模倣子 Box-Binning

Memetic Essay Index  


Getting Box-Binning accepted in two factories was one of my first large-scale macromemetic engineering projects. I was working on a factory floor with a hundred-plus people per shift. The manufacturing process involved "picking" from shelves of working inventory for each stage of the manufacturing process. I got the whole factory (and our other factory to the south unintentionally by memetic contagion) to change the way they performed this picking process using macromemetic engineering principles, in a matter of weeks, totally anonymously (nobody but a few people, who were not directly involved, knew I was behind it), with no "retraining" performed, and the adoption was total.

The situation that greeted me was that boxes of components came in from inventory and were taken out of the cardboard boxes and put into plastic bins of various sizes arranged on shelves (12), and then pickers would pick what they needed for a build out of these bins. We were working on a two-bin system (1) which the unpacking and bin-filling process made more complicated (2).

Our process involved scanning the bar codes of the components being "kitted" (14) for a build. Making these barcodes easy to get at was often a problem. The plastic bins would often have a barcode printed out from a special MS-Word file on a PC (13) and taped to the bin. Anyway, something that involved a lot of ad hoc work which only a few people knew how to do, undocumented.

I should point out that all of the cardboard boxes of components came with the barcodes on them, and also the quantity per box (which was needed to place a reorder).

The long story short is that with ESD restrictions having been almost totally removed in the new building, it was now possible to put the boxes right onto the shelf, two at a time, cut one of them open, and scan the barcodes right off the box.

The fact that this seemed like a brilliant solution impressed me, one of the senior line leads, and all of the supervisors, but as is true with humans, they like to keep doing whatever it was they have been doing, regardless of changing circumstances, regardless how silly and wasteful. This is why understanding the Laws of Macromemetics is valuable in making changes in mass human behavior where one would otherwise meet with stiff resistance.

One particularly bothersome situation was to do with the "shelves" (12) for the main unit assembly process. These so-called "shelves" were flat pieces of aluminum that IC boards would be bolted to and then slid into a unit chassis. There was a long history as to why things were done as they were, and I'll try to explain. In the old building, the whole area was ESD, so no plastic bags or cardboard boxes allowed, so the "shelves" had to be unpacked and stacked up on the storage shelves. When we first moved to the new building, the shelves were near the ESD area (4), and no cardboard or plastic allowed in ESD areas (static discharge danger), so it kind of made sense to preserve the old memeplex. Inside the boxes, each shelf was wrapped in a plastic bag, and so the routine was to open the box, and one by one unwrap each shelf from its plastic bag and stack them neatly one on top of the other. I have watched this process being performed (5), and it literally takes 20 minutes just to unpack one box (18).

The shelves with the shelves (12) were subsequently moved away from the ESD area, so moving cardboard boxes and removing plastic bags no longer remotely threatened electro-static sensitive components. No longer any need to empty entire boxes and stack up the shelves. Of course, this continued nonetheless.

Anyway, I reckoned we should just use the components right out of the boxes. We could just heave two of them up on the picking shelves, cut one of them open and pick stuff right out of it, use the barcodes on the boxes, order refills from the numbers and codes on the boxes, when a box empties, we just throw it into the cardboard recycling.

I showed the supervisors and one senior line lead what it looked like and got their agreement on my new process, but that, amazingly enough, was not enough to get other people on the line to adopt the process. They were resistant, uninterested, negative. Reason, authority, the power to command, etc., still don't change or negate the rules of macromemetics.

Design Factors

Macromemetic engineering is about replacing old memes with new, and making the new memes more appealing, so the old ones die out, atrophy, from disuse. The fact that my new system was better, and that I had the agreement and approval of supervision was nice, but not enough to change the mass behavior of the staff. I wanted to introduce the new processes, the new memes, and also systems of memes to support them, as well as bullying memes (immunomemes) against the old system.

My main focus was in designing immunomemes, bullying memes, and attaching them to bullying opportunities around the new process I wanted to implement (to defend them) and the old process I wanted to get rid of (to mock them, open them up to attack). The environment was fairly negative, interactions between workers containing a fair bit of bullying, and ideas like "How about this?" and "Wouldn't this work better?" were met with "Oh, this is the way we do things," or "That will never work" -- some pretty standard bullying memes (immunomemes), by the way.

