1. Reduce Waste
In Hemingway’s day, there was a limited amount of space in a book or newspaper, and you had to fill it effectively. He hated adverbs — he just used a descriptive verb — wasn’t fond of adjectives either, and was a member of the “short words, short sentences, short paragraphs” school. Extra words were wasted words. The more efficient he was, the better his stories were. In lean manufacturing, we want to avoid waste — “muda,” in Japanese — because it costs time and money. We eliminate steps and reduce the amount of trash and castoffs in the manufacturing process, because it saves money and improves profitability.
2. Eliminate Down Time
Hemingway was known for sticking to a rigid writing schedule. Many people have a romantic notion of writers lounging about in coffee shops, writing when the mood strikes them, and then taking long lunches of martinis or beers. But he got up at 6:00 am, wrote straight until noon, and was done for the day. Even if he had been drinking the night before, he was back at work the next day at 6:00 am. Nothing stopped him from writing, and he was at it every day. So it goes for lean manufacturing. We don’t want down time. We need the machines to keep working every day. We need our people to keep working. Machines need to be easy to use and easy to fix. Processes need to be easy to understand and adhere to. Just like Hemingway wrote every day without fail, our machines need to work every day without fail too.
3. Adhere to Standards
As a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star, Hemingway learned newspaper writing standards, which influenced his writing for the rest of his life (“Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.“). The standards he learned in 1917 are still taught in college journalism classes around the country. Professional journalists even have standards they follow, called The AP Stylebook. Lean manufacturing also calls for its own standards. In manufacturing, where everything moves quickly and constantly, there’s no time to develop a personal preference, or let everyone choose their own way of working. When that happens, you have down time and waste, which kills profitability. Every manufacturer needs to develop their own standards and procedures, and then train their employees to follow them.
4. Check Your Status and Make Changes
Hemingway was a big proponent of writing, then editing, then rewriting, re-editing, and rewriting and re-editing some more. He was did not stop at what he wrote the first time, and was always checking and rechecking to make sure everything was the way he wanted. In lean manufacturing, we have the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust loop. That means you decide on a plan of action, you actually do it, you check it for accuracy, and then you adjust for your next course of action. And then you check and adjust, check and adjust constantly, to make sure everything is being done at the desired levels and outputs. While writing and manufacturing are worlds apart, there are valuable lessons we can learn from the man who was called one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Avoiding waste, eliminating down time, adhering to standards, and making appropriate changes are lessons every writer and manufacturer can use to make their work the best it can be.
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This post was published on July 17, 2013 and updated on July 20, 2015.
July 17, 2013