/Discussing online, practicing offline

Discussing online, practicing offline

OPINION – Lean people worldwide carry out improvement activities under a myriad of different circumstances, but ultimately they all struggle with the same thing: learning.

Words: Lex Schroeder, Managing Editor, The Lean Post

Global collaboration on advancing lean thinking and practice – not only an “ideal state” to work towards, but also the mission of Lean Global Network – sounds great, but isn’t easy. We come from different cultures, our language for describing lean principles and ideas can be different, and we often have different motivations and needs for practicing and teaching lean. Nation to nation, region to region, generation to generation, we have different business problems and learning gaps. At the same time, as Roberto Priolo reminds us, our problems are the same.

At the societal and organizational level, Roberto’s right, we’re just beginning to understand the shortcomings of capitalism as we know it and the risks of offshoring production and jobs. Michael Ballé is driving this conversation forward with pieces like Waste-Free Capitalism. Jim Womack has written an essay on putting an end to sweatshops that, in the right hands, might be transformative. Last year, LEI’s John Shook spoke eloquently about how we can stay competitive while building new capabilities and showing deep respect for people at the The Atlantic’s, “Manufacturing’s Next Chapter gathering (watch “What Advanced Manufacturing Requires to Keep Advancing”).

And then, at the organizational, team, and individual level – in nearly every industry – we struggle to learn. Across cultures some of us have more comfort with the hard work of learning than others, but we all struggle to develop our problem solving skills and build problem solving and systems thinking capabilities in our teams and organizations. The good news is, at places like the University of Michigan Health System, people are getting better at problem solving quickly.

Indeed, our challenge is how to build learning organizations (as Peter Senge has written about at length) while staying competitive and responsive to customers and community members. I’m struck by how often this learning organization concept gets missed in the lean community. It’s a concept that seems to cut across those things that divide us, resonating with almost everyone. It’s an idea that can unite us.

To become learning organizations, we must think and talk with each other about what this even means. Thinking together in person or online – at Planet Lean or The Lean Post, on Twitter, wherever – doesn’t mean much of anything without practice, but our hope at The Lean Post is that we’ll serve as a place where leading lean thinkers alongside lesser-known lean practitioners and upcoming voices can grapple with lean ideas and questions together. Not just about how to understand, teach, do, or be lean, but how we can most effectively use thinking to solve social and economic problems and building better businesses (check out Wooden Ships’ story) and more responsible, resilient organizations.

The thinking we do together online informs the quality of our practice, who we practice with, and where we focus our energies.

It is in this spirit that I want to invite your contributions to The Lean Post and also your feedback. We’ve been running more than a few experiments on the Post since we launched and we’re interested in hearing from you. What content have you found valuable? What’s fallen into the category of waste or do you think could be improved? In the meantime, our team will be reading Planet Lean and listening to what other institutes and lean thinkers are doing and learning across the globe.

At Planet Lean and The Lean Post, we want to share lean learning more effectively. To do this – and to live up to the concept of learning organizations ourselves – we need your feedback, your voices, and your stories.


Lex Schroeder works closely with LEI advisors, faculty, authors, and community members to create a rich variety of content on the Post. In addition to her editorial duties at LEI, Lex often runs Open Space sessions at LEI and other lean community events aimed at starting new conversations on lean thinking and practice in the world today. Lex is also a speaker on mindful work, leadership, and systems change and is active in the women’s leadership community. Questions about The Lean Post or have an article idea you’d like to pitch? Email Lex at lschroeder@lean.org