What is the Post-Lean Future?
Exponential technologies are rapidly disrupting mature industries and firms. The Internet provides instant reach at near-zero cost, 3D printing is revolutionizing manufacturing. Computing power and software is fueling a tremendous development in robotics. Driverless cars and drone delivery have moved from science fiction to reality. Advances in machine learning not only makes feasible the automation of subtle tasks, it also makes possible new services centered around discovering valuable patterns of information.
Repetitive jobs that cannot be automated (yet) by software and robots are migrating to marketplace organizations like Uber. Just like jobs are being decoupled from work, asset usage is being decoupled from ownership, yielding the sharing economy.
Leaders of organizations with legacy assets, business models and technologies worry that they are too slow, too costly and too inflexible to keep pace. Continuous improvement, as advocated by traditional Lean Management, is not enough.
Traditional Lean also emphasizes Lean Leadership, a leadership style where employees are developed as independent problem-solvers. Managers function more like teachers than “bosses”. But now long-term employment has become a thing of the past.
For startups we are about to see Golden Age that will make the birth of the commercial Internet seem like small potatoes. The threshold for leaving an established firm and founding your own disruptive startup is lower than ever.
For mature firms, exponential technologies can be their undoing. We still need to involve people in organizational learning. We still need to develop people. But we have to do this in a new way that fits with and takes advantage of exponential technologies. We refer to this new era as the Post-Lean Future because traditional Lean Thinking is no longer adequate.