I 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.