‘People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.’ –Michel Foucault
Lean allegedly came from the Japanese manufacturing model in the 1980s and 90s, yet its governing principles, the ‘Five Ss’, are explained in Frederick Taylor’s 1911 book The Principles of Scientific Management in beautiful detail: Sort – you look at a workspace and you see what is needed for the job; everything else, pictures, food, drinks, anything apparently superfluous, you take out. Then you Set in order, so for example if somebody is right-handed you’d make sure you they were sitting in a right-handed workspace. Then Shine – you take everything off and clean – or shine – the workspace, so that managers can see that you’re doing your job and nothing else. Then you Standardize, so that if you’re in Leicester or Lima it’s the same recognizable corporate space. Then Sustain, always said to be the hardest one – keep it going. Of course Sustain is difficult if you go into a workspace and mess around with it in this way, you generate the Hawthorne effect – a quick peak of interest and then a trough of disappointment, so Sustain is hard. But the psychologically interesting thing is that people still think, ‘It must work.’
We don’t understand psychologically why putting someone in an impoverished space should work, when it doesn’t work for any other animal on the planet. Put an ant in a lean jam jar or a gorilla in a lean cage and they’re really miserable, so why should it work for people? So we started to experiment. […]
Every time we’ve experimented, we’ve found well-being and productivity have been inextricably linked. Over eight years, lean has always, without exception, been the worst condition you can put anyone into.