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Once upon a time… in a land far, far away… I worked in a  bucket factory.

Yes. A bucket factory.

It was the kind of place where asbestos fell out of the ceiling and lay there on the floor for days. The kind of place where it got so hot in the summer months that the fire sprinklers would go off and production would have to be shut down. The kind of place where people screamed at each other to be heard over the racket of machinery.

At the bucket factory I saw a friend severely burned by electro-static paint equipment running past its limit, a woman get most of her right hand chopped off as she tried to free a piece stuck in a press that was improperly maintained and unsafely operated.

The company saved a lot of money by delaying maintenance, buying cheaper materials and subjecting their employees to unsafe working conditions, but was never able to make a healthy profit. The reason for that is the stuff that cartoons are made of.

If you looked at the cost vs. price breakdown, the numbers showed that when we produced 40 buckets per minute, the profit margin was substantial. And the funny thing is, making 40 buckets per minute was not some distant goal that we could only reach by superhuman effort. We ran at that rate for short periods of time (when upper management stayed out of the way), and things actually went pretty smoothly when we did.

Machines hummed along. The buckets got made and went out the door. Everybody made money, and people did their job with smiles on their faces.

But I never saw a 40 bucket-per-minute day at the bucket factory, because 40 buckets per minute was never enough. The current plant manager was forever striving to beat the high production number of the prior plant manager.

38 buckets per minute.

He came up with some pretty bizarre plots to beat 38 buckets per minute. Schemes that appeared to be hatched by the mind of a 12-year-old, and implemented by a very select cadre of inept clowns. Conspiracies that usually involved some kind of subterfuge… like actually producing the buckets one day… but trying to shove them out the door on the red-letter day that he would finally become the Master of Bucket Making. Stratagems to beat 38 buckets per minute that were doomed to failure, even though we could run without a glitch at 40 buckets per minute.

There must be some kind of lesson in there.