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Before you put your Halloween mask on, or maybe after, join us this October at the Just-in-Time Cafe for some problem-solving treats.

Our guest this week is Lean icon Paul Akers and we’ll be discussing his journey from, in his words, “not knowing what he was doing,” to becoming a very successful and very happy Lean Leader. We’ll cover an app that turns your phone into a Walkie Talkie. In Industry News we’ll highlight a story where Bosch used their own Shark Tank to select projects at their manufacturing plant and another story where a $12K drip led to almost $4 million in savings at a Texas nonprofit hospital. On the Printed Page we’ll cover Paul Akers’s book, 2 Second Lean, and we’ll answer a user’s question about on-demand webinars. It’s spooky fun at the cafe – come join us!

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Podcast Transcript

Welcome to Just-In-Time Café,’s official podcast where we help you build your problem-solving muscles. We share best practices from over 20 years of success helping organizations from the Fortune 500 to small and medium-size business to government achieve their goals using Lean Six Sigma.


Tracy O’Rourke: Hey, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth Swan: Hello, Tracy. It’s really busy today in here and very loud. Where did all these people come from? Is it happy hour or what?

Tracy O’Rourke: If it’s happy hour, I want some or whatever they’re getting.

Elisabeth Swan: We’ll get some coffee and head into our private dining room.

Tracy O’Rourke: I’m grabbing the menu and I will meet you shortly.

Elisabeth Swan: Sounds good.

What’s on the Menu (Podcast Agenda)

Tracy O’Rourke: Hi everyone. Welcome to the Just-In-Time Café. I’m Tracy O’Rourke and Elisabeth Swan is with me and we are your hosts. So Elisabeth, tell me, what is on the menu today?

Elisabeth Swan: Happily, Tracy. We’ve got a great lineup. We’re going to cover an app that turns your phone into a walkie talkie.

And then this month’s In the News, we’re going to cover a Bosch Lean Six Sigma effort that developed their own version of Shark Tank. And then we’re going to find out how the discovery of a $12,000 drip led to almost $4 million in savings at a Texas nonprofit hospital.

For the Printed Page, we’ll review Paul Akers’ book, 2-Second Lean and find out what you can do in two seconds. And then we’re going to answer a learner’s question about on-demand webinars.

And Today’s Special, it’s my interview with the king of Lean videos, Paul Akers’ himself about his journey to becoming a very happy and successful Lean leader.

Let’s get to that Appetizer, Tracy.

Tracy O’Rourke: Very exciting.

Appetizer of the Day: Voxer

Tracy O’Rourke: OK, Elisabeth. So let’s discuss this walkie talkie app called Voxer. What did you think?

Elisabeth Swan: Well first, I didn’t get it. I thought, “Well, isn’t this just like voicemail?” So I was a little bit resistant. But I loaded it and immediately, a colleague of mine reached out to me on Voxer. He sent me voice messages that I could hear instantly and I recorded my responses by just holding on a button and boom! They sent.

Then he sent me a video from the boat he was on and some sounds of the engine running and then I just got annoyed because he was on water and I wasn’t. But it’s a really simple app and it rolls all of this ability into one place. You got that walkie talkie ability, those instant voice messages that will transcribe voice messages. There is a video, photos. It’s super simple and powerful.

But as you’ll hear later in my interview, Paul Akers just gave out his phone number so everyone could reach out to him on Voxer. Now, I’m not there yet. I don’t know about you, I’m not handing out my phone number for Voxer. But I thought it was interesting. What did you think about it?

Tracy O’Rourke: Well, it’s funny because we heard about it and we downloaded it to try it, specifically, to talk about this in the podcast. And I guess we’re late to the table on this, Elisabeth, because apparently, it’s being used in over 200 countries already. And so – but it seems to be an easy and instantly a way to communicate with friends, family, or teams instantly, which is great.

And I really like the walkie talkie element of it. I like being able to hear messages right away. I like being able to respond to messages right away. It actually brings me to when I camped with my kids because we actually use walkie talkies and I love it. So I really like it and I think it could really create more streamline communication if people use it. I think the hardest part is changing behavior. Recognize that your phone is actually a walkie talkie now. And I think if like us, Elisabeth, I mean that’s kind of how it works with our teams is we just make an effort to try to integrate things and if you do that very well then you can have a great application that you can use very effectively with your teams.

Elisabeth Swan: I think you’re right. I think it’s a good team tool. And we tried it because Paul prefers it over all other methods of communication. So we tried it on his recommendation. But I think you’re right. Your recognition of the fact that it is a Lean app, it makes communication faster. It cuts out that dead time or the extra steps of going into your voicemail to find what messages got left. So we give it a thumbs-up.

