Radicals Among Conservators

Radical1 If you are a devoted Lean thinker and practitioner, you are a radical. You may not feel like one, but you are. Your desire is to turn business processes upside down, and in doing so turn people’s thinking and the corporate culture upside down. You wish to turn things upside down from the bottom up. And you believe you can succeed. You are a Lean evangelist, someone who knows how to fix companies hobbled by waste.

You are committed to radical change but find yourself among people who are committed to conservation of time-honored traditions. You have a great vision for the future but wonder how you can achieve it. So you try this and that, and then think of more ideas to try. You talk to people, read books and blogs, watch videos, go to conferences, etc., to think of or learn new ideas to try. Your dedication to Lean is honorable and praiseworthy.

“We allow them to play,” as one conservator of the past (a senior manager) put it. Being allowed to play is not what dedicated Lean practitioners had in mind when they took on their challenge. But you learn there are consequences if you push the conservators too far or make changes that are too great. You have witnessed the punishment of those who pushed too hard or who made too great a change. You keep that in mind as you go about your work.

You think and think and think, and finally one day realize you are supporting the status quo instead of turning the world upside down as you had hoped to do. Your extensive knowledge of Lean and practice has been put into the service of maintaining long established business traditions, contrary to the needs of customers. You find yourself settling for good enough because the obstacles seem insurmountable.

And so the system remains largely intact, despite your best efforts. Your spiritual and physical dedication to Lean is obstructed by the metaphysical workings of business. Professionally, and perhaps personally, you are deeply invested in Lean. You begin to ask questions: What’s the matter with me? What am I doing wrong? You start to think about your options: Should I stay and try harder? Should I be more assertive or more diplomatic? Should I go to another company? Will things be any different there?

You have dutifully listened and internalized the advice of Lean experts. Yet it all seems to result in continuation of the current state, despite talk of future states. None of it breaks the logjam that you see. How does all this talk and effort to change end up funneling radicals to the status quo? Does waste persist merely so that some people can preach against it?

You realize that despite being well-equipped with Lean knowledge and years of practical experience, there is something missing. Something big. Some kind of knowledge that would make sense of all the confusing and inconsistent signals. You have gained much of the Lean knowledge that others have offered, yet still no reconciliation.

Your informed despair brings you here.

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