Is lean an innovation killer?

Have lean killed your innovative and creative mind? I am just thinking about this after visiting an exhibition displaying innovations from a lean manufacturer. They had some cool innovations in display, but I thought they could have done much more.

Lean by very definition is about PDCA cycles and small improvements done over a period of time. Continuous improvement projects, Kaizan activities are among the most popular things in any lean organization. At least most of these activities are to improve the way they do their work. Improvements are mostly targeted to solve an issue you have in your hand, not to think about a totally new way for doing things, or revolutionizing the way things are done. Lean is much more evolutionary than revolutionary.

If an organization exclusively focuses this kind of innovations, there is a good chance their competitors coming up with some completely new way of doing things and taking the competitive advantage. If Toyota has not revolutionized the auto industry with its JIT thinking, we all will be driving almost the same car, manufactured in a mass assembly line.

I think it is a mistake most of the organizations commit in the name of lean. Pioneers like Toyota are not stuck in the area of innovation. They have come up with tons of industry leading innovations. So next time when you think about lean and continuous improvement, think about how you can make room for big ideas and revolutionaries. Once revolutionaries give you the edge, evolutionary can take it from there to make it much more effective.

Recommended Book : How To Implement Lean Manufacturing by Lonnie Wilson