Tracy O’Rourke: Thumbs up.

Elisabeth Swan: Next up, it’s In the News.

In the News

Tracy O’Rourke: So Elisabeth, you said Shark Tank. Do tell.

Elisabeth Swan: Shark Tank, yes. This article appeared in IndustryWeek and it was written by staff writer Laura Putre. It’s an intriguing idea. A manager at a Bosch Rexroth Plant, they developed a Shark Tank type competition to get good process improvement ideas. And for those of you out there unfamiliar with the Shark Tank TV show, the contestants are entrepreneurs and they pitch service and product ideas to a panel of investors in hopes that they win some backing for their idea. And billionaires like Mark Cuban, Virgin Atlantic CEO Richard Branson, and a panel of others, they decide which ideas to back.

So the Bosch Plant Manager, James Felsted, he applied that same structure and it made people apply more rigor to their project selection ideas. And I like the aspect that it would force people to consider the effort versus the payoff of each of those ideas. And they’re getting really great results. They reduced their turnaround time for shipping products down to a single day, which was a huge customer satisfaction point.

They also tied successful ideas to bonuses, which can have a big downside which we’re going to hear more about in Paul Akers’ experience with that later on.

Now, you Tracy, how did a $12,000 drip led to a $4 – close to $4 million savings?

Tracy O’Rourke: Well, you know, I love hearing about things like this. This was actually a waste walk that was done at UMC Health System and they’re saying that the waste walk saved them $3.7 million. Well, I think that is a pretty big ROI for going on a walk. You probably lost weight doing it too.

So UMC is the University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas. Is that how you say that, Lubbock?

Elisabeth Swan: Lubbock.

Tracy O’Rourke: Lubbock, Texas. It’s a public, nonprofit hospital. It has got 412 beds and it’s the primary hospital, the UMC Health System. It’s owned by taxpayers of Lubbock County and it serves as the primary teaching hospital for the Texas Tech University Health Scientist Center.

So the UMC Group is led by Operations Director Paulo Maldonado and he says that they recently went on a 100-day waste walk yielding $3.7 million in hard savings for the 2017 budget which is fairly impressive. And I really liked reading the article because they’ve got some good examples of some of the projects that they did.

And one of the project examples was on hand sanitizing stations. So they’ve got as you can expect in a health care environment, there are many hand sanitizers all over the place because obviously, it’s a little easier for people to sanitize their hands if they’ve got these sanitizing stations.

Well, a lot of these sanitizer dispensers were dripping. And so what they ended up doing was they ended up replacing the sanitizer dispensers with models that didn’t drip. So that’s a defect I guess. And so that means that there is less waste. And guess what? They ended up saving $12,000 a year in hand sanitizer because it wasn’t dripping. I mean that’s literally waste.

I mean that’s literally waste.

So it was a great example of a very small thing really. I mean these are very small, well, let’s replace the hand sanitizers so it doesn’t drip, if you’ve got that much volume going through an organization makes a big deal.

And so ultimately, it’s a great story to me. And so they ended up finding more and more dollars saved. Hard dollars was $3.7 million. Soft dollars was $1.6 million. And a lot of the ideas were focused on dollars saved because they are public and they are a nonprofit so any money they’re going to save is going to go directly into helping patient care and improving it.

And so ultimately, they did save a lot of dollars. But some of the other projects were related to improving efficiency and patient flow as well. So that is really nice to hear too. Things like discharging patients before noon fast or improving communication between departments as the patients move and from different parts of the hospital. So these are all good things that we like to hear about especially as a patient ourselves if we have to go to the hospital.

I was in the hospital recently last year and I remember that you’re kind of waiting around to get discharged and some of that is heavily dependent on when the doctor is going to get there, those kinds of things. So, it’s great to say this doesn’t need to happen. We don’t need to be waiting around.

So, it was a great article. I recommend reading it. It’s on our website,

Elisabeth Swan: Tracy, one more piece In the News, we just went to the Washington Lean Conference and since we presented, we should share our experience with our listeners, don’t you think?

Tracy O’Rourke: I think that is a great idea. So I’ll just say that the Lean Washington Conference happens in the state of Washington. It happens every October for the last 6 years and it is put on by the Governor’s Office. It’s geared towards Lean transformation in government.

I have to say, I truly believe Washington is really blazing a trail for all government organizations. 2.200 to 2,500 people come and basically that’s the capacity of the Tacoma Convention Center because that’s where it has been every year. It’s free. And the reason why it’s free is because they are really big on making sure that they try to minimize cost as little as possible but still put on an A+ event.

The speakers present for free. Both you and I presented for free. We went on our own time to show support for every county because we have clients in every county of Washington. But people donate their time. And admission is actually bringing canned food for the local food bank which I think is a wonderful thing.

