Addicted to Lean

One of my early lessons in leading change came at the age of 19, while working in in a program known as VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America. The lesson was this:

Leading change is marathon not a sprint. Sometimes you just have to pace yourself, give your mind and body a break and do something frivolous and fun to maintain your balance.

In 1968, racial tensions were especially high in rural Florida, and neither my fellow VISTA workers nor I were feeling the love in the segregated communities we were supporting. We were mostly a bunch of passionate, idealistic kids, referred to by many of the locals as “outside agitators.”   For some of our volunteers, the tense, resistant atmosphere triggered a response that I call ‘passion overload.’ These volunteers responded to rejection and resistance by redoubling their efforts, a tactic that sometimes worked but ultimately left them without balance in their lives.   After several months of non-stop advocacy to disinterested and sometimes hostile communities, these overly zealous VISTA volunteers began to crash. Several quit the program while others just became paralyzed by overload and stopped trying. It’s not that they cared more deeply about creating change; they were simply unable to lighten up occasionally.

I escaped those fates, mainly because I had been serendipitously paired with a VISTA partner a few years older than I who was practiced at keeping things in perspective. At the end of almost every day, David T would find an amusing distraction to put the seriousness of the moment in perspective. Bear in mind this was the pre-internet era, not even television in the rural area where we worked. We found amusement in practical jokes and makeshift competitions like tossing rotten tangelos from the grove near our shack into the lake. Somehow that frivolous diversion was a counter balance to a very bad day on the job. It took a little practice for me to join in, but after a while I got the idea.  One night, while we were competing to see who could loft a tangelo the farthest, Dave commented about a fellow VISTA worker who had just quit out of frustration: “We can’t become addicted to our work or we’ll become ineffective.”

Fifteen years after VISTA, I found myself in another outside agitator role, this time in a manufacturing company that was resisting Lean. Managers liked the status quo, and workers distrusted the new kid in town. It reminded me of Florida. In particular, I thought about David T’s lesson. Be passionate, but don’t become addicted. To be effective, change leaders must take their work very seriously, but sometimes they also need to lighten up and have some frivolous fun. In that spirit, I have collaborated with my associates at GBMP to produce another short parody video dedicated to all you serious change leaders who need to lighten up a bit. We hope it adds a little balance to you work life: Click here if you feel like you’re becoming Addicted to Lean.


By the way...

There's still time to register for tomorrow’s free "Tea Time with the Toast Dude" webinar when I'll discuss The Technical Side of Going to See. Starts at 3:00 pm EST and ends promptly at 3:45. Hope to "see" you there. Sign up here.

Also, for those of you who don't already know (and for those who do, but haven't finalized their plans), GBMP organizes an annual conference for lean practitioners from all business sectors, including healthcare. 2014 marks out 10th year celebrating the region's lean community as we get together to learn, share, network and benchmark. We hope you are making plans to attend and getting a team together to take advantage of four exceptional keynotes, 5 concurrent tracks, more than 45 breakout sessions, a virtual plant tour, the Community of Lean Lounge and so much more. Get all of the details here.

This entry was posted in old lean dude, lean manufacturing, continuous improvement, GBMP, Toast Kaizen, northeast lean conference, change agent, change management, addicted to lean, bruce hamilton on June 16 , 2014.