Yoda Unlearn What You Have Learned

What Yoda Teaches Us About Lean Manufacturing

Yoda Unlearn What You Have Learned

This little, green, and wise sensei from Star Wars has a lot he could teach us about life, and he can also teach us a lot about lean. I recall one moment in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda is doing his best to teach Luke Skywalker in the ways of the force. Luke is a leader and he’s already had considerable success prior to meeting Yoda. But Luke lived most of his life unaware of “the Force,” and now he’s struggling to see things another way.

At this point Yoda tells the young Jedi some memorable words:

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”

This simple statement from our little green friend has profound application to implementing and practicing lean.

Very often the challenge in our lean journey is not learning something new but unlearning something old.

This is one simple reason why companies struggle with lean, or why lean progress plateaus in an organization. It’s not because understanding the 8 wastes or the concept of flow is too hard. It’s because of the beliefs and behaviors we have lived all our lives that are in the way of a new philosophy taking root.

In order for lean to take root in an organization, conflicting beliefs and behaviors have to be identified and uprooted first.

This is why we must unlearn what we have learned.

People and organizations fail to recognize that prior to “implementing lean culture” they were reinforcing a different culture. If the company is 30 years old, then that means a different culture has been growing and taking root for 30 years straight. It has been reinforced, protected, and taught every minute of every day for many years by the beliefs and behaviors modeled by the company’s leadership.

Even if leaders aren’t “teaching” a “culture,” they are still promoting one through their beliefs and behaviors whether they realize it or not.

This is why leaders must take time to deeply and humbly reflect upon what they believe and how those beliefs express themselves in behavior–their words, actions, time, and even body language.

We’re deceiving ourselves if lean arrives and we think that we already are living lean beliefs, values, behaviors, etc. No leader is perfect. We all have to repent and change how we think.

We all have to unlearn certain things that we have learned.

What have you had to unlearn in your lean journey?