Freudian Lean


I came across an article called “When Big Data Meets Manufacturing” that has been widely blasted across the Net. It is actually a very good collection of examples of how companies have created greater value for customers in a wide range of ways what one of my clients calls “Customer Focused Manufacturing”. It is well worth a read, but the authors demonstrate just how little they really know about what is really going on in the manufacturing world when they write, “Developed market manufacturers can’t compete on price or lean management anymore. The winners are finding ways to lock in customers with collaborative, data-driven services and activities.” I don’t think anyone is actually trying to “lock in customers” so much as create customer loyalty by providing a superior value proposition and, of course, this is not an alternative to lean management. It is right at the heart of what lean is all about. But the authors are academics who apparently think that lean is what the big multi-nationals in all of their arrogant ignorance have defined it to be – a set of factory floor tools that can be helpful in finding ways to whack the headcount.

I was curious to find out just who these silly people are; people who find such good examples of success, but are so lacking in basic knowledge of how to achieve it and looked into their employer – INSEAD. Turns out it is an international business school – a pretty high fallutin’ one that partners with the likes of Wharton, the U of Chicago and Johns Hopkins, running campuses in Europe and the Middle East. It is at INSEAD that I find the real topic of today’s post – The INSEAD Executive Master in Consulting and Coaching for Change.

This program – or programme as they spell it at INSEAD – is a great example of the intellectual weakness that defines so many largely self-proclaimed experts in the lean transformation business. The curriculum for this program includes such topics as “Learn to use psychodynamic and other psychological concepts to explore the hidden dimensions of yourself and organisations” and “Learn about dynamics such as power and politics, social networks and organisational culture.” Psychodynamics, for those like me who don’t spend a lot of time mucking about in the weeds of psychological theories, is “an approach to psychology that emphasises systematic study of the psychological forces that underlie human behavior, feelings, and emotions and how they might relate to early experience.” The big name in the field of psychodynamics is none other than Sigmund Freud.

How pathetic is that? The key to transforming an organization is to give a consultant or an executive a crash course in Freudian theory and cut them loose to get into people’s heads and figure out what happened in their childhood that prevents them from understanding the beauty of the theory being imposed on them? Do these guys really think the key to lean transformation is to “reveal the unconscious content of a client's psyche in an effort to alleviate psychic tension”?

They got part of it right. In psychodynamics, according to Wikipedia, the various current theories “share the common goal of attempting to describe the dynamic nature of the tension between conflicting parts.” Tension between conflicting parts is the problem but it’s got nothing to do with the folks in the organizations childhoods. The tension is between the customer focused objectives the consultants and executives blather about, and the reality that you can only get a raise by chopping the headcount. There’s a whole lot of tension between the nonsensical theories behind standard costs and the way real money flows. A whole lot of tension exists between the goals of individual silos and the output of cross-functional value streams.

People reject the change effort not because of some troubled remnants of a dysfunctional childhood but because they actually had very good childhood and came out of it with a highly developed ability to spot bulls**t from a mile away. How arrogant is it for some senior person, or some high priced consultant to ignore (or even to be wholly unaware) of how things really get done in organizations and assume that resistance to their grandiose ideas stems from the psychological inferiority of the people who aren’t buying the nonsense these experts are selling?

The folks at INSEAD ought to check their own facts. I am willing to wager quite a bit that if they were to phone the folks in charge of the companies they cited in their article and ask just how much Freudian theory went into institutionalizing those high value adding processes the guy on the receiving end of the call would either laugh so hard he would blow his morning cup of coffee through his nose, or he would simply slam the phone down assuming this was some sort of crank call. Can you imagine such a call?

If people aren’t supporting the transformation effort ninety nine times out of a hundred it is because the person leading the change hasn’t connected the dots – has left gaping holes in the logic and is asking people to simply take it on faith that somehow the diametrically opposed pieces will fall into some sort of cosmic harmony … and the rank and file isn’t buying it.

Organizational transformation takes a lot of hard work and tough decisions on the part of the leaders. There are lots of good books to help that leader prepare for the challenge. The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Feud is not one of them.

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