In December, I took my son, Ben, to an Edgar Winter concert at a Worcester, Mass theater. Do you remember Edgar Winter? A tall, lanky dude who in the 1970’s invented (I think) the over-the-shoulder keyboard strap, enabling him to ambulate around the stage as he entertained. To me and the rest of the mostly over-sixty crowd who turned out to cheer, EW is a quintessential rock star: flamboyant, quirky, energetic and more talented than I remember him in his hey day. I mused to myself as I watched the elder rocker, still alive and even fit at 65, that here was a truly “lean rock star.” He still attracts a crowd and whips them into a frenzy. Even my teenage son turned to me during EW’s finale and screeched, “These guys are GREAT!”
It’s odd that the tag rock star has become popular in the Lean world. The stereotypical musician is in many ways the antithesis of the lean expert. Our Lean thought leaders, after all, are not noted – with one or two possible exceptions — for their flamboyance or entertainment value. When they speak, they don’t typically bring us to our feet, but they do cause us to think. Like their musical counterparts however, they connect with the audience. They inform, but also inspire. They are able to take an “old song” and give it new significance by adding to it their personal depth of experience. Our opportunity to share that connection brings us out. We give these lean rock stars our undivided attention in a way that rarely occurs outside of the “concert.” So perhaps the rock star analogy is not so bad. Ironically the greatest of these “stars” cringe at the title. It’s not of their choosing, but more a price for them to pay as objects of our admiration. Their personal fame underscores the legitimacy of their remarks. (Edgar Winter, incidentally, was quoted, “I really had little interest in becoming famous. When I write my book, it will be my guide to avoid becoming a rock star.”)
I was also reminded at this concert that while Edgar Winter is a rock star, he is surrounded by superb musicians whose names we’ll likely never hear, but who nevertheless are an essential part of the experience. The same is true in the Lean world. There are just a few rock stars, but there are many virtuosos: folks who will likely never be famous, but from whom we can learn things even the rock stars can’t teach us. These virtuosos are the folks who do the work; the experts of the workplace. Their messages may not be lofty, but they are profound and grounded in an understanding based on their devotion to their art and daily practice. Like the unknown bassist or drummer, they are an essential part of the experience.
By now, you may have sensed that I’m making a pitch for our October 5-6 Northeast Shingo Conference to be held in Springfield, Massachusetts. Yes, we are lucky to have with us Lean rock stars from industry, healthcare and public service. But, the virtuosos will be there too: In our “Lean Lounge”, Lean virtuosos from over two dozen organizations will share their Lean odysseys peer to peer.
Hope to see you there!