Brain science has confirmed something that many of us suspected all along – you can’t win hearts and minds with data. Today, you can actually see on an eMRI scanner how an engaging story “lights up” various parts of a listener’s brain, and then compare this to the relatively lackluster result from numerical data alone.
In the Lean world, we tend approach problems in a scientific way, which is as it should be. The problem is that we often fail to tell the human stories behind the data. Could this be a primary reason why Lean remains stuck in the tactical stage in so many organizations?
Business storytelling is very much in vogue these days. Executives get coached on how to win hearts and minds with stories, or even how to change the story about what their company is about. Storytelling is frequently described as the most strategic skill a leader can have.
Lean provides ideal subject matter for storytelling. When done right, Lean empowers people to share their creative gifts in the workplace, and to grow as they never have before. This brings out the kinds of personal narratives that can truly move the human spirit. But we rarely share these – instead, we report improved lead times, reduced inventory, lower head count, freed-up space, and similar numerical results.
Storytelling doesn’t cost much. All you need is to talk with people who just completed a kaizen. In the hundreds of Lean stories that I have helped share, I have never seen a successful project that didn’t have some inspired and excited people who jumped at the opportunity to share their personal experience. As I see it, it’s time to share that fire and get some more brains to light up.