Stealing Shamelessly

By Joe Torrago on April 26, 2017

One of the key concepts I learned very early on in my Lean training over 25 years ago was the idea of stealing shamelessly. Before any one gets the idea I learned and support an all-out theft of products and services, let me explain.

The Lean masters I learned from early in my career told me not to labor reinventing the wheel and it was likely most issues I was trying to solve had been dealt with by someone else. They encouraged me to network with other Lean practitioners, co-workers in other departments, neighbors, friends, fellow parishioners, or anyone else I would come in contact with. Once in contact with a receptive ear, share your issue and ask if they have ever encountered a similar issue and what was their approach to solving it. More than likely, the Lean masters continued, someone will have experienced something similar and will provide direction and insights into what was successful, and not, in their experience. The Lean masters even suggested to me to ask "Is it okay if I shamelessly steal your idea?" Most people are flattered to be asked this and almost always agree.

I find myself giving this same advice to many clients I work with. About six months ago, I was talking to the owner of a small plastics manufacturing company in Kansas. He had been referred to MAMTC by a mutual contact and was told we can help solve issues in manufacturing. He proceeded to tell me about a recurring issue with one of his key products that was affecting the company's ability to deliver product. Not being a plastics expert myself, I inquired as to what approach he took to solving this problem. He told me they had tried varying multiple operating conditions in an effort to eradicate the defect. I then took the conversation in a totally different direction. I asked him about his business and who was in his network. Specifically, who does he buy material from, is he part of an industry group either locally or nationally, is he connected to a local university or research center, does he have counterparts in similar industries, or any other business network. Quizzically, he looked at me as if I had not been listening to him describe the particular issue. It all came together for him when I suggested to reach out to those connections and steal shamelessly from one or more of them regarding his defect. More than likely, the approach to the solution was out there and just by talking to those connections he already has, he can gain some insights into his own issue. In this case, the owner was able to solve his technical issue just by having conversations with people in his network. He shamelessly stole ideas and best practices and did not reinvent the wheel to address his concerns.

How about you? Are you shamelessly stealing great ideas and best practices from any of your network contacts? If not, you should. In addition, most importantly, be prepared to be shamelessly stolen from.