Podcast #136 – Paul Akers, Interview About His Book ‘2 Second Lean”



Our guest for episode #136 is Paul Akers, President of FastCap and author of the book 2 Second Lean.

Here, we are talking about the new book and how small improvements that save two seconds in your daily work can contribute to an engaging and fun “Lean Culture.” You can also view a video recording of the discussion here on YouTube.

Paul was previously a guest on episode #122, talking about LeanAmerica.org, so please check that out too.

For a link to this episode, refer people to  www.leanblog.org/136.

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For earlier episodes, visit the main Podcast page, which includes information on how to subscribe via RSS or via Apple Podcasts.

If you have feedback on the podcast, or any questions for me or my guests, you can email me at leanpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave a voicemail by calling the “Lean Line” at (817) 993-0630 or contact me via Skype id “mgraban”. Please give your location and your first name. Any comments (email or voicemail) might be used in follow ups to the podcast.

Automated Transcript

Announcer (1m 2s):
Welcome to the Lean Blog podcast. Visit our website www.leanblog.org. Now here's your host, Mark Graban.

Mark Graban (1m 13s):
Hi, this is Mark Graban. Welcome to episode 136 of the podcast for January 26th, 2012. My guest today is Paul Akers. He's a returning guest. He was here in episode 122 talking about LeanAmerica.org, and he's back talking about his new book recently released called Two Second Lean. So I hope you enjoy the discussion. You can also find a video version of this discussion that we recorded through Skype by going to YouTube and searching for Paul Akers or Lean blog video podcast. There's also a link to the video if you go to leanblog.org/ 136.

Mark Graban (1m 52s):
Well, it's a pleasure to talk to our guest or returning guest on the podcast, Paul Akers. Thanks for being here today.

Paul Akers (1m 59s):
I love to come on your show, Mark, so I'm looking forward to it.

Mark Graban (2m 2s):
Yeah, well, and I'm glad you're here and we're gonna talk about your new book, Two Second Lean. The book is everywhere in paperback and Kindle and audiobook formats. I really enjoyed it. You know, it's a fun engaging read. Yeah. So I wonder if you can tell us, you know, first off, you know, what, what do you mean by two second Lean? What's that all about?

Paul Akers (2m 23s):
Well, the whole story came about when I tried to build a lean culture at my company, fast Cap. And the hardest thing was getting people to get their mind around improving all the time. For me, it's easy because I'm wired that way. I, I just, I came out of the womb trying to fix things and make things better and I've spent my entire life doing that. So it is absolutely natural for me, even though I didn't have any understanding of lean. And so when I learned lean, I became a lot better. But the point is I understand how to improve, but most people, people are not wired that way. They, they either don't have the skills, you know, I'm a carpenter by trade and a general contractor, so I had to be resourceful.

Paul Akers (3m 7s):
My dad was an electrical engineer, so I just learned how to solve problems and take resources and apply them and fix and improve everything. That's just the way I was raised and who I am. Yeah, I, I found that a lot of people didn't really have those resources and didn't have that experience in life. So when I would say to a particular operator on a machine or somebody at the office say, I want you to make improvements and I want you to make improvements continuously and even more profound, I want you to make 'em every day they would look at me cross eyed like, you're outta your go, dude. There's no way I can do that. I can't see, first of all, I can't see what needs to be fixed. And then second of all, I don't know how to make the improvements.

Paul Akers (3m 49s):
So when I came up against that, just over and over and over again, I finally just said one day to one of my employees who was particularly frustrated and I was particularly frustrated at them, I said, look, it, if I just asked you to shape two seconds off of the process, I mean the tiniest thing, if it takes you 20 minutes to do something and I just want you to make the tiniest improvement, could you do it? And they looked at me and they nod. They say, yeah, I could probably figure out how to do that. They said, that's all I want you to do, and that's all I want you to do every day. Find the tiniest improvement and start the cycle of thinking how things can be improved. And that's really what the whole book came to be as a result of that one experience that I had on getting my people to move to the next level.

Paul Akers (4m 36s):

Mark Graban (4m 36s):
Well, and I think it's beautiful the way you described that, the two second improvement that seems to really capture the essence of Kaizen continuous improvement of, you know, small incremental, gradual changes. Where, where did you get exposed to that? Because I think, you know, so many, you know, business owners and and and senior leaders are always looking for, you know, big ROI and big million dollar ideas. Where, where'd you get exposed to this? How'd you get started other than kind being wired that way?

Paul Akers (5m 4s):
You mean get exposed to lean or the concept of small improvements,

Mark Graban (5m 8s):
The idea of small improvement, you know, that, that style of Kazan, if you will.

Paul Akers (5m 11s):
Yeah, you know, I, I'm trying to think if I, if there was one specific moment where that click. Because you know, if you go to Toyota, which I've been many times and I know you've been, you know, they're, they're doing very careful analysis of every improvement and they're generally tackling big, huge things. So I didn't really get that from Toyota. I think when I went to one company called HOKS, H O K S in Japan, they were having tremendous problems, financial problems, and they adopted the Toyota production system or lean manufactured. And they really applied a very simplistic approach to lean. And their approach was a little different than mine. And it was just the three S's. They didn't do five S's, they didn't do six S's, they just did three S's.

Paul Akers (5m 54s):
They just said if they clean everything and make, make everything immaculate every day, if they sort and get rid of all the ancillary things that are on our shelves and in our drawers and everywhere else and only have in the work area that which you need, that was a sorting part. And then if they create standards or clear procedures on how everything was supposed to be done so everyone could understand it and then they just simply improved on those and they did those three things on a daily basis that they didn't have to worry about anything else. And I think that's when Mr. Manabi said that to me when I realized, you know, this is really not that complicated. And that's when my mind started going, you know what, lean people may lean too complicated.

Paul Akers (6m 36s):
Here's this guy took a hundred million company and made it really simple and was very successful. I think I'm gonna try to buy into this simple lean approach. Yeah. And then it kind of morphed to the two second thing and that's kind of where it first probably gelled with me.

Mark Graban (6m 50s):
Yeah. Now there's one story I was gonna ask you to describe that was in the book and I think it illustrates, you know, how you're, you're doing this just very naturally and in your own daily activities. Tell us about the splendor kaizen. I thought this was an interesting example.

Paul Akers (7m 5s):
Well, you know, again, getting to think about just simple improvement, that was the funniest one of all. I like cinnamon in my tea and I like a lot of it actually. And so, cause I like the taste of cinnamon, but I use Splenda because I don't want the calories of sugar and I like the way it tastes. So I'd make my tea every morning and then I'd open up my drawer and get my Splenda packs out cuz I had 'em in the drawer right below where I made the tea. And I'd pull up with those little packs and I'd tear 'em open. And then I would turn around and go to the trash can and put the packs in there. And then I'd go back over and grab the cinnamon shaker and then I'd shake it in there and you know, I'm just watching all this motion and transportation and me walking all over the place and I said, you know, this is, looks like a great application for two second improvement.

Paul Akers (7m 48s):
Let me see what happen if I got a shaker, bought the sp Splenda in bulk, you know, just filled it up once a month, put a a, a portion of cinnamon in there at the same time, kind of shook it up one time. And then every morning when I went to make my tea, just one little shot with the sugar splenda or the splenda cinnamon thing and I was done and I was going, wow, I didn't have to tear anything open. I didn't have to turn around and put it in the trash can. I didn't have to empty the trash can, I didn't have to do all those things that were associated with that one small little task. I said, Hey, that looks like a good two second improvement. And I share that in the book because it really typifies what we're talking about, thinking about the smallest things. And it's not because we're trying to capture the benefit of those small things, mark to, to be honest with you, it's really, we're just trying to get the mine to see waste and then eliminate it.

Paul Akers (8m 39s):
And if we start with small things, those small things will lead to bigger things and bigger things. So really that's all I'm really trying to accomplish. It's not like I saved a million dollars with Right Splenda. It's just the way of thinking. Yeah.

Mark Graban (8m 51s):
Well and I bet stories like that, you know, as you're trying to get people at fast cap to be able to see problems and, and you know, people so often it's just put up with little problems like that. You know, you, once you start describing the wasted motion with the packets and the trash and everything, a lot of times people, it's hard to see that because it's the way they do things. So can you, can you talk a little bit about some of the ways that you engage people? You talk about, you know, the daily meetings and huddles and what are some of the things that you do and have your other leaders in the organizations do to help people start seeing things that way?

Paul Akers (9m 28s):
Well, number one, we have about 20 principles that we study on a daily basis. So every day we go over one of our 20 principles and one of our principles is from Winston Churchill, it's called Action This Day. And all of my employees, every last one of them know the story that occurred when Winston Churchill used this famous phrase when he said to his interior secretary, you know, action this day. And I'm not a hundred percent sure it was interior secretary, but I'm pretty sure it was. He came out of his bomb shelter and after the Nazis had, Germans had bombed London and everything was in disarray. And, and he looked around and he said, why is this like this? You know, why is, why are the streets in rubble? Why is, why is everything like this?

Paul Akers (10m 8s):
And the Interior Secretary said to him, Mr. Prime Minister, we haven't had time to get to it yet. And he turned around and said to him, action this day. And the reason I tell that story is because that's one of the things we do with all of our associates. We don't allow little things to bother us. We empower people to that very moment. They notice it to take action this day. And that's our culture that we've built here. There is no procrastination here. It's like right now do not, wait another second, let's fix it. Let's solve the problem. And people feel good about that. I mean, at the end of the day when they go home and they got to solve problems that we're driving 'em crazy, instead of saying, now my stupid boss he'll never let me do anything, they never even listen to me.

Paul Akers (10m 54s):
It's 100% the opposite here. It's like, do anything you want. And because we're making small improvements, we're not destroying anything too badly. So it's easy to fix anything if we make a mistake, which we make plenty of.

Mark Graban (11m 5s):
Yeah. So you gotta get, get people to take action, be enthusiastic about participating. Does that build on itself then where people start becoming more mindful of other problems cause they know they can fix it instead of just having to gripe about it only or deal with

Paul Akers (11m 19s):
It? I like to say our people are mindful of, that's all they're mindful of is problems. I mean, our people walk in the door and they're looking around going, where's the waste? Where's the problem? How can I fix it? Instead of, oh, I gotta make 50 widgets today. Yeah, they're not even thinking that way. And that's the beautiful thing about the lean culture that built is we've absolutely got people to see waste and see problems and take action as opposed to just going through the motion.

Mark Graban (11m 44s):
Yeah. Now in the subtitle, the book you talk about, and I think two important things, growing people and, and I think that's a pretty common lean theme of developing people through these activities, but you also talk about fun culture and I was wondering if you could talk about how those fit together, especially the idea of fun culture and, and what that contributes to what you're doing there at Fast Cap.

Paul Akers (12m 6s):
Well, you know, I learned this, I actually learned that whole concept of fun from, again, Hawks and a couple other Japanese companies that I went to Japanese, they have a, a little, there's a, there's a side of them that tends to be a little whimsical, a little silly from time to time. And one of the things I learned from Hawks, and there were a couple other companies that did the same thing on all the tours that I've done of Japan, is that they said, just make it fun. You know, life is fun and you gotta have fun with your employees and it's not about being serious all the time. And that's a little bit of an interesting, or almost an oxymoron because we think of the Asian cultures, particularly the Japanese, they're very serious, they're very sober. But you know, the lean cultures that we visited, the ones that were really successful, they had a whimsical side to 'em.

Paul Akers (12m 50s):
So I remember one of the pictures, I don't think I put this in the book, at least I don't recall, but I have the picture of the president of the company. They had some silly little golden Goldilocks hair on him and a little crap. They were poking fun at him that he was the king. And you know, they put him in a wig and everything like that. And when we took the tour, he pointed out, he says, aren't my people have great fun? We have, we have a great relationship with one another and we have a lot of fun here. And, and so we do the same thing here. We're, we're constantly, you know, there's a fair amount of laughter and not a lot of, not a lot of jing, you know, like teasing people, we don't do that. But we have a lot of fun. It's just a lot of strong camaraderie.

Paul Akers (13m 30s):
People are very positive. People support one another. People, if somebody does something good, it's really common to hear. That was a great idea. Matter of fact, I'll tell you of a great story this morning that happened. We have a very technical machine, a CNC machine that we just purchased, and it's very difficult to run. And we assign one of our best guys to, to run this machine and learn how to do it because we're doing things with it that nobody's ever done with it before, which is a hallmark for fsa. We take technology and then apply it to the way we want to use it, which nobody could have done before. And, and all the manufacturers say it can't be done. We're like cutting wood and we're doing really strange things with the CNC machine that we're not designed to do this anyways. So we assigned this guy to do it and I said, well, we really want somebody else to learn.

Paul Akers (14m 14s):
So we have two heads looking at this cuz we're having all kinds of problems. So I took another one of my really good guys and we put it, put 'em both on the machine and the other guy realized that if the tension on the material was a certain way that the material would cut much cleaner and more consistently. And so he went ahead and applied it. Now the new guy's coming in, the old guy's been working on the machine, the new guy comes in and as soon as a new guy solves the problem, the old guy comes running, Jimmy Paul, you will not believe the improvement that Alexi made. It was incredibly figured out how to do this. That's not normal. Yeah. It's not normal for another employee employee to be crazy and say, what an incredibly smart guy.

Paul Akers (14m 54s):
I couldn't figure this out. He came in and figured it out. That's our culture. Yeah. That's what we do. And we promote that kind of thinking. It's about giving credit to other people. It's about supporting and encourage other people. And that's a fun environment to work in. Does that make

Mark Graban (15m 10s):
Sense? Yeah, yeah. It, it, it sure does and it's gotta be a fun, it comes across, you know, the, to you talking about, but I think also the videos, all the great YouTube videos that, that you've shot, and I assume others within Fast Cap have have shot and shared on the internet that that really comes through. And it's really, really neat to see.

Paul Akers (15m 30s):
It's fun. We, you know, and they're allowed to be creative and you know, they're always coming up with crazy things and crazy skits and, you know, we just have fun.

Mark Graban (15m 38s):
I want to interrupt briefly just to, once again, thank our podcast episode sponsor Creative Safety Supply Leaders in Visual Safety Floor Marking, label Printing and more. Visit their website at www.creativesafetysupply.com/lean podcast for a special discount. And now back to our discussion with Paul Akers. Now one, one other thing I think might be in interesting to those watching and listening, speaking of videos, there's been a great series of videos published by kids from an elementary school, right. That came and visited Fast Cap and have been inspired. Can you, can you talk about that a little bit? We'll, we'll point people to some of those videos in the show notes.

Mark Graban (16m 18s):
Can you, can you talk about that visit and what you saw from your perspective?

Paul Akers (16m 22s):
You know, of all the people that have ever visited our company, I think that particular experience is the most exciting. And what happened was we have a lot of companies tour our facility and this one individual said, Hey Paul, I know the school teacher that I told about Lean, and he's kind of curious, is there any chance you would give him a tour with the superintendent? So I went ahead and said, yeah, no problem, come on over. And he looked at it and for whatever reason it really clicked with him. So then he goes back and starts sharing it with his kids and his kids seem to be interested. And he started applying some of the two second concepts and he said, you know, I really wanna bring the whole class there.

Paul Akers (17m 5s):
So they brought all 34 or 35 kids, whatever they were to our facility. And the kids just ate it up. I mean, they just said, wow, they were completely engaged, they got it. They went home. They took one of our products called Kaizen Foam, which allows you to make an easy shadow board of all your tools and, and supplies. And they have created processes for everything from how they put their socks in, in their drawer to how they organize the basketball, to how they clean the microwaves, how they keep everything organized in their desks. It is just outrageous. And so he's basically said, we're building a two second leaning lean culture at Cornerstone Christian, and they're just making it happen.

