“Surviving a Lean Economy” – Time Magazine Cover


That sure is an unfortunate Time magazine cover with that headline and an illustration of a really emaciated piggy bank.

Does that everyday use of the word “lean” cause problems for the Lean Manufacturing movement? Does it cause problems at your site?? Do any of you avoid using the word “lean” at all because of the possible connotations?

When I asked Jim Womack about the word once, he responded by saying “it's just a word.”


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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

  1. Mike Lopez says

    I’m more concerned when people who are “Lean” experts use it to peddle LAME. That causes far more problems and is far more damaging.

    That said, I do avoid using the word lean at work. That is mostly because I’m a lean consultant at my job. The only time I have no problem using lean is when I’m referring to food.

  2. andrewmc says

    Lean has been in the common Lexicon far longer than its use in reference to TPS so the headline is hardly unfortunate.

    In fact I am willing to bet that the vast majority that pass a stand with this issue on will not only think the use of the word lean is appropriate to describe the state of the global economy but that they will have no clue as to any other meaning.

    Almost all of my acquaintances and friends that do not work in manufacturing or healthcare would have no idea what it is or that even exists.

  3. Mark Graban says

    I’m not concerned about the general public view, but more about the impression on those who might be new to Lean within our workplaces.

  4. Rick F. says

    I’ve found more success using the terminology continuous improvement rather than lean. Many of our team members seem to connect more readily using this approach.

  5. Neutron Jerk says

    A truly “Lean” economy (in the TPS sense) thing would be a wonderful thing. I know that isn’t what Time means… they don’t know any better (they probably think Toyota is #1 because of the Japanese government).

    A “Lean” economy (as Uncle Jim Womack pointed out recently) would help reduce the boom and bust cycles (you can’t have recessions unless you have a bit of a boom first).

  6. mike says

    Actually you can have a recession without a boom. If a counrty like iran cut off all oil supply that could cause a recesion without a boom happening first… Something similar to 9/11 could cause a reccession too. I wonder if a real lean economy would less susceptilbe to the expanding effect of disasters and not just the boom and bust cycle?

    I think this pig pic would apply better to politics and trying to lean govt, ie remove waste (pork).. or maybe not.

  7. Jamie Flinchbaugh says

    Keep in mind the real definition of lean in the dictionary is to be without superfluous fat, and to be thin but healthily so. Many female hollywood movie stars are thin, but that doesn’t make them lean. Lean is about being healthy, and a lean organization or a lean economy is without fat but healthy. Perhaps it should be an anemic economy, which is more accurate.

  8. Mark Graban says

    From another blog post about the origins of the word “lean”:

    Asked what name he would have used if he could re-name it today, Womack said he doesn’t re-live the past.

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