Busting Some Balls
In 1965 I moved to Dayton, Ohio at the request of Monsanto so we could consolidate the R&D on plastics at one lab site.
Indeed there was a degree of culture shock having just spent 5 years in the Boston area, but the work was doing
what I loved most. My work at the Dayton Lab of what eventually became Monsanto Research Corporation included
all kinds of applications of plastics funded by government contracts, mainly.
Work continued on the highly
successful vibration damping materials, on biomedical devices (artificial hearts and kidneys)
Hollow Fiber Artificial Kidney Cartridge , on space applications
(fire resistant foams for the space capsules), on transparent armor (for Viet Nam helicopters), on miniature
"whiffle" balls (for suppression of explosions in military aircraft fuel tanks), on "Plastic Ice" (for storage
of thermal energy at 212 degrees F), on composite materials (for roofing in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean- Ghana, Philippines and Jamaica), on foams
(instant packaging for the Air Force), on injection molding (for precision parts of weapons), on recycling of plastic waste
(for the EPA and NATO countries). A more complete list for anyone that really cares is available. List of George's Publications.
I was proud to be the third generation of George Loyal Ball's to have patents. Shown here is one of my grandfathers and one of mine. I've never been able to find one of my fathers, which I know exists.
U. S. Patent of G. L. Ball Sr. 1892U. S. Patent of G. L. Ball III 1968
Most important about my work at Monsanto was the help provided me by those who I reported to and those who reported to me.
The person with the greatest impact was Ival O. (Val) Salyer. As his over 100 patents attest (he's up to 130 in 1998), he was the most scientifically
creative individual I have ever known. He knew and understood the science and technology of plastics and polymers.
This included how they are synthesized, how they are processed, how they perform (physically and chemically), etc.
His understanding opened the doors to applying the materials to a host of applications that boggle the mind.
I reported to Val for about 12 years (and he had supported my work in Boston
for the previous couple of years) George with Val in the Philippines . Needless to say those were the good old
times. Writing proposals for new work
was one of my greatest interests. From my point of view that was the most creative time. In a very short period of time
(less than 30 days) we had to take someone's request for proposal (RFP), understand the technology, figure out how we
could achieve their results, and respond. The learning phase of understanding their needs was most invigorating. It is
here that a lot was learned (for instance learning about what and how kidneys function) and that was exciting.
Next was figuring out just what plastics and polymers had to do with the application and how it could be applied. There
are times that we started out with a blank and eventually solved the clients problem. This is where Val Salyer and
a variety of people who reported to me responded with fervor. One job included developing a plastic replacement for a cement grouting
for a NASA antenna George At Antenna Site in the Desert .
On those proposals which we won and turned into contracts, next was the fun of implementing them. Here again we learned-
usually at a speed that allowed us to provide the expected or better than expected results to the client. In the end we
all gained. A primary interest I had was understanding what happened when our predictions were incorrect. Did we not
understand the science or technology, or was there something new. It was these new bits of wisdom that were most
important in generating future work. We took the anomalies and turned them into useful characteristics in potential products.
An example is a plastic with high viscoelastic loss- usually undesirable. This was the basis for the vibration damping
material that takes mechanical vibration and turns it into heat. This would be highly undesirable in tires.
One thing that I liked about the work is that to be effective within the usual
1 year term of the original contract you needed a plan and agreement that the
plan was acceptable. Again I took pride in planning work, scoping out the
resources needed and applying them toward some target or goal. One of the
most difficult things in implementation was keeping everyone on track.
The work was so interesting and there were so many things to try that we needed
to make sure that we worked on the most effective things for the clients interest.
One way we had to examine things we found which may not be of direct interest to
the client, who was paying the bill, was to get IRAD (Independent Research
And Development) funds. These were funds
set aside by the company to develop ideas (the funds in part came from the
overhead on the contracts as an allowable cost). For the most part these funds
were used to take ideas and do enough experiments to show that the idea was
valid by generating some proof data.
One interesting aspect of the IRAD results was that with a relatively
small amount of effort in a short time (1-2 months) we could usually prove
a concept (a lot of Hail Mary tries). Having turned these
results into a contract or major project, it then took at least six months
to get to the level we had been at in the IRAD effort (with funds you don't
try to get there with Hail Mary's).
I also had my own independent IRAD and encouraged those who worked for me to
practice in the same way. First the formal IRAD more or less said (by the nature
of its funding) to spend 85% of your time on the contract and 15% on new ideas.
From my point of view this meant that in a normal 40hr work week you spend
34hr on the contract (85%) and 6hr (15%) on new ideas. Obviously there are
other things that enter into the equation, but lets ignore them for now.
The basis for my Independent IRAD was to utilize the work hours in a week over
40. I was fortunate that most of those who have reported to me over the years
were not 40 hr a week people. They were professionals who typically worked
48 to 80 hours a week. What I encouraged, and practiced, was to maximize the
utilization of the additional hours on developing new ideas. This was not to
say to short the client, they also more often than not got more than 40 hours a
week (and paid for less). If you take the case of the individual who works
only 48 hours a week and follows my suggestion he (she) ends up with 34hr on
the contract and 14 hr on new ideas. This makes the work most productive and
fabulously interesting. The only limitation on working on the ideas was having
facilities in which they could be tried. It was important to have ideas that
could be implemented with existing or easily modified facilities.
My management approach and ideas I put together in the form of an Intrapreneurs
Primer "Cheat Sheet". It follows:
My Intrapreneurs Primer was the result of years of experience, some on "how not"
to do things. A most significant aspect of it came out of my experience at the
Dayton Lab. I have always put in at least 60 hours a week towards my work
and often much more than that. In my early years I put in that first 36 hours
towards the clients programs. I usually gave them another 8hr. I then tended
to do what my Boss wanted with the next 16-? hours. This I found was a mistake.
Indeed it made him happy in the short run, especially when he could stop in
my office at 6:00PM and have the results on his desk the next morning. At the
end of the year- review time [Dilbert]- I was questioned why I didn't hit some
of my annual targets. The reason, of course, was that I was working on my Boss's
targets instead of mine. It was after one discouraging annual review that
the light bulb flashed. As the Primer states it is helpful for you and your Boss
to have the same targets.
The year after I first applied my revelation the review was interesting. I was
told that I wasn't being as responsive as I had in the past (and he wondered
if I had some personal problem). However, he had to agree that I had done
a superlative (OK I'm taking some liberties- but this is MY recollection) job
in reaching my agreed upon Goals. I just said that I put the effort where I
thought it was most beneficial. One reason I put the Primer together was to
share that with those who worked for me. I would hope that they would agree
that I have done that. As a Manager/Supervisor I had to have the reins in my
hands and make sure I provided direction. My option was to tighten up or loosen
up on the reins. I tried to keep them as loose as possible, provided I wasn't
pulled too far to either side.
[For those of you who were expecting an exciting, action packed, sexy novel
and are going to sleep may want to skip to the next chapter. The next
chapter won't be that, but it may be more to your liking.]
I expect that most of you are familiar with Pareto's Rule of 80/20. It states that
80% of an effort is usually done by 20% of the people. It may be presented in
any of a number of ways. For instance in sales 20% of your salespeople sell
80% of your product, etc (this, of course, means that the other 80% only sell
the other 20%- not too good, Huh- but it may make the difference between profit
and loss). In management, problems which take up 80% of the
management time are usually generated by 20% of the people. This means that in
the day-to-day course of events as a manager you're spending a lot of time with
a few people who aren't really very productive- for whatever reason.
Having spent many hours with less than adequate performers and validating
Pareto's Rule, I got to thinking there must be a better way. Consequently I
came up with Ball's 80/10/10 Rule. This puts the management effort where I
think it should be. First you spend 10% of your time with those who are doing
an excellent job. You need to encourage them and make sure that they know that
their effort is worth while and appreciated. Any more than 10% of your time
spent on them would only get in their way. They know what they are doing-
let them do it. Any more time would reduce their effectiveness.
The next 10% you spend on those who are not performing very well (this is the
group that usually get 80% of your time). Chances are that no matter how much
time you spend with them, they're not going to get any better. If they've
always been late for work, that won't change. Oh, maybe for a week, or a month
but then back to the old routine. Also, even if they come in, the chance of
improving productivity are slim. If these people are not doing the job, they're
in the wrong job. Get it changed. Expect less and pay less and let them do
a great job at the proper level. I realize that this may be difficult if the
person has been told they've been doing a great job in the past. Reality has
to set in and they need to know that what was excellent last year isn't
enough this year. Just ask any salesman who has his quota upped 20%
I would not want anyone to get the idea that people can't be trained or that
I am not willing to spend the time to train. Indeed, if it weren't for learning
something new every day, I'd be bored. I do feel that people need to take
the initiative, learn something, and THEN demonstrate what they learned by
doing something useful with it. Too often I've heard; "I took a course in
that, so I'm qualified". In recent years a lot of that training has been on
learning computer software. There is a big difference between taking a week
long course on a word processor and applying that learning to writing and
properly formatting a document. Recent training has improved by the requirement
for testing (in past years many courses were just audited and if something sank
in, fine, if not, it made no difference.
I encourage taking courses, either formally or self instructed. I also encourage
the taking of tests. I just have problems with making people think that
they know something just because they took a course and passed a test. To me
the best thing they pointed out was that they were willing to take the time
and put out the effort to learn something new. And now they know WHERE TO GO
to help solve a problem. The same fallacy exists in graduating from College.
It's not that you know it all. Hopefully it's that you know how to learn it
when the time comes that you need it.
Now back to Ball's 80/10/10 and the 80 portion. The 80% are those who aren't
necessary in the outstanding or very poor categories. They are, as I suspect I am,
in that great middle group. If you don't believe this just review any large
companies records and you'll see where people are grouped in their ratings.
[Dilbert I'm sure will also be glad to confirm this. Dilbert's Home Page This is the group,
made up of 80% of your workforce, where a manager should spend 80% of his (her)
time. It is this portion of your staff who can effectively benefit from
your efforts with respect to advice, training, listening, etc. Spend the
time with them and watch them grow.
I'm going to add a bit to my 80/10/10 rule at this point which I have
here-to-fore not quantified. I'll take a shot at it. I have no experimental
evidence to support my numbers other than my 36+ years of experience. I'm
not going to argue the precision of my numbers any more than that of the
80/10/10. The point I want to make is that of the 80/10/10 groups the
resultant productivity is 70/30/0. This breaks up the Parodi Rule into
70/80; 30/10; and 0/10 instead of 20/80 and 80/20.
I don't want to discount the brilliance, knowledge, intelligence,
and skills of the Top 10 group, but my experience says that much of their
result is based on hours worked, supporting the old, but very valid saying
by Thomas Edison, that work is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. I'd like
to say something about the 80 group. In that group I think that the difference
in productivity of the individuals within the group is FOCUS and DETERMINATION.
The focus is working on what's important. Not to that individual, or even his
boss, but to the customer. The customer being the one who accepts the
result and pays for it. Anticipating who this might be is not always easy
and may occur from a random set of circumstances. The determination is
putting "effective time" in to the result. Effective is an important part
of the time. It's not just spending hours, but spending hours on the right
things. I'm a BELIEVER, however, that time spent opens opportunities that
otherwise might not exist. You don't hit at the slot machine if you don't
stand there and put coins in. Setting up the machine properly increases your odds.
There are just so many hours in a week (168 hr) and each of us must prioritize how
we're going to spend them. Most makers of jobs expect at least 40 hours.
When you add in lunch and travel times this turns into 45-56 hours. Assume we
sleep about 56hr. That leaves about another 56 to do other things. Spend time
with the family, make families, eat, and work on hobbies or other activities.
My hobby has always been my work and I only need about 40hr. of sleep in a week,
so that has given me a minimum of an extra 20hr. to put into work. I'm afraid
that this discussion has gotten us nowhere so I'll move on.
Putting effort where it counts has been one of the reasons that I've been
into computers for a long time, even though they have never been in my job
description until very recently. A significant aspect of management is
planning, budgeting, tracking, recording useful things, and even recording worthless
things. These can all be rather mechanical things which have a high degree
of repetition. They were, and remain to be, prime candidates for help by
computers. That is why I have been into PC's (personal computers- just in
case you've lived in a cave) almost ever since they first came out. I wasn't
one of the early Apple people who were thrilled with the technology. I
started with the Radio Shack Model I, a powerful 4,000 (4k) byte machine with
storage on a magnetic tape recorder..
At the time we had a "mainframe" which provided power for some accounting and
scientific computation. However, our accountant still checked everything out
by hand just to double check the computer. I wonder if he ever found a mistake.
What got me started into microcomputers (although I used one in graduate school
that required programming on punch tape and now and then used a terminal we
had that accessed a "mainframe" in St. Louis) was what I call the "6 months and
$50,000" syndrome (I'll abbreviate this 6mo&50k). This was the answer given by the computer staff when you
asked for something to be done. Of course I wanted something tomorrow.
After requesting that we put some project tracking software on the computer
and thus provide the financial status of projects from input that was already
in the computer (such as labor and material costs) and getting the "6mo&50k"
response I went out and bought this Powerful Radio Shack computer.
As I mentioned the first computer had 4k of RAM (memory) Upgraded 4k Computer.
It also had an 8088 processor, I
think, no hard disk, no floppy disk, a cassette tape recorder, and a black and white
monitor. There, of course, was almost no software, no CD player, no sound, no color and it still
cost about a $1000.00. Most importantly after getting the computer it took me
a whole week to make it through the 10 week course instruction manual geared
to teaching the basic language to use the computer. The computer I am using presently has
16,000 times the memory of this 4k computer (the one in the picture has actually been upgraded to 16k).
We had a fairly simple set of calculations to cost out a job given that we
estimated the labor hours, the type of labor, and the cost of materials. With
a hand calculator you could perform a calculation in a few minutes. When you're
doing dozens of these, as I was, it seemed to me that there had to be an
easier way. I asked for the computer staff to set something up and again
I got the "6mo&50k" answer.
That night I went home, sat down, and, as a novice,
generated a program and a report that performed the calculations in seconds.
