I read academic essays for a living. Most of them are really boring, but now and again I learn something interesting, for example like I did the other day: a student wrote about lean production (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_manufacturing) for his business.

This is a concept developed by Toyota and it includes three negative concepts. I mean negative like negative space in art. The ideas name things that aren’t there: you’re labeling stuff that’s hindering a smooth production.

If, like me, you are focusing on developing your productivity, then you’ll have to focus on how to improve the stuff you’re making, but you don’t do that by focusing on the stuff itself necessarily. You have to tweak your own production system: you have to find weaknesses and waste. You have to eliminate these.

The three concepts:

  • MUDA: non-value adding work. Value is defined as anything that a customer pays for. If you’re making cars, then this is a concept for any activity that does not help you create a new car. Maybe you’re paining, or writing a novel: this concept applies to any kind of work that doesn’t help you finish making the thing. It is important though: this concept relates to value, not money. Your focus is to create the best object you can. To do this, you must remove anything that does not help you make it the best you can.*
  • MURI: overburdening. This concept defines any task that is too complex or too slow for the time or energy you give it. When you name something muri, you must break it apart. Unburden. You must divide and simplify the work.
  • MURA: unevenness of work. That is: workflow. This concept focuses on making work more easy and smooth.

What’s overwhelmingly interesting about these concepts for me is this: The point of any job is not to get tired and break a sweat. You should not pile on a huge load of stuff and feel productive just because you feel exhausted. Rather, the point of any work is to create value that other people appreciate. Work assumes service: work gives value to someone else’s life. People pay for value.

*Note: this first concept isn’t “non-MONEY making work.” For this concept, we assume that people pay for value. That is: money takes care of itself once we take care of value. The maker of a valuable object must focus on value, not money. People pay for value. So, the concept is interesting: we focus on how to create more value. We write a better novel; we paint better pictures; we make better cars. We assume that value has a marketplace correlation: people will pay for a valuable thing. But the concepts don’t actually deal with money; we’re not concerning ourselves with making more money. A creator must make a valuable thing; a consumer will pay for value.

Money is not everything; actually, money does not create value at all: humans create value and money is how we measure it. As my Marxist friend Terry Eagleton observes, the most vital critique of any marketplace is what we do for free–those things we make or do for pleasure, for joy, for worship have no place in the marketplace. But money can measure value and we should remember this. We should spend time learning the market. What do people value? How should we correctly charge for the value we create? Once we discover the answer to these questions, we must develop a system for creating more and more value and charging more and more for that value we create.