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Lean can inhibit creativity

Published Mar 02, 2010

The main principle within the production philosophy Lean is to eliminate resource waste, and throughout the years, Lean has helped countless large and small companies to be more efficient in the production of goods and services. But Lean doesn’t just represent benefits when applied to development work, warns Margareta Norell Bergendahl, Professor of integrated product development at KTH.

Margareta Norell Bergendahl
Margareta Norell Bergendahl, Professor of integrated product development at KTH

“Rationalisation is always good, Lean is indisputable if correctly applied. But Lean does not guarantee that companies do the right thing,” says Margareta Norell Bergendahl.

She points out that it is all too common that companies apply Lean far too spontaneously. Which can result in a number of problems.

“Should the company decide to apply Lean to the organisation without due reflection, it could lose the capacity for foresight and will not be able to see which weaknesses exist, e.g. to see when the market changes. It can also result in a poor flow of ideas,” says Margareta Norell Bergendahl.

With this she means that the company should have the courage to provide space for creativity. That one should not venture to optimise the creativity process. This is in line with the Lean philosophy, which advocates that unutilised creativity is one of eight ways in which companies waste their resources.

“To restrict creative idea work is also a waste of resources. If you don’t take certain risks, you take no great steps forward,” says Margareta Norell Bergendahl.

She adds that Lean is not a quick solution and that the employees must be allowed to "slack". The art is to balance Lean by building a parallel, creative climate with all the things that this involves, e.g. sufficient time and the right to fail.

“Through Lean, companies become good at streamlining their work processes. But be careful not to starve the organisation. You sometimes hear of anorexic companies,” says Margareta Norell Bergendahl.

For further information, contact Margareta Norell Bergendahl on +46 (0) 8 790 80 68 or

Peter Larsson

Belongs to: About KTH
Last changed: Mar 02, 2010