Lean Lessons from Pluto

There are certain things we learn while we grow up that are unquestioned – in fact, unquestionable. There are 26 letters in the alphabet, 5 x 5 = 25, there are 4 sides in a square, and there are 9 planets in the solar system.

Until now.

Everyone has heard by now that Pluto is no longer considered a planet. The definition of what is considered a planet, and under the new rules, Pluto no longer applies. This is quick shocking news, although most of us were still able to get out of bed the next day and go about our business. Some can’t, and hence the Save Pluto campaign has begun.

What the heck does this tell us about lean? Simply this…


Lean is in part about questioning everything. Why does it have to be that way? Could it be better? Consider some of the things that we hold as dearly as we did that Pluto is a planet. Everyone must have a supervisor. Profit is the best measure of a company’s success. Growth is good. Never fire a customer.

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Question everything. We used to believe the world was flat, and the earth was the center of the universe. Imagine what becomes possible if you’re the first person to challenge this notion.

Question everything. Batting average and fastball speed are the best measures of a players value. In the book Moneyball, the Oakland A’s questioned this and developed new ways to evaluate players, and found diamonds in the rough, developing the most efficient team (wins/$ spent) in baseball.

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Question everything. What does your organization do that seems silly but it’s just always been that way? What happens if you just ask the question? What if asking the question causes 10 others to ask the question? How much of your organization can be unleashed if you just started questioning?


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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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1 Comment

  1. Luke Van Dongen says

    Great reminder to think critically.

    In my experience, the arena where nessesary questioning is used the least is in working to solve a specific problem. Too often the problem is accepted as it is presented and we lock ourselves into a limited number of opportunities to work through to a solution.

    Many times when we are able to lift these self-imposed constraints and view the problem differently, the problem can be re-defined and more easily tackled, or even better, eliminated completely.

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