Lean Thinking vs. Old Thinking

Every company, from small startups to major corporations, routinely hits plateaus in their company’s continued success. This is an opportunity for companies to analyze what’s working (or what to keep) and what’s not working (or what to change). The difference between companies who continue their success and those who don’t often boils down to their approach to the plateau. Do they adopt a more old-school way of thinking, or do they adopt lean thinking?

Old Thinking

Old thinking relies on good ol’ fashion hard work and the ability to push through any problem. On the surface, there’s nothing inherently wrong with either of these qualities. Hard work and perseverance are critical. It’s relying solely on these qualities that can get a company into trouble.

One of the most distinctive hallmarks of the old way of thinking is a fear of change. This tends to be especially true for older companies that may have established several ways to accomplish a particular task. The procedures become so second nature that no one stops to question if those procedures are still the best ways to accomplish the task. And if those procedures or policies are questioned, the questions are often met with defensiveness or even malice. Fear of change is lethal to companies that desire to continue to grow into the future.

Another hallmark of the old way of thinking is the approach to change, especially regarding lean implementation. Because the fear of change still exists, new changes are often met with animosity and skepticism. This means that new changes aren’t implemented well. They are seen as temporary inconveniences to processes rather than long-term strategies for continuous growth and improvement. When change is viewed as temporary or unneeded, it’s often doomed to fail before it ever begins.

Lean Thinking

Lean thinking is an intentional and calculated mindset with a clear focus on continuous improvement. As technology continues to advance, the complexity of the working world will only expand, making change not only inevitable but normal. A lean mindset is one of the few approaches to work today that enables us to expect and embrace change.

Lean thinking starts with the customer in mind. What do they want? How can we provide value to them? With this information, we can identify ways to clean up and streamline processes and procedures that stand in the way of customer satisfaction. Lean thinking pushes us to see what’s possible rather than focusing on the way things are, and it encourages us to take responsible risks with potentially big pay-offs.

To implement lean thinking, however, companies need to embrace the concept of continuous improvement. Lean strategies are not short-term solutions to challenges or problems in the workplace. Companies need to embed them into the company’s culture to truly take root and make a desirable difference in a company’s success.

The Tortoise & The Hare

Old thinking and lean thinking are similar to the tale of the tortoise and the hare. If you adopt old thinking, you might make big strides quickly. However, you’ll inevitably run out of steam and hit a plateau. Over time, this approach to business will lead to employee burnout, and the company itself will cease to advance. Adopting a lean mindset is more methodical and planned. It requires that we slow down, analyze our processes for ways to innovate and grow, then adopt and implement strategies that will continuously push us toward success.