Sunday, July 15, 2007

Machiavellian Lean

Was Niccolo Machiavelli a Lean thinker? He was a political figure in Italy during the Renaissance, and his writings have become a guide of sorts for the aggressive and power-hungry. In fact, the term "Machiavellian" is often associated with the tactics of tyrranical despots and fascists. Niccolo doesn't sound like a good candidate for a Lean thinker, does he? Well, many of Machiavelli's teachings do directly contradict the Lean pillar of "respect for people," but I found a few things in his writings that sounded Lean:

"One of the best, most effective expedients would be for the conqueror to go live [in the conquered area] in person...[so that he] can detect trouble at the start and deal with it immediately."

This sounds a lot like the Lean principle of genchi genbutsu, or going to see the real situation for yourself. This is one of the most important facets of Lean thinking, and is the centerpiece of Toyota's management philosophy. Machiavelli also teaches the power of developing your own internal capabilities, rather than relying on "outsourcing" or temporary labor:

"Wise princes...have always shunned auxiliaries and made use of their own forces. They have preferred to lose battles with their own forces than win them with others, in the belief that no true victory is possible with alien arms."

Self-reliance and employee development are two major focuses of the Toyota Way, and of any good Lean philosophy. While many of Machiavelli's teachings are way out of line with Lean thinking, some of his insights are very appropriate to the Lean mindset. Do you agree?

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