I tried to dream up a lot of ways for people to bully each other over the old way and the new way. Regrettably, I don't have a lot of detailed notes or hard data as to how it went. I was just trying lots of things, saying things to people as if I had overheard them (17), putting Post-It notes up with slogans that I hoped would catch on, and so on.

But in the end, everybody was box-binning in all parts of our factory, even places where I didn't start it, including new lines that we opened, the process somehow made it an hour south to another factory (by what channel I don't know), mutate there and the mutations come back up to our factory. And I found myself being bullied by my coworkers for "not doing it right," which meant that they had learned it from somebody other than me, and did not recognize me as the creator of the whole system. Score! I succeeded without anybody knowing about it, except my supervisor, and also one line lead and most of the other supervisors at least knew what the process looked like, and had approved of it, because I showed them. Aside from that there had been no training, no lengthy approval cycles, no committees, nothing.

Spaghetti Against the Wall

I think that had I gotten more support from supervision and line leads, things might have gone more smoothly and more quickly, but that may not be true, and I'll never know. As it was, I felt some despair about whether it was going to take off. You're always waiting for the first meme to be picked up (get injected), somebody to repeat some action that I'd programmed them to do (15). I was of the mind that if my coworkers knew that it was my idea and that I was behind it all, it would turn them off it and it work never work (I didn't feel I had any social currency at the job, you might say, I certainly had no official authority). More overt support from supervision might have had a similar effect.

First, they will ignore you,
then they will laugh at you,
then they will fight you
 and then you win
-- Mohandas Gandhi

I tried all kinds of things, and I'm not sure which actually worked, since I didn't hear these back from anybody. There were many Star Wars T-shirts and the like in evidence, so I tried to appeal to that memeplex, build on that. I was putting Post-It notes up with slogans like "Box-binning! Join the Rebellion" and "Fight the Empire with Box-binning" and "We're not running a 5th Avenue Boutique" and a bunch of other stuff like that. I knew that polarization of the memetic fabric would happen as a result of my introduction, so I tried to make it work for me. "Great taste, less filling," sort of thing. I was pitching all kinds of things

Of course I was doing box-binning myself (to provide an example, if nothing more). I would always try to be the one to go get new boxes and to time things such that when things emptied out, I was the one to refill it, so that my coworkers would be exposed to the ideal behavior as much as possible. Also, when a plastic bin would empty, I would replace it with the cardboard box, and stash the plastic bin somewhere, in case there was some kind of problem and I need to bring it back. I would take a moment here and there, often on my breaks, so remove the labels (a heat gun works well for this) and pile up the empty bins where they could be found, and they disappeared almost as quickly as I put them there.

A critical thing in getting a memetic system accepted (as ad men will probably tell you) is making people think that everybody else is already doing it (17). I did this in the way I talked about to others, and sometimes I was outright lying about how it was already been done, it had been decided, and all that.

This was a qualitative rather than a quantitative experiment, or project, rather, since I had a very specific goal in mind, and I achieved it with near total effectiveness, i.e., the results were exactly what I aimed for, and more extensive than I had dreamed of. It was also much less "difficult" than I had imagined, but one regret is that I cannot say with authority which things I did were the most effective, and which could've been dropped completely. I put up little Post-Its with slogans and such, and I know that at least one person read them, maybe a lot did, and maybe they were critical in accomplishing what I did, or they may have had no effect. As I said, I saw no evidence of anybody picking up on these things and using them, so I have almost no data. On the bag-bunching, I have hard evidence that people picked up on this, and it mutated, meaning people were doing it on their own, since it wasn't me who initially did it. I got rid of the opportunities for people to go back to the old, bad ways of plastic bins by hiding them and getting rid of them. I tried to avoid telling people "You shouldn't do that" to avoid creating a counter-reaction (invoking the old memes is not a good way to atrophy them) and instead sticking to bullying memes against the old way, and positive memes for the new way, like "whoever did this did the right thing. they did box-binning like they should do" and stuff like that. Offer rewards for doing the new way, and hint at bullying memes for doing the old way. The "effigy" (8) approach is one way to get it across, and also works well because it feeds the idea that "a lot of people are already doing this (and some of them are doing it wrong)". I had to bite my tongue a lot when people made asinine comments and try to remind myself that it was an experiment, that I was trying to learn the right way to do this stuff.

There was a long period, however, where nothing seemed to be happening, and I just stuck to the theory, and then it finally just took off.

