If you’ve ever wondered why change is difficult, consider how many times you’ve heard the adage, “If it’s not broken, why fix it?”

Take a company with a stellar management team, outstanding line of products and enviable bottom line. Maybe the issues calling for change are subtler than those we can easily point to. Could this company actually be staring at obsolescence or even bankruptcy a couple years from now?

In a January 5, 2012 article in The Atlantic titled “What Killed Kodak?”, author Jordan Weissmann points out that Eastman Kodak, “the camera company,” was always at the head of the pack until the digital revolution came along. Although Kodak valiantly tried to keep up with its competitors, it seemed to be fighting a losing battle. Finally, in 2012 it was forced to file for bankruptcy. When the company emerged again in 2013, change was imperative. “How do you come back from the brink and rebuild? That’s the question Jeff Clarke, who stepped into the role of Eastman’s CEO in March of 2014, asks himself every day,” writes Nina Zipkin in a May 10, 2015 Entrepreneur podcast blurb.

States Zipkin: “The company restructured and placed new emphasis on ‘imaging for business.’” Weissman commented in his Atlantic article that “Kodak fits the classic profile of a 20th-century corporate dinosaur… often great at innovation, but always bad at business.”

Recognizing Kodak’s weak spot, Clarke started to take the company in new directions. In the Entrepreneur podcast, Clarke talks about “the importance of playing to your strengths, making past work relevant to today and pushing research to the cutting edge.”

Recognizing that change is difficult, all three of these factors—reflection and self-evaluation, creative tension, and “calculated risk-taking” based on the PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) scientific process of problem-solving—are at the core of lean learning.

Let’s say a new managing partner comes on the scene and they happen to have been exposed to the concepts of lean. Until now, the rest of the partners had never heard of lean outside the world of Toyota Car Manufacturing.

In 1999, Chuck Bub, the new vice president and general manager for the Chicago Metallic Division (CMD) had been exposed to lean tools in the past and he was impressed. While conducting his initial assessment of CMD’s operating procedures, Bub noticed several areas in the company that could benefit from an overhaul. They weren’t nearly as efficient as he had been led to believe.

Bub had hit upon the answer to why change is difficult: change means taking people out of their comfort zone and this created tension. Every lean coach knows that tension is our biggest motivator for problem-solving.

Shortly after Chuck Bub settled in at CMD, he arranged for eight management level employees from the engineering, manufacturing, marketing and sales departments to attend a lean learning seminar co-conducted by a Lean Learning Center coach.

Just as Bub anticipated, “The initial reaction was excitement and enthusiasm.” Although Bub had previous experience with lean tools in the past, he wasn’t aware of the lean thought process that is integral to creating a lean mindset and lean culture. “For me this lean learning seminar opened the door to a wealth of possibilities.”

Change became the catalyst for CMD’s commitment to lean learning.


Note: The previous story is extracted from “CMD Case Study,” by the Lean Learning Center