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Jim Benson


A Lean Reading List

With no books about lean

Published: Wednesday, September 2, 2020 - 12:02

Untitled Document

From Dust Tracks on a Road, by Zora Neale Hurston (J. B. Lippincott, 1942)

The quote in the picture from Zora Neale Hurston does not end there; it finishes, “It is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein.”

Zora was describing something specific in her life: researching folk music while she was attending Barnard College. She started that quest by walking the grounds of Barnard and asking music scholars if they had any folk music she could listen to.

They looked at her blankly, trying to figure out what “folk music” actually meant and went back to their concertos.

Her search then took her to where folk music actually resided—sometimes putting her in unsafe or even life-threatening situations. Her research required going to the gemba. Not just reading about it.

Lean is manifesting respect for people

At its core, lean is not about takt time, throughput, push, pull, A3s, or even kaizen. These may be tools or byproducts of thoughtful management. But they are not lean.

Lean, at its heart, is thoughtful management of business, of 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 we 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.

Respect made manifest is the only reason to engage in lean, agile, or any other package of continuous improvement. People are important.

So 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 (personalkanban@moduscooperandi.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.

From Timequake, by Kurt Vonnegut (Putnam Publishing Group, 1997)

The actual reading list

Map A: People are people
Man’s Search for Meaning—Viktor Frankl (WOW Publishings, 2020)
Hocus Pocus—Kurt Vonnegut (Berkeley, 1997 reprint)
The Five People You Meet in Heaven—Mitch Albom (Hachette Books, 2003)
The Left Hand of Darkness—Ursula K. LeGuin (Ace Reissue edition, 2000)
I Wonder as I Wander and The Big Sea—Langston Hughes (University of Missouri, 2003, and Hill and Wang, 2015)

“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 (Harper Perennial, 1990)

Map B: The Psychology of human endeavor
Flow—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (HarperCollins, 2008)
Thinking Fast and Slow—Kahneman and Tversky (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011)
Snakes in Suits—Babiak and Hare (HarperCollins, 2009)
The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces—William H. Whyte (Project for Public Spaces, 2001)
Brain Rules—John Medina (Pear Press, 2014)

“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 (Harmony, 2005)

Map C: The systems of better
Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth—Buckminster Fuller (The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller, 2015)
The Souls of Black Folk—W. E. B. DuBois (Oxford University Press, 2014)
Governing the Commons—Elinor Ostrom (Cambridge University Press, 2015)
The Universe in a Single Atom—Dalai Lama (Harmony, 2005)
28 Barbary Lane—Armistead Maupin (Harper Perennial, 2016 reprint)
Birth of a Chaordic Age—Dee Hock

“A certain type of perfection can only be realized through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect.”
—Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore (Knopf, English translation, 2005)

Map D: The systems of not better
48 Laws of Power—Robert Greene (Penguin, 2000)
Junky—William S. Burroughs (Grove Press, 2012)
Animal Farm—George Orwell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009)
Straight Man—Richard Russo (Vintage, 2011)
Kafka on the Shore—Haruki Murakami (Vintage, 2005)

“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 (Harcourt, 1982)


Map E: Moral quandaries lived and explained
Shadow of the Hegemon—Orson Scott Card (Tor Books, 2009)
Off the Road—Carolyn Cassady (Harry N. Abrams, 2008)
The Color Purple—Alice Walker (Open Road Media, 2011)
Drawdown—Paul Hawken (Penguin Books, 2017)
Being Nixon—Evan Thomas (Random House, 2015)
Pogo: Bona Fide Balderdash—Walt Kelly (Fantagraphics, 2012)

First published May 28, 2020, on Medium.


About The Author

Jim Benson’s picture

Jim Benson

Jim Benson is the creator and co-author (with Tonianne DeMaria) of the best seller Personal Kanban (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2011) winner of the Shingo Research and Publication Award, 2013. His other books include Why Limit WIP (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), Why Plans Fail (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), and Beyond Agile (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2013). He is a winner of the Shingo Award for Excellence in Lean Thinking, and the Brickell Key Award. Benson and DeMaria teach online at Modus Institute and consult regularly, helping clients in all verticals create working systems. Benson regularly keynotes conferences, focusing on making work rewarding and humane.