Lean thinkers are not on social media and at what cost

Lean thinkers are not on social media and at what cost

Lean thinkers are not on social media and at what costI like Lean. It is a great idea on how to get the whole enterprise on the same boat and working together in a systematic, near-scientific manner. However, at times I wonder whether Lean is keeping up with the times (which is why I am working on refining my ideas on Lean social business), and one worrying symptom is that Lean thinkers at large have not embraced social media. This is rather surprising for an ideology that encourages large-scale participation, although a certain amount of technological skepticism and being more of a tortoise than a hare are common features in Lean and can explain this to an extent.

In this post, I will examine the state of Lean thinking on social media at the moment.

Lean Enterprise Institute

The main Lean voice on social media is the Lean Enterprise Institute (website, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube) and its Director of Communications, Chet Marchwinski (Twitter, Google+).

The Lean Enterprise Institute is pretty much the only Lean voice on Google+, and the most widely visible Lean voice overall. It also hosts multiple Lean blogs: Michael Ballé’s Gemba Coach, John Shook’s eLetters, and the multi-author Lean Post, which also happens to be one of the only Lean blogs where sharing and subscribing is easy, see the pictures below:

Lean Post social connectionLean Post social sharing

Lean thinkers on Twitter

Outside the Lean Enterprise Institute, most Lean discussion on social networking sites takes place in Twitter. However, the number there are not too impressive.

The largest audiences are reached by Joe Dager at around 32,000 followers (Lean in sales and marketing), Mike Orzen at around 28,000 followers (Lean in IT), and Mark Graban at around 10,000 followers (Lean in healthcare).

A number of Lean thinkers reach an audience of more than 1000 people, including Jamie Flinchbaugh, Tim McMahon, Karen Wilhelm, and Karen Martin.

However, this list of names should already reveal something. Where are the really big names? No offense to the people mentioned, I have read some of their writings on blogs and bought a couple of books as well, but I would hesitate to call them the biggest names on Lean.

Perhaps the person I’d consider the biggest Lean name that I have found on social media is Michel Baudin (Amazon, Twitter), who has mere 760 followers on Twitter.

Where are people like James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, John Shook, Jeffrey Liker, Art Smalley, Mike Rother, Masaaki Imai, Drew Locher, and Greg Lane? I could continue this list, but this should be enough. All of these are people whose writings I’ve read, who have written multiple highly regarded books on Lean, and who are nowhere to be found on social media.

The Lean blogosphere

Lean thinkers do marginally better with blogging than with social networking sites. I already mentioned the blogs hosted by the Lean Enterprise Institute, and in addition to them there are a number of other Lean blogs.

I subscribe to around 20 Lean blogs at the moment, which actually is not that much compared to the number of blogs on social media or marketing. Many Lean blogs have been around for several years, and unfortunately many also look like that as well, and even finding a way to subscribe to the posts can be difficult. Then again, maybe RSS is old-fashioned anyway, but for authors who are not on any social networking sites, there is not much of an option, now is there.

The hottest Lean blog at the moment is The Lean Edge, which describes itself as a dialogue between business leaders and lean authors. Questions are posted periodically on the site, and then the contributors can answer them in the form of blog posts. More than 40 Lean thinkers contribute to this platform, including many people who are also otherwise on social media and many of the authors I mentioned who are not.

Other than The Lean Edge, some of my favorite Lean blogs include:

By the way, of the blogs mentioned above, only Mark Graban has set up Google authorship, which displays the author more prominently when a page comes up in Google search. More information on Google authorship is available in Scott Buehler’s blog post. While this is perhaps a small thing, it too is indicative of how state-of-the-art (or not) Lean thinkers are when it comes to social.

The cost of missing out on social media

I am not going to imagine a doomsday scenario where the Lean movement is wholly destroyed because it has not started to use social media at a large scale. Lean can carry on without social.

However, Lean is not exactly mainstream as it is, so the ideology could use some additional exposure. From that point of view, missing out on social media does hinder Lean’s growth.

Furthermore, social networking tools are something Lean has needed for a long time. The opportunities in hearing the voice of the customer (remember, Lean is about adding customer value) and in collaborating both internally in a company and externally with partners in a decentralized enterprise are significant.

Unless Lean thinkers gain proficiency in using these new tools, they will not be able to take advantage of the opportunities presented by them within a Lean framework. Without using these tools, how can Lean be a viable alternative in the future in enterprises that are no longer co-located? This is what Lean social business design is all about: combining the power of Lean and social.

What do you think? Is Lean well-represented on social media? Should it be? Also, if you think I omitted some key people or blogs, please let me know in the comments.

Photo: Venerable Aldabran Tortoise by Andrea Westmoreland @ Flickr (CC)

Author: Ville Kilkku

I run my own consultancy business, so if you find the ideas on this blog intriguing, contact me at consulting@kilkku.com or call me at +358 50 588 5043 and we can discuss how I can help you solve your business problems. I am currently based in Tornio, Finland, but work globally. Google+

  • Lean for sure has not arrived in the social media world. Just imaging what will be possible when digital information technology is used in the best way to bring lean into the world (way beyond the classic production company) is what I outlined in this article: http://moon-shots.ning.com/profiles/blogs/consulting-an-approach-of-the

    If somebody is interested, just give me a shot, and we can see what can be done (actually we are working on it).

    • Thank you for the comment! I agree that there will be lots of possibilities in combining Lean with modern technology.

      Unfortunately, your article did not touch the subject of Lean and social media in any way that I could recognize, so I moderated the link.

      • Thanks a lot Ville. Sorry for not coming across clear enough. Digital information technology was one of my majors at university in 1995 (when the WorldWideWeb started). Coincidently this joined with being passionate about lean thinking at that time. While responsible for flood aftermath help organization in Dresden in 2002, and from 2003-2008 being on the build-up team of the BMW Plant Leipzig (where the BMW series i1 & i3 will come from) I learned that the potential of digital information technology to improve administrative and production-related processes can be easily adapted, and put to practice.

        However too often social media (digital information technology) is seen by managers, employees and even students only to apply to marketing departments within organizations.

        It is good to see more and more forethinkers in the lean community such http://twitter.com/MarkGraban, http://twitter.com/flinchbaugh with whom I connected since my early lean days.

        And Mark is right, it is only with personal conversation, and showing people what the benefit of Twitter is to their own work.

  • Thanks for the mention, Ville. You raise a great question — how can we encourage some of the senior voices in the Lean community to participate via Twitter? I don’t know the answer other than trying to personally lobby people to get on Twitter and to show them how. Norman Bodek has experimented with Twitter (@nbodek) and I’ve coached him a bit on the etiquette, etc. He’s adaptable and open to coaching (even at age 80+!)

    I helped get LEI onto Twitter during my time there (June 2009 to June 2010) and they are doing more (and I’m happy to see their new “Lean Post” blog, bringing more voices into their community).

    • Thanks Mark – yes it is great to see LEI’s moving into this direction 🙂

  • roguepolymath

    Maybe Lean thinkers are too busy at the gemba? 😉
    If you expand your horizon of lean to include lean startup you find a lot more activity on social media (Eric Ries has 122K Twitter followers).