The Divergent Paths of Old Lean Dudes

Old Lean Dudes

I’ve been immersed in the lean world for over a quarter century.  From the start when some folks from the Association for Manufacturing Excellence showed me how quick changeover could save my injection molding operation (and probably my job) from imminent destruction, to now when I can share my own knowledge and experience through a company focused on helping others on their lean journeys.  It’s been challenging, fun, and rewarding.

I’ve been lucky to get to know many people along the way, including some who were responsible for bringing lean and the Toyota Production System [back?] to the U.S. and many who have fought the battles to transform their organizations with a way of thinking that often flies in the face of traditional management practice.  There were several others who have spent their career analyzing, thinking, and writing about lean.  Conveyors, doers, experimenters, thinkers, and investigators – all have been critical to the movement.

As I approach retirement, whatever that may be, along with and even behind many of the folks I mentioned above, I’ve started to realize something: old lean dudes (and dudettes) appear to take two completely divergent paths.

One group, thankfully the majority, remains and even becomes increasingly focused on helping others succeed.  They support and mentor the younger generations trying to transform and perhaps even save their own organizations, and they share their time, knowledge, and experience by speaking at events.  Some of them are well-known, but many aren’t, yet they are all having a significant impact.  I’m saddened to see and hear from some of them less and less, but I have fond memories of how they’ve changed my career and our industry.

Then there’s the other group, thankfully smaller.  They have also made significant contributions to the field and have helped me and many others, but something has changed.  They have become bitter, confrontational, and seemingly more interested in self-promotion.  Differences of opinion become angry arguments instead of an opportunity for shared learning.  I obviously won’t name names, but from discussions with many others I know I’m not the only person that has noticed this divergence.  It’s sad, really.  So much knowledge and experience being overshadowed and under-appreciated thanks to unnecessary drama.  Pretty un-lean.

As we gain more knowledge and experience I believe we have a moral responsibility to share and teach.  For many of us, that knowledge and experience, gained with the help of others who came with and before us, has created considerable success.  The time comes to help create success in others.  That is a big reason why Gemba Academy is so important to me: it’s a way to give back, and the online medium is a force multiplier when delivering knowledge.

It’s not about us.  Our legacy is the success we help create in future generations.  Find ways to share, teach, mentor, and grow those who are just starting on or struggling with the continuous improvement journey.  Do so with humility, grace, and respect.

4 Comments

  1. Alex

    August 9, 2019 - 10:13 am

    Yes, I have noticed this bitterness, self promotion and closed-mind approach of senior leaders. Very sad.

  2. Rick Bohan

    August 10, 2019 - 2:27 pm

    Can you give some examples? This is kind of”inside baseball”., some of us have no idea what you’re talking about.

    • Jaime

      August 11, 2019 - 1:33 pm

      Differences between Lean implementation in a company vs many companies who aren´t aware of the dramatic change that LSS brings

  3. Jeremy Beieler

    August 19, 2019 - 12:25 pm

    Yokoten is a very important aspect of lean. Especially from leader to leader. This is demonstrated all throughout Toyota and even Honda is starting to get on board. It’s interesting to note that the fruit of the leaders who go against this concept is bitterness, contention, self promotion and anger; but I’m certain it is no coincidence.