Things I Have Learned

Over the last 15 years, having presented various heterodox ideas and practices to the Lean community, as well as steadily pointing out numerous problems, I have learned the following things about people and systems:

  • There is limited interest in facts.
  • People would rather talk about big problems than solve big problems.
  • Big problems that finally get solved do not command much attention.
  • Belonging to one’s in-group is more important than making progress.
  • Learning is tightly circumscribed by one’s preconceptions.
  • Challenging people to explore new ideas violates social and emotional boundaries.
  • Social learning is more powerful than any other method of learning.
  • Big name influencers are more persuasive than facts.
  • A breakthrough is not a breakthrough unless a big name influencer says it is.
  • People have great difficulty thinking for themselves.
  • There remains a mentality “If Toyota didn’t think of it or do it, then ignore it.”
  • Socially approved wrong ways are better than the technically correct right ways.
  • Social approval necessitates a large reduction in the quality and utility of an idea, tool, or method.
  • Poor results combined with the right buzzwords is sufficient evidence of success.
  • Moving people past pervasive fluff and hype is nearly impossible.
  • People are emotionally invested in Lean beyond reason.
  • Asking tough questions generates animosity and duplicity.
  • For most people, logic is both troubling and tiresome.
  • In Lean-world, leadership is more aligned with leaders’ interests than the Lean community’s interests.
  • Big name influencers are so intent on protecting their status, reputation, and interests to the point of looking (and being) disconnected from reality.
  • In Lean-world, honesty is rare while bullshit is abundant.
  • There is as much hate and abuse in Lean-world as in any other community.

Lean-world is a weird and sometimes toxic environment, driven in part by people’s passionate desire to make the world a better place and sincere commitment to help others improve. It is an odd and unexpected dichotomy that pops up far more frequently than one would imagine in a community that has laid vigorous claim to “Respect for People.”

“I became a raving fan when you took on Womack and Jones.” — Mr. M

Not everybody feels that way. Most of the big names in Lean-world are quite upset with me personally or for the work that I have done professionally, for more than a decade now. (My big name haters include, in order of most to least hate: JW, MG, MD, DJ, BW, JS, RH, PC, KM, OF, and KM). All I did was point out obvious omissions, mistakes, facts, and absurdities. I do not hate the big name people for getting some very important things wrong, their unwillingness or indifference to make corrections (or slowness to make corrections), and for having long misled thousands of people, but they and their allies sure do hate me for having the courage to call out various problems.

Perhaps their displeasure is a convenient way to assign blame to me for Lean’s manifold problems. If so, how absurd, and how ironic. Lean management stands or falls on its own merits and demerits.

Ferris Wheel

So how do I feel about all of this, you wonder? What I see is good people who have made decisions, informed or otherwise, that best suit their interests or their clique’s interests. It is not unusual. It is one of the things that individuals and groups do all the time. People can also be hypocrites and duplicitous. All of this transcends general and emotional intelligence. It is merely part of being human. It is people being people. It is no big deal.

If I saw them on the side of the road needing assistance, I would stop and help because I do not live by the credo that hate begets hate. Regrettably, I have been involved in some very sharp exchanges with some of my haters, mostly to defend my work. But regardless, I choose to be non-blaming and non-judgmental, empathetic and compassionate. These are the lessons, the moral foundation, that I learned from both kaizen and my long study of Eastern philosophy.

I have zero enmity for these people or others who dislike me or my work. Hate is easy, and so is holding grudges, backstabbing, and blacklisting. That is not me. I will never return that negativity to them. Instead, I will (and do) happily refer other people to them or their work. I respect them and I accept them for who they are, both personally and professionally, even if their feelings, intentions, or actions damage me or my work.

It is all just part of the rough-and-tumble exchange of ideas and perspectives that are necessary for gaining clarity and for making progress, which mindless conformance surely fails to provide. Without the reality check that I and a few others provide, Lean management and Lean-world would be seen by outsiders and critics as an even more cult-like phenomenon or fad to more fully justify their indifference or disdain for Lean. Because, from their perspective, Lean is perpetually oversold and under-delivers. While they may be overstating the case, they are not incorrect.

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