Einstein’s Gets Lean!

By on August 14, 2018
Einstein’s Gets Lean!

A “thought-disrupter” changed things and you’re looking at the results.

Like me, you’ve probably got a favorite neighborhood coffee place. They serve great coffee. You see friends of yours and can have interesting chit-chats with them before embarking on the work of the day. It’s a fun, relaxing environment. A couple of days ago I walked into my favorite neighborhood coffee joint, Einstein’s on Clayton Road in St. Louis. I got my favorite bagel and schmear of creamed cheese and headed for the counter to fill a cup with my favorite Einstein’s coffee, adding some half-and-half.

Was I surprised! What I’d been accustomed to seeing on this counter were a bunch of spills of cream and milk. I was also accustomed to having to lift the containers and turn them around until I spotted the label “half-and-half.”

Not this time.

Lean thinking has come to the rescue at Einstein’s! You can see what it looks like. Clearly labeled positions for each of the containers. (Lean refers to this as “unbreakable order”) and containers that sit on a platform to collect minor spills. (Lean calls this “unbreakable cleanliness”) Simple stuff, right? Sure is.

And it’s also powerful stuff. I asked Einstein’s manager how he liked the new system. He said he loved it. No more having to wipe off the counter all the time and the containers were always in the right spot. His customers told him they really liked it.

So, here’s a question. The improvements made at Einstein’s are so incredibly simple. Why did it take so long for them to be made? An Einstein named Albert has the answer:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking that we used when we created them.”

For a long time, the folks at Einstein’s must have been very satisfied with the status quo. Their thinking was focused on “let’s keep doing what we’ve been doing. Our customers love our coffee, bagels, and sandwiches.” And their coffee, bagels, and sandwiches were, and are, great. That aside, their thinking should also have focused on the very messy counter customers encountered when they took their cups to fill them with coffee and one of the milk products. But it didn’t.

It fact, it was their thinking that created the mess I used to encounter. As Albert reminds us, things are the way they are because of the way we think. Given this fact, it follows that the only way to change the way they are is to change the way we think.

So, the thinking of someone at Einstein’s had to change for their messy counter to undergo this transformation. Someone had to look at it and, defying a persistent focus on the status quo, as they were wiping off the counter, say to themselves, “This is crazy. We can do better.

And this person did better, a lot better. In addition to making this one improvement in the way Einstein’s serves customers, this employee was a thought-disrupter.

I’ll bet that when other Einstein’s employees saw the impact of the newly reconfigured counter, their thinking also started to change. Some of them started asking, “What else could we change that would make our work easier?

The moral of this story is simple: Nothing in our environment changes unless the thinking that created it changes.

So how does this all apply to me and to you? If you and I agree that our work environments are not perfect and further agree that our thinking made them this way, then we must conclude that we have to change the way we think.

Easy to say. Hard to do.

The best advice I’ve read on changing the way we think comes from Taiichi Ohno, one of the key architects of the Toyota Production System. Ohno said, “It’s easier to act your way to a new way of thinking than to think your way to a new way of acting.

And what does it take to trigger employees starting on the journey of changing the way they think?

Often it takes a thought disrupter. Like the person who reconfigured Einstein’s coffee counter.

Following the work of this disruptor of status quo thinking, it takes doing what Ohno suggests, acting in new ways until gradually, over time, what seemed a little strange comes to seem very sensible.

I’m sure there were some employees at Einstein’s who, when seeing the newly reconfigured coffee counter, said to themselves, “What’s this all about? What we did was just fine.” But when, week after week, the counter stayed clean, their thinking started to shift. They probably asked themselves, “Why didn’t we do this a long time ago?

The answer to this question: Nobody questioned the status quo.

Here’s what I ask of each of you, question the status quo. Do a scan of your work area, and ask yourself, “Could applying Einstein’s thinking improve my work area?” I know it would. And, by the way, if Albert could read this, I’m sure he’d agree. Go for it! And when you spot improvements that could be made, just do it!

Be a thought-disrupter.

May viewing the improvements you’ve made disrupt the status quo thinking of your fellow employees. By the way, this is the way continuous improvement happens, one step at a time.

St. Louis Community College’s Workforce Solutions Group has a wide variety of training and coaching resources that will transform the way your employees think about the work they do and the environment in which they do this work. They will start disrupting status quo thinking. To find out more about these resources call George Friesen at 314-303-0612 or Eric Whitehead at 314-599-5022 to schedule what we believe will be an active and very productive discussion. We look forward to it.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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