Blog Post Art of Mastery and Lean

Art of Mastery and Lean
Mar

11

2015

Art of Mastery and Lean

Last week there was an insightful article in Wired Magazine on “Why We Should Design Some Things to Be Difficult to Use” well worth reading. The article dealt with the challenge and joy in mastering how to drive an old Land Rover, a difficult task. The article at the same time gave insight into why Lean is often resisted precisely because it often disassembles the traditional skills of mastery a company has built up.

Art of Mastery and Lean
Image from Mudstuff.co.uk

The article dealt with 5 aspects of mastery of which 2 I’d like to expand on.

1. The Pleasures of Mastery

In Dan Pink’s terrific book Drive, he explores the things that motivate us. He concludes that there are three ingredients to a happy life: autonomy, purpose and mastery. When you design the possibility of mastery into an object, you’re designing a happier life for your users.


Kids will spend endless hours riding a skate board to master a trick and many adults envelop themselves in computer games both looking to achieve mastery. In implementing Lean we are often looking to simplify how a business, a system or even part of a process works. In simplifying the way work is done we are naturally and unfortunately taking away the previous level of mastery that individuals had in how they did their work.

2. Difficulty Makes Things Exclusive

Before the 2007 crash, I consulted for a company that made software that helped banks analyze risk. I can hear your hollow laughter right now. Bank risk software guy, you had one job. Actually, the software did work really well. The problem was, nobody bought it. It seemed like a no brainer; at the time, heads of risk in banks simply waited for their counterparts around the world to email them a spreadsheet, then stitched them together. The process took hours, and the information was a day or more out of date. Our product oversaw every deal made by every trader and gave a real-time assessment of the dangers involved

As the phrase says “Knowledge or information is power”. Individuals as they work for a company especially one divided by silos or has archaic methods of work will build up a valuable reserve of knowledge. That knowledge can then be traded for favors, more knowledge or prestige. Simplifying and documenting work processes eliminates that reserve of knowledge and will often be interpreted as devaluing those individuals worth.

What to do a about these challenges? The easiest is to do nothing and allow the current status to remain, a non-option. One option is brute force and force the new ways of working to happen and hope that push back will not wear down management. The third option and most difficult is to change the Mastery. How do the old Masters become the new Masters? How do the old Masters become the Masters of the new process? How are they involved in creating the new? Do they become the owners and accountable for new process and its continuous improvement? Do they become the Masters and teachers of the new process?

Without replacing the old Mastery with new Mastery those involved will always be harking back to their previous position within the hierarchy of how things used to be. As with most change to becoming a Lean company 20% of what needs changing is systems the other 80% is people.

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