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Is Lean enough? - S1:E1 Strategy Hero reflections

When we started on the journey to create and publish our very own podcast – “Strategy Hero” - we were faced with the realization that we needed a theme beyond strategy execution. A theme emerged while researching and finding potential guests to join us for the first season. Pascal Dennis was the perfect first guest.


I and other members of i-nexus had read many of Pascal’s books. While reading, I got an impression of who he was with his written style, but it wasn’t until meeting him for the first time that I could appreciate what made him a hero. 

This is the first of six post-podcast blogs I’ll write to let you know my impressions of the episode and what stood out. 

It’s important to note that my opinions do not reflect those of i-nexus or Pascal Dennis.



Formatting the episode

I’ve long been a fan of podcasts. Throughout college, I was often found listening to music in the library (thankfully, the earphones were noise-canceling.) So, I was right there when podcasts took off in the early 2010s.

There’s something about music and podcasts that helps me to relax and learn at the same time. I like to think other people feel this too, but more importantly, I realized the value of learning something while working or walking. 

When it came to the first episode of Strategy Hero, we wanted something that would set the tone and capture that feeling of being drawn in by the sounds and content of what’s inside a podcast episode. 

Formatting with Pascal was easy. Never have I met someone more conscientious and patient than Pascal. The aim was initially to tap into the decades of Lean experience he’d amassed. After all, he’s a 4x Shingo Prize winner. Lean also factors neatly into the many elements of i-nexus strategy software.

But a different idea bubbled up. What if we went in a different direction and talked not so much about why Lean works but why Lean doesn’t work, or at least not on its own.

“[Lean isn’t] enough. I don’t think it is anymore, and I don’t want to be misunderstood.”


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Starting as we meant to go on

That was the draw for this episode. The statement alone was what we needed to let Pascal pave the way for something fascinating.

And he was clear from the outset. He doesn’t doubt the power of the tools in the Lean arsenal, but in 2023 and beyond, they’re insufficient:


“The Toyota Production System provides an excellent foundation for protecting your core business, but nowadays, you also have to be able to ignite new growth using the digital methods pioneered in the innovation hotspots of the world.”


For those Lean and / or Six Sigma black belts listening, that was a jarring take. We’re taught much about Toyota’s system being something we should emulate. 

And those who emulate that system build it into their business system – one look at the likes of Danfoss and their business system shows you what’s possible. Here's what the Head of the Danfoss Business System (DBS), Bendt Jorgensen, said about his system:


“The DBS offerings comprise a DBS onboarding of senior management, Kaizen events with senior management participation, face-to-face functional workshops, individually accessible online training and practical hands-on tools, all with the aim of strengthening the DBS capabilities throughout the business.”

But Pascal’s words had true and meaningful intent behind them. 

What once was seen as revolutionary in building business systems – gathering strategy, operations, and transformation under one roof – was now not enough. Protection is not growth.

The challenge to business leaders is clear – to ignite growth, we must learn new mindsets and build new skill sets.

Indeed, it’s a very different world from what Lean masters are used to.


Familiarity as a starting point

I found it fascinating to hear Pascal bring forward Aristotle’s idea of two worlds existing.

One world is where things cannot be otherwise (e.g. science or Lean). In that world, if you run a good value stream process and alleviate bottlenecks, throughput improves, and lead time decreases. 

Aristotle’s other world, of things that can be otherwise, challenges this. You can have otherwise with things like politics, taste, and psychology. For example, a customer might say I like this cola product, and I’ll buy it, but they don’t go on to purchase it.

Igniting growth requires leaders from a Lean background to enter the second world. The world of complexity and uncertainty.

Excelling in that second world means becoming ambidextrous and applying Lean skills to the second. 

As the episode continued, Pascal did a brilliant job of explaining how things in this new world would pan out.


Change challenges

Change management is something that we face every day of our lives.

Anxiety and wanting to do the right thing for us can lead to several blockers when you want to adapt your mindset:

  • Ignorance: lack of knowing what the basic skills are for agile thinking and design thinking, or the mindset
  • Fear: not knowing if we can adapt to the new and knowing existing skills aren’t wasted but will be applied
  • Guesswork: new offerings and customer journeys are hard to build without data (changing what existed), but you need to use your Lean tools to create the data from scratch
  • Scatter: too many things to address and trying everything possible diffuses the impact of efforts to change


In looking at these challenges, here is where you can see the skills of Pascal come to the forefront.

His running of executive leadership training and group-type exercises do well to ease fears of change.

As he explained, it’s clear that they offer a way for other leaders to work with peers to understand and see how their industry, and indeed others, are adapting and thriving with innovation labs.


My takeaway

Having heard elements of the episode before hitting record, I knew Pascal would do a brilliant effort to convey the message here – Lean is effective, but change is due.

Lean needs to be at the heart of this new mindset. It’s basic to have efforts focused on savings and efficiencies, but a material change in revenue and new product introduction will come only from layering innovation onto this system.

And when talking to listeners after the episode's release, it was fascinating to hear how they expected more Lean content but walked away after 40 minutes with what they felt was a truly inspiring episode. It’s time to change.

That’s how I ended the show. I felt the same listening back before writing this blog, and I’ll feel the same when I return to it.

It was a genuine pleasure to meet and get to know Pascal, and it feels like exactly the right note to kick off the podcast.


Listen back to the episode

Pascal's episode was the first of six in our opening season of Strategy Hero.

You can click here to listen back to Pascsal's episode or search "Strategy Hero" wherever you find your favorite podcasts.


About Strategy Hero

Published on the last Thursday of every month, the Strategy Hero podcast delves into the world of business strategy and transformation.

Each cast shines a spotlight on a Strategy Hero – inspirers, boundary pushers, and leaders of change from all walks of life – armed with practical advice on achieving your goals.

Episodes explore topics around operational excellence, Lean management, process improvement, change management, and much, much more. Available where all great podcasts live, listen on-demand today, and discover the Strategy Hero inside you.


About the host

James Milsom is Head of Marketing at i-nexus, but James is a storyteller. He’s the UK’s biggest Georgia Bulldogs fan (go Dawgs!) and lives and breathes marketing.

The Strategy Hero podcast is his opportunity to bring some of his conversations with mentors, inspirers, and people anew to you every month.

He’s behind the content read and watched by people like you and lives to educate and help others.

If you’d like to learn more about him, connect with him on LinkedIn and subscribe to the Strategy Hero podcast today!