During the last year or so, my dad has been reading through a lot of books for work. They’ve had various titles, but they all mentioned lean thinking or the lean workplace. Though I was always interested in learning about the subject, during senior year I never managed to pick one up. During the summer though, with college on the horizon and following my dad’s encouragement to read them, I started to read, and was amazed.
For those who haven’t heard of lean before, it’s a philosophy about how to make your life and your work more efficient and less wasteful. Now this may sound like a lot of self-help formulas that you’ve heard before, all of those books you’ve see on the shelves at stores promising to make everything great in just a few hours of reading, which is why I was kind of skeptical of the concept. After I was only a few pages into the book though, I could see this was different from other strategies I’ve seen before.
The book is called 2-Second Lean, and is written by a businessman from Washington state named Paul Akers. The author is a very relatable person, who has been living his own American dream of starting his own company and selling products related to his hobby of woodworking. While he gets off to a good start soon after opening for business, he realizes he needs a new way of doing things to really make his business successful. Taking a trip with other businesspeople to Japan, he learned about lean thinking and started to apply it to his business and his life.
Lean is derived from the Toyota Production System, the operational philosophy of the world’s top-selling carmaker. Within their company decades ago, they decided the best way to run affairs and make it better was to always look for improvements that could be made in their processes, and to allow employees to take initiative and suggest changes that would better the workplace. It essentially makes every member of a company an equal contributor to finding new efficiencies and reducing waste at all levels from the entry-level employee to the CEO.
Akers applied these concepts to his company with the help of two consultants and the results were spectacular, but only after a few assumptions were challenged first. One of these revelations that really caught me was that of the inefficiency of a production-line, mass-production system. You would assume building hundreds of pieces of inventory at once and then storing them for sale would be good for a company’s efficiency right? Employing lean thinking though, you can see how this is actually a bad idea. If you manufacture too much inventory, it wastes the resources needed to make it just sitting on shelves waiting to be sold. And if there are mistakes made, they could affect the whole batch. Counterintuitively, it was better for the company to build things to order, saving time, resources and mistakes.
So what can this strategy do for you? Lean isn’t just for business. Akers talks about how he employs its strategies in all aspects of his life, making his morning routine more efficient for example. And that’s really what lean is all about, finding small inefficiencies and slowly making your day less work and more enjoyable at the same time. Think about what loses you minutes, or even seconds each day, and little by little, you’ll find more and more extra time and energy saved.
I can even employ it here at university. My German professor recently had our class read an article about how the internet and technology actually makes it harder to learn with all of its distractions. Students often talk about how they have little time to study, but if you think about all the time wasted from checking phones or clicking around tabs online while studying, you really can cut down your homework time and create more free time for yourself.
Lean thinking isn’t an end all be all, but when I first took a good look at it, it really made me think about how it’s really just simple and practical. Lean thinking is a great concept because it doesn’t promise the world if you just do one big thing. It’s about taking small steps every day to make a big difference in your life.
Connor Kockler is a student at St. John’s University. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.