There's a fundamental problem facing today's consumer no matter what the product or service is: excess. There is too much and too many... of everything—features, choices, and steps. There is too much information, and too much to think about. Too much time and too many delays. If you want to truly grow your business, find ways to simplify the experience your customers and users face. Find ways to eradicate excess. Your customers will thank you, and never leave.
Excess nearly always destroys value, and delivering value is what a business should be all about.
While this makes intuitive sense, it raises the question of why excess is so ubiquitous. The answer is that there's a prevailing, wrong-headed assumption that more is better. More is often just more. Unless it’s more simple, accessible, timely, and efficient, which really means it’s less complicated and complex. "Less is more" isn't quite right, either, because it implies more is better. The better thought is simply: "Less is best."
Enter the concept of lean thinking, a term popularized by researchers James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones in their 1996 book of the same name. Lean thinking is about one thing: delivering more of what matters by eliminating what doesn’t.
Lean is often much easier to describe than define. And it’s easier to describe what it isn’t than what it is. Lean isn’t about simple cost cutting, slashing prices, workforce reduction or beating up suppliers to get the lowest price. It isn't focused just on manufacturing, and isn't anything related to being skinny or stingy. Rather, it's a certain consciousness about systematically attacking everything that even remotely blocks the free flow of value.
It’s a different way of thinking. A different way of approaching business, work and life. That’s why so many companies can’t quite get lean, no matter what they do. They’re looking at the problem the wrong way.
Which is where the new book Simple Excellence by Adam Zak and Bill Waddell can help. It's a soup-to-nuts look at how to get your management team focused, together, and aligned in an effort to embed a lean mindset in the upper levels of the organization.
Big Idea: Take Henry David Thoreau's plea to "Simplify, simplify, simplify!" and combine it with what Legendary IBM boss Tom J. Watson, Jr. once answered when asked how to achieve excellence: “Quit doing less-than-excellent work.” That's the essence of Simple Excellence. And, although it's easy to say, it's much harder to do.
Key Takeaways: I've read most of the books related to lean thinking; still, a few important and counterintuitive ideas stuck with me because of how they were presented—simply.
- The Mom-and-Pop Theory of Management. We make management more difficult than it is. "You already know how to get people organized around a common cause for everyone's benefit. You do it every day in your most important role: being a leader within your family. In just about every aspect, running the business is very much like leading your family and managing your home." The authors readily admit there's nothing simple about families, but their point is that "it is something you know and execute based on simple principles."
- Go With The Flow. Simply put: "...the whole family gets out the door and to grandma's house for Sunday dinner as fast as the slowest family member gets ready and out the door." As the author point out, "...the key is to clear away all of the clutter that makes simple points like this so difficult to see...just go out and find the bottlenecks, and your investments in capital improvements will pay off handsomely."
- Pricing to Win. Instead of the conventional "cost plus" pricing equation (cost + profit = price), flip the thinking to Profit = Price (set by market) - cost (reduced through lean thinking). It looks like the same equation rearranged, but the rearrangement itself and the "market pricing" concept requires a different way of thinking.
Liked Most: Simple Excellence is an example of the title. The book is a quick read (150 pages) and each chapter hits the high points efficiently and effectively, without a lot of fluff and fodder.
Best For: Simple Excellence is geared for senior management already down the path of lean thinking, looking for high-line advice leadership lessons to help either (a) simplify their existing business, or (b) prevent typical "big company evils" from creeping into the picture—all in an effort to keep front and center the most important thing of all: value.
What Others Say: "Simple Excellence is a quick and easy read that finally describes a simple, logical, way to conduct business...helps to reinforce that what we are working on here at Parker Hannifin is the right stuff." —Bob Barker, President, Parker Aerospace & Executive Vice President and Operating Officer, Parker Hannifin Corporation.
Rating: 8.25 (out of 10)
Matthew E. May is the author of The Shibumi Strategy: A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change. You can find his fan page on Facebook at ShibumuStrategy, and you can follow him on Twitter @matthewemay.