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"The last fart of the ferret" - Ohno's less sexy soundbite (#17)


Here's a novelty for you; I'll start by getting to the point. Flatulent ferrets can wait til the end.


If you're an MD or CEO you have a choice, not quite as simple as I'm about to suggest but a choice nonetheless. Either be the leader who grasps a crisis as a silver lined opportunity to drive the business to a leaner state (PAIN) OR be a driven leader with a hansei outlook on life (GAIN).


Be one or the other or both but, for your organisation's sake, don't be neither; that path leads nowhere useful. (I'd best nod to the third option of artificially creating a crisis, Toyota style, to rally the troops and focus all efforts in the same battle)


Whether driven by PAIN or GAIN, the MD / CEO clearly needs a degree of capability or a willingness to develop it by borrowing a learning curve. In Japanese-owned transplant plants this might mean a "Senior Advisor" shadow. In SMEs I work with it means someone like me repeatedly challenging the leader on the gemba over time. 


To recap, that's PAIN or GAIN + CAPABILITY.


I raise this because twice recently I've turned down consulting work due to the absence of some of these elements. Turning work away still kicks off an internal struggle between that part of me that has a family to support and the other part that chooses to no longer waste my time and other people's money on fool's errands. In the past I imagine potential clients sat across the desk from me glimpsing the conflict play out across my face. Today it's an easier, fleeting, skirmish.


The Senior Ops person in (we'll call them) "Squandered Client A" was very capable and keen to drive forward. Peer upwards in the organisational structure to witness an MD possessing a tricky mix of questionable capability and apparent indifference. This business is in crisis but wants to pay for a substantial piece of work as a silver bullet to their woes. No thanks.


"Squandered Client B" manifested as a very keen mid-management change agent hemmed in by very resistant management peers, no recognised crisis, and an MD with very clean fingernails and a shelf full of lean classics. Again, No thanks. I don't reach these conclusions flippantly and have a series of cues, clues and blunt conversations to support my conclusion. I am certain that I get it wrong sometimes though...and so to ferrets.


I've noticed that a lot of us lean people tend to romanticise about the roots of lean. Taichi Ohno's "last fart of the ferret" explanation, in the image fronting this blog, puts that myth to the sword. The quotation comes from a great article by Jinichiro Nakane and Robert W. Hall called "Ohno's method". Thanks to Bob Emiliani for tweeting it last month.


Ohno's assertion is that crisis, whilst painful, is a tremendous catalyst in the right leader's hands to fundamentally change a business for the better.


So, if you're an MD/CEO lacking a crisis OR the desire to change the status quo, don't pay for consultancy help. Save the money, create a small crisis to align people around and get learning, or perish eventually.


More next time from two of my client leaders who get it.  


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