The box-binning process I injected into our factory made its way down to our other factory, an hour to the south (19). My supervisor told me that they were getting paper-cuts on the flaps of the boxes and were buying flap-clips (yes there are such things), and then this mutation came back up to our factory. And at our factory, the box-binning process went to parts of the line where I had not been working, so it had been picked up by people who had worked with me, or with people who had worked with me, and so on.

Also, there was "bag-bunching" and a mutation on that which occurred. Since there were lots of plastic bags in the boxes, especially with the shelves, it was a time-consuming step to do the existing meme, which was to take out the component (shelf), walk down the row to the nearest rubbish bin, and throw it in. And of course, if the rubbish bin was full, drop everything and go empty it outside (which took about 20 minutes, adding all that wasted time to the time it took to kit a build). I took to just taking one bag, and stuffing all the other bags into it, and leaving it right on the shelf. This ended up being popular, by the way, since a lot of people liked these bags, since they were transparent, high-quality, and came in all sizes, for home projects, and now that they weren't being chucked in willy-nilly with the other rubbish but were kept all together, this was now possible. Anyway, the mutation was that somebody "hung" the first bag on the shelf pylon/leg that was sticking up on top, and then stuffing the other bags in there, so it was neater and stayed in place.

Mutations and contagion are all good signs of a healthy memetic system, so I was glad to see it. I was initially concerned about the "flap clips" and paper cuts in our southern factory, but then I remembered that if a group is taking actions to defend and support a given process, here box-binning, by adding on memes (including ridiculous ones, or perhaps especially), in this case buying special clips, putting them around and using them, it's a sign that the memeplex has already been accepted (6). It's perhaps also an example of how a "borrowing culture" tends to hand on more assiduously to the memetic systems it has borrowed (7).

Unnecessary Consensus
In our factory there was a certain emphasis on "committees" and group decisions and processes associated therewith. I admittedly did an end-run around that. I did ask as many people as I could, try to get their opinions, I got the OK of my supervisor and a senior line lead, and I demoed and explained it to the supervisor staff. I explained to my supervisor in detail how I intended to go about it, and reported on my progress, and he gave me the green light. 

Talking to my coworkers, however, opened up a tin of negativity. I tried to get opinions and suggestions, and there was little in terms of useful feedback. I was concerned that there might be some obvious problem or hang-up in doing the switch that a coworker might mention, but the results were what I would categorize as classic macromemetic phenomena. It's always easy to deploy immunomemes that criticize some proposed new idea or area of exploration. Since it's new, there are no immunomemes defending the new idea, and humans instinctively know this. By the same token, it's easy to defend a current (bad) system, since it has lots of immunomemes in place (9).

So it may have been a situation where there was a lot of apathy (10) and perhaps even a certain amount of fear, of change, of being seen as doing something out of the ordinary. Inviting people to render an opinion when they really don't want to tends to result in destructive polarization. I worked to produce "productive polarization" where people all felt invested in the project, if for different reasons. However, if people render useful insights, it can be useful to mention them by name, e.g., "Oh, yeah, Sarah pointed out that the box flaps could cause papercuts, so we need to watch that," and that further contributes to the idea that "everybody else's already on board," and, important for me, that it's not my idea, but I'm just the messenger.

Summary and Conclusions
Using macromemetic engineering principles, I was able to get a wide-spread systemic change in a large factory floor with over a hundred persons per shift in a matter of just a few weeks. The process evolved and spread throughout the factory, somehow jumped all the way down to a different factory an hour's drive south, mutated significantly there, and then brought the mutations back up to our factory.

One downside is that while I did a number of things to foment memetic injection, some of them very specific implementations of macromemetic principles, I don't have a lot of data on which were effective, which were vital to the success of the project, and which were superfluous. Of course, how some of these memes I developed interacted and support each other is also unclear. I also don't have a very detailed record of the things I did, for example, the slogans I tried to introduce using Post-It notes on the inventory shelves and such. I didn't keep a "lab notebook" for those things.

As such, this ended up being a rousing success in terms of one of my first actual macromemetic engineering projects (11) in that it accomplished its objectives, in a very quick timeframe, it ended up spreading by itself, and so was a very successful memetic injection. I feel confident that a similar project would be successful in future. I would hope to clarify further the kind of meme design and injection strategies which are most effective, and which are superfluous, to make a more cut-and-dried mememtic engineering cookbook that would be accessible to future memetic engineers. That's one thing I feel I could've done better in the course of this project.


