More Than Just Business Books

Most of the books about Lean management, Toyota Production System, and the Toyota Way are reportage: “writing intended to give an account of observed or documented events.” They tell the story of story of a company or persons who did something notable. Reportage is useful in three ways:

  • Deliver information clearly, though not always concisely
  • Inform people of what innovators in management thinking and practice have done
  • Inspire people to try out (or avoid) what they read

Reportage almost always lacks critical analysis and creative inputs developed solely by the author. I was never interested in doing just reportage. From the start, I have wanted to bring new ideas, creativity, and critical analysis to my writing, for both books and blog posts. Over the last 21 years, I have received consistent feedback that confirms my success at bringing new ideas, creativity, and critical analysis to Lean world.

My first book, Better Thinking, Better Results, is one of two (out of 28) books I have written that fall under reportage because my job was to tell the story of The Wiremold Company’s Lean transformation. But even so, I found ways to inject into the book new ideas, creativity, and critical analysis in the form of the detailed Endnotes after each chapter and by adding Chapter 11 (“Real Lean vs. Fake Lean”). The second book that falls under the category of reportage is Lean Teaching, where I describe the thinking and methods I used to create the Lean Teaching pedagogy.

Writing is considered creative when one’s voice is unique, when language is used in skillful ways, when new ideas and analysis inspire people to think, and when emotional connections are made. Again, the feedback that I have received over the decades confirms that my writing is creative.

So, more than just business books, I my books are my art; an expression of creativity both in writing, in the books covers (all of which I designed except for one), and in most of the images contained in the books (thank you Adobe Illustrator and PowerPoint). Creative writing is useful in several ways:

  • Make people see and feel what they have not previously perceived
  • Help people see things from different perspectives
  • Make people think in new ways and imagine new possibilities
  • Give people a foundation for going beyond what they know or think they know
  • Metaphors engage readers, evoke new meanings, and entertain
  • Provide a deeper understanding of human experience
  • Make an emotional connection (empathy and compassion)
  • Use humor (satire, absurdities) to call attention to important problems

Many people over the years have commented my writing and asked, “How have you been able to do all this work?” My productive output is a testament to the breadth and depth and of the subject matter, both progressive and classical management, and its interconnectedness to work and the human experience. In addition, the subject matter has, for me, proven to be inspirational and motivational over the long run. But that came with a significant cost: I violated the norms of the Lean community by wanting to understand the other side, classical management, and share it with others. I did that because the subject was interesting to me and it needed to be done, to free people from their illusions, and without concern for how it would effect me professionally or personally.

As John Stuart Mill said long ago, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” You cannot understand Lean management if you do not understand classical management. Despite the truth of Mill’s words, most Lean professionals resist being freed from their illusions. It is akin to one’s taste in art or design; people know what they like and are not very open to other forms of art or design.

I am sometimes asked “What are you most proud of?” I do not see it as a question of pride, but rather that I set out to do what I wanted to do, and had the time (thousands of hours to think, do research, and write), capabilities, and resources to do it. As a lifelong learner, experimentalist, and teacher, I deeply believe in helping others and serving others. I further believe that sharing what I have learned in not a choice, but an obligation, one that will contribute to improvement of leadership and management practice now or in the future.

MLE Painting 2
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