Jonathan Brun

On Principles

No one enjoys chaos. Over the past couple years I have come to appreciate the tremendous value of principles. Living life by a set of rules that are general, powerful and not overly prescriptive allows for a structured approach to all the vicissitudes that we face. I believe that many of us unconsciously develop principles over time. Our principles are typically derived from our family, culture and experience, but too often our principles are not consciously created – they are created by osmosis. This path can lead to a number of problems as the principles we adopt from our culture may be in contradiction with principles our heart actually wants to follow. This contradiction can then lead to a myriad of issues and conflicts with others. The intentional development of personal principles seems to be an essential ingredient to a happy and healthy life.

The concept of principles is anything but novel. The Ten Commandments are principles, Seneca set out moral principles in his letters to Lucilius, government constitutions are principles and we can find principles in documents created over the ages. If we define principles as, “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.” then the world is full of systems of belief that are both overlapping, compatible and often highly incompatible. The challenge in life is to find the principles that allow you to succeed, feel fulfilled and lead a good and moral life. This is perhaps the greatest challenge any of us face.

Principles can be morally good, bad or indifferent. Principles can be dogmatic or flexible. Principles can be immutable or evolve over time. Principles can be related to our morality, to our societies, to science, to our businesses or to our operations. They can be strategic and they can be tactical. In short, we can create principles for nearly anything. So far, I have begun to ween away some principles that I may have absorbed through my environment and I have begun to intentionally select the principles I wish to live by. At 37 years old, this seems late in the game and it would have been nice to realize all of this at a younger age!

The one set of principles that I can confidently say I believe in are the principles of Lean Manufacturing. The five key principles of Lean are:

  1. Value – Specify the value desired by the customer. “Form a team for each product to stick with that product during its entire production cycle”, “Enter into a dialogue with the customer” (e.g. Voice of the customer)
  2. The Value Stream – Identify the value stream for each product providing that value and challenge all of the wasted steps (generally nine out of ten) currently necessary to provide it
  3. Flow – Make the product flow continuously through the remaining value-added steps
  4. Pull – Introduce pull between all steps where continuous flow is possible
  5. Perfection – Manage toward perfection so that the number of steps and the amount of time and information needed to serve the customer continually falls

As simple as these may sound, they are exceedingly difficult to follow and implement. These principles can be applied to many aspects of our day to day lives, but they are restricted to the operational realm. These principles help ensure operational excellence within an organization or a process. They do not touch many other parts of our lives. On top of these principles, Toyota (and other companies) have built complex and rigorous systems that allows them to deliver goods and services at remarkable costs. The complexity of a modern gasoline car is truly astounding its low cost could never have been predicted 50 years go. Following Lean principles can also help individuals reduce their wasted money and improve everything from home renovation projects to emptying the dishwasher.

As with other sets of principles the danger is that these principles can lock you into a system that has limitations. Within a system, you can embrace these principles fully but when there is a paradigm shift you will be left behind. Toyota is still the best car company in the world, but the future likely belongs to Tesla. Blockbuster may have embraced lean, but Netflix crushed them. The Catholic Church ruled the world until Copernicus determined the earth was not the centre of the universe. When the underlying rules change or when a new technology emerges, the principles you held need dearly to be seriously re-evaluated. Changing your principles may be the only thing harder than setting them in the first place.

I am still toying with a variety of principles for life and happiness, it’s complicated, but I will keep you posted as we progress.

Published on July 19, 2020

The Return of the Road Trip

Parc du bic, near Rimouski, QC, Canada

I have travelled around the world – Ethiopia, China, Italy, Mexico and many other places. In all of these countries, I visited amazing cultural and geological sites and had fantastic experiences. Coming from Canada where there is limited cultural sites compared to ancient civilizations, it is very common to travel overseas. With COVID heavily restricting travel we decided to do a road trip near home.

Even though we decided to stay near home, we initially thought of visiting the maritime provinces of Canada – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the borders to these provinces were closed or restricted, leading us to stay within our home province of Quebec. With our ten month old son, we charted a two week road-trip that would mix hotels, camping and rustic camps in 4 provincial parks.

