Us leanies hate waste. We go after it with a passion and vigor that has few equals. But in our zeal could we be going too far, and actually decrease value? That’s the question that popped into my mind after reading Steve Conover’s latest post over at The Skeptical Optimist. You get a sense of where he’s going from his opening ramblings…
I dislike waste as much as anyone else does. Whenever a baseball pitcher gives up a hit, every pitch thrown during that at-bat turns out to have been wasted. No doubt about it: all baseball pitchers are wasting their arms on a high percentage of their pitches.
Whenever a tennis player loses a game, every stroke in it was wasted; likewise, losing the set wastes every game in it, and losing the match wastes every set. Both winning and losing tennis players are wasting a large portion of their energy and talent, aren’t they?
If you haven’t guess it, here’s his point.
The problem with shallow thinking is that in most cases it’s impractical or impossible to eliminate the waste, and in many other cases we shouldn’t want to eliminate it. Why? Because much "waste" is inextricably built into a process that yields overall positive results.
We should still attack waste, but be more careful.
Don’t get me wrong: waste that can be eliminated without any undesirable side effects should be eradicated without hesitation. Let’s give the positive, unpredictable surprise every chance to emerge. Let’s eliminate waste that we can isolate from productive spending. Let’s spend and borrow as necessary to encourage the positive Black Swans and to prevent the negative ones. We need a paradigm shift, and all such progress generates some degree of "waste." Why not focus on the former instead of the latter?
Larry Kudlow correctly keeps reminding us of what Reagan used to say: "Okay, you showed me the manure. Now show me the pony."
So be careful when attacking waste. Trying new ideas, new cell configurations, new training methods… even if they fail they will probably eventually add value.
Jill Jusko says
I always enjoy reading your comments. In this particular instance I guess I would simply amend your last statement, which read: Trying new ideas, new cell configurations, new training methods…even if they fail they will probably eventually add value.
I’d remove the words “probably eventually.” The immediate value add is, or should be, the learning that came from the attempt, even if it failed.
Mark Graban says
The problem I have with your comments is that I think Conover isn’t talking about “waste” in a Lean context. I’d agree with your comments if you said we shouldn’t be fearful of “failure” because if we’re afraid of failure, we’ll never push hard enough to make real progress (learning from failure is part of that).
I’m having trouble getting past the Lean definition of waste and what sounds like making excuses for waste… I don’t think that’s what you mean, but that’s almost how it comes across.
Yes, you can, for example, go too far in eliminating the “waste of inventory,” creating more “waste of waiting” and “waste of motion” in the process. But I don’t think that’s the analogy that Conover is drawing either. If he’s saying “tolerate some waste because it’s part of a good process” then I disagree with that strongly. You can eliminate waste without destroying the good parts of a process.
Alan Clark says
I agree with Jill about enjoying reading your comments.
What, or rather who, sprang to my mind was Thomas Eddison inventing the light bulb. In the process he learned 9999 things that wouldn’t work. And I guess Marie Curie had some waste working through a ton of pitchblende to extract polpnium and radium.