Strange Lean World

Lean Paradox

We’ve been at this Lean thing for 35 years since the term “Lean” came into business consciousness in 1988. The initial expectation was that businesses in every industry would soon “become Lean.” But it did not turn out that way. Instead, most businesses merely added various Lean tools to their already long list of in-house problem-solving tools for employees to use. Just-in-Time, flow, kaizen — no thanks!

But as probability theory dictates, we do have some notable examples of successful Lean transformation. However, the small number of successes over nearly four decades introduces a paradox: Lean Success = Lean Failure.

How can that be? And how do we explain this paradox? It can be explained two ways:

  • Lean success proves a great many people in top leadership positions to be wrong about many important things. That is something which most top leaders detest. And so, they will remain committed to the status quo of classical management no matter the cost to prove they are right by showing that they have the power to get their way.
  • While Lean successes are effective at keeping hope alive, they are even more effective at disabling the critical thinking that is needed to figure out how to generate vast numbers of Lean successes.

How do you overcome a paradox? According to Google Bard:

To overcome a paradox, you must first understand it. Once you understand the paradox, you can start to look for ways to resolve it.

Here are some general tips for overcoming paradoxes:

💠Identify the assumptions. Many paradoxes are based on faulty assumptions. By identifying and challenging these assumptions, you may be able to resolve the paradox.

💠Consider different perspectives. Sometimes, a paradox can be resolved by looking at it from a different perspective. For example, the paradox of the ship of Theseus can be resolved by considering the different perspectives of the ship’s owner and the shipbuilder.

💠Look for new information. Sometimes, a paradox can be resolved by finding new information that was not previously available. For example, the paradox of Achilles and the tortoise was resolved by the development of calculus.

💠Accept the paradox. Some paradoxes are simply irresolvable. In these cases, you may need to accept the paradox as it is.

If you are struggling to overcome a paradox, it may be helpful to talk to a philosopher or logician. They can help you to understand the paradox and to explore different ways of resolving it.

OK, that might help overcome the paradox, were it not for an inconvenient truth about strange Lean world: a seemingly unending propensity to keep doing the same things harder and hoping for a different result. This is called “The Law of Reversed Effort.”

The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed.”

— Aldous Huxley

Said another way, simply trying harder to get leaders to abandon classical management and transition to Lean management makes things worse. In my view, evidence for this abounds. The constant boosterism of Lean has not yet produced the desired result, and is unlikely to ever do so. What boosterism has long done is something much more modest, which is to assure a steady intake, year after year, of working-level newcomers to Lean management. Most top executives remain unmoved.

Google Bard offers a two good tips for overcoming the paradox:

  • Consider different perspectives

Why? Because Lean is seen only from the perspective of Lean professionals’ interests, not the top leaders who have different (vested) interests that they seek to preserve and expand.

  • Look for new information

Why? Because most Lean people are strikingly indifferent to the new information that will help them understand top leaders’ perspectives.

If you have interest in resolving the paradox — interest in considering different perspectives and gaining new information — then read these books. The alternative is to accept the paradox. However, that is not what one expects from Lean pros committed to problem-solving and scientific thinking.

Six Books 2

Read the books in the order shown, from left to right. Alternatively, read TAC followed by ACP, then TCM, II, MM, and WoL.

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