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About Dan Markovitz

Dan Markovitz is the founder and president of TimeBack Management. Prior to founding his own firm, Mr. Markovitz held management positions at Sierra Designs, Adidas, CNET and Asics Tiger. Learn More...

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Backpacking Lean

Posted August 13, 2007 @ 10:39 AM

I just returned from a six-day backpacking trip in Kings Canyon, CA. While I'm not quite as obsessive as Kevin Meyer in turning my vacations into opportunities to think deeply about lean, the lessons from lean thinking were inescapable.

Lesson #1: When you don't have a lot of space, you only schlep what's essential. Backpacks are comparatively small, and I didn't hire any sherpas to stagger through the backcountry with 125 pound loads. That meant that I had to ruthlessly pare down the items that I would take with me. No extra food (3/4 of a pound of dry food per person per day), no extra clothes (you really can make two paris of socks and underwear last for a week), no extra gear that didn't perform a critical function (so much for the solar shower and the lawn chairs).

Now think about your office/computer/desk: how much unnecessary crap are you holding onto just because you can? Raise your hand if you have a file cabinet you've inherited from a predecessor that contains stuff you've never even looked at. Raise another hand if you're holding onto year-old emails and old revisions of files that have absolutely no value.

Why is this important? Because...

Lesson #2: When you're lean, you're fast. I set up -- and took down -- my campsite in about half the time it took my friend. I didn't have to search through piles of excess crap to find the gear I needed. By contrast, he struggled to find the right gear in the right sequence. (Pulling out his toothbrush before his tent made very little sense.)

How long does it take you to access the critical information you need for your job?

Lesson #3: Flexibility ain't just about yoga. With less inventory of stuff, I was more flexible in pulling out the gear I needed at the right time. I could easily access my water filter at a stream crossing when I needed it, just as I could quickly pull out raingear when I needed that. My friend pretty much had a yardsale everytime he needed something from inside his pack.

Can you switch gears quickly at work? Can you move from one task to another smoothly and efficiently? Or do you waste time, energy, and effort in the transition?

Lesson #4: Peace be on you, brother. This last benefit is a bit squishy and granola-y, but nonetheless real. There's a peace of mind, a calmness, that comes with knowing you have just what you need to get the job done. There's no confusion -- only clarity. There's no frustration -- only focus. It's liberating to be stripped to the essentials so that you can fully concentrate on whatever is the task at hand.

What's your work environment like? Can you focus on what you're doing? Or do the email alerts, photos of the company picnic, and collection of Yankees bobblehead dolls fracture your attention?

Take advantage of your company's janitorial services and toss some junk today. Let the IT department relieve you of some of the old crap you're holding onto with an archive. Your mental backpack will be much better off.

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