Friday, September 30, 2005

Temperature, pressure, time and "feel"

When there are no measurements, how do you measure? Such situations could exist because nobody has bothered to measure or there are no instruments. Perhaps the best example is in cooking, usually traditional cooking (as opposed to microwave cooking). There have been numerous occassions when we have asked my mother for a recipe and she has given me intuitive answers. Intuitive answers are what I call, non measurable answers.

For example, while making kozhakattai (modak) she told us that the rice dough will shine after a while. Now the shine is not something out of a wizard potion, it is a slight waxiness on the rice dough.

The other time we tried to make sugar syrup for a sweet and she told me "wire consistency", which means sugar is heated enough that if you take a little of the syrup and pour it back, it
will fall back, not as a drop but as a wire and not break in between!

Unlike a microwave recipe most recipes are full of such intuitive measures (salt to taste). Sure, with some research they can be captured as temperature, pressure and time or a combination of those, but (I believe, with the exception of the salt) these intuitive measures usually allow for variation in raw material better than a well defined process would. Intuitive measures are a combination of look, feel, touch, taste, sound - anything that engages our (primal) senses rather than a measurable combination.

Perhaps there is no substitute for experience. Regardless of the best process definition, sometimes, some things are just intuitive. You know it will work or it wont. In one of Indias automotive factories, during a visit to the compressor unit, as fresh engineers we wanted to know how the workers there tracked the multiple dials that showed various measures. How did they ever know where to look? So, we asked them. One of them nonchalantly replied, "Oh, we just hear the compressor and we know what to do!" While driving too, we get a feel of our vehicle and anytime that "feel" does not sound whole hearted, we know, somewhere something is screwed up.

Its amazing how the human mind works and works around any process by creating its own intuitive measures (short cuts, if I may)!


Raj said...

Very interesting.

I used to be awe-struck by the intuitive, diagnostic skills of doctors of the older generation. No fancy instruments, scans or probes , except maybe the odd stethoscope. Feel your pulse, look into your eyes, gentle palpation of the abdomen area and pronounce the judgment, all in a matter of two minutes and then get on to enquire about the family, etc. They somehow inspired trust.

As a sales professional, I am guided more by my intuition, rather than the vast array of analytical tools at my disposal. The dynamics and complexity of the market place can often provide incorrect and misleading measurements. An intuitive brain alone can cut through the clutter.

That said, an intuitive approach, being individualistic in nature, is usually inimical to team work and is not encouraged in large organizations which are looking for predictability and scaleability.

Neelakantan said...

Somewhere, in the quest for processe and repeatability, I believe we are losing out on right side brain thinking.