A few years ago, after I gave a speech on Lean at a meeting of the Transformer Association (like the kind on the telephone poles providing electricity to your home), my then six-year old son, Ben, asked me if I’d met Megatron. His question caused me to chuckle at the images we assign to our language. In Lean lingo, the word “transform” is frequently used; I wondered to myself what image the word conjured in others when used in that context.
Then, one day last month after attending LEI’s Lean Transformation Summit in Orlando, I took a day off to be a big kid at Universal Studios. And there was it was: Megatron (or facsimile), the object of my son’s earlier admiration. I joined a long line of persons (most a bit younger than myself) to pose for a picture with this ten-foot Bot warrior who, in principle, could transform in shape, size and function to fit the needs of battle: a universal machine, one moment a robot, the next a sports car, an eighteen-wheeler and then a rocket. My sojourn reminded me once more of my son’s earlier interpretation of ‘transformers.’ So I needed to have a souvenir photo to take home for him.
For me however, the image of transformation was not about technology or machines, but about the Lean leaders I’d had the pleasure of listening to and speaking with at LEI’s March conference. These transformers were changing the thinking and behavior of entire organizations, creating environments that, in John Shook’s words “make people before making products.” Lean transformer Ken Goodson of Herman Miller related, “Things started to change when we began asking our employees ‘what can we do to eliminate your struggles?’” And from Art Byrne who led the Lean transformation at Wiremold: “People are the only asset that appreciates.” These Lean transformers required none of the technology that went into Megatron, only an abiding belief that our thinking and behavior can be nurtured in a way that unleashes latent human creativity. Perhaps this is not even a transformation, but more of an actualization of human and organizational capabilities; a realization of the way things ought to be or would be if that creativity weren’t systematically hammered out of us by autocratic management behavior and policy.
Universal Studios was a whimsical diversion, LEI’s conference an inspiring immersion. A little of both is a good recipe for recharging your batteries.
BTW: Speaking of Lean Transformers, there’s still time to register for the Shingo Prize 25th Annual International Conference in Provo, Utah. May 6-10, 2013. I’ll be there for a ‘recharge’ and hope to see you too.