Lesser Gods

lesser_gods2I learned recently of the passing earlier this year of person I worked with twenty years ago at my last job in manufacturing.   Manny S. was a ‘lesser god’, a term which is meant neither to canonize nor demean him.   He wasn’t perfect – not by a long shot – but boy could he get things done!   If you asked him to help with a task it would be done before you finished the sentence. While others moved with exasperating deliberation to solve problems, Manny needed only seconds to take action.   I wrote a post in 2011 that illustrates his exemplification of the adage “Fix problems instantly.”   I’ve heard and repeated this adage many times, but Manny lived it.   From him I learned the effect of following the adage. But for this short tribute, the Lean world will never know who he was.   He wasn’t an engineer or a manager or a black belt, and didn’t have a great deal of formal education.   He never wrote a book or white paper, never gave a speech and never posted a blog. But he taught me something.

Words like “sensei” and “guru” have entered the English language, primarily I think, as catchy alternatives to “consultant.” (No one would ever have referred to Manny as a “sensei.”)   These persons who have come before are presumed to be the sources of Lean understanding. We idolize the most famous as gods of Lean. In fact, most today are no longer primary sources, but more like reporters or interpreters, who, thanks to the Internet, have a reach far greater than the original authors of TPS.  I cringe at the sensei and guru titles – way too presumptuous. I prefer “co-learner” not only because it’s a touch more humble but also because it implies reciprocity – collaboration in which we learn from each other. Like how Manny and I learned.

To be sure there are experts like Deming or Ohno or Shingo who have come before us, true Senseis through practice and application.   The rest of us are way down the totem pole: lesser gods. But, if we work at it, we can learn from each other.   Contributions from folks like Manny may not be trending on Twitter, but that doesn’t make them less important. For those of us who consider ourselves teachers or consultants (or even senseis) if we keep our eyes and ears open, there are co-learning opportunities right in front of us everyday. One of the greatest joys of my work is the co-learning gifts I receive from my customers.

Can you think of any lesser gods in your organization? Unheralded change leaders whose actions teach us the principles of Lean? Share a story.


BTW: Speaking of unheralded change leaders…The Silver Toaster Award for Employee Excellence in Lean will be awarded again this year at our 10th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference in October in Springfield MA. It’s a tremendous way to recognize the hard work and dedication of your most enthusiastic employees. All nominees get free registration for the 2-day event and a plaque and a tee shirt during the award ceremony  on the first morning of the conference – so send a team to cheer them on;  Nominations are due in less than one month, on August 1st, so don’t wait to download the application form. Read more and get the form here.

And a reminder – I’ll be discussing Kaizen in the Office during my monthly free webinar tomorrow, July 8 from 3:00 – 3:45 pm. Hope you can join me. Register here.

3 thoughts on “Lesser Gods

  1. bhmaskell

    Bruce: Great post. I so much agree. The term Sensei is bandied around these days. But most of us are just learners who are grateful for what we have just learned (directly or indirectly) from the senseis. We may have developed new things the prior generation did not have time to get to. But our efforts are built upon completely on their teaching and insights. And it is thrilling to still be constantly learning. Just when I think I “get it”; i realize how far you I have to go. Brian

  2. Robert Drescher

    Hi Bruce

    It really doesn’t matter how much a person knows there is always something they can learn to expand themselves even more. It is unfortunate for many who think they were done learning after getting out of school. To be honest when I got out of school I actually had just started to learn. In fact I tend to feel that on average I learn more in a single day today, than what I use to learn in several months, it is just easier to access more and more information today. But despite being able to learn more we still have to do like your friend Manny did and put it to work right away, otherwise we are just not being helpful.

    We should all learn to be humble and take every opportunity to both learn and teach.

  3. Dan Fleming

    Great post. Sad to learn of Manny’s passing. I remember him as one of the hardest working persons I have ever met. He (and his team) were a sight to see. He was a true supporter of change and those of us that were trying to make it happen. He did not wait for his assistance to be requested. He did not put it on a list to be done later. He actively seeked it out and made it happen. He was fiercely dedicated to those he respected. He respected those of us that were trying to make a difference and those that also worked hard (and he ignored all others.) I recall he had one daughter and I know he was a great father to her. My thoughts and prayers go out to her and his family.


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