spiral2Psychosis is a mental disorder in which an individual is disconnected from reality, and which can exist in both medical and non-medical forms. Management psychosis is a non-medical condition that afflicts most managers. How so? They view batch-and-queue processing as the lowest cost, highest quality, shortest lead-time way to satisfy customer demand. That is not reality. Batch-and-queue processing is the highest cost, lowest quality, longest lead-time way to satisfy customer demand.

Managers’ batch-and-queue psychosis cannot be treated by a medical professional. It can only be treated by a skilled kaizen professional. Genba kaizen is the only way to break management psychosis; to help managers see reality and understand that flow is the lowest cost, highest quality, shortest lead-time way to satisfy customer demand.

But, there is a big problem: Kaizen professionals compete against management professionals who reinforce and reward the psychosis. For example, isn’t someone who, with great confidence and certainty, says “Everyone knows that costs go down as volume goes up” more influential than someone who, with equal confidence and certainty, says “The lowest cost way to make something is one-at-a-time”? In the former case, the management professional is telling us that our cost problems are simple and can be easily solved. In the latter case, the kaizen professional is telling us that our problems are complex, interconnected, and challenging to solve. Who do you think most managers will listen to?

Another example: Isn’t someone who says “Do it quickly,” meaning employees must work faster, more influential than someone who says to “Do it quickly,” meaning, eliminate queues and work at the normal pace? In the former case, the management professional is telling us that speeding people up is the obvious solution to increasing output. In the latter case, the kaizen professional is telling us that some thinking and analysis is needed to reduce and eliminate queues, to improve the flow of work and increase the output – without speeding people up. Who do you think most managers will listen to?

Managers don’t like people who don’t think like them. Managers who think batch-and-queue don’t like managers who think one-piece flow. If the manager who thinks batch-and-queue is the CEO, and the manager who thinks one-piece flow is a subordinate manager, the outcome is obvious.

Managers who think batch-and-queue is best offer mentally satisfying rewards to followers in the form of confidence, simplicity, familiarity, certainty, an clarity. The biggest reward to followers is this: “Great! I don’t have to think.”

If a top manager is charismatic and dynamic, then that helps cement people’s belief in what they are saying is true; their confident claims go untested and are quickly accepted as fact. Appearance, often accompanied with hyperbole, trumps substance, and favorably expands the satisfying reward of “I don’t have to think.” The emotional connection to status-quo is far more satisfying than the logic that portends the need for fundamental change – even if it is true and for the benefit of paying customers.

Simplicity, familiarity, certainty, an clarity actually make us feel better, both mentally and physically. Uncertainly is unpleasant. It makes us feel worse and instills fear and stress. But, what managers who think batch-and-queue fail to realize is that being disconnected to reality results in far greater uncertainty than if they were to make efforts to make things one-at-a-time, and thus connect to reality.

By doing so, they would recognize that their conception of simplicity, familiarity, certainty, and clarity, rooted in batch-and-queue thinking, was flawed, and that flow accurately represents simplicity, familiarity, certainty, an clarity. Batch-and-queue rhetoric is persuasive, in part because one-piece-flow is deeply counterintuitive.

In addition, any change is assumed to be zero-sum, in part driven by the atrophy in thinking ability caused by the reward that has long been put into place by managers: “Great! I don’t have to think.” Non-zero-sum outcomes are seen as too good to be true and immediately set aside. While the zero-sum outlook was necessary for human survival as a species – and therefore operates in our minds subconsciously and intuitively – it is deadly to human health and prosperity in business.

Are we faced with this unpleasant fact: Human nature – cognitive and emotional processes – trumps Lean? Perhaps not on a local, company-by-company basis, but surely on a widespread basis. As with most mental disorders, treatment that is forced onto managers is usually ineffective. Treatment comes only to those managers who seek it. Genba kaizen.


John Maynard Keynes once wrote: “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

I would like to put it this way: “Managers, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct professor.”

One Response to Treating Management Psychosis

  1. Mark Bradway says:

    Bob, once again; right on! May we listen, learn, do and change for the better. Your missive reminds me of something I once heard John Maxwell say; ‘We only change when we hurt enough that we have to or we learn enough that we want to or when we receive enough that we can.’ Let’s hope that at least one of the above happens to EVERY MANAGER AND OWNER! Please keep the truth coming. We all need to hear what you are saying. Our businesses and our world will be a better place for it. Thanks.

Leave a Reply