Problems First!


The first key to lean is leadership, the second leadership and the third… leadership. But a very special and specific kind of leadership. Of all the quirks of the lean thinking the one that has always fascinated me is “problems first.”
In practice this means we are not so interested in successes (the right results from the right process) because there is nothing to learn there – we are only interested in problems, failures, and things that don’t work as expected, because there is much to learn. “Problems first” also means that any employee can come up to a manager and discuss any problem without fearing to get shot as the carrier of bad news.
And executives take seriously the problems brought to them. This is fascinating because it’s profoundly counter-intuitive. Our minds are built to look for confirming information (select facts that fit with what we already
know) and to dismiss disconfirming evidence (not see facts that go against our preconceived ideas).
The power of the scientific method is to focus on disconfirming evidence – areas where experiments don’t work out as the theory has predicted, because this is how we can learn more about how the universe works. And this is the insight lean has brought to business. This is very powerful because, to take a page from Jared Diamond’s study of civilization collapse, most of the time:

  • We refuse to acknowledge that we create problems
  • We don’t recognize the problems we create when they occur
  • We don’t have the will to solve them when they come up
  • We don’t have necessarily the skill to solve them even if we do have the will
  • Read on here.

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