Confounded by Reality

One of the most important and practical things that nearly all teachers teach their students is how to do research, from elementary school to graduate school. The basic message from your teachers is this: “If you don’t know something, do some research. It will help you learn the topic, understand it better, and enable you to know what you are talking about.”

But, remarkably, when people graduate from college or graduate school, they fail to apply what they learned in school to the real world. The real world, somehow, confounds former students and causes them to voluntarily negate selected teachings. For example, I find it pervasive that managers, no matter what the organization, greatly misunderstand the purpose and intent of Lean management. They also misunderstand the principles, methods, and tools. They more-or-less misunderstand everything about Lean.

It would be fabulous if managers interested in Lean got some good books on Lean management and read-up on the topic, as educated persons should immediately think to do. Yet, most do not even bother to do a quick search on the Internet to find some good quality information.

One of the things we want most from leaders is to be led by people who know what they are talking about. We want to be led by people who take us in the right direction and have enough knowledge of progressive management to avoid making basic errors that cost workers their time and energy, that frustrates workers, and reduces worker commitment and performance. Managers cannot lead properly if they think they know things that they actually do not.

Another important and practical thing that nearly all teachers teach their students is critical thinking. So, as a result of that learning, one would expect managers to ask to ask the following question: “Do I understand Lean management?” The answer, in most cases, will be “No.” The action to take? Do some research.

Why isn’t research undertaken by most managers? Perhaps it is because their research findings run the risk of revealing the truth: that years of Lean effort have been flawed from the beginning because managers did not know what they were doing. Likewise, critical thinking, which requires one to ask questions, introduces the risk that they don’t know Lean and have a lot of new things to learn.

Structured problem-solving requires both research and critical thinking, which I have found to be rarely practiced by top leaders. Unstructured problem-solving, however, is fully embraced by senior managers because it can be performed without having to do research or question anything – i.e. band-aid fixes that address the symptoms of the problem, not its root causes.

Shunning both research and critical thinking reveals an organization that favors insularity and ignores vast swaths of outside information. It requires managers and employees alike to all agree that the organization’s version of Lean, no matter how odd or wrong, is the correct one.

By not applying the practical things that one has learned in school over many years, leaders force the organization to endure chronic problems related to blocked information flows and the absence of  the “Respect for People” principle. That, all by itself, assures than an organization’s version of Lean is the incorrect one.

The countermeasure is obvious: Do what your teachers tried so hard to teach you for all those years.

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