Lean Lessons from History


If lean is about learning, then we must find sources of learning everywhere. One place I look not so much for inspiration but for specific lessons is from the sayings of successful leaders of the past. Consider what a ‘lean quote book' would look like and what would be included. I've collected many quotes from other leaders and I'll share one now. Gandhi once said:

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

What does that mean for lean? I believe the ‘live as if were to die tomorrow' means that we have to work harder to pursue our dreams and in lean lingo, pursue the ideal state, because there is not a limited amount of time. Don't put off the journey just because you have a couple fires to fight. ‘Learn is if you were to live forever' means that we must learn every day and pursue learning as a process, not just an isolated opportunity.

But more importantly, what does this quote mean to you? Share your perspectives on the comment line.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh
Jamie Flinchbaugh is an accomplished Entrepreneur, Senior Executive, and Board Member with more than 20 years of success spanning finance, manufacturing, automotive, and management consulting. Leveraging extensive operational experience, Jamie is an invaluable asset for a company seeking expert guidance with process improvements, lean strategies, and leadership coaching in order to transform operations, reduce costs, and drive profitability. His areas of expertise include continuous improvement, entrepreneurship, coaching and training, process transformation, business strategy, and organizational design.


  1. To me, the quote means “take action now” (don’t procrastinate), have a bias for action. But, also never stop learning. I think of a now-retired VP of Global Operations at a major auto supplier who had been working on lean for a long time. He would introduce himself as “I’ve been studying lean for 20 years.” He’d forgotten more about lean than we knew, possibly, but he emphasized to his team that they were all students and would always be. Good lesson, I thought.

  2. People look for titles such as “lean expert” or even “guru” from people like me. I think the entire concept of someone being a “lean expert” is flawed, because the entire journey is about learning. The more any true lean leader learns, the larger the gap they see. I thought I knew more about lean 12 years ago than I think I know today, but that’s only because my perspective has changed.

  3. My job title at my old company was “Lean Expert” and I hated that more than anything. It was a corporate standard, equivalent to “Black Belt.” “Lean Master”, the next level up was even worse. I hated having that title on my email and business cards.

    “Lean Coach” was much easier for me to handle.

    Experts are expected to know all the answers. That’s not what lean is about.

    A coach helps others do better. That’s how I try to do lean and assume Jamie agrees on that.


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