Lean Storytelling


I recently listened to a Gemba Academy podcast (www.gembapodcast.com episode 116) on Storytelling and Lean. There were some great points I thought would be of use to this community.

Ultimately, Lean is about people.  However, when practitioners talk about Lean they tend to talk more about facts and figures – cycle time reductions, cost savings, etc.  The presenter for this podcast was Jacob Stoller (www.jacobstoller.com) author of the book “The Lean CEO”.  He interviewed leaders who were able to effectively develop lean cultures within their companies.  It was here that he first came to appreciate the power of storytelling for promoting the benefits of Lean.

Stories are great tools for touching people’s hearts and minds.  Neuroscience shows that when people listen to stories, that more regions of their brain light up than when they watch a presentation filled with facts and figures.  This  effect is amplified when someone can put themselves into the story and it resonates with their experience.

To instill a Lean culture you need to change people’s beliefs.  Great stories touch emotions.  In the podcast there is an example of a story told during a presentation of the results of a process improvement project.  The leader asked one of the workers who was part of the project, how that project had impacted him personally.   The man told the leader that now he talked to his wife more.  When asked to explain, he said that since being part of the lean project, he felt more fulfilled at work, his ideas were recognized and he had a chance to become more engaged in his job.  So, instead of going home at the end of the day feeling beaten down, he left with a more positive attitude.  This carried over to his relationship with his family and as a result, he and his wife were getting along better.

This is a story everyone can relate to.  The facts of the project might only be of interest to someone in a similar position or industry, but the human impact is something everyone can relate to.

To help people begin to craft their own stories.  Jacob offered the acronym CRAVE – Certification, Relevance, Authenticity, Values, andEphany.

  • Certification. You have to have some credible evidence to back up the point you are trying to make.  You want people to believe you.  You just don’t have to hit people over the head with numbers, statistics, and graphs.
  • Relevance.  Make sure your example is one your audience can relate to, otherwise you will lose them.
  • Authenticity.  This is about people.  You need to make it a human story and people need to believe you are being honest and sharing something of yourself with them.
  • Values.  The story should touch on common values that everyone is working toward.  The purpose of the Lean project should relate back to some core value.  Make it meaningful to the organization.
  • Epiphany. This is the “ah ha” moment where something is learned.  The person who learned something can be either the person telling the story or the person listening to the story.  Though it is usually more powerful if the person telling the story shares something he/she learned.

Jacob’s parting thought is where there is smoke there is fire.  Whenever you have a Lean success, there is somebody who got really excited and did something.  Look for the inspiring results and talk to the people involved.  Try to understand the human impact of the project from their perspective.  Then write up the stories so they can be shared and also to have a record of not just the projects you completed but also the human side of those projects.

The Beginner’s Mind


As I prepare to embark on our coaching project, I’ve been reflecting on the things I think will be challenging for me as a coach.  One thing I want to keep front of mind is my tendency to want to solve problems and tell people what I think they should do.  As a coach my job is to help the people I’m coaching solve the problems for themselves.  Over the past couple of weeks I keep running across the concept of the “beginner’s mind” and decided that this is something I needed to explore further.

Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki said, in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice, “In the Beginner’s Mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.”  For most of us, once we have figured out a strategy that works, we use the same techniques over and over again without ever questioning whether this is really the best approach.  As James Clear says in Shoshin: This Zen Concept Will Help You Stop Being a Slave to Old Beliefs, “most people don’t want new information, they want validating information.  As a coach, I need to be aware of my preconceptions and biases and also be open to seeing things from another’s perspective.

My goal will be to adopt a “don’t know” mind set and also guide those I am coaching to use the same approach.  We need to approach each process with curiosity and a sense of exploration.  We need to ask questions without assuming we know all the answers.  One way to know that someone is straying into preconceptions is when you hear the word “should”.  In The Beginner’s Mind, Peter Kaufman says “I think one of the most basic ways to think about the beginner’s mind is to speak of intellectual curiosity—to have this insatiable desire to gain more knowledge and wisdom because we know there is so much more to learn. “

In Beginner’s Mind D. Keith Robinson recommends reframing “success” as learning something new.  If your goal is to learn something new rather than solve a problem or come up with an answer, you will be much more open to asking questions and exploring. Fear of failure can lead to approaching a problem with a closed mindset.  However with a goal of learning, you are bound to succeed.

Many times feedback can be framed in the negative. Instead of saying “yes, but”, which can imply unwillingness to explore new ideas, say “yes, and” which implies a openness and a willingness to include other ideas or perspectives.  We need to be sure that we don’t close the door and say “no” to new possibilities.  As a coach, I will need to pay attention to the words I use.  I want to be sure I’m being positive and open rather than negative and closed.

When approaching an obstacle as a coach, I need to be sure that we follow the  PDCA process one step at a time.  It’s important not to mentally skip to the end as following the process will likely take us in new and unexpected directions. I need to help the person I’m coaching focus on asking good questions rather than feeling like she needs to have all the answers.  “You can never solve a problem on the same level on which it was created.”  Albert Einstein

Adopting a beginner’s mind, doesn’t mean that you have to throw out everything you know, nor is it meant to discount expertise. Rather, it’s a reminder to try to approach a subject with the same openness and curiosity that you had when you first began studying a new field.  When applying what you know to a new circumstance pay attention to the things that might be different.  Just because something may have worked previously, doesn’t mean that it will work for every situation.  In The hidden power of ‘I don’t know’: How to work through creative blocks with Beginner’s Mind, Jory Mackay recommends using your experience as a “cognitive time machine”.  “It’s like a mental time machine transporting you back to a point of open curiosity but with a higher level of wisdom.”

When I think about preparing to coach and developing a beginner’s mind, I have to keep reminding myself that this is not something I’m going to be good at immediately. It will take practice and work.  For the beginner, practice without effort is not true practice. For the beginner, the practice needs great effort.” Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki  I have to also remind myself that a beginner’s mind is not just another tool that I take out and dust off when needed.  It’s not a mindset but a way of being and approaching the world.  I just have to keep practicing and learning.