Lean.... let’s do life better!

This June I will be speaking at the Canadian Lean Conference in Winnipeg Canada. My subject will be “Lean is Simple.” It is centered on how I built a Lean culture with my team at FastCap and how thousands of other organizations around the world have done the same. However, if Lean is so “simple” why do so many people struggle to make it happen and make it sustainable?

A lot of business owners I know struggle with the day to day of running a business, let alone tackle the daunting challenge of building an engaged Lean culture. One of them recently said to me “surely there must be some benefit to owning your own company.” Simply put managing one’s business can be a quagmire of problems that are totally unrelated to why we went into business in the first place. I feel their pain because that is exactly why I began my Lean journey 17 years ago… I wanted to dramatically reduce the daily problems that besieged me. I wanted to move beyond “Firefighter In Chief” and a full-time babysitting job, to a leader that was operating a well oiled machine. I was “Firefighter in Chief” from 8 to 5 and that was a title I was not proud off. When I think back I chuckle. Today I feel the complete opposite about my company and the people I work with. We are extremely successful in every regard because I engage with the people that inspire me everyday.

So what is the number one reason why people fail at Lean? Intellectual idiocy. People who think they’re really really smart, love complexity. They have all the degrees and skins hanging on the wall with very little practical experience. I am often asked if I thought it is worth the time and effort to get a green belt or black belt? Frankly for me it is meaningless. I want to know if you can practice lean in what you do everyday, I want results not an accreditation on your wall. In the process these intellectual idiots think they’re smarter than everyone else and love to complicate things as a means to empower themselves. Think Southwest Airlines and their super simple model and the rest of the airline industry.

Maybe that is why I’ve been so successful with Lean. I was a D and C student, I struggled with everything. I figured out a workaround to compensate for areas where I believed I lacked knowledge. I developed a super simple version of Lean - 2 Second Lean. My version is for the ADD challenged CEO who sees a squirrel to chase around every corner. Just focus on a few basic things and do them really well and everything else will take care of itself.

As with most things in life the key is very simple. However, it is often missed and eludes the even the most intelligent people.

For example everyone wants to be a little thinner and be in a better shape. Turn on the TV and you could buy countless new exercise machines, supplements, and wonder drugs all claiming to solve the problem. The problem is so simple it’s the food! You eat unhealthy food and you feel unhealthy. There is no more to it than that. I say this as a person who totally transformed my body by being disciplined to eat healthy and exercise. This allowed me to complete two Ironmans!

With Lean it is exactly the same. It is that simple. If you want your culture, your company, and your organization to be Lean, to think Lean, and to act Lean.....”you” need to show Lean Leadership and walk the talk! Do not just outsource Lean to other people in your company. There’s no more to it than that. Stop pointing your finger at everyone else, and start pointing back at you. I tell people this but I think they don’t believe me, but I can prove it to them if I just spend five minutes with them. We all perform countless clunky and difficult processes everyday. All these processes are begging to be touched by the power of small Lean improvements.

We all have enough waste in our life for 10 lifetimes (and I include myself in this) let alone the life we are living today and tomorrow.

That’s right, almost everything you do is waste and the sooner you come to grips with it the sooner you start down the most beautiful journey in the world and with that a life of daily continuous improvement that makes life easier and happier for everyone...

People say to me “Paul I don’t know where to start it’s too difficult, I’m not good at this improvement thing”. About a year ago I asked a friend of mine who worked with Taiichi Ohno what is the most important thing he ever told you? He said “the most Important improvement you can make is the easiest improvement and the one you can make right now!” I asked why did Ohno say this? He said “because it will change your view, you will climb the mountain, you will start your journey, and you will gain a new perspective as soon as you make your first improvement.”

Your perspective on continuous improvement will constantly change as each improvement is linked to the next one. This change in perspective will become the catalyst for the next improvement and provide the motivation to make Lean a way of life instead of just the flavor of the month.

So my advice is stop pointing the finger at everyone else. Start improving yourself and look at your sphere of influence. There are opportunities in everything that you are already doing on a daily basis.

I always marvel at why so many people around the world follow what I’m doing. I’m a simple cabinet maker. I run a small company of only 50 employees. There’s nothing really remarkable about me except for one thing... I improve everything I touch every day and that is astounding to a world of genius procrastinators!

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