How would you explain what Lean is to a 7-year-old?

Yesterday afternoon while driving home from a soccer game (and before I smashed into a Ford truck and obliterated the right side of my little Toyota… but that’s another story) my 7-year-old daughter (the swimmer and stud soccer player) asked me a great question, “Daddy, what do you REALLY teach people in Gemba Academy videos?


Now, to put this into perspective, my children know all about Gemba Academy and also understand many aspects of what lean is about.

This particular daughter even stars in our Gemba Academy Kaizen Overview video (she suggests moving the silverware tray closer to the dishwasher) at the 7:01 minute mark.

So, with this said, I knew I couldn’t offer a basic answer. So I paused. I pondered. What could I say to my 7-year-old daughter who already has some knowledge of what lean is about?

After a few moments… I replied, “Daddy tries to teach people how to work faster and make less mistakes. And, most importantly, we also try to teach people to be nice and respect each other… that way everyone can do their very best.”

As with anything related to continuous improvement I felt like my answer could have, and should have, been better.

What would you have said?

So, how would you have answered?  How would you explain what lean and six sigma and continuous improvement in general is all about to a 7-year-old?


  1. Shannon Parker

    November 5, 2012 - 9:55 am

    I actually like your answer to her since you cover the CI side of things (work faster, less defects) but also cover the other pillar (respect people). So, really, I am not certain I could offer any suggestions for improvement. Was she satisfied with your answer?

    • Ron Pereira

      November 5, 2012 - 11:09 am

      She was decently satisfied… but, as with anything with her, she seems to always seek deeper understanding so I definitely plan to continue the discussion. 😉

  2. Andy Wagner

    November 5, 2012 - 10:52 am

    You gave a very good answer. I think you should have said something about teaching people to focus on creating value for their customer. We eliminate waste because it does not create value, but creating value and finding new ways to create value are integral parts of lean. I also think this customer focus is an integral part of respect for people. We respect our customers by creating value for them and respect each other by giving each other the opportunity to do work that others value.

    • Ron Pereira

      November 5, 2012 - 11:10 am

      Great point on customer value and focus… but how to do we explain such things to 7-year-olds?

      • Dale

        November 6, 2012 - 8:28 am

        One way to explain value from the customer perspective to a child is related to birthday presents. When parents buy a present for a child because it is something that THEY think the child would like vs. what the child really wanted, then there is disappointment from the “customer” perspective.

      • Prabhat

        August 13, 2013 - 2:38 pm

        No doubt that it is hard to make a 7 year old child understand about Lean and six sigma . Here we should have an approach like we can make her understand by giving some examples on the toys she’s been using , The money she ‘s been spending on shops , How important she is for shopkeper .
        This seems the best way in this kind of situation .

  3. Jason Stokes

    November 5, 2012 - 3:19 pm

    I always focus on how we make people’s jobs easier to perform, and to perform well. You’re spot on with the respect for people part, Ron. I think you gave a perfectly good answer.

    Maybe frame value for her in an analogy. You and her mom value certain things about the way she completes her chores – maybe that the floor of her room is clean. If she focuses on making sure that she’s cleaning the floor to your standards, she’ll be able to finish quicker, easier, and with less repeats (no, try again!) – and have more time to focus on the important things in life, like Ohio State football.

    • Ron Pereira

      November 5, 2012 - 3:22 pm

      Speaking of Ohio State… 10-0 baby! Honestly, though, they are probably the worst 10-0 team in all of college football history… ha! Just glad they won their bowl game (the Banned Bowl vs. PSU).

  4. Ron Jacques

    November 6, 2012 - 7:43 am


    I really like Jason’s response in addition to your input. Explaining value and more complex cultural issues to kids that are 7 years old can be hard for them to grasp. Putting things into perspective that they deal with like feeding the dog or doing homework will help them better understand “process” that delivers value. Explaining why it is important to feed the dog (customer satisfaction & maintenance), how to feed the dog (good process, execution, reducing waste of uneaten food), where to get the food (kanban and material handling), when to feed the dog (standard work), etc. can give them a total perspective and help align what they do to what you do everyday for the masses.

    I often feel that this is the only way to teach Lean/CI. Looking at things from the operators (your childs) viewpoint and conceiving a way to communicate the lessons, goals and reasons why will always help with adoption and buy in from their perspective.

    Ron Jacques

    • Ron Pereira

      November 6, 2012 - 7:55 am

      Thanks for the comment, Ron. And great suggestion… we just got a new dog so the timing is perfect!

  5. Edree Allen-Agbro

    November 6, 2012 - 8:46 am

    I liked your response Ron, and the way your daughter continues to seek deeper understanding. In the spirit of continuous improvement and deeper understanding, you might ask her how learning what you teach would be useful to her? If she were to attempt to apply it to her life, she could deepen her understanding. Also, you could see where she “gets” it and where she isn’t quite there.

    That way it becomes a dialogue rather than the burden on you as a parent to have “the answers.” You might even deepen your understanding by hearing her perspective.

    • Ron Pereira

      November 6, 2012 - 8:48 am

      Great suggestions, Edree! Thank you!

