Emmitt Smith, An Inadvertent #Lean Coach at #AMEDallas?


NFL Shield AT&T StadiumYesterday, I had the chance to attend parts of the AME annual conference in Dallas. It turned out to be a very Dallas Cowboys-themed day (and I'm not a fan of the ‘Boys, even though I live here).

First, I was a volunteer bus captain for the morning tour that took 50 participants to see the engineering marvel that is AT&T Stadium.

Here's a bus selfie taken by one of the attendees:


There weren't too many “Lean lessons,” per se. The new stadium supposedly has the “right capacity” in terms of bathrooms and concession stands, as to minimize waiting. In the case of the concession stands, more stations means less waiting and more money for the Cowboys and their owner Jerry Jones. No team makes money off of people standing in line.

The seating in the stadium is interesting. None of the seats are bolted to the ground. They are all on rails. The normal seating capacity is 80,000 and that includes space for armrests between seats. To squeeze in more seats, they remove the cup holders and slide in more seats. It's hard to see in this photo, but you can see the rail at the bottom of it:

I guess it makes sense that the roof would open faster than it closes:

And here's the amazing scoreboard:

Our group:


Maybe it wasn't the most Lean-related tour ever, but it was fun.

When we returned to the Sheraton, the afternoon keynote speaker was Emmitt Smith, who needs no introduction to a sports fan.

The former Dallas Cowboys running back is a three-time Super Bowl champion, an NFL hall of famer, a league MVP, and a Super Bowl MVP. He rushed for more yards than any player in NFL history.

I've heard a number of retired athletes speak at events. Yeah, they tell stories about themselves… but occasionally there's an insight.

Emmitt Smith probably wasn't coached to make these points, as I shared on Twitter. I think it's just good thinking from somebody who has worked hard and accomplished a lot in life (including after football):

See this post on humility and Toyota / Lean leaders:

The Leadership Pond Usually Isn't Stocked with Humble Fish

Those last two thoughts really applies to hospitals or companies that benchmark others. If you see where an organization like a ThedaCare or a Toyota is today, do you discount what they're doing (out of jealousy or pride) or are you willing to put in the work that they did?

Do you expect an overnight Lean journey at the snap of your fingers?

Do you want to just copy their results and end state, or are you willing to figure out how they got there and how you can get there yourself?

Emmitt actually said “process… process… process…”

Successful football coaches often talk about process:

Alabama Coach Nick Saban & “The Process”: National Champion & Lean Thinker?

At first I wondered why AME would have Emmitt Smith speak at their annual conference, other than him being a big name. But, I'm glad that AME had him speak. It was thought provoking and helped reinforce that many of these “Lean lessons” are just good leadership lessons.

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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. Mark;
    Great insight. I had wondered the same thing as far as speaker content with a bunch of lean and process folks. Yet, what he said about inspiration had a direct correlation to my AME experience. The 3 days of sessions helped benchmark we’ve done fairly good with culture but we’ve slacked in others. The sharing and discussions provided inspiration for us to keep digging, engaging, improving and growing. Sounds like personal and team PDCA :-)and as he noted, process, process, process. Lean is hard work but carries significant value for all as we pursue the world championship levels of continuous improvement.

    • Thanks for the comment (and it was nice running into you yesterday).

      As somebody pointed out, Emmitt Smith had a ton of natural talent and ability that most people don’t have. That said, many people waste such God-given talent and Emmitt clearly made the most of it.

      I found his talk to be a great reminder about things we should already know… I’m glad he was there to do that.


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