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"Physician Heal Thyself" - a thought for all lean thought leaders & bloggers (#40)


In today's blog, I present no answers, only a question I have no answer for.


In about 5 minutes you'll be contemplating the irony of this piece. Don't worry, it's not lost on me, I am an equally guilty contributor to the great big lean blog bin.


I very much admire the writing styles & well crafted articles of (not an exhaustive list) Jim Womack, Dan Jones, John Shook, Karen Martin, Pascal Dennis, Michel Baudin, Michael Ballé, Mark Graban, Jon Miller, Dan Markowitz, Katie Anderson et al. To be clear, these are all highly skilled people with strong, expert guidance to offer on an individual basis, but in the"tie two birds together, sure they've got 4 wings but can they fly" vein of thought, we inadvertently ignore the prevailing how-to-find-a-sensei-for-your-lean-journey advice expressed in step 1) below:


1) Find a real one (not easy)

2) Check them out thoroughly (to see if their skills are as silky as LinkedIn would suggest)

3) Engage them & surrender to their better judgement (i.e challenge them, but surrender to their questions and suggested sequence of experiments)


Step 1) says "Find one" not "Try to make a coherent path from tuning into six, seven or eight of them". Then again, variety is good. So who knows.


My worry is that individual 'gold' is being lost in the daily deluge of collective digital output. You put 20 skilled people in a room and ask them to talk about whatever they think matters at that moment in time and you've not got a coherent conversation. Have we lost our way collectively in terms of our digital output?


That's a bold contention so I'll make 3 specific points about our accidental hypocrisy as a lean community - [A] The Customer, [B] PDCA and [C] (Muri) Overburden:


[A] The Customer: Who is the Customer of this information? Are we just putting this stuff out there, hoping that some of it sticks in general? If we don't specify the Customer, how can we understand their particular pain and challenges before reaching into their world to apply a healing balm? "Anyone involved in lean" is too broad a Customer I think, it's tough to be all things to all people.


Do we end up finding an audience of kindred spirits for a cathartic echo chamber reinforcement of our personal flavour of lean thinking? Are we penetrating deeply enough where the work is actually done? How much of what we write reaches & influences a gemba of some kind?


(B) PDCA: Do we apply PDCA thinking to our output? How do we know it's hitting the spot and how do we understand what we need to do on the next blog or article to hit the spot a little better? Our independence means that we write either about (i) what interest us / has caught our attention recently or (ii) about issues that we believe are the most pressing to read about. The reality for many of us is that blogging/article writing is a marketing and positioning device to indicate to the market the shininess of our wares on offer. In PDCA terms: How do I perform a C check on my D output, assuming I had a P in the beginning?


[C] (Muri) Overburden: Do the maths on the volume of lean articles and blogs released daily, add the LinkedIn posts, top up with tweets and you have a recipe for Muri. Any given individual has to curate a huge amount of inputs to filter down to a manageable amount of information. Gold is being left in the mine every day because interested readers can't find it.


So, to the answer I haven't got. Let's start with purpose & assume it goes beyond building an audience. Is the purpose of blogs, articles, podcasts etc:

  • To disseminate knowledge by offering up our learning curves for others in an attempt to collapse their learning lead-time (if this is possible)

  • To encourage a strong thinking and doing way? to learn to run the right controlled experiments to test the right situational hypotheses

I don't think it's this simple or purist. Some people like me write partially for positioning, but also because of an enjoyment of the written word. Some write to learn and clarify their own learning.


My conclusion? It's none of our faults individually, the system is fundamentally not designed to be optimised. In a free market, competition is good and the cream will rise to the top, No? The incentives in these particular social interactions are set up for us to sub-optimise, unless we belong to an institute of some kind spreading an idea with altruistic intent rather than selling consulting days (like me & others)?


What's the alternative to the current individually-managed-output model? Someone to moderate, level the load or curate? I'm not sure I fancy a censorship-lite option. Who gets to play the gatekeeper and judge of what is "good" content? Humans are deeply flawed. Perhaps we could introduce a belt certification system :)


[Perhaps our robot overlords & AI in 20 years will have a better chance to stratify & curate, although ironically they'll arguably have no need for lean; no people...no change management issues...perfect factory physics and processes running to bang on nominal...hmmm, maybe a little bit of TPM will be required. Although, can a machine deduce the perfect business strategy? to sell to subjugated humans or to other machines?]


I digress though. The levelling option seems doomed as getting everyone together and levelling the schedule in terms of volume & mix is, well, tricky. Curating the tailored mix for a millions of individual lean practitioners is, well, trickier. The situational nature of lean transformation renders this a very complex algorithm & designing it requires skilled boots and eyes on the gemba.


Maybe the countermeasure doesn't come from the supply-side but from the demand-side. Is the answer to signpost better; who, where and what to read/digest if you are in situation A, B or C. To essentially show people how to self-diagnose and self-curate.


Or I could just be wrong about all this. The market finds equilibrium and this is a first world concern. And yet, I'm relatively skilled but have to work hard to separate the signal from the noise.


PS - Enjoy this, my 40th blog. I told you I was a part of the problem.

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