Building On the Work of Others

Building on Knowledge

Let’s begin with a quote worthy of reflection:

It is difficult to see how knowledge in the social sciences will ever be cumulative, if social scientists ignore, rather than build upon, the work which has already been done.

— Source: Lipset, S.M. and Bendix, R. (1951), “Social Status and Social Structure: A Re-Examination of Data and Interpretations: I,” The British Journal of Sociology, Volume 2, Number 2, June, p. 167

The quote is in reference to Dr. Thorstein Veblen, a sociological economist, whose remarkable work was largely ignored by mainstream sociologists and economists because he challenged the very foundations of social and economic thought going back to 18th century physiocrats and the founders of classical economics that followed.

Veblen was an iconoclast, a heretic, unsparing in his criticism backed by arguments that were both novel and sound. Needless to say, the incumbents did not want their life’s work challenged, nor tradition challenged, and so they determined that their best course of action was to ignore Veblen. In doing so, they put both economics and sociology on weaker ground, which, over time, has become less and less able to explain actual social and economic problems. The old way of thinking is aligned with theory based on abstractions (i.e., metaphysics), whereas Veblen’s thinking is aligned with theory based on history and empiricism (i.e., the “real world”). The two explanations for social and economic problems are far apart.

Like business, Lean management is a social science, and it is headed in the same or a similar direction of not being cumulative. Save for the popular “lean tool” books, the huge body of academic and practitioner literature that has been generated over the last 35 years is mostly ignored, and even more so for the work of the heretics 🙋‍♂️. Why is that?

You cannot help but notice that if the new information comes from Toyota, then that proves to most people that all other work is irrelevant. Build on the work of others? What for? Just wait for the Oracle to speak, and then just think and do as you are told. When Lean pros do that, they dismiss all others who think critically and whose work seeks to answer critically important questions.

Here is another quote also worthy of reflection:

I think it is incredibly hypocritical to say that you are a ‘Continuous Improvement professional’ and ignore a chance to improve your interpretation and knowledge about something, but I respect that everyone chooses the reality that suits them best.

Bruno Vasquez

Failure to build on the work of others sustains common preconceptions that are unable to answer our most difficult questions. So what looks to be new is, in fact, the same old stuff with a different name and a trustworthy endorsement (from the Lean Enterprise Institute or Toyota, for example).

The result of that is the appearance of progress, which will yet again delay actual progress. If you do as Bruno says, “ignore a chance to improve your interpretation and knowledge about” progressive management — whether you are a Lean professional or Toyota — you cannot expect a better result.

Let’s end with this quote:

You can make change without progress, but you can’t make progress without change.

Mark Harari

The change that needs to be made is your preconceptions.

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop