Learning to Build

Series 1: Episode 8 | 2 May 2022

Show notes | Transcript

In 1991 one of his mentors, Dr. Genichi Taguchi told him to write a book and 31 years later, he’s finally written his first book.

In today’s episode of Re-Wired Show, we discuss Bob’s upcoming book Learning To Build: The Five Bedrock Skills of Innovators and Entrepreneurs.

  • You’ll discover Bob’s primary motivation for writing Learning To Build and how he was able to write the book despite being dyslexic.
  • You’ll discover the main lesson Bob learned from each of the four mentors featured in Learning To Build.
  • You’ll learn five critical yet often overlooked skills to help you address the unknowns and succeed as an innovator.
  • You’ll learn what kind of entrepreneurs will benefit the most from reading this book.

 

Enjoy!

What You’ll learn in this Show:

  • Why the title “Learn To Build.”
  • Learning from your mentors and why it’s essential to pass on what you’ve gained from them.
  • What to do when you realize you don’t have a specific skill.
  • Innovation in the corporate environment.
  • And so much more…

Resources:

Learning To Build: The Five Bedrock Skills of Innovators and Entrepreneurs

Hosts

Bob Moesta

That aspect of how we innovate in the corporate environment, is there another place where this is applicable, because you start to realize, most of innovation is about learning what you don’t know. It’s not about executing on what you know, it’s the unknowns that drives us crazy. These five skills are about addressing those unknowns in a systematic way, if you will. 

 

Welcome to the circuit breaker podcast where we challenge the status quo of innovation and new product development. We’ll talk about tools and skills and methodologies used to build better products and make you a better consumer. I’m Bob Moesta, the co-founder of the rewired group, I’m one of your co-hosts and we’re joined by Greg Engle, who is my co-founder and chief Bob interpreter. Join us as we trip the circuit, and give you time to reset, reorganize and recharge your brain to build better products.

 

Greg Engle

Alright Bob, at the end of the year you’re going to have a book coming out? 

 

Bob Moesta

Yeah

 

Greg Engle

What’s the name of the book?

 

Bob Moesta

Learning to build the five bedrock skills of innovators and entrepreneurs.

 

Greg Engle

I’m going to ask you a question. I’m going to make a very generic question, because I want to see which way you answer it. I’m going to try to dial it in better. 

 

Bob Moesta

Yep. 

 

Greg Engle

Why are you writing the book?

 

Bob Moesta

There are the explicit and implicit reasons. The explicit reasons are, I feel an obligation to the mentors that I’ve had through the years who took, a dyslexic, illiterate kid and poured their knowledge into me and were able to help me become an innovator and a creator. I want to be able to pass that forward. They were generous enough to pass it to me, and I feel like I have the obligation to pass it forward to them, that’s the first reason. The other reason is to realize that part of writing a book is that we don’t have to repeat ourselves all the time. We can say listen to this or go read this, and then come back. That is allowing us to start at a different level where we tried to help people make progress.

 

Greg Engle 

You said it’s about giving back.

 

Bob Moesta

Yes, paying it forward. 

 

Greg Engle

Why is it important to honor your mentors, or leaders in your life? Why is it important for you to do something and acknowledge them? 

 

Bob Moesta

For me, part of this is to realize, it’s deeper than I want to share, but we’re in this world with people. I still want to have an impact. I’m not as smart as my mentors, a lot of the mentors that I’ve had, the stuff that they’ve built, has subsided or ‘going back into the garden’ so it’s not in its original form. People should take some time to learn some of the things that Dr. Taguchi, Dr. Deming, or Clay talked about. It’s that aspect of it. 

 

Greg Engle 

You said the name of the book was ‘Learning to build’, why is that name?

 

Bob Moesta

I’ve been breaking things for 50 years, I’ve been fixing things for 45 years, but I’ve been building for 35 years, the aspect is that I’ve always been curious and wanting to know how things work. Building has been one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. My aspect is that people realize they want to be an entrepreneur, but the reality is they have to build something. Building is that foundation of creation and creating something that’s meaningful for you, but also meaningful for other people to create value.

 

Greg Engle

This might be a hard question to answer but the mentors that are in the book. How many are there?

 

Bob Moesta

Four – There’s Dr. Willie Moore  

 

Greg Engle

Ok, hold on. I want you to name them, then I want you to tell what is the one main thing they taught you? 

 

Bob Moesta

Let’s start with Dr. Deming. I met him 18/19 years old, what Dr. Deming taught me was, foundation of systems, in terms of that everything is a process. He would always if you can’t explain something as a process, then you don’t understand it. The other thing he helped me with was to separate words, and helped me realize when people talk about things, What’s an input? What’s an output? What’s an action? What’s the transformation we’re trying to make? Understanding that systems are designed to do exactly, to create the exact output that you get. In a lot of cases, when we get poor output, it’s a design problem, it’s not a people problem. I realized that at some point, spending the time to design and create is very important, the responsibility of building something is beyond the notion of people making mistakes. For example – most of the time, I was seen as you did this wrong, but it’s more that the system is wrong, because it didn’t teach me. 


Taguchi was amazing. I met Taguchi a couple of years later and had a very long relationship, I’m not sure Deming would remember who I was, but Taguchi, I was lucky enough to spend almost seven, eight years side by side with him on different projects. He taught me so much, his whole notion is this aspect of scope and the notion of robustness, and being able to make things work in the face of variation, as opposed to eliminate variation. And prototyping to learn, being able to realize we don’t know, my favorite quote from him ‘there’s way more unknown than there is known and don’t ever fool yourself’. He also taught me the importance of time, the most precious of all resources and assets. 

Clay was another, I had almost 27 years working with Clay side by side, started as a teacher, then a mentor, then a peer. We would have no agenda, we would just talk about whatever research he was working on, or whatever I was working on, out of that was born – jobs theory. It was a method I used to hack the way I could see demand, but Clay was always very humble, very causal, very articulate, and always wanting to learn. The banter we would have would be phenomenal in terms of just being able to question each other. I had no problem saying Clay I’m confused; I don’t know what you mean. He had very few people around him who could say that, but it was very special.


Dr. Willie Moore, she was amazing. She was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Michigan with a PhD in particle physics, she turned out to be my first manager at Ford. She taught me how corporate America works, and how to use these methods and tools to do things. I think my favorite story of Willie was my first two or three weeks at Ford, and she said, ‘Okay we’re going into this meeting, there’s a warranty problem. I want you to take responsibility for it’. 

 

I’m like, what? She’s like, ‘No, I need you to take responsibility for it’. I’m like, ‘but I didn’t do it’. She says ‘don’t worry about that, just say this is my problem, I’ll take it, I got it’. So, we’re in this big room, it was back in the 80s, at the end they were talking about this warranty problem and how big it was. Suddenly, ‘whose fault is this?’ She nods her head and I say ‘it’s my fault’, the executive looks at me like, he knew it wasn’t my fault, but he asked ‘why is it your fault?’ I said, ‘Well, this is false, in the area we’re doing, we miss these things, here’s what I think, I don’t know exactly what to do, but we’ll figure it out’. It turns out that the guy gave me that authority, everybody else was pointing fingers at each other, this was a manufacturer, this was a design problem back and forth. The moment that it came to me everybody else took a deep breath to say, alright I won’t get fired for this. For me, he wasn’t going to fire me anyway, but I didn’t know that at the time. 

 

The reality is, she taught me how to step in when the void appears, to really understand how to bring teams together, how to apply these methods not only to Taguchi and Deming, but how to help others. In some cases, she was a very strong teacher, but she was also practically thinking, she’d always had me think about things as a molecule. For example, if you’re a plastic molecule, how do you become a mirror case? All those kinds of experiences shaped me, they gave me tools to think, to understand and to make sense. The other part is they also gave me hope that we can all be better, that nothing is random, that everything is caused and not to give up. 

 

The fact that saying it’s random is giving up, to me is the moral of those stories. Those five skills are when I take the 100, or the 1000’s of people I’ve worked with over the last 30 years and look at the innovations we’ve done. I look at those special 10% of people who made it very easy to work with or were able to come up with unique innovations. I realized these five skills are skills that nobody’s really teaching or talking about. It’s not about process, 

 

Greg Engle 

So, yes, what are the five skills? 

 

Bob Moesta

First – Empathetic perspective, it’s that ability to see things, good innovators and entrepreneurs can see things from many different perspectives, both human, what the finance person is going to see, what the customer is going to see, what manufacturing is going to see. They can see things from all these perspectives, and can start to see the gaps between them, they can see through time and space, see things at the molecular level, at the strategic level. They have this omniscient ability to see things from all these different angles, and problems before they happen, or conflicts or issues wrapped around it. What you find is some people have some of that, but most people don’t have the breadth of empathetic perspective. The reason why it’s empathetic is it’s not that they’re adding their judgment to it, it’s more about trying to make sure they understand how the customer is going to feel, or what’s going to happen if I’m the customer, as opposed to being judgmental around the customer. I always think of doctors talking to patients and they should do this, but that’s not empathetic. 


