Moonshine: Use your wisdom, not your wallet

Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

HOW can something illegal be made legal? I’m not sure if I have a rational explanation, but according to news reports, big-time drug traffickers require their clients to pay gambling chips or tokens, while they’re inside a casino. And it’s one practical approach to circumvent the anti-money laundering act.

Dan Ariely is right. In his book “Irrationally Yours” (2015), Ariely says “we can rationalize lots of our bad behaviors, and the more distant they are from cash the simpler it is for us to rationalize them.” He was interpreting the behavior of people in the office who takes the liberty of “steal[ing]sodas and cookies from the ‘break room’ but not the equivalent amount of cash.”

If you’ve brought home reams of bond paper, pencils, highlighters, ball pens, even paper clips from the office, then you know what Ariely means.

This guiltless norm in the workplace is one we should be thinking about more frequently. In my events management company, we would normally offer free seats to management practitioners whom we invite to share their expertise in our public learning events. If not, we donate a certain amount to the company’s foundation or nominated charity. It has become easy for us to negotiate that way because decent people don’t want to talk about money, much more in a protracted Divisoria style of negotiation.

Since time immemorial, I’ve always partnered with active corporate practitioners, using barter deal as a test case for a long-term business relationship. Scratch my back and I will scratch your back, but don’t force me to see your skin. That’s how my target subject matter experts on certain topics would agree to a mutually-satisfying proposition.

I offer something and they will offer something in return. No cash involved, everyone is happy, and no one is compromised. This brings us to the question of motivating employees. Should you reward a hardworking employee with cold cash of P100,000 or a gift worth the same thing (like a branded wristwatch)? Which is better?

For the employer and the employee—a gift is a symbolic gesture. If the employee wears the watch every day, it reminds him of his hard work, loyalty and continued dedication to the organization. For the employer, a tangible gift reminds him of a wearable proof, unlike cash that can easily vanish in minutes, without a trace.

In my never-ending search for buzzwords, I discovered the term “moonshine” as one approach to solve problems in the workplace. Probably, you may have encountered the original meaning of “moonshine” as it refers to the unlawful homemade production of liquor, with a high content of alcohol, using crude utensils and facilities, making it a suspect for an unsafe product.

In the early American days, the process was called “moonshine” because whisky was made under the light of the moon (or night time) when it was difficult for authorities to catch offenders.

“Moonshine” came to my attention as it is the same name given by founder Chihiro Nakao of Shingijtsu Consultants, referring to a practical, no let-up, and no-excuse approach to solving problems using all available scrap materials lying idle in the factory backyard. Nakao learned the value of scrap engineering from his mentor-hero Taiichi Ohno of The Toyota Way fame, who advised his students to “use your brain, not the [company’s] money” in analyzing and solving problems.

Fil-Am Rudy Go, a kaizen master from Connecticut specializing in the aerospace industry, who comes here yearly for a visit, also told me about the term “moonshine” that is extensively discussed in a newly-released book entitled “Kaizen Forever: Teachings of Chihiro Nakao” (May 2015).

Alongside the pedestal of Bob Emiliani and Katsusaburo Yoshino, Rudy is one of the three authors of “Kaizen Forever.” He’s an old friend from close to ten years ago when he started going back to his native Philippines preparatory to his corporate retirement at Pratt & Whitney to share his expertise with fellow Filipinos on the topics of Value Stream Mapping, Kaizen Events and many things under the lean sun.

Now going back to my question: How can something illegal be made legal? The term “moonshine” refers to illegal production of whisky, but in recent decades, the name was laundered to refer to a legal and practical approach to kaizen problem-solving.

It has a different perspective, but similar in strength and potency to what I call as the MacGyver style of management, which uses only an ever-reliable Swiss knife to troubleshoot major problems, including how to detonate a bomb, which is not entirely different from my advocacy about Total Quality by Maximization.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts.


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