Let's get reading!
Brad Cairns, Quantum Lean

Brad Cairns is the senior principal at The Center for Lean Learning as well as running a woodworking business called Best Damn Doors in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, where he puts lean thinking into action every day. You can reach Brad at 519-494-2883 or [email protected].

Although times are changing and there could probably be a case made for YouTube and social media, most of our best information still comes from books. There are countless volumes written on the subject of manufacturing and or lean manufacturing. I’m sure as you’re reading this a few titles are popping to mind. 

As manufacturers there seems to be a never-ending river of problems to solve, but what’s our excuse? Are we the first ones to encounter this problem? Is this problem truly unique to only me? There is a better than average chance that the exact thing you’re struggling with has been solved by the manufacturing greats who have come before us. Henry Ford, Taiichi Ono, Dr. Goldratt, to name a few. Just as fortunate as having someone already solve that problem is the fact that they took the time to write a book about it. So now what’s our excuse? 

We’re literally only one book away from watching our problems vanish into thin air. I know what you’re thinking, you’re not a team of one. You have read the books but your frustration grows with your team, because despite your best effort you can’t get them to read any books.

No one said being a leader was easy, if it was as simple as finding a good book and asking your team to read it, followed by a perfect implementation, we would all be on cloud nine at work. But the universe has seen fit to make sure every day is as challenging as possible, so it’s our job to figure out how to bridge the gap between “I found a good book” and “my whole team has read it.”

Three categories
In my opinion books fall into three categories:

  • Absolutely need to know in order to work here. 
  • Fundamental books you need to become a leader. 
  • Books for all the rockstars in your organization who just can’t get enough learning. They are seeking out information to help better themselves and the organization. You’re really not concerned with what they are reading because you know it will be good.


Lean reading list

View a suggested reading list curated by Woodworking Network editors.

2 Second Lean Cover


Bridge the gap
Here are three ways to help bridge that gap and get people reading.

1.) Required books. Have a predetermined book or two that embodies what you were trying to create at your company. Make these books part of your on-boarding process. Yes, you will have to pay people to read books either on their time or yours, but the long and short of the story is you’re not going out onto the shop floor until you have completed our reading list.

At my company we currently have two books that are a must-read during our on-boarding process. the first one is “2 Second Lean.” This gets people in the frame of mind for what we’re trying to create, also it primes the pump for what we will be asking of them. The second book is “How To Win Friends and Influence People.” I firmly believe the life lessons in this book not only help people at work, but also will dramatically improve their life outside of work. This book helps people understand human motivation and how to communicate with one another. It’s amazing how many people totally unbeknownst to them upset everyone around them every time they open their mouths.

2.) Group reading. This is where you can take a predetermined amount of time from your morning meeting (which I know you are doing, RIGHT?!) And work your way through a book with your team. At my company we’ve experimented with variations of this. We have had everybody read a paragraph or two, we have selected a person each day to read a chapter and depending on the book sometimes you can find the audio on YouTube and just have people follow along. It is a wonderful way to thoroughly get through a book with your whole team. One of the biggest benefits is it allows for discussion after each chapter. So even the people who aren’t that crazy about being part of this little book reading segment of your morning meeting still can’t help but to hear it. It’s like the old saying, “If you stand in the rain, you’re probably gonna get wet.”

You can get really creative with this method, we once had a co-op student who wanted to be a teacher, so we asked her to create a course around the book “2 Second Lean.” So, now in our database we have questions and answers for each chapter around all the points that we really want to make. We call this our 2 Second Lean University, and we probably run it once or twice a year. We do notice a dramatic upswing in improvements after each iteration. So have fun and get creative with your team on how you can work your way through the book of your choice. 

3.) Create a book club. Now admittedly you may not get your entire organization to sign up. But what a great way to separate the A-players and the potential leaders. I have seen book clubs have a great success, mostly because everybody there wants to be there, they want to learn and they want to grow. This makes for fantastic discussion not only about the book but how to apply it to your organization.  Typically book clubs are done in a format where the reading is done on your own time, and the discussions take place once a week during working hours.

Now remember nothing is cast in stone, the key is to make it work for you and your teams. The goal is simple: How can I get my team learning and growing together?

If you have discovered any weird and wonderful ways of learning with your team, reach out and share it with us. We love hearing success stories and learning new things. 


Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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About the author
Brad Cairns | President/Owner/C-Level

Brad Cairns is the senior principal at Quantum Lean and is dedicated to improving the woodworking industry in North America using lean methods. He also owns Best Damn Doors, a cabinet door manufacturing business in St. Thomas, Ontario. You can reach Brad at 519-494-2883 or [email protected].