The One Thing Nobody Has Yet Tried

LM Coloring Book

The history of progressive management, from Scientific Management to Toyota’s management system to Lean management, is marked by efforts to try anything — literally anything — to get CEOs to abandon classical management.

What “try anything” really means is that there has been no learning and that experience has not produced the desired result. Yet we keep trying. It seems the only thing left to try is to create a Lean management adult coloring book, absurd as that may sound. Then, all ideas and combinations of ideas will have, in practice, finally been exhausted.

Trial and error can be a highly effective method for achieving the result that one seeks. That is principally how Toyota’s Production system was created between 1947 and 1973, and some of how it has evolved since then. But trial and error has limits. It cannot solve all complex problems, especially the one we are most concerned about: Why most leaders resist, reject, or ignore progressive management.

We have clearly learned either from personal experience or by surveying the century-old history of progressive management that trial and error has met its end. At some point you have to stop and say, “This is not working. The problem will not be solved with our current understanding. We need a better explanation of the problem to initiate better informed trial and error efforts.”

W. Edwards Deming leads us “out of the pit.” He said, “Without theory there is no learning” and “Experience teaches nothing without theory.” With these words, Deming describes the reciprocal relationship between theory and empiricism. It is what drives problem-solving, learning, and progress.

The century-long trial and error efforts to persuade top leaders to transition to progressive management proves Deming’s words to be true. There has been no learning, and experience (“try anything)” has taught nothing. Consequently, “theory” is needed. For Lean to continue without theory means, as Deming said:

But what is the result of hard work and best efforts? What they do is only to dig deeper the pit that we are in. But they will not dig us out of the pit, only dig it deeper, make it more difficult to get out of. To get out of the pit we require an outside view.

W. Edwards Deming, Industry Week, 1993

That is where my recent work, “an outside view,” comes in. The six books shown below fit the proper definition of theory: “a formal idea or set of ideas that is intended to explain something.” (click here to learn more about the scientific [not the speculative] meaning of the word “theory”). But the books are more than theory; they explore the reciprocal relationship between theory and empiricism. Not only do they explain phenomena, they do so in ways that you will clearly recognize from your own practical work experience.

Six Books 2

The books carefully analyze the past to explain how the present came to be; i.e., why most leaders, then as now, resist, reject, or ignore Lean management. It is such a complex problem that it had to be analyzed from six different directions:

  • Status, rights, and privilege
  • Irrationality
  • Secular spirituality
  • Aesthetics
  • Preconceptions
  • Workmanship

We have a choice: We can begin to get out of the pit by learning the requisite theory (the scientific meaning of “theory”). Or, we can dig the pit deeper by creating a Lean management adult coloring book. That, surely, is not worth trying.

Let’s get out of the pit. We do not need to be in it any longer. But if we do remain in it, there is no one to blame but ourselves.

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