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The Truth Lies in the Lies of Fiction

5/31/2005
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Twenty years ago, while flying to a final vacation before the onset of children, I found myself reading Eli Goldratt's The Goal . It was a great story, even if a little short on practical advice. (You were supposed to look for your “Herbies” - your production bottlenecks -- but the actual method seemed a bit vague.) I've been a bit short on reading time since that trip, but I have often found myself wishing that someone would tell the story of a lean transformation in a compelling fictional form that combines the emotional elements of change with detailed advice on what to do.

Recently and out of the blue I received a manuscript for the “lean” novel I had long been seeking, The Gold Mine. It was from Freddy and Michael Ballé, a father and son team with an unusual background. Freddy, the father, has had a long career as a senior executive in France applying the Toyota methods that he learned beginning in the mid-1970s by going to Toyota City and asking to be a “deshi” (a pupil of the senior Toyota experts.) Michael, the son and the writer, has made a specialty of understanding how we learn new things and how we internalize them so they become a fundamental part of how we behave.

As I read their manuscript, something came back to me I heard nearly 40 years ago in college from my English professor: “The truth lies in the lies of fiction.” What he meant was that nothing in fiction is really true - it's a “lie” or it wouldn't be fiction. But the emotional truths we encounter in stories are often more true and powerful than what we encounter in "real life." What is more, a good story can have a lot bigger effect on how we behave than even the best collection of dry facts.

As I read the story of Dad, Mickey, Phil, and Amy trying to fix an ailing business, it seemed more true to me than most business non-fiction I've read and a lot more useful as well. It is a unique combination of the emotional elements in transforming a business along with the precise technical means and how they must always be applied in combination.

Publishing a novel is a big leap for us at LEI and I'm sure that at least a few members of our Lean Community will think it is out of character. But I believe it is quite consistent with our mission. I founded LEI to teach lean methods in a situation where there are a lot of willing deshi (you and me as pupils) but a hopeless shortage of sensei (teachers with both the knowledge and the emotional power to transform organizations.) So far we've tackled learning as an intellectual matter: In our workbooks and monthly workshops we've been teaching the technical tools you will need. But we also need to teach the emotional elements of change and for that the truths that lie in fiction are the best method at hand.

So I hope you will find our new lean novel, The Gold Mine, as compelling as I did and that it will help you integrate the intellectual and emotional elements of your own transformation. We've just put it on sale in our bookstore. Click here to see a summary, read an excerpt, and enjoy a detailed Q&A with the authors.

Best regards,
Jim

Jim Womack
President and Founder
Lean Enterprise Institute

P.S. At our Lean Business Process Summit in Boston on June 8-10, we will be hearing additional stories of lean transformation outside the factory, as told by eight change agents who applied both emotion and knowledge. It's an exciting program and a great opportunity for face-to-face discussions of the challenges you are facing. I'm therefore looking forward to seeing many members of the Lean Community there. For more information and to register, go to www.lean.org/events.

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