Accidental Excellence

Sometimes, reflection on a great discovery will reveal that its invention was actually a lucky accident that just stuck.  Take for example French engineer George de Mestral’s discovery in the 1940’s that the thistle seeds he pulled from his dog’s fur could be synthetically replicated as what we now call Velcro.

On a less grand scale, several pivotal chance events in my Lean journey have managed to stick in ways I would not have predicted or planned.  One was a chance meeting in 1989 with Norman Bodek, founder of the Shingo Prize which led to my interest in the Shingo Model and my plant’s successful challenge for the Shingo Prize in 1990.  In a short Tribute to Norm on his passing last December, I related the serendipitous circumstances that ultimately thrust a small New England manufacturer into the limelight. 

While publicity from the Shingo Prize was not unexpected, the sudden volume of requests for factory tours was.  Suddenly, we were the hot spot for visitors from Fortune 100 managers and executives.   More significant than the publicity from these benchmarking visits, however, was the positive impact it had in developing our frontline employees as teachers.  I wrote a post a couple of years ago about this unexpected benefit, entitled Tours R Us (aka Why Sharing & Teaching are the best way to Learn).  The concept of executives learning from the front line is still novel today, but 30 years ago it was revolutionary! 

In fact, the most significant outcome of the “Tours R Us” saga came from the idea of a shop floor team member:  Front line employees should be sharing regularly with each other – peer to peer, across departments. They were, after all, the persons closest to the action and most responsible for improvements that had been made.  They were the experts.  We didn’t know the Japanese word for this at the time (Yokoten), but the significant improvement to alignment as silos were removed was yet another happy accident. 

A final episode in this tale began with yet another idea from the floor:  Request reciprocal visits to any site requesting a tour of our facility.   And, as our front-line employees had been an integral part of training visitors, reciprocal tours to other sites would include both front-line and management from our site.  Why not create “A Community of Lean?”  

Fast forward to 2010, when GBMP borrowed this concept, introducing the “Community of Lean Lounge” as an integral part of our Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference.   Fingers crossed, we’ll be back again in person on October 6-7, 2021, but in the meantime, GBMP is offering one more way to share as a community: Next week, on April 1 I hope you’ll be able to join us on a rapid-fire virtual road trip, a Community of Lean Showcase, to visit and speak with ten different frontline teams from manufacturing, healthcare and service.  We’ll do the driving!  You just log on, watch, listen and ask questions. Here’s the link.  I hope you can join us next week, on April 1, for this “everybody, every day” experimental expedition.   And, by the way, I hope you’ll send front line employees as well as managers. 

Happy Spring,


5 thoughts on “Accidental Excellence

  1. Casey Milder

    I am a better visual learner so seeing and hearing the things I am trying to learn in action is the best way for me to learn, as well as many others. The idea of “Tours R us” is awesome and im sure so many people learned so much!

  2. Brett Dolan

    I think its awesome that you not only requested reciprocal visits to other sites but also brought along all the front line workers with the management. Growing up I was always taught that no matter how much of an expert you are in something, you can never stop learning from others. Bringing all of these different lean minds together can be seen as nothing but a positive, and as you said, why not create a community of lean?

    Great Post!

  3. Alex Barrett

    The “Tours R Us” slogan and plan is an amazing concept to implement and allow other companies and individuals to learn more and better develop their facilities. Collaboration between employees and executives allow for more views and opinions to be shared to better improve. I thought it was very smart when the employee talked about reciprocating the visits to DC’s.

  4. Mike Feehan

    I am most definitely a better visual learner because when I see something happen with my own eyes it really sticks in my mind more rather than reading a paper book. The idea of the “Tours R Us” slogan is a great motto for companies to go by because it is extremely important for members to share with each other. No one knows everything out there especially as professor Karl would say you should always want to continue to learn and never be satisfied with where you are and this goes for helping your peers as well, push them to learn more and progress.


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