And so, the really big focus of this whole conference is sharing stories about success, lessons learned. It’s really fun. I really enjoyed every year because I know more and more people in Washington every year and I just love hearing about the success stories. And of course, you’re always learning about new things and new techniques that you can try and hearing what people are doing out there.

What did you think, Elisabeth?

Elisabeth Swan: That’s my second time going and it’s an inspiration every time as you say. Just so exciting that a whole state is doing this and putting on this free event every year and I think about other states where it’s happening. It’s happening in Arizona. It’s happening in Kentucky. And I would love to see them do it. So I love showing up, contributing, meeting folks, hearing the successes, and I look forward to going back every year.

Tracy O’Rourke: And I’ll just say really quickly too that what’s really nice is there are lots of others like you said, states going. Colorado was there. LA County was there. Arizona was there. Even private sector is also jumping in on the bandwagon. Nordstrom came last year. Costco came. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which is also a nonprofit came because they are doing process improvement.

So, it’s really exciting to see that people are coming to government to learn about transformation of Lean. And I think that’s very inspiring for government too because it’s just a great reputation and it’s a nice feeling all in general. I want to say that over.

Elisabeth Swan: It’s clearly popular. I don’t know if you remember this line from Jaws but they’re going to need a bigger boat. They’re going to have to find a bigger convention center.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes, you’re right.

Elisabeth Swan: You’re listening to the Just-In-Time Café. I’m Elisabeth Swan. We want to hear from you. Remember to give us a review on iTunes. We are always listening. Up next, it’s the Printed Page.

The Printed Page: 2-Second Lean by Paul Akers

Tracy O’Rourke: So, Elisabeth, I’m dying to know. What can you do in two seconds for improvement?

Tracy O’Rourke: Not much. So the 2-Second Lean comes from this idea that Paul Akers instituted within his company which is called FastCap. He’d asked each employee to save at least two seconds of time every day. Find an improvement that saved at least two seconds, which sounds really tiny and minuscule, not going to make much of a difference but it caused a bit of a revolution in the plant and engaged every employee in the success of the plant.

So this book, 2-Second Lean by Paul Akers, many people know him because of his Lean videos where we get – we’re very familiar with Lean bathroom, Lean kitchen. He has got – every employee is able to just use an iPhone, make a video of any employment they do. So there’s a great free library of Lean videos from these guys.

And the book has lots of these Lean tips too but mainly, I found it to be a chronicle of his journey as a leader.

And Tracy, you recommended this book. And at first, I ordered it and I was – I thought it was too funky-looking. It’s clearly self-published. It’s kind of shiny. It’s almost cards doc and the pictures are very homegrown. But that’s part of the lesson. It’s words and all. He is upfront with his failures. And it’s a great example of how more we learn from our mistakes. Just avoiding, trying not to acknowledge mistakes, things like that. If you don’t ignore or hide them and spell them out, you really have to sit back, reflect, and learn. And that’s a huge lesson for me and just reinforces a lot of what I’ve come to learn over time.

If you don’t ignore or hide them and spell them out, you really have to sit back, reflect, and learn.

But he thought he had a thoroughly organized factory. He got a great loan from a bank. The bank came and visited the factory and said, “This is awesome. We’d back you on anything.” But then he got a pair of young consultants to come and take a look at what he is doing. So he was having a little trouble keeping inventory and he pointed out – they pointed out the colossal waste of expense, of storing all that inventory. And then he was off to the races.

And I appreciate his candor. I recommend this book. It’s a quick read. What about you, Tracy?

Tracy O’Rourke: I really like this book too. And it’s funny that you mentioned that because I think it would be easy to judge this book by it’s cover, right? And feel like, OK, maybe this isn’t – I’m not going to get a lot from this. But it has a yearbook feel, right? So it has got all these pictures, he is candid, and the story is in there and it kind of felt a little bit like that. In that way, I liked it. There’s big font. It’s easy and quick read as you say, Elisabeth. The chapters are short. They’re full of tips and ideas. There are lots of pictures highlighting the employees.

What I love about this book is Paul Akers’ excitement jumps off the page. OK? This guy lives Lean and he is an enthusiast on steroids, right?

You mentioned videos. I use the Lean kitchen and the Lean bathroom video in my UCSD class, my on-site UCSD class, to share examples of visual management and 5S techniques especially the last two S’s, standardized and sustain, to really – I mean because universally, everybody has got an employed kitchen and a bathroom and so it’s just an easy way to share what you could do with some of the stuff.