Second – Uncovering demand, it’s about this whole aspect of being able to see struggling moments. The tool we use obviously as jobs, but the aspect is there’s many ways in which to uncover demand. But intuitively, innovators and entrepreneurs understand not necessarily how to create demand, because demand is created in the individual and in the market, or in people, but how to uncover it and then build products and systems to go after it. 

 

Third – Causal structures. They all have different models of cause and effect of how they see the world and how it works, and it’s built over time. You can say it systems thinking, its frameworks, whatever it is, but they have a fundamental way in which to see things, categorize things but understand how things work. It’s the curiosity to figure out how things work, the phrase we always use is the irrational becomes rational with context. A lot of times when you see somebody do something irrational, that’s just crazy, but how do we understand their context enough so that we can understand the logic of how they made that decision. Most people in their head don’t do crazy things, it’s the fact this is from the outside, we see crazy things. 

 

Fourth – Prototyping to learn (one is one that’s very near and dear to my heart). What’s interesting is, as a dyslexic, it was one of those things, I realized I didn’t know a lot of things and what Taguchi always talked about is that there is more unknown than there is known. When we’re building a system, or building a product, the fact is we don’t know what we don’t know about it. How do we figure that out? He taught me methods and tools around orthogonal arrays and design of experiments to understand how to let the system tell me the best way the system should work, as opposed to theoretically building the system, then using hypothesis testing or verification. Most people today use AV testing, prototype to verify as opposed to prototype to learn. It’s an important skill to be able to prototype very early. Most people say you must fail, my thing is this isn’t about failing, it’s about learning. When you can do that, you are prepared for when other things happen.


Fifth – Identifying and Managing tradeoffs. Most people work in this world where they want everything to be equal are everything to be perfect. The reality is there’s always tradeoffs, both from the consumer side and the product side. Good entrepreneurs and innovators realize the tradeoffs they must make in order to launch.

 

Greg Engle 

Are these skills within you? Or are they learnable? 

 

Bob Moesta

Well, I didn’t know them at 10 years old, so I think they’re all learnable, that’s why I call them skills. There’s ways, tools and methods that help you execute on those skills and get better at it. It’s like learning to paint, it’s like learning anything else, as you do more of it, you get better at it, so I believe it’s all very learnable. The problem is in an instant society, these are not skills that you can learn in a two-hour session. Being in Detroit, we’re very familiar with trade schools, I feel like these are more like trade skills that people learn to build the craftsman. 

 

They’re craftsman type skills that you hone and refine throughout your life. When we do interviews, people go ‘how do you make it look so easy?’ We’ve been doing over 10,000 interviews, so of course we make it look easy. To be honest, we don’t think it’s that hard, then when we watch other people do it, we realize how hard it is. You’re always one that says it’s very hard, but I think Pete Townsend has a great line ‘it’s hard to make this look hard’. One of the things I believe that one of my problems are, it’s so easy for me to do some of these skills that I don’t realize how hard it was to learn them.

 

Greg Engle  

I would imagine, from my own experience, and yours as well, some skills are going to come easier to some people.

 

Bob Moesta

Yes, I’m not sure that you need to have all five skills. I think the fact is you and I have been business partners for over 17 years, I think it’s one of those things where we start to realize at some point, you have some of the skills that I don’t. You play things out better than I do, but the fact is, as a team we cover all five skills, and I think that’s the magic of how our business relationship has developed and we realize that we help each other with those skills.

 

Greg Engle

Should you ignore a skill you’re not good at?

 

Bob Moesta

I’ve a couple of underlying premises behind it, I feel you should always be playing to your strengths. I think the notion is that you must at least try to learn a skill to realize how hard it is to master but it’s one of those things where, as a dyslexic kid they always said you need to learn how to spell. I spent almost 30 years, an hour a day trying to learn how to spell, at 35 I finally gave up, I’m just not going to learn this, I could spend my time somewhere else. I think the reality is, if you want to be an innovator, you need to try to build that skill. But at the same time, you also need to be able to recognize that if you can’t do it, how do you find somebody else who has it? And where’s the right fit between doing that?

 

Greg Engle 

Well, expecting everyone to be an expert in everything is impossible. You can’t be an expert at everything.

