karma dominos

The Good Karma of Lean

By Kevin Meyer Updated on October 23rd, 2022

karma dominos

Our Gemba Academy team was at The Association for Manufacturing Excellence annual conference in Dallas last week, the largest lean conference in the world.  By all accounts it was a great success, with over a thousand people excited about finally being able to get together in person again to network, participate in workshops, and hear motivating keynotes.  Gemba Academy has exhibited at the conference for over a decade, and what we enjoy most is interacting with our customers and learning how we can further improve.

What really excites us are the stories on how we’ve helped change organizations and individuals by providing lean knowledge.  This validates why we do what we do, and is the core of our mission to improve the world through the power of continuous improvement.  From our start over thirteen years ago we’ve operated under the core philosophy of “provide value first, and the business will come.”

This “what you put out, you will receive back” is also what many would call karma.  But it is just the first law of karma.  Sahil Bloom, who pens a fantastic newsletter each week, recently wrote a piece on eleven other laws of karma, and there is an interesting alignment with key aspects of lean and continuous improvement – as well as stoicism and zen.  Sachin Ranje, a talented business visualization designer also worthy of a follow, created a visual summary of the 12 laws of karma, which is at the bottom of this post.  Click for a larger, downloadable, version.

I won’t go through all twelve, but here are a few that play an important role in continuous improvement:

The Law of Cause & Effect, and The Law of Creation

What you create and put into the world, you will receive back.  If you create value, you will receive value.  This is what lean is really about: create value from the perspective of the customer, and the customer will reward you with their business.  The key aspect of this is “from the perspective of the customer” which means we need to understand what the customer really values.

The Law of Significance & Inspiration

We are all significant and have the power to contribute to a positive future.  This is the fundamental lean concept of respect for people.  By recognizing the power in the brains of our people, rather than just the cost of their hands, we can tap into their potential.  Help them grow through new knowledge, challenge them, provide them with an environment where it is safe (and even encouraged!) to experiment – and where failure has value if transformed into learning.

The Law of Change, and The Law of Patience and Reward

Nothing will change until you create a change.  Be patient with results, making small, intentional changes every day.  This is kaizen and kata.  Small changes made every day add up to significant improvements in performance and efficiency, which creates value for the customer.  Intentional experiments that iterate toward a desired future state create learning and improvement.

The Law of Humility

Sahil defines this as “the acceptance of our current state is the necessary step to progress, growth, and change.”  I would expand this to include both the individual and organizational levels.  As an individual we need to accept that we don’t have all the answers and rely on others.  We need to approach problems with a “beginners mind” to ensure we aren’t beholden to biases that may exclude potential understanding and solutions.  Years ago we used to give new customers a “lean assessment” to help them understand their current state, but an interesting dynamic arose.  The initial assessment was often the best, then when the assessment was performed again each year, the results generally worsened before eventually improving.  This wasn’t because the organization declined in capability, but because they became aware of how much more they could improve.

The Law of Focus

Every now and then we still see people who try to tout their leadership prowess by claiming they can multitask – believing that’s a positive attribute.  Numerous scientific studies have now shown that “switching” between tasks creates serious issues with productivity, efficiency, and quality.  The mind can really only focus on one thing at a time.  Organizations have similar issues, and I have seen annual strategic planning activities that create dozens of initiatives measured by even more KPIs.  They will fail.  What is the one improvement you want to create as a leader or an organization, and what are the supporting initiatives and activities that are tightly aligned to support it?

The Law of Giving & Hospitality

Finally, give generously and without reservation.  We all have our challenges, but if you really think about it, even with those challenges most of us have been very fortunate.  We should give selflessly to those who have less, with kindness, compassion, and empathy.  Similar to what I mentioned at the beginning, where Gemba Academy’s business mantra has been if we provide value first, business will come, we have also operated with a philosophy of simply helping where we can, regardless of return.  We answer a lot of emails and phone calls asking for opinions and support on continuous improvement, whether the person is a customer or not.   Significant aspects of our content, such as this blog and the 446 and counting podcasts are available to everyone.

Help improve the world, and the world will help you.

  1. Alyssa Figarsky

    October 26, 2022 - 2:05 pm

    Hi Kevin,

    I find this so interesting! The way Sahil Bloom presents a mirrored relationship between lean practices and the laws of karma makes perfect sense. I believe that this goes to show how universal continuous improvement really is and how so many people practice these values without doing so consciously. I find the Law of Change, and the Law of Patience and Reward particularly insightful. As I go through the process of continuous improvement, I will make small intentional steps toward progress, not only for my green belt project, but in my everyday life.

  2. sheldon

    October 27, 2022 - 7:58 am

    I do like the anti multitasking outlook. I’ve always felt it was just a buzz term that was created by some bored HR person.

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