In my previous post, I dipped in to my highly unqualified opinion that a difference in introvert and extrovert skill sets may be holding back some Lean progress. This post again is me drifting out of my lane to discuss this topic. This time, I want to offer some ideas on how to help bridge the gap.
As a point of clarification, I don’t really think there is such a thing as a true introvert or true extrovert. We all have tendencies to behave at different points on the scale for different behaviors. There are social introverts and shy extroverts. I’m mostly focused on the behavior of deeply reflecting and sharing of communications. I think we all have experience with the Lean “salesman” type who seems to be good at whipping people in to frenzy, but doesn’t really deal with things past the surface or visual level. On the other end are those that are the Lean “bookworms” who can critically produce and analyze any of the systems and their impact, but don’t seem to get much buy in or engagement. The “salesman” types tend to get a lot of attention because they best fit in to the culture of American management because they share similar traits.
The “bookworm” types have half a library available to them. Frankly, they could pick anything up from Dale Carnegie, Tony Robbins, or a dozen other authors. I think the key here is the mental filter and realization that it is going to take some practice to build those skills. I don’t think there is any value in trying to take a reflective, pensive introvert and turn them in to a clone of Robbins. It seems like an inefficient use of talent. However, it is very necessary for those with the skills to learn how to move the needle with other people.
The “salesman” types could use a very slow re-read of the works of Ohno, Imai, or one of Liker’s fine texts. This should be done with the purpose of understanding before completion. If practicality is more the goal, they could create their own Ohno circle type activities and force themselves to practice looking deep. Again, it shouldn’t be about changing the underlying personality as much as it is about adding to the technical skill set.
In both cases, it may help to partner up with someone who may be seen as being a polar opposite to your style. They may not even need the exact skill set that you are looking for, as long as they can share some of their tips and help coach and reinforce the behaviors. If it helps, think about it as small scale mentoring to help spread the Lean message.
I often think that the reason that continuous improvement isn’t more institutionalized in business in general and manufacturing specifically is a leadership problem. I don’t say that as a means to “point fingers”, although I realize it reads that way. I mean it more in terms of the types of people and personalities that go into positions of management and the people and personalities that hedge towards Lean/Six Sigma/CI positions. In looking back at one of Matt’s old posts, I made a connection that I hadn’t really drawn before.
I’m of the opinion that one of the most underrated aspects of Lean as a mindset is the concept of ‘hansei’. The in depth reflection on what worked or didn’t work requires a certain mindset or skill and an organizational culture that allows that type of reflection to occur. The talent/skill of reflection is what makes everything from Ohno Circles to Socratic teaching to a 5-Why analysis work the way they do. This goes beyond trained problem solving and critical thinking to an area of practiced mental deep dives on subjects.
I’m not a psychologist or sociologist, but I’m inclined to think these behaviors are hallmarks of introverted personality types. In contrast, extroverted personality traits tend to be the ones that are identified and promoted to management positions. Companies seem to seek out (consciously or not) the more outspoken, action first types to promote or hire. Companies tend to like their heroes straight out of a Hollywood movie shooting first, maybe asking questions later, and topping things off with a fiery quote. This either leads or perpetuates cultures that marginalize the methodical reflection that asks the tougher questions.
Obviously I’m using generalizations to make a point, but I think there are quite a few people that could identify with the strawman here. I’d love to dig deeper in to this subject and understand if this is cultural or if there is some other driver. As an example, are the behaviors associated with introversion reinforced in Japan the same way extroverted behaviors are taught in the US? Or could it be that the variance is more company to company than that? While the different personality types may not be polar opposites, they are certainly at different places on the continuum. The two types don’t necessarily need to move to one side or another, but I think seeking more middle ground could be a big factor in helping drive more cultures to engage in their chosen CI path.