One of my favorite teaching techniques is to use universal applications for these concepts and apply this stuff at home. I get students to picture using things at home or like I always talk about kanban and I use my shoe kanban example, which is basically my way of making sure I don’t buy too many shoes is I put a kanban in place. So I explain the story of how I put that together.

But I think those are the kinds of concepts that stick is changing the way you think, not just at work but in your life. And Paul Akers is a great model for this. He is constantly living Lean.

One of my other favorite videos and I hadn’t even really thought about it until I saw his video, but he was going through the drive-thru and he ordered coffee and he drinks black coffee. But he orders the coffee and he gets the bag and it has got creamer and sugar and stir sticks in it in the bag. And he points out, “This is such a waste.” He even says the bag is a waste because he doesn’t need any of that.

So it just makes you sit up and think and you really start to look around and say, “Well, there’s a lot of waste everywhere.” So I really love those examples.

And I think I really like your comment about the Lean leader piece and it’s really his story as a Lean leader. And it’s just a testament and it shows how important. If you don’t have leadership and support at the top, culture isn’t going to change. And he is so into it. I can’t wait to go visit him. He does tours at his organization and I would love to go on a tour. I hope we get to go on one soon.

Elisabeth Swan: We will. Let’s plan on it. So it’s a short book. It packs a punch. Please read the expanded review on our website.

Tracy O’Rourke: You’re listening to the Just-In-Time Café podcast. I’m Tracy O’Rourke. In just a short while, we’ll get to hear Elisabeth’s interview with Paul Akers about his journey becoming a Lean leader. But first, it’s a Q&A from one of our subscribers.


Elisabeth Swan: Tracy, here’s a question for you. It came in from one of our learners. Is there a series of pre-recorded webinars? If so, where are they available?

Tracy O’Rourke: Well, that’s a great question. The first answer is absolutely, we do. We have lots of pre-recorded webinars. All of our webinars are recorded. All of the slides are on our website and the recordings. All you need to do is go to our website, and go to our library of concepts and tools and there are a bunch of webinars on our website like SIPOCs and Fishbones and Failure Modes and Effects Analyses (FMEAs).

We record a new one every month and we also have a series called Success Story Webinars, and these are people that have actually done projects and they are discussing their storyboard on these success story webinars. There are only about 25 to 30 minutes. And it really walks you through what a Green Belt project or a Black Belt project look like. And I think there’s a lot of really good ones. So check it out.

Now, let’s get to that interview.

Today’s Special: Interview With Paul Akers

Tracy O’Rourke: So Elisabeth, can you give us a little preview of your interview with Paul Akers?

Elisabeth Swan: One striking feature about Paul and you mentioned it is his unbounded energy. It made me wonder if he had as energetic siblings. And his answer about his brother will surprise you.

Tracy O’Rourke: Uh-uh. I can’t wait to hear that.

Elisabeth Swan: Listen up.

Hey everybody, on Today’s Special, our guest, Lean icon Paul Akers. For those of you unfamiliar with Paul, he is the author the book, 2-Second Lean. He is also the President of FastCap where they make woodworking tools. He is taking his manufacturing business from the garage to worldwide distribution by pursuing one goal; serve the customer by improving every day. And one ground rule, keep Lean simple.

FastCap has a product catalogue of over 600 woodworking tools with 2,400 distributors in 40 countries. He credits his astounding business growth to having a fun, dynamic culture in which each employee puts into practice at least one 2-second improvement each day.

Paul speaks all over the world, huge audiences, and he and his employees generously host Lean tours of their operations in Bellingham, Washington. Paul is calling in today from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thank you for carving out some time for us, Paul, and welcome to the Just-In-Time Café.

Paul Akers: Wow, Elisabeth! My pleasure. That was a cool introduction. You did a great job on that.

Elisabeth Swan: See, you’re good. You’re already pumping me up, Paul.

Paul Akers: I love it. It’s very great. I love it. One of the things too, we like to keep it fun not only simple but we keep Lean fun. Lean should be amazingly fun.

Elisabeth Swan: I like it. So Paul, I’m guessing a large portion of our audience knows you. You are the human embodiment of enthusiasm when it comes to Lean. Your videos are legendary. But people may not know that you become a pretty serious athlete. I just found out you completed two back-to-back Ironmans, one in Lake Placid and another in Vichy, France. When is the next one?

Paul Akers: In Frankfurt. And I’m going to be in Frankfurt in about a week. I’m going to be training for the next one July 8th, European World Championship. So I guess I’m addicted. I don’t know what it is.

Elisabeth Swan: I can hear that very strong. Well, I’m impressed. I’m impressed. And I’m not thinking Ironman but you got me thinking I can step it up. I can step up my routine.

Paul Akers: We all can.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. So let’s come back. I want to come back to your book, 2-Second Lean. I read it. And then I reread your latest edition and I find it inspiring every time I turn to it.

