Monday, 26 October 2009

Asking questions ... Doing things differently

In a recent Stephanomics blog, entitled 'Why them and not us?', a fellow blogger referred to Singapore, and Lee Kuan Yew, when he was Prime Minister of Singapore, describing 'their education institutions as producing highly "talented" but unquestioning "sheep", even amongst their PhDs !!

Since he, himself, and his wife are both empire Scholarship students to Cambridge, they were trained to question rather than meekly accept "perceived" wisdom. It was his questioning of the then status quo that led him to take Singapore from one of the most corrupt, totally resourceless (except for its people) little island nation into one of the "Tiger" economies of Asia and a prominent player on the world stage.

On the way, he challenged to twin "holiest of beliefs" that "bureaucracy had to be corrupt and bloated" in order to work !! Singapore now has a lean and mean bureaucracy that is uncorrupted (or else :-)) and that is also one of the most efficient in the world !!

The greatest tool of any "thinking" person is to test the truth of anything and not accept on blind faith !! All else is merely liturgy and regurgitation of teachings !! ...'

IMHO this comment provided a unique ray of sunshine (amongst the dark & heavy clouds of confusion), so I decided to respond to it by adding ... 'a great post, highlighting the success created by those nations who question and challenge the status quo, as well as the actions of bloated, centralised and corrupt 'command and control' government.

Your post points out how Lean government is the future and it also shows how successful nations are already going down this path. I spoke to the Singapore Minister for Information a few years ago about this, and he re-enforced their strategy to embrace modern technology in order to connect with their people and to help them go down this path.

The only thing I would challenge in your article is your statement 'lean and mean' ... as whilst they are arguably starting to apply 'lean', 'lean' is not 'mean' (except to those leaders/managers who want to stay well away from the front line and prefer to tell people what to do, instead of going to the front line, asking questions and helping them to improve the way things work). 'Lean and mean' may be a catchy catch phrase used by the media, but a true 'lean philsophy' is actually quite the reverse (hence the reason for the first chapter of my book 'what is lean?') ... as it's all about people, value and values, and bringing about a continuous improvement process that involves everyone, where leaders and managers support people and help people in the process of continuously improving how value is provided (cf not trusting them and telling them what to do), founded on fundamental values such as trust, honor, responsibility and respect.

Singapore is starting to do this, and at the prestigious ITU Telecom World conference in Hong Kong back in 2006, the head of strategy of the ITU agreed it was a great idea but pointed out that he couldn't see it happening in the UK. With the mindset, corruption, and misuse of power shown by the UK government he was definitely right, and until this changes in the UK we are heading for the scrap heap*, and will look in awe and wonder at the success other nations will achieve. Traditional economics is dead and traditional politics is about to die (i.e. Poweromics). In successful nations of the future a new form of politics (Lean government) and economics (Leanomics) is already starting to emerge, based on a robust set of values, including trust, honor, responsibility and respect ( ... just as Dr W. Edwards Deming predicted over 20 years ago.

Whilst some nations prefer to ignore it, others are starting to talk about it, and some are already doing it ... and guess which one of these applies to the UK?

David Clift
Author of 'Lean World' and a Future 500 Leader

* none of the current parties/leaders are likely to do this either - take a look at and my subsequent post to see why.'