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Lean is Dead


Hopefully this got your attention.  I’m not suggesting that lean is dead and gone.  What I am suggesting is that’s its dead and mummified, it’s not flourishing.  More and more organizations are growing as they embrace lean and are more effective in their transformation. But is lean as a system and an industry growing or are we stagnating? Are we beginning to atrophy?


I love reading blogs and articles about lean and lean transformations but most of them are the same theme, concept or practice simply warmed up and served on a different platter on a different day. Many are personal or professional experiences written in an attempt to directly, indirectly, or sometimes obscurely connect to lean–“l just returned from a trip to Japan” or “let me tell about my experience at_____” (you fill in the name). I’ll hold up hand to admit my own guilt in all of this. Please understand, there are a few in our lean community that seem to try and push the envelope. I follow Steven Spears, MarK Graban, my friend Jamie Flinchbaugh, and some others religiously, and I’m always learning from numerous blogs and articles.  But few cause me to personally “re-engineer” my lean thinking.  I just read an HBR article regarding a learning organization that, although not dramatically, did force me to rethink some of my strategy with clients, however, we as a lean community are not doing nearly enough. We have stalled. Our lean community, industry if you wish, isn’t looking 10, 20, 30 years into the future.  Bill Gates was quoted in ComputerWeekly.com “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next 2 years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10 years”. In the near future we will have accepted autonomous cars, SMART clothing, drone package delivery, subspace travel and many innovations not even conceived 10 or 20 years ago. I just saw a footpad that, when stepped on, can generate 7 watts of energy. A footpath of these pads could recharge an electric car anywhere. Goodbye fossil fuels??  Cars are not new, electric cars certainly aren’t new, package delivery isn’t new and renewable energy isn’t new. These aren’t new concepts.  Lean isn’t a new concept so where is “our footpath”?  Where is our vision for the future?


We preach and push lean innovation with our clients but will innovation exist only within the walls of our clients or we will innovate ourselves, our profession, and most important, lean itself?  We don’t have a Lowell Wood, the most prolific inventor in history, to push us to places we can’t even conceive at this point in time.  I was told by a lean colleague of mine not to write this blog. He explained that there may in-fact be a Lowell Wood (by some other name) out there or I’m ill-informed and there is more being done to advance our lean profession than I know.  My response was easy. “How come I (we) don’t know?”


My guess is that some people in the lean community will take issue with this blog. GOOD! We are too darned polite as a community and profession.  We need some discourse to get us out of the stall.


The good news is that I’m convinced that we have the lean visionaries in our profession.  I’m convinced that there is a “collective” Lowell Wood that can push us to re-engineer lean. What is the forum for gathering and harnessing this collective emotional intelligence?  What are the vehicles?  Blogs and articles aren’t the answer. Many of us had TPS passed down to us to share with clients and help build very successful careers. What are we going to pass on?  We owe it to our profession and to our clients. I don’t have the answers but I’m open to the challenge and your ideas for us to collaborate, research and begin to explore the next evolution of lean.  We are nowhere near the final frontier (sorry Star Wars fans).

One comment

  1. Matt Wrye says:

    Andy, I am really glad you wrote this. My thoughts over the last year have been very similar as I have looked at myself. For 5 years I have written posts at the Beyond Lean Blog and then a year ago I stopped writing. Maybe something here and there but not much really. I wasn’t writing anything that wasn’t already out there. I wasn’t adding anything new. Why? Because I wasn’t learning anything new about lean. I was learning how to apply it in many different settings but my thinking wasn’t evolving. Shame on me, because my thinking hasn’t evolved and I have done minimal to change that.

    What is our footpath? Is it a new industry? Is it new thinking and techniques? What does the next level look like?

    All great questions and ones I haven’t been able to answer……….yet!

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