Recently, there was a news story that made its way around the Internet. In a nutshell, it said that Microsoft Internet Explorer users were not as smart as the users of other browsers.
The media jumped all over the story, publishing the findings of the study, which, as it turns out, were entirely made up. Even the website for the consulting company reportedly behind it was a sham—essentially copied from another, unaffiliated company in Europe.
So what are the lessons in this story as they apply to Lean?
- People look for proof to confirm what they believe or want to be true. Several of the articles about the findings in this story questioned the methods of the study, but published the report anyway. Why? Mac users are prevalent in the graphics/news/art world. Plus, if you read through the comments section of any stories about Apple products, you will see a loyal following who strongly claim the superiority of the company’s products over those of Microsoft. Is it any surprise that a story that claims the users of those products were also superior would gain traction? In the Lean world, you see similar issues. When there is a problem with a process, the Lean Resistance Organization in your company is quick to point out why the issue is a result of the continuous improvement efforts. Always look for facts and data to support any claim, and be careful about leaping to conclusions.
- People confuse cause and effect. In my line of work, I have to check my blog on several different browsers to make sure it looks good regardless of the platform it displays on. As a result, I have all the major browsers loaded on my computer. I tend to use Explorer the most, as all my favorites have been stored on it for years, and until recently I was using Norton’s Identity Safe to automatically load passwords. Even with my knowledge about cause and effect, I found myself pulling up other browsers more frequently, as if that would make me smarter. If there had been truth to this story, switching browsers would not make people smarter; they would have switched browsers because they were smarter. In your organization, be careful about simply copying an effect. For example, using an A3 report doesn’t make a person a good problem solver. Good problem solvers use A3 reports.
- People confuse correlation and causation. Again, if the story was true, would that mean that intelligence actually caused people to select their browser? Not necessarily. It could be that more intelligent people make more money than the population at large, and Mac computers, because of their price, are used disproportionately by people with higher income. The link between intelligence and browser could just be correlated. The articles never addressed why intelligence affected browser selection, which means they did not truly understand the root cause.
- Perception matters. I would not be surprised of two things that could come out of this story. First, I bet Microsoft Explorer market share slides, even if just by a little. Some people, like me, may have acted on number two. Some might have installed another browser and liked it, making the switch permanently. Second, I bet there will be lawsuits out of this. The news organizations may have to answer to their gullibility, especially in the high-stakes browser wars. How does this apply to your company? Well, customers act on perception, not reality. If your products are perceived to be flimsy, even if they are rugged as all get out, you won’t be able to charge premium prices. If your company is seen as being inflexible, even if it is because you have the strongest, most robust, effective processes in the industry, your company might lose customers. Companies have to act based on fact. Consumers, most assuredly, do not.
So, regardless of which browser you are reading this article on, I encourage you to harness all your intellectual horsepower and put some of these lessons to use in your organization. By the way, I’d love to hear about any of your reactions if you read the original news story. Let us know in the comments section below.
This article was written by Jeff Hajek, the author of Whaddaya Mean I Gotta Be Lean? and the Gotta Go Lean blog, and the founder of Velaction Continuous Improvement. Jeff is a great lean thinker and I enjoy his blog. You are encouraged to check it out here. Thanks to Jeff for contributing to Lean Leadership.
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