What’s Your Lean Provenance?

lean_provenanceOne thing that Lean people like to do is brag about when they first learned about Lean or who they learned it from. We want to show off how close we were to the beginning and who our teachers were. We do it to distinguish ourselves from a crowded field of Lean practitioners ranging from know-nothing self-proclaimed “experts” to those who have repeatedly created functioning flowlines and with engaged workforces.

We all do it. I’ve done it. People in other fields do it, particularly when the event is important (e.g. “I was Google employee #7”) or where the teacher is someone important such as a great musician (e.g. “I studied for 5 years under Itzhak Perlman”). But is it right for Lean people to do this? In the Western tradition, it is clearly right. In the Eastern tradition, it is wrong, because we are bragging and therefore lacking in humility – something that our sensei taught us not to do. But we do it anyway. So now, let us reflect on our lack of humility and commit to never again mentioning our Lean provenance.

Lean people should not brag about their Lean provenance because someone can have 30 years of experience with Lean and know nothing more than how to use some tools, likely poorly at that, while others may be truly skilled in human relations and creating flow after only 2 or 3 years. The length of time one has been exposed to or have practiced Lean does not communicate anything of value.

Another problem with bragging about our Lean provenance is that it disrespects ourselves as well as others. Perhaps without malice or bad intentions, we belittle others. And, we make ourselves small when we try to be big. The bad consequences of doing this surely outweigh the good. It undercuts our influence, creates competition where none is needed, and causes confusion with the audience we are trying to reach.

Rather than brag about our Lean provenance, we should focus our energy on making work easier for people, products and services better for customers, and a stronger organization more capable of withstanding the ups and down of the business cycle.

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