Lean Office

Live Like Einstein, Operate Like Toyota

By Jon Miller Updated on May 16th, 2017

We might say that Albert Einstein was the ultimate knowledge worker. He had a prolific brain which not only produced ideas which bent our understanding of space and time, he made it possible to blow up the world. He advanced our knowledge of science something mighty while leaving quite a few memorable quotes. What got me thinking about Einstein was an e-mail from a good friend of mine from Finland. Heikki sent me a summary in English of an article in the Finnish paper Helsingin Sanomat “Einstein ja Toyota” with “ja” being “and”, one of the small handful of Finnish words I know. My friend sent the summary:

  • information workers can work only three minutes without an interruption from other employees, emails, calls, due to open space offices…
  • workdays are fragmented, time goes to inessential things
  • same applies to everyday life
  • multitasking is ok for computers but not for humans
  • how to survive: live like Einstein and operate like Toyota
  • make a routine of as many things as possible and learn the daily routines so you can save your energy and focus on essential things (they claim Einstein saved time by always wearing the same sweater and trousers..)
  • continuously improve everything, get rid of muda, muri and mura like Toyota, even small steps and details count

The key lesson for knowledge workers is to simply, standardize and automate whatever you can in the way of routine parts of your life so that you can focus on the creative parts that you enjoy. In my line of work (management consulting) it’s a challenge always to find creative ways to get creative people to accept standardization as part of their work. Some people are under the illusion that any semblance of order and organization in the knowledge workplace stifles creativity. Einstein may have had a messy desk, but he organized his life to keep out distractions so he could focus on his creative work. The man who said “Never memorize anything you can look up in books” at least had to organize in his head where those books were so he didn’t waste time searching.
There are some funny and deep ideas in this YouTube video cleverly built from a photo of Einstein at a chalkboard and images of his words overlaid in series, accompanied by Mozart. There is wisdom, humor and humility here.

My favorite Einstein quote of the moment:
If L is success in life, then L equals x plus y plus z. Work is x, y is play, and z is keeping your mouth shut.
How true. I’ve worked quite a bit. Time to shut my mouth and go play a little.

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