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Kevin Meyer


The Divergent Paths of Old Lean Dudes

Our legacy is the success we help create in future generations

Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2019 - 12:02

I have been immersed in the lean world for more than a quarter century. From the start, when some folks from the Association for Manufacturing Excellence showed me how quick changeover could save my injection-molding operation (and probably my job) from imminent destruction, to now, when I can share my own knowledge and experience through a company focused on helping others on their lean journeys. It’s been challenging, fun, and rewarding.

I’ve been lucky to get to know many people along the way, including some who were responsible for bringing lean and the Toyota Production System (back?) to the United States, and many who have fought the battles to transform their organizations with a way of thinking that often flies in the face of traditional management practice. There were several others who have spent their career analyzing, thinking, and writing about lean. Conveyors, doers, experimenters, thinkers, and investigators—all have been critical to the movement.

As I approach retirement, whatever that may be, along with and even behind many of the folks I mentioned above, I’ve started to realize something: Old lean dudes (and dudettes) appear to take two completely divergent paths.

One group, thankfully the majority, remains and even becomes increasingly focused on helping others succeed. They support and mentor the younger generations trying to transform and perhaps even save their own organizations, and they share their time, knowledge, and experience by speaking at events. Some of them are well-known, but many aren’t, yet they are all having a significant impact. I’m saddened to see and hear from some of them less and less, but I have fond memories of how they’ve changed my career and our industry.

Then there’s the other group, thankfully smaller. They have also made significant contributions to the field and have helped me and many others, but something has changed. They have become bitter, confrontational, and seemingly more interested in self-promotion. Differences of opinion become angry arguments instead of an opportunity for shared learning. I obviously won’t name names, but from discussions with many others, I know I’m not the only person who has noticed this divergence. It’s sad, really. So much knowledge and experience being overshadowed and underappreciated, thanks to unnecessary drama. Pretty unlean.

As we gain more knowledge and experience, I believe we have a moral responsibility to share and teach. For many of us, that knowledge and experience, gained with the help of others who came with and before us, has created considerable success. The time comes to help create success in others. That is a big reason why Gemba Academy is so important to me: It’s a way to give back, and the online medium is a force multiplier when delivering knowledge.

It’s not about us. Our legacy is the success we help create in future generations. Find ways to share, teach, mentor, and grow those who are just starting on or struggling with the continuous improvement journey. Do so with humility, grace, and respect.

First published August 10, 2019, on Kevin Meyer’s website.


About The Author

Kevin Meyer’s picture

Kevin Meyer

Kevin Meyer has more than 25 years of executive leadership experience, primarily in the medical device industry, and has been active in lean manufacturing for more than 20 years serving as director and manager in operations and advanced engineering, and as CEO of a medical device manufacturing company. He consults and speaks at lean events; operates the online knowledgebase, Lean CEO, and the lean training portal, Lean Presentations; and is a partner in GembaAcademy.com, which provides lean training to more than 5,000 companies. Meyer is co-author of Evolving Excellence–Thoughts on Lean Enterprise Leadership (iUniverse Inc., 2007) and writes weekly on a blog of the same name.