At its core, lean is not about takt time, throughput, push, pull, A3s, or even Kaizen. These are the tools or byproducts of thoughtful management. Lean, at its heart, is about thoughtful management of the business, of the teams, and of ourselves.
We humans want to see what is happening, understand how we and our colleagues best collaborate, solve problems, make good decisions, and have an insatiable desire to be better. We want to be curious ourselves and inspire curiosity in others. We want to question today in the service of a better tomorrow. We want to make sure our culture is one of learning, creation, safety, and ethics. We want to go home knowing we’ve done a good job and that tomorrow is another opportunity for the same.
This Lean reading list, therefore, steps outside the obvious texts and provides offerings with a foundation for these critical skills. I have chosen five books per area of expertise I believe a real Lean Leader or simply a healthy resident of the 21st century would have.
In a world filled with metric junkies, we tend to manage by dashboard. Even if we choose Gemba-aware dashboards, many Lean organizations I visit are focused on numbers first, tools second, and people a distant third. We miss the point that there are people at the center of every system we make and they let us know quickly how inane the systems we are foisting on them are. We need systems that honestly respect people.
In order to do this, we have to expand our horizons. People aren’t just lean, they are people. They have great days and crappy days. They collaborate when you least expect it. They are your only line of defense against the unexpected and your only launchpads to great discoveries. They need time to work, time to think, and time to come up with ideas.
So this is my list. This is Jim Benson’s list. You might have your own (I hope so because there are a lot more books in this world). But one plea I would make is … I urge you to engage in learning while reading. Write in your books, extensively. We authors put those unprinted edges in there for you to annotate – to extend – to rationalize – to learn – to argue – to participate. No writing = no learning. Be bold, get a pen, dare to learn, write in the damn books.
If you find these books helpful, the best payment to me would be to share them with others – with this purpose: to better understand how we all work together and how we need each other. Please do let me know if they were helpful via email (email@example.com) or twitter (@ourfounder).
Lastly, always, when you feel on the verge of a solution, ask one last question: What if that solution were not possible, what would I do then?
Thank you for being interested in making a better world.
“MANY PEOPLE NEED DESPERATELY TO RECEIVE THIS MESSAGE: ‘I FEEL AND THINK MUCH AS YOU DO, CARE ABOUT MANY OF THE THINGS YOU CARE ABOUT, ALTHOUGH MOST PEOPLE DO NOT CARE ABOUT THEM. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.”
KURT VONNEGUT, TIMEQUAKE
Map A: People are People
- Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
- Hocus Pocus – Kurt Vonnegut
- The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom
- The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. LeGuin
- I Wonder as I Wander & The Big Sea – Langston Hughes
“ENJOYMENT APPEARS AT THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN BOREDOM AND ANXIETY, WHEN THE CHALLENGES ARE JUST BALANCED WITH THE PERSON’S CAPACITY TO ACT.” — MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI, FLOW
Map B: The Psychology of Human Endeavor
- Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Thinking Fast and Slow – Kahneman and Tversky
- Snakes in Suits – Babiak and Hare
- The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces – William H. Whyte
- Brain Rules – John Medina
“THE ACQUISITION OF MENTAL SKILLS IS A MATTER OF VOLITION AND FOCUSED EFFORT; IT IS NOT A SPECIAL MYSTICAL GIFT GIVEN TO THE FEW.” — DALAI LAMA XIV,THE UNIVERSE IN A SINGLE ATOM
Map C: The Systems of Better
- Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth – Bucky
- The Souls of Black Folk – W. E. B. DuBois
- Governing the Commons – Elinor Ostrom
- Universe in a Single Atom – Dalai Lama
- 28 Barbary Lane – Armistead Maupin
“A CERTAIN TYPE OF PERFECTION CAN ONLY BE REALIZED THROUGH A LIMITLESS ACCUMULATION OF THE IMPERFECT.” HARUKI MURAKAMI, KAFKA ON THE SHORE
Map D: The Systems of Not Better
- 48 Laws of Power – Robert Greene
- Junky – William S Burroughs
- Animal Farm – George Orwell
- Straight Man – Richard Russo
- Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
“I THINK US HERE TO WONDER, MYSELF. TO WONDER. TO ASK. AND THAT IN WONDERING BOUT THE BIG THINGS AND ASKING BOUT THE BIG THINGS, YOU LEARN ABOUT THE LITTLE ONES, ALMOST BY ACCIDENT. BUT YOU NEVER KNOW NOTHING MORE ABOUT THE BIG THINGS THAN YOU START OUT WITH. THE MORE I WONDER, THE MORE I LOVE.” ALICE WALKER, THE COLOR PURPLE
Map E: Moral Quandaries Lived and Explained
- Shadow of the Hegemon – Orson Scott Card
- Off the Road – Carolyn Cassady
- The Color Purple – Alice Walker
- Drawdown – Paul Hawken
- Being Nixon– Evan Thomas
- The Compass – Tammy Kling and John Spencer Ellis
- Pogo – Bona Fide Balderdash – Walt Kelly