A Self Professed Lean Simpleton!

When I was in college I studied abroad in Germany for one semester. I studied German language, history, and literature. One of the books that I read was called Simpleton. As I remember, it was the story of a servant class young man. He was looking out into the world of kings and queens through the eyes of a very naïve man who had little exposure to the things of the world, let alone nobility. After I read that book I walked away with the notion that being a simpleton was not a good thing. He was looked down upon, as you could imagine, as nothing more than a common servant amongst the geniuses of the day. When I returned home to the states I was essentially a straight A student. I assure you it was not because I was a brainiac, I just figured out the only way I was going to accomplish anything significant in school was if I studied all the time. You could’ve easily labeled me “no party Paul”.

When I lived in Germany I was a straight C student. The only thing I could think about was passing the semester and not getting kicked out of the program. I developed one simple goal, pass, don’t worry about how good your grades are, just pass and get through this semester. Again, I promise I didn’t get these terrible grades because I was down at the Hofbrau House pounding down beers. Just the opposite, I was studying like a maniac but the information was overwhelming to me. I had to keep my goals and objectives simple. A lot of my coursework was in German on top of learning the language. I had studied German for 1 year prior to going on the trip, because it was a requirement to even be accepted into the program. Regardless of my preparation, this was one of the hardest semesters of my life and to further complicate it I even struggle with the English language. Needless to say, being a Simpleton was the order of the day, just pass the damn class and get through the semester without a D or an F.

At my company, FastCap, simple was the order of the day. As I developed my company and it became more more successful, the complexity that arose around managing it became daunting. I began to look for simple concepts and principles to manage the company successfully. I needed to find concepts that not only I could understand but that all my team members could understand so that we could all be pulling the oars at the same time and in the right direction. As I developed and adopted this kind of thinking, I was branded by my Business peers who had MBAs and advanced degrees in business, as a simpleton. I even remember one of my peers telling me that my success was not because I was smart or talented but it was just because I was lucky. Wow, that hurt, but never mind, I still focused on trying to make everything super simple. I think my predilection towards simplicity is because I’m not a Rhodes scholar. I view myself as a pretty average person and in order to live in a complex world I felt the necessity to simplify everything so I could manage my life and business with a modicum of success.

I guess I was lucky, but my company continued to prosper and do better and better under the following simple concepts:

– Pay all your bills-then put some of the remaining money in savings and then you can spend money with what is left after those simple elements have been tended to. A line of credit is not a good thing-it’s something you have because you really didn’t manage your money very well. Now I can hear everybody screaming at me right now telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about but as I like to say about Steve Jobs, before you criticize him remember Apple has $80 billion in the bank. Say what you want about this guy, but he was doing something right.
I’m not saying I have billions in the bank,but I’m doing quite well and it’s because I manage my company under a simple set of principles: don’t spend money you don’t have and cash is king.

Another one of my simple principles is; work hard-then play. Always in that order. Do the hard thing first, and the playing will be that much sweeter.

Always work in a clean and orderly environment. That means before you ever start work,clean up your area and prepare yourself to work, then work. I have Bob Taylor to thank for this wonderful principal. Bob taught it to me when I was a young man at just 17 years old building beautiful musical instruments at Taylor Guitars. First thing we did every morning when we got to work was clean the entire facility from top to bottom. Never mind the schedule of how many guitars we had to produce a day, just get this place cleaned so we can work effectively. Back in the 70s we were making three guitars a day. Today Bob And his team at Taylor guitars builds over 600 of the finest musical instruments a day. I guess Bob knew something about keeping it simple in a sea of complexity.

In 2000 I had my first exposure to lean and the next thing you know I started to learn about this crazy Japanese concept and gosh was it was so powerful. I saw some fantastic results. The problem was, I felt I needed to hire a consultant to implement them. I was overwhelmed by the concept of trying to bring this new found management system into every nook and cranny of my company. I just wanted to hire someone and say go do lean to my company. Fortunately I figured out the secret to lean to make it simple and fun and that it was my responsibility to bring lean concepts to my company, not a consultant.

Today I receive thousands of emails and communications from companies all over the world thanking me for making lean so simple.

I used to think that being a simpleton was not a good thing. Now I would have to say that I am a self-professed lean simpleton. Perhaps I’m not the simpleton that I read about when I was in college, but I am definitely a simpleton in the context of making things extremely simple so that everyone can participate in building a dynamic lean culture.

I cannot tell you how many e mails I have received from people saying the consultants came in and made everything so complicated. I read your book and applied a few of your simple principles like teaching the eight wastes and making small improvements and our entire company was transformed. I Receive so many of these emails that I have an app on my phone called text expander and when I type in the word damn consultants it populates with the following paragraphs.

Hi Chris: that was an incredible email. I wish I could say I’ve never heard this before but I hear it every day from people around the world.

All I can say is those damn consultants! I have heard it said that the definition of a consultant is “someone who knows how to make love 100 ways but knows no women:)

I wanted you to know that there are organizations all over the world that have adopted our simple 2 second Lean model.

This short video from Cambridge Engineering in St. Louis, Missouri demonstrates how their transformation took place and what they did. It is powerful and simple! The thing that is so striking about their transformation is there were no consultants and I never visited their company.

In April 2016 I visit Cambridge to see with my own eyes their amazing transformation. Here is a quick video I made on my iPhone to show the way their people think.

After watching those two videos hopefully you’re convinced that Lean is stunningly practical!

Lean is so simple: start by making sure everyone understands one thing and one thing only….learn to see waste!

1. Learn to see waste.
2. Make one tiny improvement before you work.
3. Short meetings to meet as a team everyday.
4. 3S and clean your facility before you work.
5. Make quick before and after videos on your phone showing your improvements and upload to your youtube channel.

If you’re doing lean correctly it should be pure joy. It is for the purpose of improving the quality of your life and the lives of your customers. When you improve your work you’ll improve the quality of your work and you will deliver more value to your customers. In turn, you will have more joy because you are satisfying the innate need in every human being to grow, improve and learn.

It is impossible in this context to not drive cost down. You never do lean for the purpose of making more money or saving money, but this is clearly the natural byproduct of lean when it’s done correctly. You do not talk about money, only talk about improving the quality of everyone’s life.

Start slow; be consistent; master the basics; have a daily morning meeting for 5 to 10 minutes to discuss problems, solutions and improvements. Watch some of our videos…everything’s free. Have a quick discussion about what you have learned, & what you think.

Master 3S’ing on a daily basis. Keep everything swept,sorted and standardized.

Make one tiny improvement, then work.

Supercharge the whole system by making it quick, fun, before and after videos with your phone.

Everything else will take care of itself in due time and at the right time.

All the best,