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On (Not) Doing More With Less!

Updated: May 8, 2020

The next time someone tells you "we have to do more with less", I want you to do me a favor: poke that person in the eye. I'm kidding, of course. Many people wear glasses, making it difficult to reach their eye with your finger.

Here I diverge from orthodoxy. Many in the Lean and Six Sigma camp, including the Lean Enterprise Institute, say that "doing more with less" is the essential mantra of the Lean religion. The problem with this mantra is that, followed to it's natural end, people end up trying to do infinite amounts of work with zero resources. This is absurd, of course. Along the way, a Lean organization that follows this mantra will drive all of their creative, interesting people out the door, be left with pointless committees and meetings, and management monsters who believe their job is to squeeze all the juice out of the orange.

But I digress.

I'm more aligned with the Henry David Thoreau school of Lean, which says "The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day. He is only earnest to secure the kernels of time, and does not exaggerate the value of the husk... Those who work much do not work hard."

Lean is about doing less. Period. Less activity. Less overtime. Less complexity.

Organizations generate pointless work reflexively. Students of cybernetics understood this tendency many decades ago. Organizations manufacture complexity to deal with complexity, but they lack the ability to stop and ask, "Is all this extra work achieving our goals?" That's why the genius E. F. Schumacher observed that "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex ... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."

Mindset Delta goes in the opposite direction.

If you work in a complex system, chances are you are wasting a lot of time on pointless attempts to do more with less. It feels bad, doesn't it? That's because you're a human, not a cybernetic organism. You don't need to do more with less. You need to do less. Less committee work that results in even more committee work. Less strategic planning that results in pie-in-the-sky visions that are divorced from daily operations. Less.

Saying 'no' to the onslaught of complexity takes courage. Courage takes a toll, and support is needed. If you want to talk about how to do less, give me a shout. We'll talk. It'll be fun.

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