Real competitive edge: say “yes,” be friendly


Let’s face it, Europe’s time has passed and even European outshoots from America to Australia are waning. This is Asia’s century.

Dr. Marcus Chao, one of my mentors who coaches me on the vast mystery that is China keeps chiding me: why not focus on positive things? Why always bring back the negatives to the table. I’m sorry, I do try, but, hey, I’m French. Negative is what we do. Negative is what we are. The question is: am I trying hard enough?

Here’s the thing – let’s say there is internal competition for a new product between a French, American or Asian plant. Technical-wise, engineers are engineers, and they’ll get there in the end. No big competitive difference there. BUT:

  1. The Asian plant is likely to be closer to customers, even if not right now, in the near future
  2. The Asian plant’s guys are simply easier to deal with. They say yes faster. They’re nicer to work with.

This is real competitive advantage.

Working with lean, one strives for two things:

  1. small step changes every day, from the people themselves, so we change as we go
  2. to avoid large-scale reorganizations that throw everything out of kilter and stop every one from working

So I ask frontline managers: be cool :^), be friendly :^), say “yes, ok, why not?”

But they give nothing away. They stay with arms folded. Silent.

Oh, they’ll do it. They’ll even be very proud of what they’ve done. Overall, experience shows that we’ll do tremendous transformations of both performance and teamwork without ever reorganizing anything, just by step by step reflexion on how we currently work and making things better. Cool, right?

But every step is like drawing blood out of a stone.

What if that’s what they’re like with their customers? And, you know what: it is. Customer is stuck in an impossible situation? Help them out, but over-charge – they need you. Customer asks for special effort? Tell them our current processes won’t allow it. Customer asks for anything at all – stonewall them. Customers complain? Oh, explain to them its really their fault.

What is so hard about “yes, we can change that, with pleasure?” How have we become so bureaucratized that changes can only be approved at the top, and so taylorized that all processes are set in stone?

Look: a smile from my students as they’re doing an impossibly difficult lean case! Made my day, it did. But I had to beg for it. They had to change their mind and accept that MIFA and VSM are two different things. No big deal, right? Oh… but yes!


Hey, no more Kipling, get it? No more European supremacy. We now need to make our case to Asia. The world has changed.

Saying yes faster. Being friendlier. True sources of clear and present competitive advantage which, for some unfathomable reason, seem completely out of reach. Time to wake up!

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