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Lean and the Trapeze

I think I might have mentioned in past articles that I see Lean in everything nowadays. Last Saturday was no different. My wife surprised me with an adventure for our anniversary. She took me to a place that teaches people how to swing on the trapeze.

Lean and the Trapeze

So there were about ten people or so in the class, and most went through the same pattern of behavior on their first attempt. They had a look of intense concentration and nervousness and doubt all rolled into one as they were standing with their toes hanging over the edge of the tiny platform thirty feet or so in the air. When they finally got to the point that they were swinging, most looked more relaxed, and several even had big grins on their faces.

It’s the same pattern I see over and over again with Lean. There’s that look of doubt and worry. Then there’s that point of standing on the edge and taking the leap of faith. The faith on the trapeze is trusting the equipment; in Lean, it is trusting in the tools and the company’s leadership. People will not become comfortable with the changes Lean brings until they believe that the tools will work, and until they see them all put together and deliver good results.

You can’t talk people into being comfortable with Lean any more than you can talk them into being relaxed on their first time swinging through the air. Leaders should simply focus on helping them understand the tools, giving them encouragement, and letting them start off in a safe place where they know that mistakes won’t be costly. Before long, teams will feel comfortable and confident practicing Lean in their daily work.

Side note: The equipment in this trapeze school is taken down nightly to discourage midnight adventures by hooligans. It looked like the repetitive dismantling process caused a wear pattern on the ground. The unfortunate part is that the markings on the asphalt are directly below the platform. Imagine looking down as you are about to swing off the platform for the first time and seeing a wear mark in the ‘splat zone’. Not the most reassuring sight from the top of the tower. Fortunately, nobody was doing much looking down on their first swing…

Side note 2: I never would have imagined that there was a market for a trapeze school. In truth, there are three such schools in Seattle. Just goes to show how important it is to know your customer.


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