  6. Phil Blasdel

    November 6, 2012 - 9:28 am

    I have to tell you that I have been contemplating what happened to make me what I am today. I have discovered that what my Dad taught me when I was 7 years old probably shaped my life more than anything I have learned as an adult. My moral and ethical values were shaped by the time I was 12. I wish my Dad had given more thought to what he was teaching me.

    From my perspective, it is important that we stress that no one can achieve perfection, and that making mistakes is a part of life. The important thing that your child’s Dad teaches is that mistakes are learning tools that can teach us about ourselves. If we are not afraid of looking at our mistakes for what they are, we can become better at what we do, no matter what it is.

    There are all sorts of illustrations you can give from her real world, especially since she is involved in sports.

    • Ron Pereira

      November 6, 2012 - 11:56 am

      Thanks, Phil. Yes, her athletics really help her to learn the value of practice, hard work, and the importance of a team. I pray these life lessons stay with her the rest of her life!

  7. Felim McCarthy

    November 6, 2012 - 10:14 am

    LEAN for a 7 year old.
    Lean is all about removing any area of waste.
    Waste can be in many different forms so let us look at a few.
    How much time do you spend, (or do I spend) tidying your bedroom?
    What else could we do with that time? Think of all the fun we could have is I was not spending the time in your room.
    With LEAN everything in your room would have a place and each time you finished with something, you would return it to its proper place.
    No more time wasted tidying, Nor more time wasted searching, more time to play and have fun.
    What if you could remove the waste of buying things just in case you got what you needed? Suppose you could go into the newsagent and buy the correct card so that you did not have any duplicates in your Pokemon or other collections.
    No wasted effort, no wasted trips, no mistakes, no duplicates, Just the right number of cards and the least money spent. That would also mean that there was more money to spend on things you wanted.
    What would it be like if all the shopping we needed was delivered to our house as we needed it?
    No wasted travelling, more time for TV, games, PC fun Wii or Xbox / PS3
    No need to go out in the rain and thus no need to dry clothes when we came home again.
    How much time do daddy and I spend on fixing things or trying to get things to work properly?
    Think of what it would be like if things worked properly all the time.
    What about all the rubbish and recycling we have? What would the world be like if we did not waste things unnecessarily?
    Think about some of the packages we get from the shops. Could the packaging be less? What about not wrapping some things like vegetables? Do we really need a plastic covered cucumber?
    That is what LEAN is all about. Doing what is necessary and not doing too much or using too much.
    Getting things right first time, like your homework, if you get it right, you get a good mark and you do not need to spend more time redoing it.
    Does that answer your question?

    • Ron Pereira

      November 6, 2012 - 11:57 am

      Good stuff, Felim. But I can already hear her asking me, “Daddy, what’s rubbish?” Ha! 😉

  8. Cindy James

    November 6, 2012 - 10:15 am

    I remember several years ago – one of my co-workers (male) always shared CI/Lean training with his family. It was funny when his daughter (somewhere around 9 years old) came up with 2 projects she wanted to run. First, why did her younger brother get into trouble so much – so a pareto was created. The other was why did some of her “barbie” doll heads fall off and others did not. Of course the mom knew the reason – the ones with loose heads were the “barbie want to be’s – from the dollar store”

    So my suggestion is to find something that matters to her – and help her improve it. Let her learn by doing.

    • Ron Pereira

      November 6, 2012 - 11:59 am

      Thanks for sharing, Cindy. Being honest, I thought the Pareto was going to show that her brother tore the heads off the Barbie dolls and that contributed to him being in trouble… an interaction of sorts. Ha!

  9. Jon Miller

    November 6, 2012 - 12:33 pm

    My kids watch Restaurant Impossible on the Food Network so I tell them that’s what I do but not just restaurants. Sledgehammer, hugs and tears optional.

    • Ron Pereira

      November 6, 2012 - 12:36 pm

      Hmmm… never watched that show, Jon. May have to check it out!

  10. Audrius

    November 6, 2012 - 1:52 pm

    For adults, my short explanation that I implementing lazy people dreams – do less, get more. For kids, I saying that teaching people how to win faster in daily games.

  11. aditya bhutani

    November 6, 2012 - 9:53 pm

    For kids I think we should tell them Lean is all about continuous improvement of 2C’s and 2E’s

    C: Customer
    C: Company’s Shareholder
    E: Employees
    E: Environment in which we live

  12. Antony Prem

    November 6, 2012 - 11:46 pm

    My description will be similar to all the wonderfull suggestions by you all and finally I would add “Daddy helps people in Daddy’s workplace to make work easier by teaching them to share and help each other in their work so that they can leave office on time to with their sons & daughters or friends like Daddy”

  13. cyril

    November 6, 2012 - 11:51 pm

    I just loved the kids answer, Its awesome !! I think many will be not in the position to actually make their kids understand what they work !

