Gene Wilder, #Lean, and #LeanStartup Thoughts on Wasting Time and Lives


The famed actor and comedian Gene Wilder passed away this week at age 83.

I think of him primarily as an actor from the classic movies from Mel Brooks, “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein,” although he's also known for many other films, along with work on stage and as a writer.

A friend posted an image, a “meme” if you will, on Facebook that pays tribute to him and another one of his legendary roles, as Willy Wonka in the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

One thing I appreciate about Eric Ries and “The Lean Startup” book and movement is the emphasis on respecting employees. Eric writes about not wasting the time of software developers. Don't ask them to spend precious time building something that the market doesn't want. I guess it's not just about wasting developers' time… are you wasting your own time as an entrepreneur? See this article about wasted time.

Here's the meme and image:



And here's the clip from the movie:


I also recently read this blog post about time:

Seneca's “On Shortness of Life”

In the post, Harish shares what the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote:

“I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself — as if nothing there is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life's most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap — in fact, almost without any value.”

Harish then quotes Eiji Toyoda as saying something very similar:

“A person's life is an accumulation of time – just one hour is equivalent to a person's life. Employees provide their precious hours of life to the company, so we have to use it effectively; otherwise, we are wasting their life.”

We all want to do work that matters. Leaders have an obligation to help people do what matters. We never know how much more time we have.

On a lighter note, there are many Willy Wonka memes on the web, including two on my “Lean Memes” site.



Time is short… is that why many executives get impatient about a so-called “Lean journey?”

They're used to demanding results… NOW!

It makes me think of the “I want it NOW!” scene from Willy Wonka… about golden geese or demanding results or wanting a Lean transformation to be liking flipping a light switch?

I love when she sings, “And if I don't get what I want right now… I'm going to SCREAM! Don't care how… I want it now!” Sound familiar?

“She was a bad egg.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 9.22.29 AM

I'm not one to label employees as “bad eggs” or “bad apples.” They're a product of the system.

The same is true with executives and managers. They are rarely “bad eggs.” They too are the product of a system.

I'll leave you with a clip from “Blazing Saddles” that illustrates his character “The Waco Kid” being a poor problem solver… so it's food that makes him sick?

Thanks for all of the joy you brought to the world, Gene Wilder… rest in peace.

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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. It seems that when management demands things “now”, they often get something delivered that is not well executed. This causes people to spend their time doing the miserable work of cleaning up preventable messes rather than the uplifting work of creation.

  2. Comment from LinkedIn:

    Jim Haugen: Excellent post Mark – I think of time as intangible, invisible inventory, hiding inefficiencies, defects and all of the other Wastes. Removing wasted time reveals the other hidden wastes – especially the waste of human potential, as nothing erodes human potential like wasted time.


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