Jim Collins lives lean (part 2)

Last week I pointed to an interview with Jim Collins (Built to Last, Good to Great, How the Mighty Fall) to show how he not only embraces, but truly lives, key lean principles like visual management and productive maintenance. Another recent interview in Inc. demonstrates his relentless drive to eliminate waste in his core production function: processing information and creating new ideas.

. . . if you accept the idea that work is infinite and time is finite, you realize you have to manage your time and not your work. . . . And that means having a ferocious understanding of what you are not going to do. The question used to be which phone call you wouldn't take. Now, it's the discipline not to have your e-mail on. The skill is knowing how to sift through the blizzard of information that hits you all the time.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know that shackling yourself to your inbox instead of actually, you know, doing work, is one of my pet peeves. So of course, it's nice to see that Collins takes a similarly dim view of this habit. But more to the point, the recognition that not all information is of equal value, and that processing low-value (or no-value) mail creates waste is in keeping with the precepts of lean. Just as an organization's financial resources are limited, so too are the individual's temporal resources. You can't afford to waste time on activities that the customer doesn't value.

The "decision not to have your email on" all the time is just one small part of Collins's "stop-doing" strategy. As Matt May described it (full article available here), Collins both preaches it and lives it:

He now starts each year by choosing what not to do; and each of his to-do lists always includes “stop-doing” items. Collins preaches his practice, impressing upon his audiences that they absolutely must have a “stop-doing” project abandonment list to accompany their to-do lists. As a practical matter, he advises developing a strong discipline around first giving careful thought to prioritizing goals and objectives, then eliminating the bottom 20 percent of the list and abandons those projects…forever.

Although Collins applies the "stop-doing" concept to projects (personal or organizational), it applies equally well to individual activities and tasks. Remember: you're a machine that produces value, every bit as much as your company is. Just as you eradicate waste in the company's operations, so too must you eradicate waste in your own operations. That takes focus, discipline, and commitment to the same lean principles that you're trying to instill in your firm.

Now turn off your Outlook and get back to work.


  1. [...] all the time. . . and then dumps responsibility for executing them upon Kurt. Without the discipline to say no to some of them, or the willingness to match managerial resources to his agenda, the CEO is dooming [...]

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