The Business Philosophy Triangle

As you may know, one of my great interests over the last 20 years has been to understand problems such as these, especially as it pertains to large companies:

  • Why are executives disinterested in Lean?
  • Why do executives resist Lean?
  • Why does Lean fail to take root in organizations?

These questions have been around for a long time and predate Lean, as similar questions were asked about earlier forms of progressive management dating back to the early 1900s. The best that people could do, then, as well as now, was provide superficial answers such as: “They didn’t learn about it in school,” “CEOs stick with what got them to be CEOs,” and “They can’t let go of traditional command and control management.” These answers are wholly insufficient because they failed to advance our understanding of the problem and thus did not lead to any progress. Most knowledgeable people gave up on even attempting to answer these questions, considering it to be a waste of time: “not worthwhile” or “not a useful contribution.” But I did not give up.

These and several other important questions have now been answered in my new book, The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management: How Tradition Prevails and What to Do About It. Despite feeling good about this major accomplishment, I remained driven to expand my understanding of this problem because a more comprehensive solution will lead to greater progress. And not just for Lean. The book and the two images below also explain the general case of why business transformation and management improvement efforts struggle and often fail.

That is far from being “not worthwhile” or “not a useful contribution.”

The book answered these questions from an economic, social, and political perspectives. Since writing the book, I continued to think about the problem expressed in the three questions. But I wanted to see if could answer them in another way, from a new perspective and using a different knowledge area — Western philosophy.

My hope was that I could answer the above three questions in a manner that would be complimentary to the book. I also wanted the answer to be easy for people to grasp — especially those raised in the tradition of Western business thinking and practices, as informed by economic liberalism, hierarchical management control, and conventional leadership routines. The reason being is that people raised in the Western tradition clearly have great difficulty understanding the Eastern philosophy and traditions associated with Toyota’s management practice (and its derivative, Lean).

Three Isms
Click on image to enlarge.

The result is the image at right: The Business Philosophy Triangle (BPT). It presents the basic contours of three distinct Western philosophical “isms:” (metaphysical) Realism, Idealism, and Pragmatism, shown as the three corners of a triangle. Click on the image to read the details of each “ism.” The accompanying text explains key characteristics of (metaphysical) Realism, Idealism, and Pragmatism in relation to the above three questions.

It is obvious that CEOs mismanage when they get the company (managers and workers) stuck in one corner or another. CEOs and their direct reports must frequently circulate among the the philosophies — the dotted circle — to assure that they do not get stuck in their own favorite philosophical corner. CEOs are responsible for all three philosophies that exist in business, not just their own Realist philosophy.

The Business Philosophy Triangle suggests that leaders, typically absent from the workplace, must be taught the need for circulating around the triangle (dotted circle). They must also be taught the atypical business conditions under which it might be wise to retreat to one corner — but only for the time actually needed. They must return to a balanced position soon after business conditions stabilize.

The Business Philosophy Triangle also suggests numerous practical process that executives can practice to avoid the problem of executive resistance to progressive management. Kaizen is a very good method for identifying and implementing processes that can solve this common social problem in business.

Look carefully at the Business Philosophy Triangle and ask yourself these questions: What does it mean in relation to the responsibilities of human resource executives and Boards of Directors? What does it mean for employees and investors? Communities and suppliers? Are our company’s problems caused by executives being stuck in philosophical corner of the triangle (thus, absentee leaders)? Do we experience the same recurring problems because of that? How do we restore philosophical balance in the executive team? How do we develop future leaders to be both philosophically balanced and present?

LeanX Diagram
Click on image to enlarge.

The LeanX-Diagram at right tells another story that is complimentary to the book and highlights the (metaphysical) Realism corner of the Business Philosophy Triangle as it relates to Lean management. Study it carefully as well, because it tells you a lot about business, the passions and interests of CEOs, and Lean.

Read my new book, The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management to fully comprehend these two images. It will answer many questions that you have long had and inform you of practical new pathways for improvement. And it will inspire you to think of your own ideas for moving forward to create a better future in your company.

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