“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.” So said Daniel Hudson Burnham who was the man behind the fantastic manner in which Chicago was developed and is today with its great lakefront and architectural diversity. He worked incredible wonders in a number of other places as well.
I thought of him and those words when I crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel yesterday; a 23 mile long combination of bridges and tunnels that links the Eastern Shore area of the Chesapeake Bay with the Virginia Beach/Hampton Roads area. There is a plaque on one of the man-made islands where a bridge span drops down to a tunnel so the ships can essentially pass over the bridge commemorating a guy named Lucius Kellam who apparently was a guy who thought a lot like Burnham; a guy who thought “12 miles of trestle, two 1-mile-long tunnels, four artificial islands, four high-level bridges, approximately 2 miles of causeway, and 5.5 miles of approach roads” was a perfectly reasonable thing build.
I can’t recall the exact words but I recently read where Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich said that companies are created by big dreamers and risk takers – Daniel Burnham sorts of folks – and then run by maintainers – people hired whose role in life is essentially to avoid screwing things up – the anti-Burnhams. He thought that the maintainers had their place in the world, but that is role as a founder and CEO was to be the dreamer to counterbalance the resistance of the professionals to ‘make little plans’, as Burnham would describe them.
Lean leaders are Burnham types. The business schools and CPA programs crank out maintainers. They create folks whose stock in trade is to shut down all proposed change unless and until the change can be proven to be virtually risk free. That is why they love investments to replace a small number of people with a relatively small investment in automation. It is why they love the control that ERP has to offer. And it is why a radical, lean transformation in processes and culture scares the bejeezus out of them.
Much is written about how to motivate people and I suppose it is a subject the psychologists can tell us a lot about. But I think Burnham hit it. You don’t see a lot of blood stirred by the strategies of the Fortune 500. People who work for them aren’t often driven to do extraordinary things in pursuit of a dream to grow market share by 5-10% or to restructure the operations footprint. You do see blood downright churning, however, in companies like Barry-Wehmiller and ATC.
Where the leader is driven by the idea – the conviction really – that the business can be something extraordinary, where the leader ‘aims high in hope and work’, people overwhelmingly respond for the simple reason that they want to be a part of something meaningful. The folks who built the 1893 Exposition in Chicago – Burnham’s showpiece – and the people who built the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel had o have felt that they were doing more than messing around with steel or wood for a paycheck. They had to have had their blood stirred by the thought that some day they would be able to tell their grandchildren that they had been a part of something truly remarkable – something truly worth doing.
No different with the folks working for the lean companies – especially those instrumental in the initial transformation effort. They too get to know the pride of pointing to a great organization some day and telling the young people that they played a role in creating it. I can’t imagine the same pride comes is felt by the old guy who gets to point to some factory and tell the grandchildren that what he has to show for his career is that while he was there things didn’t get screwed up.