(1) The two-bin system is part of the World-Class Manufacturing philosophy. It consists of having two "bins" of whatever item or component or whatever is being picked, the active bin and the reserve bin, with the idea that when the active bin is emptied, the reserve bin is immediately moved forward and a reorder is placed. The idea is that the two-bin system not only signals but also gives you time for a reorder to arrive and no interruption in the flow of inventory.

(2) Our manufacturing process was arranged into lines, each performing the same tasks. A propos of nothing, each line had about a half-dozen stages, including form-boarding, unit assembly, cabinet prep, cabinet install (building), and inspection. A big idea behind organizing by lines was that in order to increase throughput (or add specialty products), one could just add more lines (3). The lines were also a WCM concept, each worker was one step away and speaking distance from the worker that just completed the step just before, and so on.

(3) One problem with opening new lines at will is the vast number of plastic bins of all sizes that would be needed to stock all of the shelves all along the way. The shelves and workstations and tools could all be set up overnight or over a weekend, but getting the literally hundreds of bins sorted out, labeled, bar codes printed out and taped on, and stocked up was a formidable task, one that I wanted to make obsolete.

(4) ElectroStatic Discharge. In our original building, everywhere was an ESD area, that is, grounded, wearing smocks, and so on. And this may be the origin of keeping everything in ESD-safe plastic bins. In our new building, an effort was made to cut down the ESD areas, to just where they were absolutely necessary, namely the unit assembly area only.

(5) I termed this the "Shelf Elves," ie, people wasting their time with this chassis shelf unboxing, unbagging, and unstacking process.

(6) Adding memes to a system, to defend it (immunomemes) is something we see all the time, maddeningly in many cases. An existing memetic system, some practice that has been around, tends to be defended by adding more memes, in the form of other practices added to the old one, explanations, and so forth. Getting people to stop something, or switch to something better that would save time and resources, etc., tends to be met with resistance. This is bread and butter to memetic theory. A good sign for the memetic designer, if rather than discard your newly-injected memetic system outright, people try to come up with new memes to defend it (even if they seem silly, like box-flap-clips, or perhaps especially) then it indicates that your system may have taken firm root. Be encouraged!

(7) Sociologist have observed this quite a lot. When a culture borrows a memeplex from another culture, they tend to preserve it as-is. A good sign for the memetic designer.

(8) The effigy approach is where you roundly criticize some non-existent third party for the bad behavior, and people hearing about it will get the message, that they shouldn't do the bad way, and become interested in the new, good way. Here's an essay that discusses this:  模倣子 Immunomemetic Cheese-Dicks in the Platoon

(9) Hard to defend a new idea, easy to defend an old one. The First Law of Immunomemetics states that any stable memetic system contains an immomemetic system. Here's an essay that introduces the Laws of Macromemetics and some notation.

(10) Apathy is something I'm still working on categorizing as a macromemetic concept. I want to come up with a specific definition for some readily identifiable macromemetic phenomenon but which any layperson would also regard as "apathy."

(11) This was a project, as opposed to a pure experiment, done mainly for testing ideas and gathering data, which it also did.

(12) It's important to understand that there are two kinds of "shelves" in this story. One is proper shelves, big racks of shelves, where bins (and later boxes) of components could be placed so the pickers could find them. The other is the small aluminum "shelves" to which a single large IC board was bolted and then the shelf-board combo was slid into a control unit. When I refer to "Shelf Elves" (5) I mean the people wasting time taking the latter (aluminum shelves) out of their boxes and stacking them up.

(13) Fun fact about barcodes and MS-Word. There is a "barcode font" so if you, say, type the code you want and then change it to barcode font, and print it out, this will be a scannable barcode.

(14) Another fun wrinkle about scanning bar codes. The bar codes on the actual components in the bin was sometimes not the same as the codes we used in our factory work tracking system. It was always the right barcode on the outside of the box, but for the loose components, depending upon what they were, it was not. This was another reason for my wanting to implement box-binning -- the boxes always had the right information (including the order counts), and we were throwing them away in the first ten seconds, as well as wasting time unpacking them and putting things into another box (a plastic bin).

