3rd Annual Management Blog Review 2 of 2: The Lean Thinker

By Jon Miller Updated on May 24th, 2017

Mark Rosenthal has a lot to think about. For the past several decades he has seen companies struggle, fail and succeed at implementing lean thinking. He has played a role in the success at Boeing, Terex and Eastman-Kodak to name just a few well-known companies. His experience and skills have pulled him all over the world to help companies improve and people to develop. I’m fortunate to be able to have lunch and talk with Mark from time to time when we are both in town, and when that’s not the case I read his blog, The Lean Thinker.

Mark’s thoughts and writing about lean range from the tools to the human side to stories of his personal encounters on the gemba to engaging leaders to coaching people to corporate culture to reviews of books not always on the subject of but touching on lean thinking. A typical post sees his lean thinking crossing over standard work, daily kaizen, knowledge versus knowing how to learn, seeking answers to questions such as What separates an expert from a master?
The Lean Thinker can always be counted on to read, reread, reflect and share insights into his favorite topics. Problem solving is one of them, and problem solving is fraught with problems in the typical organization. Reflecting on a passage from Toyota Kata, Mark points out many common pitfalls in problem solving today, including ones that arise from the ever useful analysis named after our Italian friend Mr. Pareto.

In an insightful post titled Where is “culture” created? we learn why our typical answer this question is inadequate, why it’s necessary to coach two people at the same time in order to change culture, and why “kata” is a Japanese word we need to add to our vocabulary after all.

Mark Rosenthal is not only concerned about developing people and solving problems, he is deeply versed in and interested the lean tools themselves. Over the years he has written many outstanding pieces on takt time, jidoka, flow and this challenge to readers on implementing a kanban system elicited 32 comments and some great discussion.

The Lean Thinker shares one of his flashes of insight (which turns out to be obvious in hindsight) on why establishing stability within a lean operation is a myth, how most corporations are addicted to the management equivalent of Novocain, and the three key elements to pulling us through when we encounter process failure.

The articles in The Lean Thinker draw from wide sources of inspiration to explore themes related to performance improvement, such as motivation, failure, learning and achieving goals. Mark coins a new phrase of “consciously applied ignorance” as a key to continuous improvement while revealing why children are more apt to succeed with engineering projects involving marshmallows than are seasoned engineer.

  1. John Santomer

    January 21, 2011 - 11:21 pm

    Dear Jon,
    I like your comparison between seasoned project engineers’ performance and those of children with marshmallow projects.
    It makes me rememeber my mentor’s word of mouth…”It does not take rocket science to understand all these.” Talk about astro physics and rocket science…makes you wonder where to start with in better understanding of everything…

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