How do you Make a Pencil?


Share on LinkedIn

In 1958 Leonard E Read wrote an essay about making pencils.

He described:

  • The growing of trees
  • The work of a lumberjack
  • The operation of the saw mill
  • The making of the saw
  • The transportation of the logs
  • The mining of the graphite
  • The production of the rubber
  • The mixing of the paint
  • The sourcing of the chemicals
  • The manufacture of the pencil
  • The development of the machinery

And countless other tasks.

His point was simple, nobody can make a pencil from scratch. No one person has more than the faintest understanding of all the technologies, activities, supply chains and markets involved.

We live in a very complicated and connected world.

So if you manage a pencil factory

And you want to improve the cost, quality and service you give to your customers there are two ways to manage your business…

Option 1: Run it from inside your board room:

Make that complex system bow to you:

Option 2: Run it from outside your board room:

Wander around and see what you can discover:

Which option is the best option?

No two pencil businesses are the same, so to work out the best way to run your pencil business try answering this simple question:

What could you learn about making pencils?

  • If the answer is “nothing” see option 1
  • If the answer is “plenty” use option 2

This is all fascinating but most of us don’t make pencils for a living

No we don’t, so let’s have a conversation about the computer I’m typing this on, in the coffee shop I am visiting, with the power that was generated…

If you enjoyed this post click here for updates delivered to your inbox

Read another opinion

Image by @doug8888

Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Lawther
James Lawther is a middle-aged middle manager. To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for many organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors and has had multiple roles from running a night shift to doing operational research. He gets upset by operations that don't work and mildly apoplectic about poor customer service.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here