 

Bob Moesta

The interesting part is that as I get older, I realized that being an expert is, nobody thinks they’re an expert until the person who was the expert is not there anymore, and then you become the expert by default. Even though you might not know much about that thing, if you know more than somebody else, somebody will call you an expert. It’s one of those things where, people call me all the time for wine, but I would never consider myself a wine expert. But at the same time, I just happen to know a little more than somebody else about wine.

 

Greg Engle 

Again, this is going to be a hard question because it depends. But who should read the book? Or what context could people be in that would get value out of the book?

 

Bob Moesta

In framing the book, we talked about Who were we trying to help, and what progress are we trying to help them make? One is entrepreneurs; I think this is one of those things where if you’re an entrepreneur, most entrepreneurs learn the process, they learn all the mechanisms and the steps, this is almost like the gaps between all that ‘make or break’. Entrepreneurs who are in the thick of it should be reading it, I think entrepreneurs who have built something and failed, because they’ll be able to see now what they were missing. The other thing is even new entrepreneurs, but I don’t think it’s a trade like when we tried to teach, the jobs, the process at university it’s one of those things where it’s so generic, so linear that it doesn’t allow people that aspect of being able to understand how to innovate in the moment. 

 

Greg Engle  

So if you’re struggling with understanding what demand is, I’d probably pick up the book. 

 

Bob Moesta

Yep. 

 

Greg Engle  

If you’re struggling with how to bring something to life through trying different ideas, it might be a good idea to buy the book. Are there others? 

 

Bob Moesta

My favorite line is ‘One more prototype, and I’m almost there’. Six months later ‘One more, I got one more to do’. That aspect of how we innovate in the corporate environment is another place this is applicable because you start to realize most of innovation is about learning what you don’t know, it’s not about executing on what you do know. It’s the unknowns that drive us crazy and these five skills are about addressing those unknowns in a very systematic way. So, to me, it’s also for corporate innovators, whether you’ve been in five different areas, finance, operation, whatever. Now you’re an innovation, here’s the fundamental tools or skills, you need to do this. You and I talked about the fact that there is no one innovation process, there is no one way to develop something. What are the guardrails that we want to make sure we keep? Then one of those skills we want people to hone and refine.

 

Greg Engle 

How many years from first thought, to writing a book? How many years has it been this book been in your head?

 

Bob Moesta

I am doing a talk in Japan this month, at the robust engineering conference, I pulled out a notebook that Dr. Taguchi wrote in 1990. So that would make it 31 years, he asked for my book, and in the very open cover he said ‘write a book’ then he signed his name. That’s part of the obligation I felt like he gave me. I’ve been thinking about this one for a long time, but it was one of those things where I was so interested in building things, that the reality is, I wasn’t thinking about passing things on. But as I got into my 50s, I want to stop explaining everything to people and see if I can find another way to do that so I can continue to build. I also had to figure out how to do that, so it’s been a long time, 30 years.

 

Greg Engle

How is it possible that you can do it now?

 

Bob Moesta

That’s the other part as a dyslexic, the fact is you can’t read and write, how do you write a book? Well, there’s a company called scribe media, that has a process that enables me to speak and use graphics and interact with a writer to take my voice and tell the stories and get the things across and help build clarity. The way that I’ve been able to kind of crank out books lately is that we have a process and a partner to do so. To be honest, we have five more books coming, there’s just so many different ideas of what thing we can go deep on, and that we feel needs to be out there. It’s not about selling books, but what we realized is that nobody reads anything that’s free. At the same time, you want to make sure that it’s adding value, so Scribe has helped me do everything from frame the book, scope the book, write the book, publish the book, get it onto Amazon, and then support it.

 

Greg Engle 

And in the spirit of how we can always try to land these, is there one question you want people to think about? Or an assignment you want to give them before the book or as the book comes out?

 

Bob Moesta

I think one of the best ways to read this book is for you, the listener to take the time to reflect on some struggling moments that you have, and places where you want to make progress, but you don’t know how. Then read the book to help you get unstuck, help you figure out a way in which to prototype, figure out what you mean by ‘Oh, I want to get healthier’, ‘I want to get in shape’, Why? How many ways can you do it? There are so many different solutions. So how are you going to do that? I think it’s about having a project for yourself and understanding how you can make progress will be the best way to read that book.

 

Greg Engle 

The book is supposed to be out around? 

 

Bob Moesta

We’re just finishing graphics. It’s September right now but it should be out around January 15th. We’re very excited to see how it goes. 

 

Greg Engle 

Perfect. Thank you. 

 

Bob Moesta

Thank you. 

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