Great Books You Didn’t Know Were About Lean


Although my book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to Lean: Lessons from the Road, is very much about lean, I particularly enjoy finding lessons on lean from books that having nothing to do with lean. I've already shared some lessons from two books, The Tipping Point and Death by Meeting. Here's another book, Outlearning the Wolves.

How to create a Learning Organization, as taught by a visionary flock of sheep

Outlearning the Wolves teaches the underpinnings of a Leaning Organization in a fun, short fairly tale format. The book tells of a flock of sheep that learned to de-fend itself from Wolves by inculcating learning practices. The sheep had for many years accepted their fate on the food chain as wolves would come in to their pen and snatch sheep after sheep. Eventually, one visionary sheep challenged the assumption that sheep are nothing more than meals for wolves and that they can in fact learn to prevent the wolves from attacking. Like many visionaries, challenging mental models proves to be difficult. Eventually though, some more sheep begin to embrace the vision. This small group of first movers begins by understanding the nature of wolf attacks and the possible means by which the wolves are getting into their fenced area. They discover that the wolves are getting under the fence by wading through a creek. The number of believers now grows and ideas on how to prevent the wolves from getting under the fence abound. The sheep implement some of these ideas that results in no additional wolf attacks.

As with any competition, the wolves learn to adapt and find new ways into the pen, but the flock is now a full-fledged learning organization that blunt any new strategies by the wolves. Some of the key principles of a learning organization are taught in this tale. First, no learning can take place without a compelling vision being put forth. Next, in order to achieve that vision, new practices and techniques must be adopted. These new means can only be invented if an organization is willing to question current beliefs and assumptions. The sheep had to get past their assumptions that they powerless vis-a-vis the wolves. Once an organization is willing to try new approaches, the quality of thought for those ideas is critical. How organizations solicit input and test new ideas is important in this process. Outlearning the Wolves is a great book for a team or department to reflect on their learning abilities. It's a quick and fun book that provides many thought provoking perspectives.

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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. Hello Jamie,

    your post is really interesting because last week I attended the yearly conference of the System Dynamics Society (next step after System Thinking). By the way, PEGASUS publishes a whole lot of books on System Thinking and System Dynamics and there is definitely more to be found on these topics.

    While I was there the connection between SD and Lean Thinking became quite clear to me because Lean Thinking, TPS, etc. is all about System Thinking (why should you ask the 5-Why-Questiions, if not to get a glimpse on the underlying causes of a problem and so to get a view on the unseen connections).

    At the moment SD is more spread and used in academic backgrounds but is slowly emerging into business. Further information can be found at:

    So perhaps it would be a good idea to get the two ends of Lean Thinking and SD together:-)

    Looking forward to hearing more comments on that idea


  2. Ralf,

    I would agree that there is a connection. I have been quite critical of the whole organizational learning / systems thinking movement even though I would have called myself a participant. The reason for my criticism is there was rarely much application, rarely any connection to what people were doing. People would be pulled out of the “real” work to do learning stuff, but almost never in an applied way. The end result for most companies that got involved is that individuals had gained, the organizations most likely didn’t. My other criticism is that org learning kept pointing at companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, an organization that hasn’t proven itself over the long haul, and ignored real examples such as Toyota.

    That being said, I believe there is much to learn. I even wrote an article on the subject, which you are welcome to read. It is in the articles section of our website found here:


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