Lean Leaders, Darling Killers

By Jon Miller Updated on May 2nd, 2016

question beliefsAnother very good article from Fast Company builds on the insights on how to change minds we highlighted in a previous blog post. The article further explains how the most successful people constantly question their strongest beliefs. It seems highly successful people are pragmatic and practical, not ideological

There’s a funny paradox when it comes to highly successful people: They have a strong commitment to action but are willing to question what they believe to be true.

Due to our cognitive biases, mental laziness or inertia, we tend to favor confirming evidence and disregard the opposite. We surround ourselves with people who hold similar beliefs, and generally take the easier cognitive path to stick to our beliefs. This is great when we are right, but not helpful when we are wrong. How do successful people defeat these bad habits?

1) They surround themselves with diverse opinions. They add “no people” among the yes-men and yes-women, making it easier to challenge strong beliefs.

2) They try different ways. New point of view and perspectives on the same data or same problem can deliver very different and sometimes much better conclusions.

3) They know what they believe and also know why they do—and what evidence would change their belief. In essence, they approach belief via the scientific method.

At the risk of finding evidence that confirms my belief, there are some nice parallels to lean thinking here. First, lean succeeds via diverse, multi-disciplinary teams. Whether in rapid improvement workshops or in natural work teams, the ability to identify problems, look at root causes from different perspectives, and present solutions from a variety of backgrounds and work experiences is essential. The article suggests that successful people have figured this out, even though they may not call it lean thinking.

Lean leaders spend their time helping people break free of the old paradigms, misconceptions and beliefs that hold them back. The best lean leaders can replace their own favorite beliefs with better ones. The mediocre lean leaders struggle to square the evidence from lean with their darling beliefs. This reminded me of the expression “kill your darlings”. This is advice given to writers. Bad writing is full of the writer’s “darlings” such as excess verbiage or flowery language, self-indulgent writing or just in general not putting the reader and the story first. Or as Strunk & White put it with economy and beauty, omit needless words. We can summarize the article’s recipe for success as knowing what you believe, why, and what evidence would change it, surrounding yourself with people with diverse beliefs and viewpoints, and trying out different things.

Here is the lean version: omit needless beliefs.

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