Of course, this took a week of training on my part and did require that I go
out and invest in a printer so I could make a hardcopy of my result. The next
day I took this in to the head accountant and showed it to him. To this day
when I even mention Radio Shack computer to him he turns purple. Needless to
say I gained no brownie points. But I did learn that the little computer
could save me lots of time in my work so to this day I spend much of my spare
time developing things that will let me do my work more efficiently. [I
should add that I understand the difference between the way I did it and the
result from a 6mo&50k project, especially with respect to error checking, etc.,
However, having something that just works OK is better than not having anything.
Before I left the Dayton Lab we had a Project Management system that was updated
weekly. This gave the information that allowed projects (especially short
task-order type) to be properly managed. One real advantage of using the
microcomputer is allowing for what I would call linear development. One
thing the mainframe staff wanted to do was sit down first and figure out
what was needed because it was not going to be easy to change it.
As a user, what I wanted depended somewhat on what I could get (or what was practical
to have). By being able to try out various things on the PC, including
formatting reports, which I could show to the staff, helped get me to where
I wanted to be even though it happened only one step at a time. Fortunately
most of the steps were forward.
To this day I still experiment with what you can get from a computer. Thankfully
the software is much more advanced, as are the computers. In many
cases it is ridiculous to write software when it can be purchased so cheaply.
There is still work to be done to personalize it, etc. but the power is there.
No longer do you turn on the computer and have only a "carrot" staring you
in the face.
One of the reasons I wrote the document you are reading was to demonstrate how a browser
type interface can facilitate the presenting of information, for instance,
a manual or other reference material. A big difference is format, the
ability to jump to the references, and the ability to network the
information (whether it be an internal network, Intranet, or the Internet). Indeed the
value of the browsers extends well beyond its interface utility for the
Internet. Although tedious at times the Markup Language is relatively
simple to incorporate into otherwise useful information. Hopefully the
content I have included will be useful, at least a little interesting, or
maybe sleep inducing to someone who takes the time to read this.
Following my work at the Dayton Lab of MRC, I transferred to Mound. This
facility, located just south of Dayton in Miamisburg, Ohio, had been
operated by Monsanto Company for the U. S. Government since the Manhattan
Project. One of the shocks I had when I went to Mound was that I could
not get a PC to help with my supervisory work. PC's and mini-computers
were considered to be tools for the scientific community and not management.
Needless to say this went against my grain. I kept trying to get a computer
until I was finally successful, but in the meantime I just upgraded at
home and did most of my work there.
Another interesting perspective I ran into was that the basic language on a
PC was considered to be too simple and naive. A real man's language was
Fortran. Basic was considered to be a low level
language. From my perspective, it was a high level language because it
spoke somewhat in plain English. I guess if there was any problem with
basic it was that it was too easy to use (much like the HTML). Thus any
simpleton, like myself, could write, read it and use it. An advantage of the
Fortran was that you could hide behind it and only the small circle of
Fortran nerds could understand it. No wonder management was scared away
I can't help but comment on "Mainframers". That is the group of people
who select, buy, maintain, program, sell, etc. mainframe computers in an
organization. Mainframe computers are a great thing. Their power has been
utilized in the past and will continue in the future. From my point of view,
however, the "Mainframers" missed a great opportunity TWICE (at least). The
first, for which I am grateful, was when they were not responsive to users
needs (along the line of my "6mo&50k" syndrome) and the PC was invented.
Finally people had the independent ability to control and manipulate a
computer to their own benefit. And when the computer gave them any guff
they could just flick the switch and shut it off. PC's were manufactured
because people wanted them and they were improved because the sale of the
early ones financed that development.
One thing should have been obvious to the Mainframers, who all ended up with
PC's on their desks next to their terminals connected to the "Biggie", was
that at some point all these people with PC's were going to want to share
data. (I'm not talking about Dungeons and Dragons type stuff that probably
kept the Mainframers busy.) Swapping floppies and keeping up with the latest data had to become
a pain in the posterior (I've tried to keep this document at least PG rated).
I feel they should have seen this and set up their Mainframe as the storehouse
which could easily be accessed for the data (after all there is just so much
data out there- how many times to you need to store someone's name and address,
Indeed some thought was given, local area networks were installed so the data
could be passed around the site, but the "storehouse" was never put in to
order "in a timely fashion". The timely fashion was an important element
since faster processors, and especially storage media kept getting more
powerful and cheaper and enticing the PCer's ever more away from the Mainframe.
Maybe we have the Mainframers to thank for the Internet networking system.
Here indeed is sharing of information at its finest (I'm sure the ultimate
is yet to come, but I hope to experience it). If the alternative were there,
the effort might not have been expended on the Internet. I realize that it
was originally designed to accommodate computing should we end up in a
nuclear mess, but its popularity today goes well beyond that need.
I guess I should give the Mainframers a big Thank You for their part in
helping provide the Internet and the interfacing software.