Lean Is Not The Enemy of Innovation

Friend of the show Kathy Duffy and I had a conversation recently about this.  After some ongoing discussions, I found the idea of Lean and Innovation being bitter enemies was prevalent enough to merit some discussion.

If you think Innovation and Lean aren’t chummy, you haven’t spent much time in a real Lean environment.  Let’s think about what makes up Innovation.

  • The introduction of something new
  • The process of creating new ideas, methods, products or services

Pretty straightforward.  Now let’s think about what Lean really gets you.

  • Identify new ways of performing work with less waste
  • Eliminate non-value added (busywork) to allow for more valued activities to be completed in less time
  • Identify application methods to increase throughput and productivity

Yeah, total opposites.

Look, I get that there are people who don’t understand Lean.  (Obviously not you, since you read the blog.  You get it, right?)  There is a mindset that Lean stands for “Less Employees Are Needed.”  There’s a fear that Lean means layoffs, and only the bare minimum of people will be around after.

The truth is that most companies are looking to grow, not shrink.  That means more people, not fewer.  But to do so effectively means getting rid of the busywork and letting you focus on doing things that matter to your customers.  That’s how you increase your business, that’s how you grow.  Lean helps you find that busywork so you can eschew it.

There is also the continuous improvement side of Lean.  It’s not enough to just eliminate the easy to find waste.  You have to look deeper and keep finding ways to go faster, safer and at higher levels of quality.  To do that, you have to be creative and innovative.  Just try coming up with better answers with no new ideas.

The idea that Lean and Innovation are enemies is nonsensical.  Lean and Innovation are like peanut butter and jelly.  Both good, but way better together.



  1. Lean includes creative thinking during kaizen activities – whether we are referring to “formal” kaizen events or individual employee suggestions or 8D problem-solving sessions. Folks who indicate that there is an inherent contradiction are simply throwing “red herrings.” :))

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