Tips for Lean Managers

A Tortoise and a Hare Get Into a Potato Sack…

By Jon Miller Updated on May 19th, 2017

Jamie Flinchbaugh, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean and founder of the Lean Learning Center has been a regular contributor to Lean Assembly magazine, the Lean Blog as well as Evolving Excellence. Now Jamie has his own blog. I am looking forward to reading more from Jamie.

This week he was kind enough to mention the book by Taiichi Ohno which I had the pleasure to translate. This got me thinking about my favorite Ohno quotes, a difficult task as there are many. This one seems particularly timely as the Group of 20 nations meet in Pittsburgh to discuss how to manage the global recovery from the recent economic downturn.

“The slower but consistent tortoise causes less waste and is much more desirable than the speedy hare that races ahead and then stops occasionally to doze. The Toyota Production System can be realized only when all the workers become tortoises.”

This idea of the slow and steady turtle winning in the end over the quick but inconsistent rabbit applies in many areas. For example in business planning those who plan slow, thoroughly and then act swiftly have better results than fire-aim-ready business plan. The mode of operation known as heijunka scheduling produces an average amount in a steady sequence each day rather than in big lots as fast as the process will run, and this tortoise approach results in less variation, overburden and ultimately less waste. Even kaizen activities itself is more effective and sustainable when everyone becomes a tortoise and makes lots of small improvements versus the big all-out effort let by a few star player rabbits.

Over a short period of time the rabbits may get out ahead in the potato sack race that is the global economy. But we don’t live in a short-term world. Inevitably the rabbit gets tired of hopping so high and lies down, or trips and falls. Anyone who has watched a potato sack race knows that this results in a pile up of people in potato sacks, with the surprise winner often being the laggard who adroitly hops over or around the pile. We cheer and laugh at the potato sack race, but it’s not so funny when we’re talking about national economies stumbling over each other because the lead rabbit took a spill.

The response of the G-20 nations to the economic crisis has been fairly swift and the problem appears contained and on the mend in many of the G-20 economies. But how slow, steady and sustainable are their countermeasures? Are the G-20 leaders hopping like rabbit-men in nation-sized potato sacks, hoping the stimulus money and infrastructure projects will get their economies moving again? Or are they pacing themselves and walking themselves step by step, structurally and permanently out of these potato sacks? Hopefully these are questions being asked this week.

A tortoise and a hare get into a potato sack and start a race… It’s no joke, but I could sure use a laugh.

  1. rana

    September 28, 2009 - 7:01 pm

    there’s a picture i can remember named “Lean transformation” by Bruce A.Henderson and Jorge L. Larco….

  2. Jon Miller

    September 28, 2009 - 9:42 pm

    Yes, both the Lean Transformation authors and Steven Spear author of Chasing the Rabbit seem to miss the point of this analogy.

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