“Practicing Lean” Excerpt – Lessons from Japan


Practicing Lean book by Mark GrabanI've recently updated the eBook Practicing Lean to include a new ninth chapter, submitted by Samuel Selay. Other new chapters are by David Haigh, from Canada, and Joe Swartz (my Healthcare Kaizen co-author) .

I love the diversity of perspectives in the book, as it's continuing to grow and take shape. Upcoming chapters will include thoughts from a Scottish physician, along with, Steve Leuschel (author of Lean Culture Change) and a former Toyota employee.

Samuel has learned and practiced continuous improvement in the United States Marine Corps (and he's transitioning into industry this May, so check out his profile). Samuel has also been writing blog posts on LinkedIn.

If you buy the book now, you'll automatically be sent updates as additional chapters get added. We'll probably end up with 15 or 16 chapters, then I'll make the book available via more traditional paperback and Kindle store channels. Again, all proceeds (about $500 so far) are being donated to the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation.

Here is a short excerpt from Samuel's chapter, where he reflects on time in Japan:

Lessons Learned from Japan (Samuel Selay)

samuelI had the honor and privilege of working and living in Japan between 2005 and 2007. My time in Japan was long before I was ever exposed to continuous improvement, but there was something different about the culture of Japan compared to the United States.

Unfortunately, while practicing CI in the Marine Corps, I was never exposed to what “Respect for People” was. It was never taught in any of the training I went through. Even going through Black Belt training through the University of San Diego didn't introduce me to what respect for people meant.

It wasn't until I disciplined myself to a journey of self-learning through reading, listening to podcasts, watching webinars, reading blogs, and applying as much as I can, that I learned what respect for people was.

Now, I have a good grasp on the concept of respect for people based on the last two years of dedicated learning. Now, I can understand what the difference was between the culture of Japan and the United States.

First, “respect for humanity” is a better translation that more clearly represents what I was exposed to for nearly two years in Japan.

Some key take aways I can still remember are:

  1. An attitude that reflects a sense of pride, admiration, and esteem for others.
  2. Pride in the community and country. I was taught not to spit, throw trash, or litter. When going to restaurants or certain homes, you were expected to take off your shoes. If given chopsticks, you were expected to use them.
  3. Demeanor of joy and happiness in the workplace. While in Japan I went on several tours of factories and witnessed people on the front lines being delighted in their work.

What did Samuel do to apply these lessons in his own continuous improvement team in the Marines?  What were some early “toolhead” mistakes that he made? You'll have to buy the book to find out.

You can also listen to a podcast that Samuel did this week with Gemba Academy:

I really appreciate the lessons from Japan. I've been really enjoying the blog posts from my friend Katie Anderson, as she has been learning about Lean and reflecting on this during her year in Japan.

Lean isn't strictly a “Japanese system,” but it's interesting to see what components of Japanese culture can be seen in Toyota and the Lean methodology or philosophy.

“Joy and happiness” in the workplace is not just something that Dr. Deming talked about. Pascal Dennis, who worked for Toyota in Canada, talks about “Kaizen spirit” including a sense of “cheerfulness.” I've heard others even say “playfulness.” It makes sense that would be be more creative and improve more if we're having fun and can make it fun.

In Japan, I saw that the Japanese people can be extremely serious AND extremely silly and playful. It's an interesting combination to see.

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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. I look forward to reading Samuel’s chapter in the book and learning about his experiences living in Japan and his parallels with Lean.

    I agree with him that the Japanese traits of respect and pride are pervasive throughout the society. People take deep pride in the work they do, particularly in service industries – from cleaning the trains to serving tables to driving a taxi to working in a hospital. And tipping is considered rude – because people take so much inherent pride in doing the best that they can. It is a noticeable difference when I come back to the U.S.

    Thanks for sharing the link to my blog! I look forward to more Lean and Japan learning as the year continues.



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