  14. Anonymous

    November 7, 2012 - 2:19 am


    Company or organisation embarking on a Lean Journey is no differnece to any child on a learning and growing-up journey. Lean – a very slow long journey and requiring constant coaching and guidance to ensure that the individual or organisation is doing the right things and learning how to maintain and improving it on his/her own pace – Personal Kaizen

    Sensei/coach/parents would provide the guidance, coaching, role model for the individual to learn and to benchmark against for future performance standards.

    The ultimate success would of course very much depending on the sensei/coach/parents and last but not least, the individual child/organisation to maintain the enthusiasm to continuouslu to learn and applying it correctly. Mistake will be be made along the journey. The sensei/parent has a very big part to play – providing constant coaching and guidance to ensure that the learning and application process is gradual and consistent – aware of the risks but not stiffling the creative/innovative potential of the child/organisation.

    Learning how to do small things very well all the time is the essence of Lean!


    Kim Chong

  15. OTOTW

    November 7, 2012 - 10:27 am

    I would liket oknow how to translate this into what I do in education. I work to improve schools by helping schools get rid of what does not work and to place their focus on the child and to place the highest value on the child. Respect is emphasized more from child to child (assuming the adults will respect the children). Also, a respect of ideas and input is emphasized from adult to adult.

    • Dale

      November 8, 2012 - 5:42 am

      There are some schools here in Ohio who have partnered with outside organizations to teach children problem solving and analysis. Teaching them to make observations and using the Why, Why analysis, they teach children about how to get to the root cause of problems, brainstorm for countermeasures, and eliminate the problem. This is a good atmosphere to discuss waste or non-needed aspects to the situation.

  16. Bart Shoaf

    November 7, 2012 - 3:41 pm

    Ron, good stuff. I do remember huddling around a huge pile of clean, but unfolded laundry one time, and I tried to turn it into a “linear feet traveled reduction” exercise with a side of “no doublehandling.” They seemed to enjoy hearing about what Daddy did at work…but it opened up a whole can of worms with my wife. Tread carefully, bro!

    • Dale

      November 8, 2012 - 5:45 am

      Tread carefully, indeed. My wife was not impressed when I told her and the children – who she “trained” – that how they were doing dishes (by hand) had a lot of wasteful steps and actually caused defects in the process. The double handling drove me nuts and prevented the dishes from being rinsed correctly.

      I still hear about it…and that was almost 5 years ago.

  17. Florin

    November 12, 2012 - 7:30 am

    You managed to capture the essential philosophy of lean in the response given your daughter. So we should do in the Romanian industry, where most of the people involved in the production process requires this level explanations to understand the mechanism underlying lean management. Thanks for the idea offered by your answer.

  18. Anthony Beardsell

    November 12, 2012 - 11:39 am

    I like what you said. You could have maybe added “We teach people to be more like you, fearless, curious and playful. Sometimes when you grow up you need reminding of the things that seem obvious when you are a kid.”

  19. Izabela

    November 15, 2012 - 4:00 pm

    Very interesting article! And great movie with your daughters:) If you don’t mind I will use it during lean trainings?

    • Ron Pereira

      November 15, 2012 - 4:05 pm

      Thanks for the kind words and, yes, you can definitely use the YouTube video during your training sessions… my daughters always ask if anyone watched their video so you will make their day! 😉

  20. John Hunter

    November 19, 2012 - 9:35 pm

    I like it. As, Jason mention my thought on your response was to include something about helping people focus on improving the process (making their jobs easier, making the system more reliable, reducing the chance of errors…). We want to always be thinking how we can make things better and then trying out those new ideas.

    I think mistake proofing is a really cool concept for kids. It is cool for everyone but I think it is also very obvious in a way that kids directly get it and can apply the concept themselves.

    I still remember being confused about my Dad going to give a seminar to adults. He was talking about teaching them about design of experiments. I couldn’t understand how highly educated adults (engineers…) had to learn stuff he taught me in middle school.

    Yet still today, I often see people saying in order to experiment you need to hold all the other variables constant to test what you want to learn about. 🙁 We need to do much better at disseminating good ideas.

  21. Robert Drescher

    December 13, 2012 - 9:28 am

    Ron I like your answer and it being simple really does make it better than most.

    My answer would have been slightly different, I teach people to work smarter, easier and more cooperatively, so that they can get more done, with less waste, fewer mistakes, and show everyone more respect.

  22. Marco Askus

    March 3, 2013 - 2:15 am

    I actually think your reply was right on target!
    My kids would easily get that and understand my work. I see no need for improvements 🙂

  23. Patrick Browne

    May 8, 2013 - 7:18 am

    I would have said the same to my kids when they are younger

    Now that all 4 are teenagers I talk differently …

    Teenagers are naturally good at lean because they conserve their energy for whats important.If you’re really lazy but obliged to give great results then you need to work smarter. Imagine a world where we don’t sweat the small stuff and everyone has the liberty of self expression …

    … my only problem is a misalignment of what’s important for my teenagers !

  24. Srinivas

    July 20, 2014 - 10:43 am

    My answer to my kid would be : ” Its pretty much the same how you utilize your time effectively to learn new things, to be jumping all around to be fit and be more active” .
    In more technical way : Earn more with less investment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.