5S makes you better.


As you've probably read here ad nauseum, 5S is a fundamental part of lean. It helps you to spot abnormalities in a process or a system so that you can make improvements. 

But can it make you a better manager? Or entrepreneur? Or venture capitalist? Or journalist?

Although 5S is traditionally applied to the physical environment, I believe that it isn't just applicable to physical space -- you know, "a place for everything and everything in it's place." In a larger sense, 5S can be applied to time as well.  It's an awkward locution, but think about having "a time for everything, and everything at the right time. And that means time to think and plan as well, not just react to the latest fire.

In the MIT Sloan Management Review, Nancy Duarte, the CEO of Duarte Design, says that

Clear space, oft maligned, is one of the most important elements of design. We want to utilize all our resources, not “waste” space, time or talent by leaving them unused. But what happens when we use things to 100% of their capacity? When a desk is 100% covered with papers, it is no longer a useful space. When people are kept busy 100% of the time, no time is available for generating new ideas.
This is a theme that keeps coming up when you talk to very successful people.  Barack Obama touched on this idea last year during his trip to Europe:

the most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking.

The CEO of eBay, John Donhoe said essentially the same thing:

I find that if I don’t schedule a little bit of structured time away, where there’s no interruption, that it’s very hard to get the kind of thinking time and reflection time that I think is so important.

And Jim Collins, author of Good to Great (and whom I wrote about here and here), reserves at least four (count 'em, four!) work days per month with NO appointments or commitments during which he can do, well, whatever he wants: writing, talking to clients, or rock climbing. Whatever.

It's this temporal "white space" that enables a person to spot abnormalities, identify areas for improvement, and really tackle the tough issues.

Dany Levy, the founder of Daily Candy, is even more explicit:

There is a dearth of white space, of down time. I have gotten better about not checking my email as incessantly, simply because I felt like I was so reactionary. Everything I was doing was just a reaction to something. In terms of creativity, it allowed me no time to actually come up with anything new, because I was constantly just reacting.
And that, I think, is how 5S can make you better manager at whatever it is that you do. When applied to time, 5S clears out the clutter and allows you to focus on the forest instead of the trees -- or the bark. It allows you to spot large-scale abnormalities that are hampering your ability (or your organization's ability) to do the great things that you aspire to.

Think of it as the 5S mind.

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