Gone Fishin’ (Ridin’ Really)


Happy Monday everyone.

Regular readers know I took some time away from the blog in advance of the 4th of July holiday. I planned on getting back to my regular daily blogging today, but I had a great time with some visiting family members last week so… I didn't get back to my blogging routine.

But, it was a great week, a “stay-cation” for me at home in Texas. We toured AT&T Stadium, did a “gemba walk” (a tour) at the Fort Worth plant for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (where more than half of U.S. bills are produced), and saw some other local sights. I was “gone fishin'” as they say (or “gone fission” if you're a Simpsons fan). We did not tour a nuclear plant this week.

I'm working on finishing some draft posts today and I'll be back to the regular routine tomorrow.

Yesterday, we visited a friend's ranch and this is, for all practical purposes, the first time I've ridden a horse (the first time since I was a kid).

This was no slow and easy trail horse… Doc here is a championship winning roping horse that our friend has ridden in many rodeos. My friend was a patient instructor and coach… and the horse was quite understanding of my rookie cowboy status. I was told that a course could sense any tension or anxiety, so I did my best to be calm and relaxed.

It was a great reminder of what it feels like to be new at something. When we're teaching or coaching people on Lean, it's important to remember what comes naturally to some people through experience can be scary to somebody who is trying it for the first time.

That's part of the spirit of our book Practicing Lean, by the way.

Our friend showed us the basics of riding, including how to keep the horse comfortable, the key points of how to ride, and important things to not do. We started slow… some small steps… learning how to properly “WHOA” and stop the horse was certainly a key starting point. Safety first. I managed to get Doc up to a good “trot” – which felt faster than it looked on video.

Our friend wasn't going to let me learn through a bad mistake, such as falling off the horse and getting dragged. That wouldn't have been a good example of “learning by doing.”

If I did something wrong or not-quite-correct, our friend coached me in a direct, but kind way. If I struggled with something, she didn't laugh at me… I was actually pretty comfortable riding. I got a good tip about standing up a bit in the saddle and stirrups rather than having all of the weight on my “seat.” My legs served as a bit of a shock absorber.

This is probably embarrassing badly technique for those of you who really ride. I'm not sure why I decided to hold the reins in my left hand since I'm right handed…

We also learned it's important to thank the horse and praise it for doing a good job (and giving it a kiss on its head).

Learning how to doing some basic roping was pretty hilariously bad though… some things can't be corrected with a little bit of coaching, apparently :-)

After this comically-bad roping attempt… and some coaching, our friend brought me down off of Doc to try roping on the ground. That didn't go much better as I managed to lasso myself.

This photo was totally staged… I didn't really rope that practice steer successfully. Our friends showed me “what good looked like” by roping it and then having me hold the rope after the fact. It's not “Fake Lean,” it's “Fake Roping” here.

People who are learning Lean and Kaizen methods and mindsets are usually pretty motivated. A first failed attempt usually doesn't lead them to just give up (or we'd hope not).

I felt ready to give up on roping, partly because there is no good reason for me to learn that skill, for either the purposes of riding in a rodeo or working cattle on a ranch. Even with my struggles, our friends were kind and encouraging… trying to demonstrate how to do it rather than just criticizing.

Riding… now I'd do that again… as with anything new you're learning, there has to be some motivation and self interest.

Is it easy to forget that when it comes to teaching and coaching others in Lean?

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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, thanks for sharing your “horsing around” experience. My guess is you’re holding the reins with your left because your right (primary hand) is hanging on for dear life to the saddle horn. I’m no more experienced than you and that’s what I’d do. I have thoroughly enjoyed the little riding I’ve done but I hadn’t thought of using it as an example of safely learning a new skill, and might use your roping video for a few laughs next opportunity if you don’t mind.

    • Ha ha… yeah, I did put that video out there… my wife did a much better job with her first roping attempts. Same trainer, different results!

      I pulled myself up with my right hand and, you’re right, I probably just didn’t want to let go and grabbed the reins with my left. Our friend didn’t correct me, so it’s probably just a matter of preference.


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