Looking forward

It all comes back to flour sacks

After reading Jeanette Clinkunbroomer’s article on lean manufacturing, which starts on page 24, it occurred to me that perhaps the problem with waste in printing—and in so many other areas—isn’t that we waste. Instead, the problem is that we’ve forgotten (or never knew) exactly what waste is.

Which brings me to flour sacks.

My grandmother’s mother died when my grandmother was still a young girl, and she and her siblings often had to figure out for themselves many of the things that their mother would have taught them, had she still been around. I know it was a hard way to grow up, but something in their childhood produced five of the most resourceful people I’ve ever met.

When my grandmother wasn’t much over twelve, if that, her younger sister needed a new dress. Fathers can be clueless about womanly arts in the best of times, and raising five children without a wife does not qualify as the best of times. So my grandmother took what she had—namely, two flour sacks, one in red gingham and one in blue—and made a red dress with blue collar and sleeves for her sister. She couldn’t wait to show her father how thrifty she had been, and I’m sure he was proud—and sure my great aunt looked simply stunning in her new outfit. To her, those flour sacks weren’t waste, they were raw materials for something new.

I know many of you have heard similar stories about your forebears, but they are not only endearing tales. The principle exemplified by my grandmother—that we control how much we waste, that waste is not inevitable—can spur you and your colleagues and employees on to greater productivity and efficiency. Jeanette Clinkunbroomer has further wise words on waste: “waste is not necessarily what is thrown out, but what is not thrown out. It’s all the time, space, activity, and even excess inventory that doesn’t support the bottom line.”

So start looking around and trying to figure out what you waste, what you throw out—either actively or passively—and figure out how it can be repurposed. Think about how the resources—time, money, raw materials—that you aren’t using to their fullest could be used better within your organization or how they could be freed up for others to use. Find out where the flour sacks are, and start turning them into beautiful dresses.