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Kevin Meyer

Quality Insider

The Creativity of the Low Score

A lean lesson learned while compromising productivity

Published: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 15:43

A few years ago when I was a young lad, a friend of mine introduced me to a newfangled gizmo called Pong. We temporarily disconnected his Betamax from his 27-in. big-screen TV (a new color model) and connected up the game. I was hooked. I couldn't get enough of moving a white rectangle up and down the screen to intercept a moving white dot. Perhaps realizing I perversely enjoy estimating angles and trajectories is one reason I eventually went to engineering school.

I didn’t realize that this was a real addiction until a couple years later, when I poured a small fortune of quarters into a Defender machine I discovered in a local fast-food joint. Luckily the financial limitation, coupled with sufficient sanity to recognize and accept that limitation instead of resorting to, uh, unorthodox measures, helped me move on.

Since then I have purposely and deliberately stayed away from video games. No Xbox, no Nintendo, nothing. I am self-aware.

That is, until two weeks ago, when a friend of mine insisted I try Words With Friends, basically a repackaged online version of Scrabble. I was leery but thought what the heck, I’m now all grown up and should be able to handle it.

Within hours I completely understood how a certain actor could get kicked off a plane for refusing to stop playing.

Dammit, Edwilda! (My online opponent’s name has been changed to protect the guilty.) I proceeded to get sucked into game after game after game... and basically lost three days of my life before my evening hansei made me realize I had seriously diminished my productivity and that simply couldn’t continue. Funny, only one game was with Edwilda. The evil game finds you other random, anonymous opponents while you wait for others to play. Talk about feeding addiction.

And so I stopped, cold turkey. (OK, after just one last game.) Seriously. And that’s where I finally get around to the point of this column.

Yes, it really was just one last game, but my anonymous opponent proposed something different: Instead of the traditional goal of achieving the high score, how about saying the winner is the person with the lowest score after all tiles are played? Wow. Interesting way to play.

Suddenly I’m looking at a Scrabble board (or rather, Words With Friends) and trying to figure out how to use the lowest-value letters, the least letters, and strategically use my one swap to push X and Q to my opponent. The game lasted much, much longer than a traditional game, and the screen was eventually filled with word like “do” and “it” and “no.” Think about how much harder the game’s strategy gets when you can’t build off of letters in long words, you work to avoid the dreaded double and triple letters and words, and so forth.

Less is more valuable. More is a waste. The creativity required to be simple and short, again and again, is far greater than what it takes to be wordy and superfluous.

There's a lesson in that. A life lesson, and perhaps even a lean lesson.

This column first appeared Aug. 4, 2013, on the Evolving Excellence blog.


About The Author

Kevin Meyer’s picture

Kevin Meyer

Kevin Meyer has more than 25 years of executive leadership experience, primarily in the medical device industry, and has been active in lean manufacturing for more than 20 years serving as director and manager in operations and advanced engineering, and as CEO of a medical device manufacturing company. He consults and speaks at lean events; operates the online knowledgebase, Lean CEO, and the lean training portal, Lean Presentations; and is a partner in GembaAcademy.com, which provides lean training to more than 5,000 companies. Meyer is co-author of Evolving Excellence–Thoughts on Lean Enterprise Leadership (iUniverse Inc., 2007) and writes weekly on a blog of the same name.



They say Dinos died because they became too complicated, they say the same of Pandas, too. I'm reading Phaedrus, these days: 2,000 years ago he wrote that the World belongs to the Poor, to the Lean, therefore, to the least complicated. If I correctly understand what you write, I totally agree with you: we have covered our production processes with many plaster layers and now, to hammer  them down to the core, we cover them with even more plaster layers. It's mere nonsense.