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November 16, 2006

Richard Florida

Lean or creative

« Map of the week | Main | Too close for comfort? »

Today, I received a thoughtful e-mail that asked essentially:  "if it's possible to use the  principles of lean management when your company consists of creative employees?" Are lean management and the creativity framework "opponents?"

The short answer is yes and no: What I mean to say is my creativity framework and lean management are complimentary.

In fact, as I've said many times my creativity framework is a natural outgrowth and evolution of my earlier work on lean management, the Toyota production system and Japanese management. I even wrote two books  (with the brilliant Martin Kenney) on these topics: The Breakthrough Illusion, which compared the US "breakthrough system" of venture capital-led high tech to the Japanese "follow-through" approach centered around its large R&D intensive companies, and Beyond Mass Production, a study of the whole Japanese management system and its transfer to the United States.

My own creativity theory takes lean management as a point of departure.  I often cite the insights of companies like Toyota, Sony and Matsushita whose leadership developed a new system of production which went beyond "fordism" by essentially  harnessing the collective knowledge and intelligence of all factory workers as the key source of productivity and performance gain.

The creativity framework takes this a step further and says now we have to extend that to an even broader segment of the population and in effect tap and harness the knowledge, creativity and innovative capabilities of everyone.

I think it's a mistake however to just impose the principles of lean management on creative workers. I first learned about this in  my studies of Japanese transplant R&D labs. My initial thought was that they would try to transplant the lean principles that worked so well in their factories to their US and European labs. But they didn't. Instead they emulated the "academic" approach and allowed their scientists and engineers great freedom and flexibility.

So I think the creativity framework is the beginnings of the next evolutionary step beyond lean management. I have written on that in the third part of Rise of the Creative Class and in essays that appeared in the Harvard Business Review and Optimize Magazine.

How do you see it?



Ralf Lippold


you are bringing an interesting point into play. Myself I am dealing with lean, creativity and knowledge management quite a bit for the last decade. Very often people perceive that lean is standardization and this will shrinken the creativity of people in the processes to improve them with their own creativity.

I believe there is so much change in today's world that not one single standardization will last for long (for the purpose originally been made for) and creative change will take place. Only the thinking of people still familiar to the "old" world with not much change acrosss organizational, cultural or social borders still holds on - and these people are presently sitting in the chairs of top management.

So it is time to change thinking and use the creative energy throughout the chain. It will take time and still be worth:-))



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