Proof That Nelson from The Simpsons is Not a Good Kaizen Coach


If you know me, you know I'm a huge fan of The Simpsons. The show has been on TV for 25 of my 40 years.

The cable channel FXX is having an “Every Simpsons Ever” marathon, showing all 552 episodes over 12 days.

I'm watching it here and there, especially my favorite episodes from the early to mid 90s.

I'm nobody thinks Nelson, the bully, would be a good Kaizen coach, working with employees on constructive continuous improvement activities, but this clip made me chuckle:

What mistakes does he make?

First, he tells Lisa she's “doing that the stupid way” (that being drawing lines on the chalkboard for musical notation).

Secondly, he gives her an answer, telling her to use “the deal with the five chalks” (like this).

He does tell her “why” at least (she'll be able to do it faster). Nelson ignores the quality aspect of drawing five equidistant, equally straight lines all at once.

Lisa pushes back (there's some plot and subtext here of her having a crush on Nelson).

Nelson blows her off comment with a “whatever” and walks away.

The next time you go to the Gemba, don't be a Nelson.

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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.


    • Thanks!

      From the description of the episode:

      Homer decides to try for a promotion at Springfield Nuclear Power Plant and suggests several ideas to Mr. Burns, all of which are rejected.

      Ah, typical suggestion systems… most of them are rejected!

    • At about 7:25 into the video, Homer does some Kaizen (he doesn’t call it that) at home (installing a key hook on the wall for Marge (although the previous method of putting the keys in a bowl right underneath seemed OK)

      Homer is inspired to put up a poster of the “Swedish Efficiency Team” (covering up a bikini team poster):

      At 8:02, Homer’s life improvement book says to “point out problems to your boss.”

      So he goes on a bit of a “Gemba Walk” to look for problems and idea (although his book suggests he “tattle on the cattle,” which isn’t very Kaizen-like). He does find a number of safety problems, including a “safety shower” that shoots fire.

      Homer then famously discovers that the coffee room, cream room, and stirrers room are three separate rooms that people have to walk between!

      Funny stuff!

  1. More from that Simpsons episode:

    Homer says: “Mr. Burns has never given me a thumbs up or a ‘way to be’ or a ‘you go girl’. He steps all over everyone who works for him and takes pleasure in making us feel small.”

    He wants some recognition for his ideas.


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