Monday, April 17, 2017

In Chess & Business, Lies & Hypocrisy Do Not Last Long

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

I paraphrase the great Emmanuel Lasker, philosopher, mathematician, and world chess champ from 1894 to 1920.

I encourage you all to play chess. It’s fun, engrossing and wonderful for the mind. Chess’s wildly romantic history and mythology is an added bonus.

(Nowadays you can download grandmaster level chess programs on to your Pad!)

One of the great charms of chess is its binary nature.

You win or lose based on

  • The strength of your ideas, and
  • Your skill & courage in implementing them

Is Lasker's maxim true in business?

In small business, I'd say Yes.

Our success or failure depends on the depth of our strategic understanding, and the energy & intelligence with which we execute.

(Luck plays a part too, of course, as always & everywhere.)

How about BIG business?

Based on my experience, I'd say Yes - with important reservations.

Monopoly, oligopoly, and market rigging (e.g. to keep competition out) are all too common.

(The countermeasure is intelligent regulation in accord with the "Less is More" principle)

Another exception is large companies suffering from Big Company Disease, the villain in my last book, The Remedy.

Perhaps the greatest power of the Toyota management system (aka "Lean") is its ability to make problems visible.

Lasker might add, "thereby, we expose lies & hypocrisy."

Good Lean companies are thus, a meritocracy. The best & brightest prosper, and bozos are exposed.

Play chess, have fun, kick butt and take names.



Monday, April 3, 2017

What is Courage & What’s It Mean for Strategy?

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Strategy entails answering two questions: 1) Where are we going?, and 2) How are we going to get there?

Last time I talked about how we might create a pull for achievement, and thereby transcend the limitations of the carrot & stick.

Today I’d like to talk about how we stay the course. Achievement is hard, achievement hurts. How do we sustain our drive in the face of hurtles, hassles and hammerheads?

The ancients defined Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Courage.

Courage is the most admired, and rightly so. (Marcus Aurelius called in Fortitude). Breakthrough – transcendent, enduring achievement – requires all the Cardinal Virtues, and courage most of all. In fact, Courage makes the other virtues possible.

So what is Courage? It is not fearlessness. Courage is the capacity to overcome fear.

Courage, like True North, entails head and heart. [Getting the Right Things Done]

Courage without the head is simply foolhardiness. Courage means you understand the risks, and do it anyway.

Is courage a virtue under any circumstance? I'd say not. Is a courageous terrorist admirable?

Courage is only admirable when exercised in the service of others, of the greater good, of True North.

So what does this all mean for the practicing manager? Define & communicate Purpose clearly. Seek to develop Courage in yourself and your team.

Courage is our fuel. Understand that achievement hurts, and that you will fall down many times.

‘Fall down seven times, get up eight times…’

Best regards,


Monday, March 20, 2017

"How Will You Motivate Your Team, Pascal-san?"

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

An elderly Japanese asked me this question a long time ago and it has stayed with me. How, indeed, do we motivate people to do extraordinary things?

There are many schools of thought. The carrot & stick is perhaps the oldest. "Do as I say or I'll do bad things to you!" There's no denying it works – to a point.

But the carrot & stick is a classic ‘push’ system. Is there any pull? Does it motivate creative work, breakthrough work?

Did Steve Jobs motivate his designers to want to create the IPod, IPhone, IPad by threatening them continually? No doubt there was an element of fear. "Don’t want Steve hollering at me again!"

But there was much more. Transcendent achievement requires connection to a deeper purpose – to a ‘Noble Goal’.

Jobs' celebrated hoshin (motto) is a good example. Let's put a ding in the universe.

Subtext: Let’s kick butt & take names! Let’s shoot the moon! Let’s give it everything we’ve got! And why? Because we’re human & we only live once. So let’s let the universe know we were here, that we lived to the fullest and left our mark.

Despite his idiosyncrasies, Jobs touched the heart. His 2005 Stanford commencement speech gets me every time.

‘Something for the head, something for the heart’, I’ve suggested Getting the Right Things Done.