Leaving from Montreal, we headed to the Eastern Townships and continued along the way to Mont-Megantic national park, camping two nights on the mountain. It was a beautiful park with lush forests, fresh rivers and clear skies. The mountain has an observatory at the top and the entire region dims their lights at night so people can clearly observe the cosmic universe. We had to hike three kilometres up the mountain to get to our shelter, with baby, gear and water in tow. Through the sweat and effort we started to loosen the mental shackles of our urban living. After two nights on the mountain we descended and went to visit a friend who had a hunting lodge nearby.

A key part of our trip was not only to visit amazing sites, but also to visit people along the way. Friends, Friends of Friends and professional contacts were spread out along our trip, allowing us to learn more about the local communities and change up the limited conversations we could have with our ten month old! People are as fascinating as any national park and the diversity of people and sites helped make this trip amazing.

We then headed through the region of Beauce and stayed one night in Kamouraska, on the banks of the St. Laurent river. A cute village with delicious fish and lovely cafés, it was a perfect spot to recover after our brief stint of mountain camping.

From Kamouraska, we headed down the St. Laurent to Rimouski where we visited the Parc du Bic and the Jardin de Métis. Both sites were amazing. The Parc du Bic is a peninsula and island in the St. Laurent with stunning views and shorelines, it is truly worth a visit. The Jard de Métis is a large English Garden that was started by the President of CP Rail, but is now run by the government. In Rimouski, we had some delicious microbrews and food and visited the parents of a good friend of ours. After two nights, we continued our journey along the river to the Parc de la Gaspésie.

Parc de la Gaspésie, Québec

The Parc de la Gaspésie is near the end of the Appalachian trail that starts in Virginia and contains thousands of kilometres of hiking. I had been to this park twice during the winter to do back-country skiing, but it was my first summer visit. Despite modest peaks of 1000-1200 m, a good portion of the hiking is done above the tree line and you have amazing vistas of dozens of untouched mountains that continue into the sunset. If there is one thing you can say about Québec, it’s that we have a lot of space! This park is famous for its moose, of which we saw one and for its wild side. With a ten month old we had limited hiking times, but we still got to see some amazing views. After three days in the park, we headed down and back to the seaside town of Matane.

From Matane took a ferry (that went way over budget) to the North Shore of the river. Landing at Baie-Comeau, we drove half an hour to Pointe-aux-Outardes Nature Park, a beautiful peninsula that has long sandy beaches and rich wetlands full of birds. The Park is managed as a non-profit organization and has great paths and explanations as well as a variety of camping options. We camped out on the beach for two nights where made fires and swam in the St. Laurent. It was a truly magical place and I highly recommend a visit if you are in that neighbourhood. From there, we drove back up the river to Tadoussac, famous for its whale watching.

Dunes at Tadoussac, Québec

In Tadoussac, we hiked down the sandy dunes to swim in the rather frigid, but crystal clear water of the St. Laurent and the mouth of the Saguenay river. Tadoussac is a cute village with another amazing microbrewery. There seems to be a great brewery in each town we visit – what a coincidence! From there we took the short ferry to St. Siméon.

Near St. Siméon we visited a friend who had a lovely farmhouse and ate lots of her cookies while observing an amazing view of the Charlevoix region. We continued though Malbaie, to the national parc at the Hautes Gorges de la Malbaie and then into Baie St. Paul. We were fortunate to follow a porcupine through a garden and then bumped into old friends of ours. We had drinks together and I discovered that you can make eaude-vie from leftover milk! Who knew? Charlevoix is already known as beautiful place, so I do not think I need to further promote it!

From Baie St. Paul, we went through Quebec city to see the exhibit on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and then drove home.

If there is one thing that came from this road trip, it is the realization that you do not travel the world to see amazing things and eat delicious food. With Google and online reservation systems it has never been easier to travel. We booked things as we went and changed our plans based on the weather. At least in Québec and I would say Canada, there are truly stupendous things to see. All you need to do is get in your car and drive!

Published on July 12, 2020