Great Books You Didn’t Know Were About Lean

There are many books that are not at all about lean, but the lessons they contain are very helpful to a lean journey. Here’s one such example:

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

While this The New Yorker writer has captured in The Tipping Point a history of everything from fashion trends to social diseases, to the lean mindset, he provides an explanation of the social elements of change management. While lean changes how the company works, thinks, acts and solves problems, it is the kind of change that must be embedded in the social makeup of the company, from person to person. Gladwell examines how small beginnings turn into massive waves of change, which lessons can apply very well to helping craft a lean transformation plan.

The first element is the Law of the Few. Most massive change takes place through a small subset of people. The Connectors of those people who know everybody and everybody knows. They become a major conduit of information and ultimately change. Find your Connectors, and make sure they are plugged into your lean transformation. The Salesmen are those who convince others, and their daily pitch will win people over. The Mavens are the experts, whose expertise lends credibility to the message.

The second element is the Stickiness Factor. Your message must have meaning and grab people. Getting people to change behavior because “the competitive landscape requires us to achieve new core competencies in an integrated enterprise-wide change” will not get many people behind you. The third element is The Power of Context helps you understand the broad underlying factors of your change.

A warning: think about your lean change BEFORE and DURING this book, because if you try to apply it to your lean change AFTER, you will struggle much more than you have to.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh is a lean advisor, speaker, and author. In addition to co-founding the Lean Learning Center, he has helped build nearly 20 companies as either a co-founder, board member, advisor, or angel investor. These companies range from high-performance motorcycles to SaaS tools for continuous improvement. He has advised over 300 companies around the world in lean transformation, including Intel, Harley-Davidson, Crayola, BMW, and Amazon. Jamie co-authored the popular book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, and continues to share his experiences as a Contributing Editor forIndustryWeek and as a blogger at JamieFlinchbaugh.com. He holds degrees from Lehigh University, University of Michigan, and MIT, and continues to teach and mentor on campus. Jamie is best known for helping to transform how we think about lean from a tools-centric model to one based on principles and behaviors. His passion for lean transformation comes from seeking to unlock the great potential that people possess to build inspiring organizations.

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2 Comments on "Great Books You Didn’t Know Were About Lean"

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  1. Joe Wilson says:

    Thanks for bringing this up Jamie. I have been thinking about this book and lean for a long time on two different fronts.

    The first is in the plant/company level transition to lean. Creating the right context of change is critical to success. I guess that’s why Toyota has Visual Management and Stable and Standardized Processes at the base of the TPS house. Trying to implement 5-S in a plant where visual management isn’t part of the environment yields you a housekeeping program and not a waste elimination tool. Installing andons in an environment without some stability or standardization gives you sights and sounds and not much else because you don’t have a baseline of standards to compare to the current situation. I could go on…

    The second front I have been thinking about the power of this concept is on the macro national manufacturing level. In other words, what “tipped” the manufacturers in this country to give up and outsource or offshore so much and what will “tip” lean (if anything) to bring the manufacturing back in to America. I don’t have an answer to the first part of this question, but I have a feeling the answer to the second part lies somewhere in there. The stickiness factor is the same thing that caused the move in the first place. If the money makes sense here, it will be made here. The context? I don’t know what will have to happen to cause the shift. I’m most curious to see who the “few” will be. For so long, Mr. Womack has been the mainstream name behind lean, but perhaps he is not the “connector” needed to really make a massive movement. I doubt that one of the few will be an author or a consultant, but I figure it will most likely be a Wall Street darling CEO. If a big time CEO can really understand the power of manufacturing and the value of lean and sell the concept to other executives, I think there’s a shot. Until then, we’re all like the trendy club kids with our stylish shoes just waiting for everyone else to pick up on them.

  2. Jamie Flinchbaugh says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments Joe.

    I think the “stickiness” of the message of why to produce in the US is a problem. Most people say “save jobs” but that’s a hard message to accept if your job depends upon profits.

    Another factor is the skills. In virtually every market in the US, there are many barriers to manufacturing but the biggest is the lack of skilled resources. There are plenty of low-skilled workers available, but not high skilled. In one of the companies I’m invested in we’re doing some hiring – we can get material handling, assembly, machine operators, but are having a really hard time finding a senior machinist.

    Despite popular media beliefs, there are many jobs available in manufacturing but there is a price of entry to those jobs, and that price is skills.

    At the macro level, one of the most popular forms of connecting is the media. The more informed the media is, the better the right messages will spread.

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