Standing on the shoulders of giants

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants  Sir Isaac Newton 1643 – 1727

Rikon, founded in 1926, is a leading Swiss brand of cookware. In the early 2000s, a factory worker, who had been with the company for many years, retired. His job had been to remove pans from a controlled heating environment and feed them on to a conveyor belt. As he took each pan from the heat, he developed a habit of knocking the base against a flat block of wood. This evened out any bubbles or ridges which might form once the metal cooled. This was not anything the man had been told to do. It wasn’t written down in any corporate manual. It was simply an instinctive movement he had developed as a result of his long experience on the job.

Within weeks of the man’s retirement, Rikon started receiving complaints. Saucepans were returned at an alarming rate. Pans were said to be chipping and surfaces were uneven. No-one could figure out why this was happening. Eventually, someone suggested speaking to the recently retired employee at which point his unique technique was revealed.

Over the course of 50 years, my parents, Peter and Lea O’Connell ran an English Language school. One of the important things I learnt, growing up in a busy school for foreign students, was the significance of accumulated experience and knowledge. In 1962, when my parents bought a former clinic to house their expanding school, they took on the building’s caretaker. Denis Clatworthy had been a ‘Desert Rat’, part of the 8th Army in North Africa during WWII and my father liked to joke that it was in fact Denis who ran the school and without him it would collapse. In his welcome address at the start of each new term, Peter always referenced the office and the maintenance staff. This admiration and respect my parents had for the non-academic members of the school filtered through to the students. I recall that at the end of one term, Denis and his team were formally presented with an enormous card, signed by one hundred and twenty students. Thank you they wrote, for keeping our School so beautifully clean and nice. 

In 2005, I sold the school and a new manager arrived to steer the organisation in a new direction. I  suggested he speak to those who had spent their careers at The School of English Studies, the ones with long years of experience, the ones who remembered the successes and the failures, the ones  who understood the cycles of change.

A new broom sweeps clean but an old broom knows the corners.