Believing You Can Get Lean Makes You Leaner

By Jon Miller Published on November 16th, 2006

If Lean for Toyota is “kaizen and respect for people” we need to spend some time understanding what makes people work as well as what makes kaizen work.
To that end, there are some very interesting findings at the Psychology Matters website. The results of the research on a group of New York City seventh-graders suggests that Believing You Can Get Smarter Makes You Smarter.
From the research summary on Psychology Matters:
Thinking about intelligence as changeable and malleable, rather than stable and fixed, results in greater academic achievement, especially for people whose groups bear the burden of negative stereotypes about their intelligence.
Simply telling people that they can get smarter helps people get smarter. By the same token, simply telling people that they can get Lean will help make them Leaner.
The research summary asks:
Can people get smarter? Are some racial or social groups smarter than others? Despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, many people believe that intelligence is fixed, and, moreover, that some racial and social groups are inherently smarter than others.
Despite growing evidence to the contrary, some people believe that Lean really does not apply to their industry, their culture, their region or some other particular unique characteristic. Are some nations or some types of industries inherently more capable of improving their performance?
Nonsense. It’s all between your ears. This is why having the kaizen philosophy is more important than having a combined PhD in Industrial Engineering and HR Development.
These are things you can tell people to help them believe they can get Lean, and they will actually get Lean:
– 5S your area and your productivity will increase by 30%
– Give me one practical improvement idea per month and I will help you implement it
– Observe any process for 10 minutes and you can find 10 small things to improve
– Practice makes perfect
– Share your work with someone and you fill finish it more than twice as fast
You can quote me on these.
My father taught choir for many years. He once told me how he was able to help a singer hit a high note even though the singer insisted he could not sing such a high note. My father did this by first telling the singer it was possible and then guiding him note by note. Yet the singer was angry at my father when he learned that he had hit an “impossible” high note.
This reaction may seem odd, but it’s one I am familiar with. Sometimes peoples’ perceptions about who they are and what they can do is more important that what they can become. Who they are is the result of the years of effort, learning and achievement (or simply living). To have a teacher tell them and show them they can do better can harm a person’s self-image. “You’ve mean I’ve been doing it the stupid way for 25 years?” is not an uncommon reaction.
In my early days of consulting many factory managers twice my age had a problem when I helped them sing at a higher note than they though was possible. Most people say they are in favor of improvement. Yet few people actually want to be changed. This is also why believing you can get Lean makes you Leaner. It’s you that’s getting Lean, not me that’s making you Lean.

  1. Michael Schaffner

    November 18, 2006 - 6:55 am

    “Oz never did give nothing to the tin man
    That he didn’t, didn’t already have ”
    — America “Tin Man” 1974
    The biggest inhibitor to change is overcoming the unwillingness to get out of your comfort zone and try something different. This is an interesting process to watch. Those that can get over this obstacle can go on to do truly amazing things. Those that can not take solace by thinking they’ve done all that can be done and it is all outside of their control. The greatest thing a leader/teacher/facilitator can do is get people to see the possibilities.

  2. John

    November 27, 2006 - 4:04 pm

    I love this post. Resonates well with a paper I read just today from the Santa Fe Institute about (in part) how the stories we tell ourselves about our environment during times of uncertainty can help us be more effective, but can also constrain us. Though often it’s subconscious, the theory goes, we sometime literally give ourselves a role to play and then act it out. If you’re interested, you can see my summary of the article on my blog (link through my name) post: “Ontological Uncertainty and Innovation”. Great blog, BTW.

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