Paul Akers: That’s so kind of you.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. No. It is. And I mean it. The idea of making just 2-second improvements as a way of building a Lean culture is as you say, beautifully simple. You’ve got great advice. It’s clear that you gained it from experience. I particularly like – you’ve added at one point to do before and after videos. I love that. You kind of become the master of visual management. I actually use your videos when I train. I wanted people to understand what we’re talking about.

The idea of making just 2-second improvements as a way of building a Lean culture is as you say, beautifully simple.

Paul Akers: Oh, cool! I love it.

Elisabeth Swan: Yup. No.

Paul Akers: And we want everyone to use them. We don’t care. We just want to help, and that’s really great.

Elisabeth Swan: I love that. Your generosity is clear. And so, I am – and you pumped up my classrooms so that’s another bonus.

Paul Akers: So much fun.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. And you’ve got a shop floor, bathroom, kitchen, doesn’t matter.

Paul Akers: Yup.

Elisabeth Swan: But what really struck me about that book on kind of the second read is I realized it’s a story of your journey becoming a Lean leader.

Paul Akers: That’s right.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. It really is.

Paul Akers: That’s exactly right. It’s really a story of all the mistakes I made, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth Swan: That’s what I want to ask you. That’s what I want to ask you. So that’s how I feel like we learned. And I want to know what would you say was the mistake you made as a leader that you learned the most from?

Paul Akers: Well, the biggest one is I told everyone to go do Lean. I didn’t teach them how to do it. I didn’t create a culture of teaching and training my people. And I didn’t realize that it required enormous investment in your people on a daily basis creating this fantastic routine where people could consistently grow. And if you give them the tools on a consistent basis and you didn’t send them to a conference, you didn’t send them occasionally once a month to go here. But you did it every day that you create this dynamic culture. And I just missed that. I just said, “Hey, go do Lean. It’s so simple. Read the book. Go do Lean.” And it is simple but it’s simply done every day. That was my biggest mistake.

Well, the biggest [mistake]  is I told everyone to go do Lean. I didn’t teach them how to do it. I didn’t create a culture of teaching and training my people.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. And I like the term you just used. You invested in people. And what does that mean you invested in people every day?

Paul Akers: Well, one of my big things that I talk about now a lot is the concept of exposure. So what I mean is we have a 45-minute to an hour meeting every day at our company and we’ve done that for like 15 years. It’s really incredible the amount of money, millions of dollars have been spent teaching our people, everything from the constitution to the word of the day, a history lesson. We study Deming’s principle. We study all those principles. It’s just like a university every day. And that’s what I mean by investing.

And then when I say exposure, I just talked about that a little bit. We’re taking on – I led Japan’s study missions and I’ve trained hundreds and hundreds of people from all over the world in Japan and I’m taking my shop floor people to Japan. This is an executive level experience. This is – when I went to Japan the first time, it was only the presidents of company. You don’t take the general manager. You take the presidents of companies. It’s very expensive. It’s like 10,000 bucks minimum to get to Japan and do something like that.

I’m taking five of my shop floor people. I mean people that have been with me for one year, I’m taking to Japan to train them. I mean that’s insane. You don’t do those kinds of things because that’s how much I believe in exposing and training our people. And I take my people all over the world. My people have been to China, to Europe, to Japan, all of the United States. Exposure is everything. And that is – it embodies the concept of teaching and training.

Exposure is everything. And that is – it embodies the concept of teaching and training.

Elisabeth Swan: That is such a statement and that probably speaks volume to everybody on the shop floor, seeing your literal investment. I mean that was money to bring those folks over. That’s huge. And I’m guessing that that sends the message that you don’t have to talk about. That’s a big one.

Paul Akers: Right. Right. Well, I think people – I mean if someone is going to leave me, they would certainly consider, “Where am I going to get a job where the boss is going to spend $10,000 taking me to Japan to teach and train me?” I don’t think so. That’s not going to happen.

Elisabeth Swan: Right.

Paul Akers: Own your own company and maybe you might be able to afford after you have been in business for a few years.

Elisabeth Swan: Yay! We’re saving our pennies. We want to go.

Paul Akers: Right? Right?

Elisabeth Swan: Did you ever have employees who rebelled against this idea of a Lean culture or the Lean style of leadership?

Paul Akers: Absolutely. Oh yeah. Man, sure. I lost 50% of my people when I started doing this in the beginning because they just didn’t want to do it. They thought it was crazy. They just want to come to work and work. They didn’t want to have to think. And I tried everything I could to get them to do it. I didn’t do a great job of it. They left. Yeah, absolutely. All the time.

Elisabeth Swan: I think in some ways, what happens in Lean and especially what you’ve done, you hand people the reins and say, “You come up with a 2-second improvement. You’re in charge of this.” And to your point, some people do come to work and they just want to, “I just want to do my job. Just tell me what you want. I don’t really want to think.”

Paul Akers: That’s right.

Elisabeth Swan: It sounds great. Well, you’re in charge. You figure out. But that’s work. It’s actually work. And some people don’t engage there. They don’t want it.

Paul Akers: Right. They don’t want it. But the truth of the matter is, Elisabeth, what I found about human nature is people really do want it deep down inside. But they’ve never had the opportunity to do it and nobody has ever shown them what it feels like and what happens when you do it. So if you get somebody who just doesn’t want to do it and all of a sudden they experience and they go, “Wow! That felt good. I like that.” That’s what I was intending to do. You can actually switch people pretty easily if you understand that is what their purpose is. You just need to show them what it feels like.

Paul Akers: Purpose is a big word and I come back to that a lot with sort of every aspect of Lean and our jobs and employees and you name it. And I think that you’ve obviously gotten through to folks on that. And I think what you were describing right there, people do convert even if things are tough and they have to go through, “How do I figure this stuff? How am I going to come up with an improvement?” And then once you do, that’s exciting. That’s an accomplishment. And I think that is addictive.

Paul Akers: And then Elisabeth, you put them on video which they’ve never been on video before, they don’t think they’re good enough, good enough-looking, eloquent enough, or anything else, you put them on video, “Wow! That really felt good.” And then they’re hooked.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. Yeah, you got a really lovely simplistic approach to the video. It’s like, “Don’t buy an equipment, just get your – we’ve all got this cameras with amazing resolution. Just use that. There are simple editing tools. So don’t stall because it’s not perfect.”

Paul Akers: Yeah. It’s hard for people to comprehend. We’re a decent size company as you described, distribution all over the world, 700 million have viewed our videos. Every product video we make for our company, every product video is made with our iPhone.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. No. It’s perfect.

Paul Akers: Can you imagine that? Could you imagine we do millions and millions, tens of millions of dollars of business and we don’t even have a videographer or a film crew. We do everything. Every employee just pulls up their phones and says, “Hey, this is FastCap’s new product.” Could you imagine BMW or Mercedes doing stuff like that? No. It has to be a million dollar video. It has to be sleek and everything else.

Well, people look at us and they go, “These people are so authentic. And those are the actual employees that were making the product. Well, I can identify with them.”

These people are so authentic. And those are the actual employees that were making the product. Well, I can identify with them.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, you can. It’s real. They’re into it. They’re getting to be better. They’re good. They’re turning them into videographers.

Paul Akers: You got it.

Elisabeth Swan: So they get better.

Paul Akers: Great communicators. And boy, do we have a communication problem in this world so we create all these great communicators. And how helpful is that?

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. There’s another question I had for you. And this is switching a little bit. But back to how you work with your employees. And I know you toyed at one point with incentive and a lot of people tried to figure out how do you motivate employees? And I just want – I want to hear your experience with incentives.

Paul Akers: Oh, it’s the biggest disaster you’ll ever do in your entire life. I mean I work with Toyota all the time and Toyota has an incentive program. And I openly say to the presidents of the companies and the people that I’m working with that I disagree completely. It’s wrong. Literally, we’re in a round table conference with them and they’ll say, “Yeah, Toyota.” Then I’ll say, “Well, that works for Toyota. But I totally disagree with it.”

And this is why. Because we come to work and ironically, I learned this from Toyota, and that is Toyota does not come to work to make cars. They come to work to improve the way they make cars. When you get hired at FastCap, the first thing I say to you before you ever walk on the shop floor is I’m hiring you, Peter, Bob, Mary, Joel, Julienne, whatever, to improve. I’m not hiring you to make things at FastCap. Do you understand it? “Well, I’m not like that.” No.

What I want you to do is walk in that door and your brain needs to turn on and you need to look at what you’re doing and you just say, “How can I do it better? How can I improve the quality? How can I deliver more value to the customer?” That is your job. That is what I’m paying you to do. OK?

So I establish from the get-go. I’m paying you to use your brain and improve. I’m not going to pay you extra to do that. It just so happens that at FastCap we’re able to pay our people a minimum of 30% more than industry standard. Some of our people make twice as much as industry standard. It’s very common for our people to get $1 and $2 raises every couple of months.

Why can we do that? Because the cost is going down. Quality is going up. The customers are ecstatic. We can afford to pay our people more money. But I’m not going to go and create another bureaucracy and manage another system and go, “Well, Bob made this improvement. And Mary made this improvement. This one is worth this …” I don’t have time to do that.

