The Lean Whiners


For a number of years, I have faced displeasure from some of the big names in Lean-world for my writings about Lean leadership and Lean management. These people, a core of ten or so in number (likely more), are mostly American, but some hail from other lands. My fundamental position in research and writing is to get to the truth, imperfectly for sure. Still, it seems I am somewhat effective at getting to the truth given the displeasure that I generate.

The root reasons why they are displeased is a mystery to me because most don’t want to talk to me, though they are happy to complain about me among themselves. They have scorned me and would rather whine (“complain” if you prefer). Is referring to them as “whiners,” name calling? Is it an ad hominem attack? No, for three reasons. First, I am referring to a group of people, not specific persons. Second, the term “whiner” accurately describes their persistent behavior. Third, I offer fact-based counterarguments to their claims.

I sometimes receive messages such as these:

  • I have received several private messages stating your writings and posts are a cancer and totally counterproductive.
  • Many people don’t like your behavior.
  • You are damaging your reputation.
  • You’re embarrassing yourself.
  • What are you doing?
  • You think you’re the only one who knows Lean.
  • Your approach to persuading people is toxic.
  • About once a month people ask me what’s wrong with you?

As you might expect, I periodically receive unsolicited advice on what I should and should not do. These people desperately want to change me. One person recently told me that the singular reason I should listen to him (meaning, conform to his advice) is because of his “status and experience” as a Lean pioneer. I can only speculate as to what disturbs these people, driven by a warrior-like mentality of exclusion and degradation. Some possibilities may be:

  • My work diminishes their status, power, or influence
  • My work or influence harms their Lean business
  • My work contradicts or disproves their work or their advice
  • Their customers find my work persuasive, which forces them to defend their work or explain away me or my work as irrelevant
  • My ability to successfully swim in two lanes, industry and academia
  • They almost certainly feel “he’s not one of us,” and that I should know my place
  • Their failure to understand, and inability to control, a freethinker; an iconoclast
  • Perplexed by the duality of Lean advocate and Lean critic

These whiners plateaued long ago and apparently think clarifying and expanding Lean knowledge is counterproductive. My work must, in some way or another, cause them to do work that they would rather not do. One thing is for sure, diversity is permitted when it strengthens the Lean orthodoxy and groupthink, but is quashed and ignored when it weakens it. They don’t want me to be me, they want me to be like them, by applying social pressure and acts of domination. They truly believe that would be best for all. How foolish is that?

They say odd or irrelevant things, and proffer numerous fallacious arguments (especially this one), such as:

  • Have you ever been to the gemba?
  • Have you ever spoken to a CEO?
  • Have you ever been a CEO?
  • Do you actually talk to people on the front lines?
  • You don’t do enough “likes” of other people postings.
  • Do you know anybody at Toyota?
  • You should stop bashing leaders.
  • You think you know it all.
  • People don’t your tone. You need to be more positive.
  • You should focus on X instead of Y.
  • Have you ever led kaizens?
  • You think you know more than Jim Womack.
  • Why don’t you write about Barry-Wehmiller or Danaher, or ________?

These tactics, to disparage and discredit, have been used for millennia. Rather than rigorously critique my published works (refutation or counterargument with supporting evidence), they feebly attack my credibility and contradict my work with no supporting evidence. That indicates they lack the intellectual strength, or the time or interest, to rebut or disprove my work. The best they can do is mount an emotional response (see example here) and hope that I will feel so diminished by their attacks that I will quit doing what I do. It is too late for that.

I am a “Lean outsider” by choice because it allows me to freely pursue my interests. As I have said many times before, I do this for the benefit of the Lean community — clearly not for my benefit given the hostility and resentment that I receive. Feedback from the Lean community, overall, has long been positive. My work makes people think. Those whine or get mad are, of course, not thinking.

I have noticed these five things about those who are displeased with me:

  • They idolize authority figures. Consequently, they get upset when I point out problems with authority figures and their work.
  • They are fixated on status and status-seeking. They demand to be recognized as the big fish in the little Lean pond.
  • They are all men (a few of whom act like little boys bullying for Lean playground dominance).
  • Stagnant. Meaning, anchored by traditions; preconceptions and cognitive biases, and therefore unreceptive to new and better information.
  • Anti-intellectual.

These fit nicely together — authority, status, men, stagnant, anti-intellectual. And here we thought the best Lean leaders are humble and reflective learners. I guess not. But hypocrisy is not the real problem here. That is merely a side show. The real problem is that they and many others ignore the case that CEOs have long made against Lean management. That is, in fact, the cancer that is totally counterproductive to the advancement of Lean management which I, like so many other have fought for and continue to fight for. We are all on the same team. The only difference is in the method: groupthink versus freethinking. These good and intelligent people cannot accept that.

I find this all very amusing. As other men and women less craving of authority and status, and who appreciate the intellectual rigor that I bring to Lean, have told me:

  • You are brave to speak up.
  • You are doing terrific work my friend!
  • Constructive critique is healthy and helps move knowledge forward.
  • You say what a lot of people are thinking.
  • Your skills at “forcing” hansei on your readers is very effective
  • Don’t let what other people say keep you from doing your work.
  • They’re just jealous.
  • Ignore the concrete heads.
  • You are THE voice of truth in the Lean community.

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

Note: Their complaining stems from my freethinking research, analyses, critiques of Lean, and challenges to Lean movement leaders and the Lean community. My work follows the ethos described in this quote:

A real irony is that respect for people requires that people feel the pain of critical feedback. If we do not give people accurate feedback based on real behavior they are not growing and we are not respecting them. – Akio Toyoda

The Toyota Way to Leadership, J. Liker and G. Convis, 2012, p. xii

I always welcome criticism of my work in the form of well-organized written refutation or counterargument with supporting evidence, as was taught in school. Learn more here and here on how to disagree.

Grahams Hierarchy of Disagreement en.svg
Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement
    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop