The Normalcy Of Waste
Last week the Wall Street Journal interviewed George David, the CEO of United Technologies. Though the conversation didn’t address his views on lean, he decries all forms of waste:
You can’t walk through life with a trained eye and not see the opportunities for productivity. Every time you sit in traffic, that’s a productivity loss. Every time you go to the doctor and fill out a bunch of forms and he refers you to somebody else and you fill out the same forms all over again, that’s a loss of productivity. Whenever you wait for something, that’s waste. I believe you can have 10 times more. I really do. . . . Just look at the differences in personal productivity between people, educated versus not educated. Or people in good, really productive labor environments, versus people who are kind of struggling because they’re in disorganized or ineffective companies.
Tim Walker, in his “What I’ve Learned So Far” blog, has an interesting comment on the WSJ interview:
The truth is, an abundance of cheap energy over the past century, while enabling huge strides in technology, global travel, and trade, has also instilled an ethic of waste in many of us. It has become incredibly easy and cheap â€” relative to the prior course of human history â€” to make more things, to ship them quickly, and then to whisk away the leavings. It has been incredibly easy to leave the lights on, and to build in pockets of waste in our systems, simply out of habit, or for want of better forethought. It has become normal to waste.
Tim is not a lean evangelist, as far as I know. Nor, presumably, does he know about the origins of the Toyota Production System. But his comment points to Toyota’s resource-poor origins. In the post-WWII era, the company couldn’t afford to leave the lights on, much less stockpile inventory. (Even now, of course, the company still makes a habit of turning off the lights. Waste is waste, even if you’re rich.) Financial constraints forced Toyota to unearth the pockets of waste in its production system.
Tim’s notion of the “normalcy of waste” applies to our own individual work processes as well, and not just the systems in which we work. To poach Tim’s phrasing, it’s incredibly easy to store gigabytes of data, and as a result we don’t discipline ourselves to apply 5S principles to the information we manage. It’s incredibly easy to fill co-workers’ email inboxes with low-value or no-value junk, so we don’t focus our work-related communication on truly important issues – and as a result, we have to slog through dozens or hundreds of crap messages that suck up our time during the day. It’s incredibly easy to take work home with us, so we don’t develop an aversion to wasting time during the day. (Except right before our big vacation to Maui. Then we’re totally focused on our work, and we eliminate all the waste that might keep us from catching the plane.)
In a recent post at Evolving Excellence, Kevin Meyer also touched on this idea, that having more — more space, more machines, more capacity, etc. — leads to inefficiency. Which brings us right back to Toyota in 1946, when the company didn’t have more of anything.
We may be living in an age of abundance, but the one thing that remains scarce is time. No matter how much you try to improve your “time management,” five minutes will not become six, and 24 hours will not become 25. So you have to use it as efficiently as possible. Each moment should be delivering value — to the company, to your family, to your community, to yourself. Anything else is waste.
How are you going to make a lean life?