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Print Finishing Productivity and the Backwards Bicycle

[fa icon="calendar"] Fri, May 13, 2016 / by Andre Palko

Do you like to think you do your print finishing job with an open, objective mind? You won’t feel that way after you watch this fascinating video and read this article.

print-finishing-productivity-and-the-backwards-bicycle.pngDestin Sandlin is an aerospace engineer who created the Smarter Every Day educational video series. He uses science to help himself and others understand the world in new ways.

In this video, (scroll to bottom for video) mechanics create an unusual bicycle. Turn the handle bar to the left and the wheel goes to the right. When you turn it to the right, the wheel goes to the left. The challenge is to successfully ride such a bike. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? With this basic knowledge, we’d all like to believe we can think our way past the problem. The fact is that it cannot be done.

Destin says the algorithm in our brains for riding a bicycle is complicated and deep. We learn as children to ride and our brain creates a pattern to deal with pedaling, turning, balancing, gyroscopic precession, bumps, and dozens of other factors. We can’t change any one factor and still succeed. Although he has the knowledge to think correctly about the problem, his brain does not have the understanding.

To prove his point he takes the backwards bike to talks he gives at universities and offers $200 to ride the bike ten feet across the stage. In dozens of presentations around the world, not one person has ever succeeded.

This seems to demonstrate that once you have a rigid way of thinking in your brain, you cannot change it, even if you want to. To test this he decided to see if this bike-riding algorithm could be unlearned. He spent five minutes every day practicing riding the backwards bike. Finally, after eight months of daily practice, he succeeded. But the tiniest of distractions, such as a cell phone ringing, would instantly stop his brain from working and he’d fall off the bike.

To add to the mystery, he discovered he could no longer ride a normal bike. But after twenty minutes of frustrating practice he was able to regain the ability to ride normally. His brain re-acquired the old algorithm.

His point: we must be very careful how we interpret things because we are looking at the world with biases. They are so deep and strong that we don’t even know that we have them; they seem to be a natural part of our thinking.

How does this apply to print finishing work? I was listening to a recent Heidelberg Stahl webinar about folding machine productivity. Heidelberg asked two managers from successful printing companies about how they got their binderies to be a profit center.

One common theme was that they had to get their operators to overcome deep, built-in beliefs about production increases. Both shops had installed new folding machines. Their operators had gone from producing 6-8,000 16 page signatures per hour, to producing 10-14,000 per hour. Naturally the operators felt very good about that. And why shouldn’t they? It’s a significant increase.

But the fact is their new folders are capable of producing around 18,000 per hour. Even though the machine was capable, and the operator could do it with the same effort, there was a very real resistance to running the machines at maximum capacity. Perhaps some of the experienced folder operators had decades of experience in which a 50-100% increase in production was considered to be as good as it gets. Thus their brains wouldn’t register a 300% increase.

Or it could be a result of how the world at large teaches us to climb the ladder. In school we take tests and go from grade to grade. In our jobs we “work our way up the ladder.” Our brain is trained from childhood to think incrementally. We don’t even consider the possibility of taking a big leap; it’s not how things are done.

But the fact is that very often we can skip the climb and go right to the top of the ladder. After all, it’s not any harder to think that way. But our trained brain says such a big leap is too hard, or not possible, or not reasonable, or not allowed. In the case of our operators, a 300% increase in some cases was indeed possible and to be expected.

Here’s another quick example of how our brains our trained. Using only ONE LINE, can you make a 6 out of this symbol: IX

Take a minute or two to think about it. If you don’t get it right away, you probably will never get it. Why? When you first looked at the problem you immediately established a paradigm. In other words your brain created a way to view the problem. If you have the right paradigm, you’ll get the answer. If you have the wrong paradigm, you’ll never solve the problem.

If you haven’t found the solution, it will make you want to slap yourself. Simply go like this: SIX. You can see that if your brain immediately thought in terms of straight lines, you’ll never think about using the curved line of an “S.”

Sometimes the easiest path to a solution to a problem, whether in print finishing or anything else, is to change your perspective. Sometimes a third party can help. In the case of the folder operators, third party input and training from the manufacturer helped overcome the resistance. You can take it a step further and seek input from third parties who have no knowledge about the industry. They will certainly come to the problem with a fresh, new perspective.

Sometimes you have to walk away from a problem. Do an unrelated task that requires different skills. Or come back to it the next day. Let your brain process overnight and you may get new perspective.

Have a story about solving a problem in a unique way? Have you learned to ride a “backwards bicycle?” Feel free to share below.

To discover how to solve print finishing problems in new ways, send for the Bindery Success Catalog. Get more from your folding machines, saddle stitchers, perfect binders, web press finishing, or digital finishing departments.


Topics: Bindery Business Tips, Bindery Equipment Troubleshooting, print finishing

Andre Palko

Written by Andre Palko

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