(15) Another form of feedback, which I might expect later in the game, is people saying negative things about the new memeplex, but in great detail, like for one thing, I made sure that all my processes had clear names, as these are MIAOs (16), and one young woman, whom I would characterize as a "disgruntled coworker" (she left shortly after this) who usually had something negative and/or divisive to say about most things, said 'I heard they supervisors are going to stop doing box-binning.'  Okay, that's vague, so she's probably just trying her usual MO of being negative and appearing knowledgeable about something, and guess what? at that point box-binning was A Thing which somebody like her could use that way. It's the sort of comment that would make me angry, but if I can hold my tongue and subject the situation to memetic analysis, I can see how it might actually be a very good thing.

(16) MIAO, pronounced "meow", is a Memetic Iconic Anchoring Object. This can be an image, an icon, or the sort of "memes" one sees on the Web, or it can be a name. I tried to tie in "The Rebellion" and "The Galactic Empire" from Star Wars, and used their logos ("Join the Box-Binning Rebellion", "You're our only hope," etc.), and I also tried to tie in the image of "5th Avenue Boutique" to mock the idea of carefully taking things out of a box and arranging them carefully on a shelf, like one would in a fancy jewelry shop, only to have somebody come and grab them and bolt them onto a product and ship it out the door. "We're a FACTORY, not a 5th Avenue BOUTIQUE." I know that "box-binning" and probably "bag-bunching" succeeded as MIAOs, but I'm not sure if the others did, because I didn't make direct notice of any of them being used to me or between others. I know they got noticed at least a few times. This is the sort of data it would be good to collect, when possible, and while my project succeeded brilliantly, proving a lot of principles of Macromemetics, there's a lot of the MIAOcraft aspects where I didn't get much useful data, which would've been good. One bedeviling aspect of macromemetic engineering is injection of memes one has designed, getting people to do something, pick up on it. I have a lot of theory and experience, but I don't feel I have what I would call a "cookbook solution" yet. In fact, I don't know if such a cookbook is possible (20), if it's possible to reliably engineer memes based on collected data and be certain they will work. In short, I'm still in the process of turning the art of MIAOcraft and memecraft into a bono fide engineering discipline.

(17) A basic principle of memetic injection is that people like memes better if they feel they are already in use by lots of other people. I tried never to say that "I had this idea" but always that "this is the way things are." The Japanese have an interesting expression, for example, "ジョニーさんは人気に成ってる "Johnny-san wa ninki ni natteru" The "ni natteru" bit sort of means "it is the way it is" and to convey what the sample text means would be something like "Well, hey, we all agree that Johnny is famous now, so whaddaya gonna do?" or almost "Johnny has been chosen to be the famous one." It's a strange way of putting things, but a very Japanese one, and also conveys a very macromemetic concept with regards to virile memes. "I accept this meme because everybody else seems to accept it."

(18) I recall that there were ten shelves in a box, and each chassis had one of each type of shelf, and there were two types, so shipping fifty units out in a shift, for instance, meant that one person would have to unpack ten boxes, which works out to over three hours. If we ship a hundred units, then a whole person-day is used up just unpacking that particular component, or about 1% of our total force. There are numerous other harder-to-quantify benefits to box-binning, which we also immediately enjoyed (ease of opening up new production lines, etc.).

(19) The jump from our northern factory to our southern factory (and then back again!) makes me think of some kind of bat-pangolin-human contagion jump, since I didn't think there was much communication between our factories at this level of detail. Apparently, something got through somehow, since the south adopted our process, seemingly overnight, and before long we had adopted their mutation on our process. I guess the takeaway is get vaccinated, get your boosters, and wear your mask!

(20) On the memetic design for successful injection cookbook thing, I don't want to sell myself too short. There are certain principles that I always try to bring to bear. One is that if you can get people to do something with no effort, do it. If everybody likes Star Wars or One Piece or Rick and Morty, run with it. It's a hook into their memetic space, for free. You can attach more stuff to that later. Design rewards for people doing the desired behavior. It's really good if you can program other people to give them those rewards. Marking and closure are critical, critical, critical. If you can't make the meme you want well-marked (clear), then attach it to one that is, like I did in my Prime Pizza Thursday experiment. Memetic pairing is a great design technique, and it's one of those things that make people of the "Let's keep doing the same old crap and getting 5% yields" crowd say "That's silly!" Yes, harsh reality time, just as with parenting, in memetic design you have to be willing to do stuff that seems stupid and pointlessly ridiculous. I'm putting together this body of theory so we can know when silliness gets us where we want to go and when it's just, well, silly. There's a difference.

No comments:

Post a Comment