A Breath of Lean Positivity – Paul Akers and FastCap


I had an amazing conversation on Saturday with Paul Akers (pictured at left), the founder and president of FastCap, a company in Washington, a former Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat, and the host of “The American Innovator” radio program and podcast. His latest initiative is LeanAmerica.org.

After last week, which had so much negative energy, Paul is such a breath of fresh air about Lean, employee empowerment, and kaizen.

I'm ready to run through a wall after talking to Paul, given his energy and  enthusiasm  for Lean at his company AND for Lean as a positive societal movement.

Paul and I share the view that people shouldn't be miserable at work. Better yet, they should LOVE coming to work. Paul is helping spread that spirit through their heavy focus on employee kaizen efforts. Paul describes how visitors come into FastCap and they're blown away by how HAPPY everyone is. As Paul says, “kaizen is FUN!”

To those who would say awful, overgeneralized things like “lean is inherently command-and-control” or (worse yet) “lean is a wicked disease,” they obviously haven't met Paul Akers.

Paul is similar to Karl Wadensten and other manufacturing leaders who fully embrace Lean's core concepts of “respect for people” and the idea that everyone should be involved in kaizen. As Paul said, “people are geniuses!” The Lean movement is full of people like Paul and Karl.

I agree with Paul in his assessment that the entire country would be better off if these positive Lean mindsets and principles were deeply embedded in our culture. Instead, our culture is embedded with Taylorist thinking (working is separated from thinking) and traditional “leadership” mindsets that lead to disengagement and workplace misery.

Paul and FastCap have an amazing and prolific  FastCapTV YouTube channel with video documentation of their kaizen efforts, including this one:

Is that a million-dollar cost saver? No, but that misses the point. Lots of little ideas lead to a better workplace culture and a huge impact on the company. Ownership of ideas is a good thing. Being forced to implement Lean tools in a top-down way, bad.

The YouTube channel features kaizen success stories, but Paul realizes that employees need a safe environment where it's OK to “fail” in your kaizen efforts, or this doesn't work.

As Norman Bodek always emphasizes – one of the main purposes of kaizen is to make YOUR own job easier. Of course, we have to focus on the customer, but making your work easier frees up time to focus on customers (or for nurses to focus on patients!).

We can implement larger system-level kaizen efforts (including kaizen events), but this employee-driven front-line “just do it” kaizen is such a critical piece for building enthusiasm for Lean and for building a Lean culture.

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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.


  1. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for recognizing Paul and the work he is doing at FastCap. Paul has been very generous in sharing his journey and experiences with other organizations in the State of Washington. My company, Group Health has taken advantage of this opportunity a couple of times and have walked away each time very impressed and energized by what we have seen/learned. If you have not yet watched the videos, you should. FastCap and Paul are the real deal and bring to life the principles of respect for people and continuous improvement.


  2. After my father died for years (at least 10) people came up to me emotionally sharing what a positive influence he had on their lives. He did great stuff helping organizations improve. But the majority of people were not telling me how much he helped the organization improve [there were also a bunch of engineers and statisticians :-) that were more impressed with his insights and expertise]. But most people talked about was how much happier they were because of the changes he helped them see they could make in their lives.

    He helped them expect to take joy from work and so they did (and a big part in taking joy in work for most is helping others take joy in work – you don’t find many workplaces with 15 miserable people and one joyful person). Many had to leave their current organizations that were too broken for them to fix. But after they saw what they should expect they couldn’t just keep passing time without joy in work.

    Now I am sure their were hundreds of people that never talked to me that never made any such change. But the number of people that did took what was a decent chance that I would continue working with the management ideas I absorbed from him (data based decision making, Deming, joy in work, respect for people…) and made it a very great one. Unfortunately I am nowhere near as affective as he was.

    Creating organization that show respect for people in the workplace and give them tools to improve is far more powerful than most people understand. Most people get scared about “soft” “mushy” sounding ideas like “joy in work.” I have to say I sympathize with those people. But it is true.

  3. Hello Mark, just to say that the referenced video is not available anymore. You may wanna change for another video from Paul.

    Keep on the good work on lean blog!

    Best regards,
    Daniel Wildt


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