Mini Book Reviews for Lean Thinkers (and Why I Love my Kindle)


Here are some books that I've recently read — been intending to write full reviews, but wanted to share what I've read and what I've liked. Full reviews to come, I hope.

I've been doing some of the reading on my recent book-loving splurge — the Amazon Kindle 2. So far, I really enjoy reading on the Kindle. The screen could have better contrast (it's black on gray compared to the black on white of paper), but I like it because:

  • You can carry up to 1,500 books at once (a “lean briefcase” and maybe less back pain).
  • You can buy a new book right on the device (a “lean solutions” approach that's very easy… too easy… and a sure-fire way to spend more than you intended).
  • I'm a big note taker and highlighter and you can do this pretty easily on the Kindle. Better yet, you can easily search and browse your highlighting and notes — “lean” in the sense of saving time searching — (and export them to your computer).
  • Books tend to be cheaper on Kindle (but you can't sell the “used” copy as I'm doing with some of my older books that I no longer want a physical copy of). I can often sell the used hard copy book for the same price as the replacement Kindle version.
  • You can read the Lean Blog (and other websites) on it thanks to the built-in free 3G wireless connection (although this is no replacement for a laptop and a wi-fi connection).

So the books I've read or been reading recently, in no particular order:

In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing

As a Lean thinker, you probably know Matthew May from his earlier book The Elegant Solution: Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation and his blog (both OLD and NEW). Matt graciously let me read a preview copy of his new book and it was great. It's not a book about Toyota, per se, but the book weaves an intricate set of ideas of how simplicity and elegance is better than complexity. That might sound obvious, that elegance is better than complexity – but if so, why do we have so much unnecessary complexity in products and solutions we buy and use?

In this thought-provoking exploration of why certain events, products, and people capture our attention and imagination, Matthew E. May examines the elusive element behind so many innovative breakthroughs in fields ranging from physics and marketing to design and popular culture. Combining unusual simplicity and surprising power, elegance is characterized by four key elements: symmetry, seduction, subtraction, and sustainability. In a compelling story-driven narrative that sheds light on the need for elegance in design, engineering, art, urban planning, sports, and work, May offers surprising evidence that what's “not there” often trumps what is.

I'll post a more thorough review when I'm back home and have the book in front of me. See, if it were a Kindle book, I'd have it with me (and have the notes!). This book comes out in May, I think you'll enjoy it.

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

This was the first book I read on my Kindle. I'm a big fan of Seth Godin's blog and his earlier book, Purple Cow. This book is a quick read and makes the case that anyone can be a leader regardless of our formal authority. It's a bit short on substance, but I found it motivational. I'd recommend this to those involved in Lean initiatives or other change efforts or those trying to find the motivation to be more entrepreneurial or take some career risks. Godin also gives advice to folks like me who are, in a way, trying to find a “tribe” of those who are passionate about implementing Lean in a way that shows respect for people and those who are passionate about using Lean to transform healthcare.

Chasing the Rabbit

Steven J. Spear's first book builds on his well-known Harvard Business Review publications about Toyota and their management system and thought process. I'm unfortunately only part way through his book (something I'll remedy with the Kindle version soon). Spear weaves the stories of high performing companies like Toyota, Alcoa, Southwest Airlines, and Vanguard into a set of principles that any company (or hospital) can use to improve their performance. You can also find his blog and my podcast discussion with him.


Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People

This is an interesting little book that I first read about in the USA Today. It's written by a former McKinsey consultant in Japan, originally intended as a guide for children. But it became a surprise best seller among adult business people. Now it's published here in the U.S. I'm a few chapters into it and it might better illustrate the McKinsey thought process than a classically Toyota thought process, but it's a fun read.

What Would Google Do?

I'm just part way through this book now and it's also an enjoyable read. Some of the concepts that might seem familiar to Lean thinkers are his admonition to always focus on your customers and to not be afraid to make mistakes. Making mistakes means you're trying and if you learn from your mistakes (following what Deming disciples and Lean thinkers would know as the PDCA process), you'll get further than if you waited for the perfect solution. You can find a video summary of the book here: Read It For Me #3: “What Would Google Do” by Jeff Jarvis ¬ ´ read it for (dot) me. You can also see the author, Jeff Jarvis, in a video here. The book is a bit of a love note to Google, but, hey, I'm also smitten with Google as a customer.

Whaddaya Mean I Gotta Be Lean? Building the bridge from job satisfaction to corporate profit

I've only read a few chapters that were sent as a preview, but I'll be getting the full book soon. I'll be giving away a copy and doing a podcast with the author Jeff Hajek. This is the first Lean book I've seen that speaks directly to the front-line employees — not just top leadership or managers. This leads to a unique perspective on Lean and how it can benefit all employees. Hajek gives advice to front-line staff about how they can most effectively participate in a Lean implementation, including how they can “lead up” to prompt managers to follow through on the Lean expectations they've set. Other “key points” I highlighted include:

  • “… frontline employees suffer needlessly at work – especially when there are solutions that can make things easier.”
  • “What do you do in your job that makes the world a better place? Write it down and put it someplace where it will remind you every day…”
  • “It is easier to do something when you know why you have to do it… that lack of knowledge created hard feelings between him and his mentor, until the purpose of the chores was revealed.”
  • “In reality, people say ‘can't' when they mean ‘won't'.”
  • “Another rule of thumb is to never surprise your own immediate boss and jump over her head.”
  • “Stop resisting Lean. More people probably lose their jobs for fighting Lean than supporting it.”
  • “The only thing that really holds you back is your belief that you are limited. Lean gives you a blank canvas where you can attempt new things…”

Have you read any of these? What do you think? Anything else good out there right now?

Lest you think I like everything I read, the one book I CANNOT recommend is called “Lean Selling.” The author spelled “Womak” (as in Jim Womack) wrong. Enough said.


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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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