Guest Post: John Wooden Quotes Relating to Lean

Joe Wilson has worked in a variety of continuous improvement, problem solving and engineering roles in manufacturing and distribution functions  in the automotive, electronics, and food/grocery industries. He was responsible for site leadership of Lean implementation during the launch and ramp up of becoming a supplier to Toyota and was able to work directly with their personnel and the Toyota Supplier Support Center.   His training background includes courses in Lean/TPS through TSSC and the University of Kentucky’s Lean Systems program.  He is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Shainin Red X Journeyman in addition to training in Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques.  Joe also has a BS degree in Engineering Management from the University of Missouri-Rolla.  

I have spent the first part of 2011 with my John Wooden “Page A Day” calendar taking up real estate on my desk.   It’s filled with quotes, stats, and other random info about  the former UCLA Men’s Basketball coach who was about as successful and universally liked and respected of a person as you will ever find.  (I’ll skip the full bio, but a quick Google or Amazon search will show the extent of his influence.)  Here are a few of the gems that have popped up so far:

“No matter how fine a person is at anything, he can always improve.  No one ever reaches maximum potential.”
“A good banker isn’t careless with pennies; a good leader isn’t sloppy about details.”
“What is right is more important than who is right.”
“A player who makes a team great is much more valuable than a great player.”
Wooden’s Four laws of learning:  Explanation, Demonstration, Correction, and Repitition

Pretty much any of those could have been just as at home in a Lean text.   In addition to the similarity in phrasing to lean texts, I’m struck by the similarities in those who emulate the behaviors.  There are bunches of companies ‘working’ on Lean, but very few approaching the level of success of a Toyota.  Similarly, you can find hundreds of coaches and managers who claim to utilize Wooden’s principles, without replicating his sustained success.  Some have tried to piecemeal add aspects to their own way of doing things without understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Some have tried to copy other people’s visible actions without the understanding of why things work.  Surely others have latched on to a ‘brand’ because it was a trendy thing to do.

I think there is another piece of the puzzle that seems to be left out.  Ultimately there can be no way to document everything that goes in to making someone or something successful.  There is also no way to codify the reasons for all of the visible aspects of a system.  There is no way to look in the rear view mirror and make sure you have accurately weighed the impact of the ‘little things’ that altered the paths.  Even if we think every aspect of a history has been written about, it still doesn’t mean that the right things were weighted correctly.  That is true no matter who’s story is being written.  The best we can do is study success stories like Coach Wooden and Toyota and use that knowledge as pieces of the puzzle as we set out to write our own story of greatness.

Posted on June 6, 2011, in Leadership, Other, People and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Matt,

    Those are great Wooden quotes. Explanation, Demonstration, Correction, and Repetition reminds me of the PDCA cycle. I hadn’t though of him as a Lean Coach before. He looks pretty lean in that Purdue jersey too. It’s great that you found a photo from his playing days since he led Purdue to it’s only national championship in men’s hoops. Great post! Thanks for sharing.


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