OK, so there’s nothing about this video that isn’t cute. And that’s fine. But what does it have to do with lean? One of the most important lessons that lean can teach us is how to appreciate variation and make the most of it.
When Jim Henson and this little girl went on set, it was to create a product—an item of value. The task, as originally written, was to create a short video where Kermit the Frog and the little girl sang the English alphabet. A simple progression of 26 letters. So simple that variation was inconceivable and no other product was possible.
But little girls do not have Six Sigma Black Belts or PMI certification (thank heavens!).
So the cameras roll, and the little girl suddenly becomes a point source in variation, undermining the original scope of work and putting the project in danger. She keeps injecting “Cookie Monster” in the alphabet, as if he were a letter in the English alphabet.
Cookie Monster is not a letter in the English alphabet.
The little girl thinks this is very funny. Kermit does not, because Kermit is a project manager locked into one irreversible type of value.
Jim Henson, operating Kermit, knows that he can use rewards and penalties to get the product he wants. He knows that the little girl is really excited to be there with Kermit, and that taking Kermit away will get her to settle down and sing the alphabet. So Kermit storms off.
But rather than saying “Kermit, come back, I will sing the alphabet!” this little girl finds the true value—the honest value—and says with a sincerity that anyone can admire:
“I love you!”
And even in the video, you can actually feel the impact this had on Jim Henson. Another day at the office turned into a beautiful gift.
All because of variation.
The real beauty here is that even though this product was fundamentally broken—fundamentally it did not achieve its initial goal—Jim and the people at Children’s Television Workshop thought this lesson was worth sharing. They saw that through variation in their youngest of knowledge workers, there was innovation and inspiration.
Jim Benson is a collaborative management consultant. He helps companies and government agencies of all sizes solve management, innovation, and efficiency problems through collaboration. He is CEO of Modus Cooperandi, a consultancy which combines lean, Agile management, and social media principles to develop sustainable teams. Modus Cooperandi publishes books and free downloadable “Info Paks” that offer insights into the link between lean, social media, kanban, and Agile management. Follow Benson’s blog posts at http://moduscooperandi.com/blog.