So business had brought me to Sydney Australia, this is a corner of the world that I have not been to yet. Before heading out on this trip I did a fair amount of research on the area, the culture and the climate. I picked up some good tips on cultural do’s and don’ts, but for the most part the Australian social climate is pretty close to the US. The language is the same, business practices are the same, personal trade is the same, more or less. We booked 4 hotels over a 12 day stay in order to get a diverse feel for the area. One of the big differences I was expecting was the driving on the left side of the road, but really, that’s no big deal. Hertz allowed me to rent a car with a few button clicks, so how hard would it be?
Picking the car up from the airport was no big deal. The process is a bit different than Hertz in the US, but the gal was friendly and helpful. She set me up with a GPS and a mobile WiFi module, the latter of which has been super-helpful. Hopping in the car took a few minutes to get comfortable with. Everything is on the wrong side, which I expected but it is still unnatural to hop in the car from the right. Leaving the car park and the airport terminal was also no big deal, it was all one-way streets until it dumped you out into the city.
All I can say is that it takes a surprising amount of concentration to drive on the left side of the road. Every driving skill that you take for granted come back to bite you, and in a hurry! Left lane, left lane, that’s what is going through my head but panic ensues when approaching an intersection. Left turn is least worse, right turn is attention getting. Traffic is a blessing and a curse, traffic in lanes are a constant reminder of where I should be, but the drivers around me are surly impatient by this idiot that is driving slow and half out of his lane. Making left-turns onto side streets without traffic, can mean head-on confrontation with a local. Then there is one of those contraptions called a round-about. We can hardly figure out how to use one of these things in the US, try it when everything is backwards, who ever invented these things?
Done with the obvious, now the no-so obvious that I never considered would be an issue. Spatial relations are all out of whack. Sitting on the right means that I have surprisingly little feel for how much car is on the left. I also lost my perception of lane location relative to my steering wheel. I found myself concentrating on keeping the right side of my car close to the painted stripe on the right. Sounds simple until my wife starts nervously reminding me that I’m awfully close to whacking people with my left mirror. I seem to want to drift to the left of the lane, without thinking about it until my left weeks are almost touching the curb. Other things, such as backing up and looking over my left shoulder tends to make be veer to the left while backing. Turn signals are on the right, so every lane change so far has been indicated by flipping on my wipers. Duhh everyone, obviously high speed wipers means right turn, low speed means left.
So what is the relevance of my driving blunders? Well, in between all my near misses my mind turns to the experiences my kids are having learning how to drive. To me it’s so natural to maintain lane position, for them it’s a challenge to keep the right wheels on the road. I get it now! The spatial relationships are not there, or in my case are ingrained from a different perspective. Turning, signaling, stopping, all easy with practice but overwhelming during the learning process.
Now skip forward to my lean experience in business. My first Value Stream Event was exciting going in, terrifying by mid-week and left a feeling on accomplishment at the end. Our lean consultant and moderator had a certain arrogance about him, kind of like the driving instructor teaching the basics and tempering his feeling of frustration with the group that was resisting change. Lean is about eliminating waste in your organization, and it does this through Business Process Re-engineering. What is taken for granted is that this process really means that individuals need to unlearn how they have been doing a portion of their job, then relearn a new set of tactical steps to get to a similar result. Sounds simple, but my driving experience in Australia has been a glaring personal example of how difficult it can be to change process steps that are ingrained into our everyday lives.
I expect to take home a greater level of empathy to members of my business community when they are asked to participate in Lean activities. Change is needed to survive and thrive, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.
For all you ambidextrous drivers out there, what do you remember as your ah-ha moments on the road? Leave me a comment.