Saturday, April 3, 2010

This American Life - NUMMI

When I was in Australia, I met a woman who is a big fan of This American Life, the hour-long radio program that plays on most public radio stations around the USA, and is available for free streaming online from the web site. I'm a HUGE fan myself, and was really happy to hear she loved the show; too often, I hear from foreigners, "So, the USA is just like the TV show Friends or Sex in the City, right?"

(for the record, she's also a huge fan of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. We're best friends now)

This American Life is sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad, always insightful and always entertaining. It's a great thing to listen to while you are cleaning your house.

Most This American Life shows have multiple stories around a theme. But sometimes, the show is focused on just one story. And one recent single-story episode was absolutely fantastic: if you haven't listened to the episode Nummi, stop what you are doing and listen to it now. It details the story of a GM subsidiary, NUMMI, based in Fremont, California, that successfully used Japanese-style management for its manufacture of cars. The dream was that the successful NUMMI plant would change all of GM from the ground-up, for the better. But, sadly, GM didn't get it, and they killed the successful NUMMI plant. This episode shows exactly what is wrong with American management and the manufacturing sector -- and not just the car industry. If you consider yourself a good manager, or want to be one, if you are getting an MBA, or if you want to understand why the USA is in trouble economically, you have to listen to this episode.

(and if you want to understand the global economic crisis and aren't an economist nor a mathematician, don't miss the episode The Giant Pool of Money)

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