I once had occasion to drive with two colleagues from Detroit to Buffalo in the company car assigned to my boss’s boss. That exalted personage was not in the vehicle with us, as our journey was only one element of a complex three-way car swap negotiated and choreographed through voicemail. We travelled through Ontario in the snow, and soon discovered a stash of Beach Boys CDs in the center console—Kokomo, Endless Summer, etc. A window into the fearless leader’s soul. My memory fades in and out, but I think we popped one in and played it as we went along, over the river and through the woods. I sure hope we did.
I once found myself qualifying special tools for production at a foundry in Germany. The foundry was located in a town that featured free music and discount beer in the main square on Thursday nights, which was much appreciated by the locals and the odd American guest. One Thursday I was standing with two German colleagues, one a metallurgist, when the hybrid polka/schlager band playing that night launched into “Nobody Does It Better.” The crowd immediately started singing along, arm in arm, and the metallurgist, tear in eye, turned and asked me if I liked Tina Turner–“Magst du Tina Turner?” It was not a question one expects from a German metallurgist. I answered “Prost!” I later learned that the band always closed with that number since it was a huge crowd pleaser and a good lead-in to passing the hat. The metallurgist also had a peculiar method of smoking a cigarette.
I was once required to attend a week-long Organizational Development training deal with an assemblage of bureaucrats, including a few people from production operations such as area managers, superintendents, etc. In these exercises you would while away hours building towers out of paper clips and popsicle sticks or discussing what kind of flower you wanted to be. Dandelion for me. At one point one of the instructors asked for descriptions of what it was like when a factory was running well, and a number of the production people were stirred from their torpor and said things like “there’s a rhythm, there’s a flow, everything’s in synch, you can feel it when you step out on the floor.” They used those words, rhythm and flow, and literally said you could feel it, not just one person, but several. It was a striking moment, and I sometimes wonder what else I missed when I was checked out during other parts of the training.