The lean manufacturing model, when applied to knowledge work, is a race to the bottom where humans are reduced to robots and creative output to widgets. The work is process-mapped to death, and management demands “faster, better, cheaper.” The concern is not for the experience of the end customer or the growth of the company, but rather “what can the customer live without so that we can save more money?”
From lean.org, “…lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.” It comes from the Japanese manufacturing industry (championed by Toyota), and the basic tenet is to create more with less, and to reduce waste.
Sounds great, right? It isn’t for knowledge workers. The employees in a factory-like organization avoid taking risks, are not allowed to be creative in their solutions to problems, and have low morale. Seth Godin refers to having a “factory mentality” vs. being indispensable in his book Linchpin* (a career-defining must-read in my opinion). Godin shares the following story in the book and it sums up the institutionalized, woe-is-me mentality of many “factory workers” who won’t allow anyone to get ahead if they cannot.
Business professors Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad wrote about an experiment conducted with a group of monkeys. Four monkeys were placed in a room that had a tall pole in the center. Suspended from the top of that pole was a bunch of bananas.
One of the hungry monkeys started climbing the pole to get something to eat, but just as he reached out to grab a banana, he was doused with a torrent of cold water. Squealing, he scampered down the pole and abandoned his attempt to feed himself. Each monkey made a similar attempt, and each one was drenched with cold water. After making several attempts, they finally gave up.
Then researchers removed one of the monkeys from the room and replaced him with a new monkey. As the newcomer began to climb the pole, the other three grabbed him and pulled him down to the ground. After trying to climb the pole several times and being dragged down by the others, he finally gave up and never attempted to climb the pole again.
The researchers replaced the original monkeys, one by one, with new ones, and each time a new monkey was brought in, he would be dragged down by the others before he could reach the bananas. In time, only monkeys who had never received a cold shower were in the room, but none of them would climb the pole. They prevented one another from climbing, but none of them knew why.
A linchpin applies unique skills, expertise, or knowledge to become indispensable to the organization. He or she is an artist, a master of his or her craft. That’s what I want to be. Not a cog in a machine.
Are you working in an office “factory job?” Are you ready for a change or am I all wrong? Let me know by commenting below.
Photo John Lloyd
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