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Friday, September 23, 2011

Lean Quote: Lean Transformation Needs Talent, Focus, and Endurance

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"Talent Is Nothing Without Focus and Endurance." — Haruki Murakami, writer

This quote reminds us that talent is basically irrelevant without the foundation of a good work ethic. In an interview the author of the quote was asked "what's the most important quality a novelist has to have?" He said "It's pretty obvious: talent. Now matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing, if you totally lack literary talent you can forget about being a novelist. This is more of a prerequisite than a necessary quality. If you don't have any fuel, even the best car won't run."
The problem with talent, though, is that in most cases the person involved can't control its amount or quality. You might find the amount isn't enough and you want to increase it, or you might try to be frugal and make it last longer, but in neither case do things work out that easily. Talent has a mind of its own and wells up when it wants to, and once it dries up, that's it. Of course, certain poets and rock singers whose genius went out in a blaze of glory-people like Schubert and Mozart, whose dramatic early deaths turned them into legends-have a certain appeal, but for the vast majority of us this isn't the model we follow.
It's easy to see other people as talented and their work as effortless, but for most work is still work regardless of the quality. Before getting discouraged, it can't hurt to remember that. Most everyone has to work hard regardless of their skill level.
The next most important quality is focus—the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value, while, if you can focus effectively, you’ll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it. After focus, the next most important thing is, hands down, endurance. You need the energy of focus for the long run. Fortunately, these two disciplines—focus and endurance—are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened through training.
After reading this the applicability of these three qualities talent, focus, and endurance that Haruki Murakami cites to the implementation Lean thinking was clear evident. Talent is the necessary knowledge and skill needed to transform an organization.  At the foundation of Lean is the customer focused thinking that allows us to create value and eliminate waste. Many of us also know it takes focus to change our status quo thinking as well.  Transforming a business to a Lean is a process that takes time. Those leading the transformation need the endurance to see it through despite the challenge to revert back to traditional thinking.

So I think it could be said that "talent is nothing without the focus and endurance" when implementing Lean thinking.

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  1. I think you've chosen a fascinating analogy for Lean but I disagree with your correlation of talent with knowledge and skill. Murakami's whole point is that you can't add or take away from talent: you have what you have (although its level may ebb and flow), and you must nurture this raw material with focus and endurance.

    Knowledge and skill, like focus and endurance, may be improved if we make the effort.

    No - I'd say that RESOURCES are better compared with talent in this analogy: resources are limited like it or not.

  2. Tim,

    Interesting quote. You can see this in sports when a star with huge talent lacks focus or effort (hustle). I wonder if it is harder to diagnose in the factory since our job description does not include running to first base on a routine out. The solution for a lack of talent, knowledge, focus, effort, and endurance are all different so the leader cannot assume one size fits all when addressing poor performance. Thanks for sharing.


  3. Juanito, You make a good point, resources are limited. I still think that those with "gifted" abilities (which I relate to knowledge) still need direction (focus) and persistence (endurance). I suppose you could say talent is given and knowledge is learned but for the purpose of this post I elude that Talent (knowledge) can be learned.

    Chris, You are right. One size won't fit all. Leaders need to learn to read and react (sport analogy). Good leaders apply the right countermeasure to the problem by continuously following the PDCA cycle.