Thursday, December 29, 2005

Why people observe but don't see Lean

Why people observe but don't see Lean

I've wondered for a long time why people seem to ignore or not seek to understand Lean. I got some insight last week when management writer
Jeff Angus wrote on why humility works. His subject was Terry Ryan, a little known, understated but highly successful executive from Minnesota. Here's the salient summary of Jeff's observations:

There's also intellectual humility. He [Ryan]works very hard to make [success] look ordinary. That, of course, is a competitive edge...competitors in any endeavor figure anything easy must not be a very important differentiator (bass-ackwards of course, but the erroneous mental algebra is that if it was important and easy both, everyone could/would do it and since they're not doing it and it's easy it, therefore, must not be important. Goofy but widespread thinking). As long as Ryan and his team make this seem like luck or just simple stuff, others won't feel like they're being outfoxed (which is not an incentive to deal with the fox again).

And the managers[who work with Ryan] know that they can make acting and being humble, they never get too comfortable with problem --> solution automation, continuing to practice self-examination, continuing to see if their decisions are working. A further side-benefit: this knowing-you-can-make-a-mistake diminishes (not eliminates) the office politics of assigning blame -- everyone knows that mistakes will happen and it defuses a lot of the harsher toxicity of office blame.

Jeff writes about a management principle in general. But it hit me that this is a reason for the dominance of folks who can really drive a Lean system. Those who do it well make it look very easy. The improvement efforts, the involvement of associates, the self-funding of new products; it all seems to flow. And the usual reaction is “Yeah, it’s common sense.”

As Jeff says it takes intellectual humility to get it. My colleague Kevin and I talked about this late this afternoon. It takes a willingness to accept the utterly elegant simplicity of a Lean mindset to make it work.

I hope you can find that humility. And “get it” even better.

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