as site reliability lead. We established a lubrication technician apprenticeship and lube department. We developed Predictive Maintenance (PdM) specialists among the technicians, and numerous other things. It was a period of enlightenment for all and the results were instantaneous.

I learned several valuable lessons during those early years. Most importantly, I learned that just because you think you know it doesn’t mean you know it. One must always assess oneself and engage others that can provide an unbiased opinion. It was my iBL coach that set me straight. I was quickly humbled and that made all the difference.

If you find yourself working ridiculously hard and seeing little to no results, consider what you don’t know. Consult an industry expert. There are people in every field that freely volunteer their time to answer questions and help people along. Once you know what you don’t know educate yourself. Advocate for training. It is the lynchpin for elevating a maintenance organization to world class.

Bill Leahy

About Bill Leahy