The Bad Boy of Lean

“A real irony is that ‘respect for people’ requires that people feel the pain of critical feedback.” — Akio Toyoda

bad bob
Illustration by Julia

Yes, that’s me; the Bad Boy of Lean, el chico malo de Lean. I am an irritant to some Lean movement leaders because I freely challenge their work. As a result, I have a bad reputation — a sentiment that is far from universal. I earned my blemish by doing five simple things: Thinking, asking questions, identifying problems, studying problems, and sometimes discovering innovative solutions. I was a “whistleblower” who exposed incorrect or inconsistent things about Lean. In the language of Lean, I pulled the andon cord.

If you only know me from social media — which is a terrible way to know someone — you could easily conclude that I am an asshole because of my criticism of Lean. But, you would be wrong. I have a great love for TPS and Lean and have been a passionate advocate for 25 years. My doing both confuses people. Is it necessary? Yes. Why do it? To understand problems in the construction and execution of Lean over time, and curiosity about two different but complementary problems — Lean success and Lean failure.

My reputation deprives me of high status in the Lean community. Though, if I did have high status, I would constantly worry about it. I would then spend a lot of time and effort to maintain or improve my status as others invariably do. That would distract me from doing important work that nobody else does. So having a bad reputation turns out to be a blessing because it enables me to do the work that needs to be done. I own it, totally.

My work in getting to the truth and advancing knowledge is not for everyone. Some people appreciate that I speak truth to power, challenge the status quo, and point out the facts of a situation (example). Others don’t like it, but they learn a lot from my work and it changes their thinking and actions. Then there are the the big names in Lean world, who, almost unanimously, dislike me for pulling the andon cord when needed. Rather than understand problems and make others aware of them, they would prefer I said nothing. Their weakness is my strength.

I don’t care about fitting in with them or how they define me. What I do care about is moving forward in support of my students, Lean practitioners, and others whose desire it is to learn and improve. I care that the information that they get is accurate and that they have a clear understanding of reality so that the actions they take to improve are not futile.

Respect for people can manifest itself in unexpected ways.

“They laugh at me because I’m different. I laugh at them because they’re all the same.” — Kurt Cobain

“Only individuals with an aberrant temperament can in the long run retain their self-esteem in the face of the disesteem of their fellows.” – Thorstein Veblen  

Click here to read “What I Learned from Two Decades of Asking Questions About Lean,” and why social sanctions to conform have been ineffective.

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