Lean Journey Advice from an Optimistic Hungarian Scientist

I spent last week in Hungary on consulting assignment. Several times I heard from the locals, “We Hungarians are a pessimistic people” but they are making slow but steady progress with Lean nonetheless. I was also introduced to the fact that for a country of its size Hungary has many notable scientists and inventors who have contributed to progress in areas from matches to fission the hydrogen bomb.
Edward Teller was an Hungarian-born American theoretical physicist who walked the earth between 1908 and 2003. He was a member of the Manhattan Project and is known as the father of the hydrogen bomb. I found a some of his sayings to be good advice for anyone on the Lean journey.
Facts and hypothesis are both central to how we make improvements within a Lean organization, and about these Teller said:
A fact is a simple statement that everyone believes. It is innocent, unless found guilty. A hypothesis is a novel suggestion that no one wants to believe. It is guilty, until found effective.
Continuous improvement is the key to success in the Lean journey, with the slow and steady turtle beating the quick but uneven rabbit every time. Small progress may not be as visible as the big problems in front of us, but it is still vitally important for all of us to work at the small problems as well as the large, strategic issues. These ideas are contained in these words of Teller:
Life improves slowly and goes wrong fast, and only catastrophe is clearly visible.
That may seem like a pessimistic comment, but we can also see it as optimistic if for example we look at this next quote:
No endeavor that is worthwhile is simple in prospect; if it is right, it will be simple in retrospect.
Nothing seems easy or obvious until after it is done. A common often heard when people see simple Lean systems functioning is “That’s common sense!” But common sense is far from common when you are working to change the current state.
And finally this comment seems worth mulling over, and may be taken as the ultimate optimistic viewpoint:
Two paradoxes are better than one; they may even suggest a solution.
The Lean journey is full of seeming paradoxes, or counterintuitive solutions. It’s good advice. Too much noodling over paradoxes won’t give you the answer, but experimenting with them just might


  1. Holden (an optimistic Hungarian)

    December 7, 2007 - 12:24 am

    Thank you for this, Jon: “they are making slow but steady progress with Lean”!
    Otherwise, i don’t think we are pessimistic. The problem is, i think, we don’t REALLY want a change.We talk about it a lot, but try to avoid to DO something… Because it needs decision and accountability. We are afraid of that.
    We need people (manager, politician, civilian) who change this. People who can turn a hypothesis into a fact.

  2. Tunde, another optimistic Hungarian

    December 7, 2007 - 9:35 am

    Yes, Holden has right.
    But it’s good to read that someone who is an expert in Lean came into our country.
    I hope the people of Hungary soon will learn how to be optimistic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *