Visions of Lean
“Hold out your thumb at arms length. That’s where you have the highest resolution in your visual field. Everywhere else you are legally blind.” – Stephen Macknik
I was back home last weekend for a best buddy’s bachelor party. Since my parents live in the same town I decided to get there a little early and spend some time with them. We went out for Chinese and afterward, Dad and I went to a guest lecture at Fermilab. The talk was given by neuroscientists Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, authors of Sleights of Mind and focused on how the mind can be tricked through different types of illusions.
One part of the lecture I found quite interesting was the explanation of how the eye worked (in the context of visual illusions). If you really think about the quote above it’s kinda scary. Really the only reason we were able to survive is because we can move this 1 degree of arc around and stitch together a combined picture, kind of like looking around a dark room with a small flashlight. That all seems awfully tedious, why didn’t nature just give us some super high-res peepers and save us the time, energy and ability to be easily fooled looking around all the time? As Stephen explained, we would need a brain many times larger just to process all that information.
That’s what got me thinking about the lean business concept. Sure, I could build a factory and stuff it full of expensive machines to produce widgets super-effectively, but at what cost? It’d be just as efficient as walking around with (not to mention birthing) a giant melon just so you didn’t have to keep looking around all the time. So our eyes can sometimes fool us, but given the constraints of nature, evolution found a way to get the job done as best as possible even though it’s not perfect. The lean concept is really a form of biomimicry, we just didn’t know it.