And so, to motivate a team to strive for the transcendent, define and commit to a Noble Goal. Our hoshin here at Lean Pathways is Laughs, Learning & Lucre! – which reflects our purpose & priorities.

We often get it wrong. But by articulating our Purpose clearly, we can see abnormalities and are usually able to get back to a good condition.

Next time: How do we sustain our activities in the face of hurtles, hassles and hammerheads?

Best regards,


Monday, March 6, 2017

Why is Lean So Hard? – Organizational Elements

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Lean – So Easy, It’s Hard’ seems to have hit home. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments.

In this piece I focused on our personal qualities that make Lean so hard to sustain (e.g. our innate trickiness and laziness).

A number of folks asked me to talk some more about organizational elements that hinder Lean.

Lean’s foundation is Standards and Connections – (Rules 1 and 2 of the Four Rules articulated by our MIT friend & colleague, Dr Stephen Spear, whose work I recommend highly.)

What organizational elements or qualities weaken or hinder Standards and Connections?


A standard is a picture of ‘What Should Be Happening’ (WSBH), our current ‘least-waste-way’ of doing a given task, the best way we know today. Most often, the front line team defines our standards for doing our work.

Senior leaders define WSBH in the form of organizational goals, the management system through which we run and improve our business, and our values (standards of behavior).

Here’s the rub: If senior leaders fail to meet the latter, our team members will ignore the former. Senior leaders have to embody our Values. If not, team members will pay scant attention to our organization’s goals & management system.

Think about that – team members will ignore our Purpose and our way of working. Can decay be far off? I’m reminded of Peter Drucker’s elegant summation of the Leader’s Purpose: 1) Get business results, 2) Create capability, and 3) Reinforce values.

Leader visibility in the form of purposeful & regular gemba time is an excellent way of doing all three. “Holy cow, the President was just here. She remembered my name and thanked us for making our problems visible and taking the lead in fixing them. She had some good suggestions & she’d be back again next month.”

In summary, if leaders at all levels embody the organization’s values, team members will embrace its purpose and management system.


Connections are the magnetic force that animates our management system. Each team has multiple connections – to our internal customers and suppliers, and to our ultimate customer. Strong connections entail reflecting on and answering challenging questions:

Just who are our customers? What do they need from us? What are the critical few metrics that express those needs? How do we make our current condition visible, so that we can see our biggest problems – and fix them?

To answer such questions, we need a supportive management system and culture. At our splendid Toyota site in Cambridge Ontario, it was understood that the downstream process was our customer, and that we’d have a stand-up meeting every morning to reflect on how we did the day before. If we in the Paint shop had delivered junk to the Assembly shop, we took it personally. I was letting down Freddie and his team. At shift end, all of us suppliers to Assembly shop met at the ‘money board’ to reflect on how we’d done, and how we’d improve.

Big Company Disease, the nemesis in many of my books, weakens such connections and can be a mortal threat. Big Company Disease usually begins with hubris – arrogance, haughtiness, excessive pride. “He who the gods would destroy, they first hold high…”, Euripides tells us.

Sometimes, industry structure inherently hinders connections. Government agencies (almost always monopolies), are perhaps the most obvious example. In the absence of competition, why should anybody care about the customer? (You may recall my recent ‘Agita at Air Canada’ piece…) To be sure, even here, fine people are fighting the good fight. A deep bow here to Governor Doug Ducey and the team in the great state of Arizona, who are building the Arizona Management System to make government work for the people. Imagine that… [video]

But would this splendid enterprise flourish under a less diligent governor? And what happens when Governor Ducey moves on? Indeed, building and sustaining connections are the Achilles’ Heel of public service.

Increasingly, rapidly advancing technology can weaken connections. I remember a strategy session with a senior Silicon Valley team, who spent much of the time berating customers for being ‘so out of it’.

“What do you think?” the senior leader asked me at session’s end. “I think you hate your customers,” my reply.

In summary, Lean is hard to sustain because of a) our human hard-wiring, as described in my earlier blog, and b) organizational elements that weaken Standards and Connections, as described above.

Excellent is a game with endless innings. At best we partially succeed – and that makes all the difference.

Best regards,