Paul Akers (17m 46s):
And recently he just sent me another email, they've actually taken our morning meeting and they've adopted it all to their school program. And it's just off the charts what these kids are doing and they love it.

Mark Graban (17m 59s):
Yeah. Well the enthusiasm, the enthusiasm comes through so clearly, and I don't know, norm Bodak and others I've learned ties in from, you know, talk about, you know, they, they innate creativity and enthusiasm of kids and, and their willingness to put themselves out there and take a risk and try something new. And you know, unfortunately, if, if the school system doesn't drum that out of 'em, the the typical workplace, unfortunately can, can make that happen. So what, what better thing to try to, you know, that that that kaizen spirit, if you will, is already there. Let let them, you know, keep running with it.

Paul Akers (18m 37s):
Right. I think that's a great point. I think kids are naturally can be that way and we either choose to elevate that characteristic or repress it. And when you elevate it, it's very exciting and all of a sudden learning becomes really interesting. I know one of the things I said to Darren when he came here and I said it in front of the kids, I said, do you wanna know the perfect lean classroom? The perfect lean classroom is the teacher teaches something and then goes back to the kids and says, what could I have done to improve it so that you would've enjoyed that experience and you would've gotten more out of it. Yeah. And the teacher listens to that feedback from those 30 students and then adjusts on a regular basis.

Paul Akers (19m 21s):
So teaching is dynamic and interesting. And I said, when the teacher is willing to take criticism from the kids and use that information to improve, the rest is history. And that is exactly what Darren's doing and that's why they're having the success they're having. And ultimately, it goes back to my last chapter in the book, lean is not about 3S-ing or 5S-ing or you know, any of the other lean principles. It's really about leadership excellence. And that's really what we're striving for. When when people step up to the plate and do extraordinary things in the way they inspire people to live and conduct their lives, awesome things will

Mark Graban (20m 1s):
Happen. Yeah. Now May as we start wrapping up, you're coming to us from your studio, they're at Fast Cap, that's, people may know you're showing The American Innovator or listening to it online or listening to the local station that you're, you're doing that now is a podcast I believe. Can you talk? Yeah.

Paul Akers (20m 20s):
We, we were doing it on the radio for a long time, about a year and a half, almost two years I think. And we decided to lean out the process because we were always having to go to the radio station and through all that rigor, Morro and the stopping us starting between segments and we said, man, we want continuity. We wanna be able to do it more spontaneously. We wanna be able to do it at our facility when people visit. So we decided to go to a podcast, if you will, or internet, and we just email out a show every Friday and you can listen to it as your leisure or you can get it on iTunes, you know, on a podcast. Or go to our website, the American Innovator and download it, listen to it right then. So it's a lot of fun. Yeah,

Mark Graban (20m 59s):
Yeah, sure. So I'll make sure that there's links available for, for people that are listening in here and then about the book we talk about where people can find the book. They can find it by searching on Amazon two second lean the number 2secondlean.com. What, what, what else do you recommend in terms of how to find,

Paul Akers (21m 20s):
You know, iTunes and downloaded Amazon? Definitely on our website and downloaded, I think it's available on CD Baby. I, I think there's so many different places to get the book now. I think we've hopefully worked really hard at making it widely accessible. We have people downloading it from all over the world, so it's very exciting. I know yesterday my wife ran out to me and said, oh, Coca-Cola just ordered your book and all excited. So that was good. And we we're shipping 'em to Singapore and Italy and all over the place, so it's fun.

Mark Graban (21m 50s):
Well that is great. So congratulations with the release of that. It's, it's really recommended. It's a fun read and it's a, a great supplement to all of the great information that you've put out there on the internet. So I certainly hope people will take a read or take a listen.

Paul Akers (22m 5s):
Good. Well it's always fun to be on your show, mark.

Mark Graban (22m 8s):
Well thanks a lot

Paul Akers (22m 9s):
Paul. Thank you.

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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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