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The Nexus of Lean and Zen

You may have already noticed some of the similarities between Lean and Zen from the background information presented, but just in case it is still unclear, let’s review some of the key parallels to set the perspective for future discussion.

Both Lean and Zen incorporate the concept of awareness through observation. One of the giants of Lean, Taiichi Ohno, had his engineers go and stand in a small circle on the factory floor, sometimes for as long as a day. The intent was to observe the process and look for opportunities for improvement. The long period of time created an immersive experience and removed external distractions. Similarly, Zen awareness centers on the practice of meditation, sitting silently for sometimes long periods of time, and calming the mind so you can observe the true reality of the present.

The concept of simplicity is also fundamental to both Lean and Zen. With Lean, you are continually working to improve a process by removing waste, taking it to its simplest possible state. With Zen, simplicity helps create harmony.

Harmony in Zen is itself akin to the Lean concept of flow. Harmony is balance, effortless flow, and is often described in Zen as like water. Similarly, Ohno also used the water metaphor to describe optimum flow in a factory.

Awareness, simplicity, harmony, balance, and flow. As we’ll soon see, these are just the start of the nexus between Lean and Zen.