Motivating Smart People to Learn about Lean

Sometimes I’m forced to wonder why smart people fight good ideas. Sometimes I find answers. This was true recently when an engineer at one of our clients who was also the project manager for a factory layout redesign stubbornly refused to see the benefits of what the kaizen team was presenting in the way of a new cell design.
There’s a saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. As Lean people, we need to ask ‘Why?’ Why won’t the horse drink? Is the water bad? Is the horse not thirsty? Maybe the horse just doesn’t like being ‘made’ to do anything, even though it is thirsty.
This engineer clearly felt a strong sense of ownership over his factory layout project. Senior management had placed a great deal of responsibility and trust in him. He had put a lot of time into the project. These things made it difficult if not impossible for him to consider putting it down or taking a major new direction with the project, even though he was smart enough to see the benefits of Lean. The significant productivity improvement the kaizen team demonstrated would compel a rational person to rethink the direction of their project. This horse wasn稚 quite ready to drink.
There is a quote that I like. It goes:
“Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.”
-Thomas Szasz, author, professor of psychiatry (1920- )
We tell our consultants to always remain humble. There are many reasons for this. One of them is that we have to always be open to learning. Helping people is about first learning what needs fixing, and then why. If we think we know the answers and don’t take time to listen, we fail.
Too many times we hold on tightly to what we have (knowledge, beliefs, projects, etc.) rather than being open to letting something go to gain something new. This is the challenge with our engineer friend. He is young, he is fond of kaizen, and I think we will eventually win him over.
Motivating people to learn, even at the risk of injury to self-esteem is one of the many challenges of successfully implementing Lean for any organization. A basic appreciation of human psychology goes a long way.