Elisabeth Swan: Is that what happened?

Paul Akers: That’s exactly what happened. And everyone is going, “Well, I did this improvement. I did this improvement. How much money do I get from that?” Well, this is a nightmare. No! You’re paid really well. We respect what you’re doing. And if you just kick butt and you make it happen, you’re going to get more of the same. But I’m not going to go down and manage every improvement you make. And I can’t in my company because my people are making sometimes 5, 6, 7, 10 improvements a day.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah.

Paul Akers: It would be impossible.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. It’s kind of a waste of your time.

Paul Akers: Totally. It’s over processing, one of the wastes.

Elisabeth Swan: It is a total waste. What else have you learned from your employees?

Paul Akers: How wrong I am. How stupid I am. How often I just don’t have the right answer. Yeah, that’s the most important thing. You want to be a great Lean leader, I say in the book and I say to all my people all the time, say three times a day, you are wrong. I didn’t know that. I learned something new. If you can’t utter those words as a leader, you’re going to be worthless. You’ll never be a Lean leader.

But if you think you have all the answers and you’re the smartest guy and you can’t eat humble pie and you can’t say you screwed it, you’ll never get it.

Elisabeth Swan: What’s the sort of in your mind the biggest time you got called out and realized you were wrong?

Paul Akers: OK. Well, here, I’ll give you a good one. Good I didn’t get stamped up. Like my favorite. So I said one time to Mary, Mary goes, “What’s the purpose of the company, Paul?” And I go, “To uncover and unlock the potential in every human being.” And she looked at me kind of cross-eyed and she goes, “What?” And I go, “Yeah, to unlock and uncover the potential in every human being.” And she goes, “Wow! That’s kind of hard to remember.”

And I said, “Yeah, but it’s really not that bad, Mary. It’s to unlock and uncover the potential in every human being.” And she looked at me kind of cocked her head and she goes, “You mean you want to grow people?” And I looked at her and go, “Mary, you’re so smart and I’m so stupid. Yes, Mary, that is the new purpose of FastCap, to grow people.”

Elisabeth Swan: She simplified it.

Paul Akers: That’s what it is. We grow people. That’s all we do.

Elisabeth Swan: That’s nice. That’s nice. She collaborated with you.

Paul Akers: It’s all day long like that. It’s all day long with our people. I just did a great video. I don’t know if you’ve seen it but it’s crazy morning improvement video. It has got like gazillion views already. I only posted it about 4 or 5 weeks ago. And somebody, one of our graphic designers, asked me to make an improvement or help them with their improvement.

But I didn’t know what to do. I ran down to the Engineering Department and I said, “What would you do in this case?” And they came up with this idea. Another guy he had this idea. And we made this incredible improvement. And I didn’t come up with any of the ideas. I just – everyone gave me the ideas so I can be successful. And in the video, I give credit to everyone because it didn’t have to be about me being the smartest guy.

Elisabeth Swan: Credit is big. I always tell people, credit does a lot of good and it’s free. It doesn’t cost you anything.

I always tell people, [giving] credit does a lot of good and it’s free. It doesn’t cost you anything.

Paul Akers: And what’s the first thing I say in my book? I think I say, we are eternally grateful to Toyota for everything they’ve taught us because we would be worthless. I would be the worst business leader in the world if Toyota had not paved the way and shown us what to do.

Elisabeth Swan: But you’re good. You also bring up Deming, Ohno…

Paul Akers: Yeah.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, you really give it up to people. And I think …

Paul Akers: …and Fix What Bugs You. I mean I can go – every chapter there is somebody that taught me something.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, I love Fix What Bugs You. I use them a lot. Yeah, giving it up, giving it up to those who came before us. I’m with you on that. So tell me this. What would you tell your younger self given what your journey and where you are now, what would you say to yourself starting out?

Paul Akers: That’s a great question and I love it. I wish I could do it all over. That would be so much fun. I would have become a Lean maniac when I came out of the womb. But I’ll tell you, I would have learned about Lean and practicing the idea of daily kaizen, daily continuous improvement and I would have done it in a very deliberate fashion.

See, the difference is, people say, “Well, I kind of do that. I kind of improved.” No, no, no, no. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a deliberateness to it. We are talking about every time you encounter a struggle like I’ll give you an example right now, I have a beautiful Phoenix 5 watch that I put on all the time. It’s a triathlon watch from my Ironman. And every time I put it on, I have to struggle with the little band retainers. They slide up and down. They hold the band in.

