Psychology & Lean


By Mike Lopez

Extraversion or introversion. How do those personality traits figure into a Lean implementation? I have seen very event driven implementations of Lean. There are Kaizen blitzes, Value Stream Mappings, 6S events, and others. I think it is safe to say that extraverts have an easier time with all the typical Lean activities that require extensive interpersonal interaction. As an event goes on, the extravert can maintain a constant energy level and becomes more animated as the group gets more involved.

A refresher on introversion and extraversion can be found at Wikipedia:

Most people believe that an extravert is a person who is friendly and outgoing. While that may be true, that is not the true meaning of extraversion. Basically, an extravert is a person who is energized by being around other people. This is the opposite of an introvert who is energized by being alone.

I've heard many reasons why Lean won't work. Although we are familiar with how to overcome many of these objections, the apprehension may have nothing to do with facts and everything to do with implementation. People have a funny way of creating seemingly logical arguments to validate feelings. If you are trying to implement Lean in an environment full of people that cherish their independence and “alone time,” consider modifying your implementation to appeal to the introvert lifestyle.

As a subject matter expert on being an introvert, I offer the following pointers for appealing to people like me:

  1. Reduce the number of events and create tools that can be performed individually or in small private groups.
  2. Focus on rules and principles. The underlying theory of Lean will captivate an introvert. Much more appealing is a discussion about the Four Rules or a discussion about the Five Principles (Value, Value Stream, Flow, Pull, Perfection). The 8 Wastes are cool, but they are only corollaries to the underlying philosophy.
  3. Spread out events so that some people can recharge between sessions. I led a Kaizen that met one day a week for a couple hours for many weeks. Not typical, but it really helped everyone in the room stay focused for the short time we met. Nobody ever snapped from fatigue and we got a lot of stuff done.
  4. Make your introverts into your Lean research staff. People like me enjoy the opportunity to apply rules and principles in new ways. As we sit in our office, we will research best practices and use them in combination with Lean principles to craft new ways of being Lean.

An organization that uses some of these tips will really help guys and gals like me warm up to Lean and see how it can positively affect the company.

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  1. Great post. Sometimes I think the following statement from your post defines my life:

    “”People have a funny way of creating seemingly logical arguments to validate feelings.””

    Is there a term for this?

  2. I’m an active lean consultant and a raging “introvert” (per Myers-Briggs)… as you put it, I need my recharge time on my own (and reading this blog is one way I get to do that). Client demands of spending time with people wears me out… not that I don’t enjoy people or working with people, but it’s just as an introvert, I need my “alone time” and that doesn’t always line up with what my clients need, so it can be a struggle.

  3. Thanks for the post, Mike. Can you remind the blog readers about your work environment — it’s a research lab, as opposed to a traditional factory, right?

    If you click on the “Lopez” link at the bottom of the post, you’ll find some of Mike’s earlier posts on lean in research settings, I think.

  4. Yes, thanks for the feedback. When you make up arguments to support feelings, it is called rationalization.

    Mark is right. I am a scientist working at a research laboratory. Most of my struggle with Lean has been in trying to make the message appeal to hard core scientists.

  5. Unsolicited advice…. but maybe instead of pushing lean (and maybe you aren’t)… figure out what the main problems and pain points in the organization are. Then, make sure you’re using lean to fix problems.

    If you can fix problems instead of focusing on “implementing lean” then people should be begging you to bring lean to them.

  6. I was looking for a softer more PC term. It is rationalization but that seems so confrontational.

    I struggle with making the message appeal as well. I would think the ‘smarter’ someone thinks they are the more difficult it is. It challenges their ego a bit. They might take the attitude, “If there was a better way to do my job I would have figured it out myself already”.

  7. I don’t know of any euphemism for the term “rationalization.”

    Maybe another way to say it is that different people have different paradigms. Our upbringing and environment have given us a lens through which we see the world. That lens is different from other lenses. The reasons we have for doing something may not make sense to others who have entirely different worldviews.

    I don’t know. It is sidestepping the issue, but that is as gentle as I can put it.

  8. On the issue of rationalization, I think it is fine if it is confrontational. It’s time we stopped treating confrontation and debate like a bad word. You do not get breakthroughs and new understandings with surfacing, directly, conflicts that do exist.

    Of course managing conflict productively is the key. Focus on the issue, not the person. It’s not “you’re irresponsible” but “the action you took was irresponsible.” And to Mike’s point we have to understand style and preferences. Check out You can even do a myers briggs test online, although it will cost you. It’s not completely accurate or all-encompassing, but will help you get a handle on how your process and how others might.

  9. Something I tell the students in my Organizational Behavior course is “One of our most impressive abilities is the ability to justify (or rationalize) our own actions”.


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