Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How is a lean enterprise like a Picasso?

A cubist painting, such as Picasso's Three Musucians, pictured here, was intended to convey in two dimensions all of the essential information about a three dimensional object or event. Some observors saw something more, namely, a version of reality from multiple perspectives.

Picasso's Three Musicians

Consider Picasso's painting, Violin and Guitar,  and you can see for yourself how these paintings might make this impression.

Picasso's Violin and Guitar

Picasso and his cubist collaborator Braque denied the multiple perspectives theory of cubism. Never mind. I like the multiple perspectives theory, and apparently so does American artist David Hockney. Compare the cubist paintings here to Hockney's photographic collage of the Merced River in Yosemite Valley.

Hockey's  Merced River, Yosemite Valley

Now, my point about lean enterprise. Although we can plainly see in Hockney's collage that there are many different pictures taken--and assembled--at different angles, the overall impression is one of unity. Of course here we're dealing with artistic unity. In a lean enterprise, through the catchball process of hoshin kanri, we collect many more snapshots of reality that Hockney has ventured to put together. And the more widely we deploy our policy, the more perspectives we must integrate. Clearly, there is the temptation to forego catchball and simply dictate top down a nice, neat version of reality all tied together from a Renaissance perspective, focused on a "vanishing point" known as the CEO. Here we see Piero della Francesca's famous painting, The Ideal City.

della Francesca's Ideal City

And, clearly, this is how many companies are still run today, even those that claim to be lean. It is certainly how almost all ERP systems are designed! But note what's missing: INFORMATION!

In the Three Musicians, Violin and Guitar, and in particular in Merced River, there is much more information about what we are being asked to contemplate. In the Three Musicians we can see how the emsemble is literally intertwined. In Violin and Guitar, we can see the instruments from all angles simultaneously. And in Merced River, we literally see multiple perspectives on a landscape that would be impossible to integrate if the observer were to stand, as della Francesca, in a single spot. What's behind that round building at the center of the square. What's inside? All of this we could know if we let Hockney loose with his camera or Picasso with his oils and brushes.

Within a lean enterprise, because of the catcbhall process of systematically collecting the perspectives of senior leaders and all the managers--and in implementation the perspectives of all employees, we have a vision of the enterprise that is saturated with information, specifically, the lived experience and knowhow about the organization's processes.

When della Francesca painted Ideal City, mankind was undergoing a radical shift in perspective that gave birth to the individual and to the science of Gallileo, Kepler, and Newton. It is tempting to think that, with a shift in perspective so profound as we see in Picasso, Hockney, and, yes, the Toyota Production System, maybe mankind is on the threshhold of another breakthrough. Besides, we could use a breakthough right about now.


Mike Davis said...

Dear Tom and friends,
A good fellow from afar has aked me to help explain my keys to Hoshin. So I wrote a beginning on my blog at
May I ask you to weigh-in and post a comment to aide in the help to the fellow from afar.
Mike Davis

Unknown said...

we love your blog postings, so well add your rss or news feed for them, Thanks and please post us and leave a comment back and well link to you. Thanks Jen Lean blogging.