"I Want To Be A Somebody."


Thanks to NBC and the Deming Institute, last night I was able to watch the entirety of "If Japan Can. . . Why Can't We?" (And thanks to Apple TV, I was able to watch it on a full size TV rather than hunched over my computer. With a bowl of popcorn.)

I know that many of the bloggers in the lean community will be writing about the video (I'm looking at you, Mark Graban.), but I wanted to add a comment to the conversation.

I was struck by how little wisdom and understanding the general corporate world has attained since the show first aired in 1980. We still have business leaders who strive only to cut costs. We still have leaders who see technology as the royal road to productivity. And perhaps saddest of all, we still have leaders who don't understand that the real reason for the incredible success of (some) Japanese manufacturers is the way they leverage the thousands of brains they employ to improve the way the work gets done. 

But for me, the most poignant and powerful moment in the video came in the segment on GM's "Quality of Work Life" program. One of the Tarrytown workers said (starting at 59:25), 

Quality of Work Life is involvement. Involving me in the decision-making process. And treating me as. . . as somebody. I want to be somebody. 

His statement was one of the saddest things I've heard in a long while. Think of the thousands -- tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands -- of workers who, in the 35 years since this video first aired, spent their lives feeling like a nobody. Who were treated as replaceable hands, and not brains. Not hearts. Not people. It's enough to make you cry. 

When I think about lean, and about the profound respect for people that lies at its core, this is what I'll think about. At its best, this is what lean does. It makes people feel like a somebody. 

 

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