A Lean Lesson from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


As we commemorate  the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, this quote caught my eye, from one of Dr. King's Letters from a Birmingham Jail.

Dr. King wrote, in part:

“…the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.”

He's referring to non-violent means for driving societal change. This is a powerful principle and it also reminds me of a core Lean management principle.

The Lean concept is often described as “the right process leads to the right results.” This means that when we have an organizational objective, we aren't satisfied by just having the right results. Traditional organizations won't dig into the details of the process if the results are good. This might mean that people are gaming the system, or they're cheating the numbers, or they're making short-term decisions at the expense of the long term.

Lean thinkers want to make sure we not only have results, but that we came about them by doing things the right way – this includes not scrimping or cutting corners on safety and quality — basically showing “Respect for People” as Toyota calls it. I think that's what Dr. King would have wanted, this respect for people.


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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. Bill Hanover says

    I like it!

    Dr. King sure had a way with words!

    One of the reasons I feel such an affection for Lean is that it values people so highly. Makes me feel proud to be part of something with such noble intentions.



  2. Al Norval says

    Great leaders learn to reflect and in doing so think about the strength of their processes. By focusing on process improvement they know they will get the right results. Results that are good for the people, Customers and the organization itself.

  3. […] A Lean Lesson from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. […]

  4. […] First, a quick look back to a quote I posted on this day in 2012. […]

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