And as soon as I get off the phone with you, I’m going to actually do a little improvement on those so they don’t move and they’re in a fixed position so I never have to spend that time struggling again. It is this deliberate mentality that the minute you encounter something that you struggle with, you stop, you run an experiment, and you fix it. Not, “Oh well, I’ll do that someday or I got to that one but I didn’t get to this one.” It’s deliberate on everything. And that is the big thing that I would do over again.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, that’s a nice one. For some reason, what you just described had me wondering, do you have any siblings?

Paul Akers: Yeah, I have a brother, one brother, older brother.

Elisabeth Swan: Do they have the energy of you?

Paul Akers: My brother is very enthusiastic but he, Mick, I hope you’re not listening, a little bit of an ego so it’s more difficult for him to suck up and say he’s wrong. And that was the big thing I talk about in my book is I was a very successful guy. I made a lot of money and everybody wanted to join my company and everything was going good and then John and Brad came into my place. They were translators for Toyota consultants. They started their consulting business. And they basically told me I didn’t know what I was doing.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah.

Paul Akers: And it’s at that moment that someone says, “You know, you’re really not that good.” And you’re willing to say, “You’re right. I’m not that good.” That’s the magic. And if you can’t say that you don’t feel comfortable with saying that, you’re just not going to get this.

Elisabeth Swan: That is so key. And what you’re talking about is that humility, the ability to be humble, and I think that’s huge. Do you have any other advice you’d give to aspiring Lean leaders?

Paul Akers: Fall in love with people. Fall in love with making your life’s purpose improving the quality of the life of other people. If you do that, you will have a spectacular life.

Fall in love with people. Fall in love with making your life’s purpose improving the quality of the life of other people. If you do that, you will have a spectacular life.

Elisabeth Swan: That’s really nice. Is there anything you’re working on now you want to tell our listeners before we wrap up?

Paul Akers: I have two books that I’m working on. One is Lean Life, how Lean should really touch every area of your life, to your personal life, to your health obviously, I wrote the book, Lean Health which is very, very popular. And I think Lean is not just something you do at work. I think it should really encompass everything about who you are because it’s really about just improving on a daily basis.

I’ve concluded very clearly that what makes a human being happy is to feel like their lot in life is a little bit better every day. If you wake up every day feeling like life is a little bit better, you feel good about yourself. But if you wake up every day and you’re kind of in the same place and you’re not making any progress, it’s just not a good thing. And I think Lean is such a powerful thing because it gives you exactly what the human being wants and that is to feel like their life is moving forward and progressing.

So Lean Life is a book I’m working on. I really want to get it done. It’s 90% done. I need two – I need four weeks on a beach with no phone and it will be done.

And then another one that is – I’m very passionate about is a book called Banishing Sloppiness. I just concluded after spending so much time in Japan and with Japanese leaders and companies and just being completely involved and immersed in that culture that – and Japan is not perfect but they are very precise people and they are very focused on quality. They are not perfect. But when you compare them to the rest of the world and I’ve been in 70 countries, I’m telling you, we are so sloppy. And my goal in life is to banish sloppiness out of my life and how and what I’ve learned from the Japanese regarding that. That would be the next book.

Elisabeth Swan: Nice. Those are both things to look forward to. And when you were talking about the Lean Life book, you reminded me of a research I read recently that people get happier as they get older. That’s the research. So to your point, why not step that up? Why not improve on that growing happiness?

So Paul, how can someone find you or communicate with you if they want to connect?

Paul Akers: Well, that’s very simple. I don’t do very many emails. You can send me an email but I’ll send it right back to you and tell you to get on WhatsApp or Voxer is my favorite, V-O-X-E-R. They’re audio communications and text communications.

So if you have a question for me, you can just send me a Voxer message. I’ll reply back almost instantly with an audio reply and there would not be any secretary or nobody filters anything for me. And so I can reply to people around the world and keep up on everything just in time. So everyone says, “What about your email inbox?” I don’t have an email inbox. I don’t have that problem because emails are like the horse and buggy. I can’t even believe people use emails anymore.

So I use Voxer and WhatsApp for just about everything. So that’s the best way.

Elisabeth Swan: And on WhatsApp, it’s just Paul Akers?

Paul Akers: Yeah. You can find me and my phone number. I’ll tell you one of my cell phone numbers. It doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not afraid of that. It’s 360-941-3748. And you can search me and find me pretty easily.

Elisabeth Swan: OK.

Paul Akers: And so yeah, my phone number is everywhere.

Elisabeth Swan: Good.

Paul Akers: I don’t filter anything.

Elisabeth Swan: You’re generous to a fault. And we’ll post those along with this recording of this episode. Thanks again to my guest, Paul Akers. And thanks to all of you for listening into the Just-In-Time Café and as Paul might say, until next time. Keep it simple. Bye everybody.

Thanks for Listening!

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Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 30 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Marriott International, Inc. build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.

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