Three years ago when I visited China I came across a powerful truth, wherever there is abundance there is waste. The thought occurred to me when I walked outside a factory and was standing there with the factory owner. His dog was circling around our feet, rummaging and foraging in the bushes for any little morsel to eat. I noticed the dog was very thin, not malnourished, but very thin; if you will, very lean. This dog was very resourceful. It spent no time lying around like most dogs, it was constantly on the hunt for food.
I realized that in the environment of China there isn’t much waste. Everyone has to make do with very little and indeed you see this very clearly when you go inside a Chinese restaurant. They eat everything, whether it be the beak or the feet of a duck or the fins on a fish, everything is consumed & nothing is wasted because there isn, abundance.
In America, however, there is waste everywhere you look. Indeed, we’re a very rich country with abundance everywhere. Abundance in and of itself is not the problem; it’s the way we treat the excess of the abundance. When we have a resource and we don’t use it properly or to its fullest extent then we waste that resource. That resource – that waste – could be allocated towards other valuable activities. We have become lazy because of the excess so we don’t use our resources to the fullest extent.
At companies like Toyota and Fastcap, there is a finely honed culture that understands that waste is the enemy and the goal is to eliminate it at every turn. At these companies it isn’t just about not wasting things; it’s really about allocating the waste towards other valuable activities. This is the critical component. You don’t waste only because it’s not good to waste. You don’t waste because there are other valuable activities that you can put that waste toward. In a lean environment Lean Thinkers understand this.
When I told this story to a friend of mine and explained the idea that wherever there’s abundance there’s waste, he chuckled and laughed. He said, “You’re absolutely right”. I was raised on a farm, and whenever our friends from the city came to visit they noticed that there were a lot of very skinny barn cats. They would ask my dad why he didn’t feed those cats. My dad would always retort back ‚”Are you kidding, those are self propelled, self cocking mouse traps!“. My dad got a chuckle out of telling those stories because he understood that if he fed those cats they wouldn’t do their jobs. They’d be lying around like most other farm animals would if they were fed at every turn. Instead my father allocated just the right amount of resources to keep those cats on their toes and on edge and doing their job.
That‚’s the power of not wasting resources. When you don’t waste resources then you get exactly what you put into it, no more and no less. There aren’t available resources that are left on the side of the road, animals lying around the farm not doing their job. The cycle the laws of nature, work perfectly when available resources are not wasted. That’s the power of understanding that wherever there is abundance there is waste.
For instance, in our company, FastCap, we make a concerted effort not to throw money at every problem. Our work bench was made and maintained by or people from particle board, not bought from some fancy catalog. Instead, we answer every problem by using our wits, not our wallets. We understand that when you answer every question with the abundance, i.e. the wallet, you probably aren’t going to get a creative answer, and most definitely you’re not going to get an efficient answer. When you limit the resources, when you use your head (your wit) and not your wallet, then amazing things can happen. You can have a lean dog and a lean work bench and very little waste. This is a beautiful thing. Waste is not just bad because its waste – waste is bad because it does not give you the best answer.