Video, video, video or the best advice I ever got
July 1, 2020 | 2:02 pm UTC
Brad Cairns is the senior principal at the Center for Lean Learning and Quantum Lean. He also runs 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]

This article started 5 years ago in the California desert. Let's take a trip back in time and set the stage.

I’d just finished reading a book called “2 Second Lean” by Paul A. Akers. Having been studying TPS (Toyota Production System) for the last 10 years, I was flabbergasted by this book. Simple, fun & easy. I decided at that moment, I had to meet the author. Well, that turned out to be pretty easy, since his phone number was published in the book. Before I knew it, Paul had suggested we FaceTime and this was the beginning of possibly one of my most influential friendships I have ever had.

During our infamous first FaceTime, Paul mentioned a dirt bike trip to the California desert. Being a big fan of motorcycles, I thought to myself, “You only miss the shot you don’t take.” So, I asked, “Can I come?” To my absolute amazement, he said yes.

Brad Cairns holds his first FaceTime talk with lean guru Paul Akers.

Lesson in the desert

Next thing I know, I’m driving across the country, dirt bike in tow, I pick Paul up at the Las Vegas airport, from there it was out to the desert for an unbelievable four-day adventure. You can see the highlights on Youtube at

So what does this all have to do with lean manufacturing? Well, you can’t spend four days and three nights with 10 of the most unbelievable lean thinkers in the world and not come away with a new mindset.

Day 3 - we are stopped for a break at what is known as the Husky memorial in the Mojave desert. We’re sitting there talking, and Paul looks at me and says, “I’m gonna give you some advice.” To say the least, this was the moment I had been waiting for.

The next three words would change the course of my life, and if you take it as seriously as I did, It will change yours too. Ready? (drum roll) “VIDEO, VIDEO, VIDEO.”

Paul Akers, left, author of "2-Second Lean," has become a mentor to Brad Cairns of Quantum Lean and Best Damn Doors.

Video made simple

I wasn’t exactly comfortable with this advice. I was hoping for something more profound, the key to the lean universe perhaps? He pulled out his iPhone and began to demonstrate how to use iMovie. This is a simple app that allows you to capture and edit video. Literally in five minutes we had made a short but entertaining video. I was really impressed with how easy the process actually was. Growing up in a time where video required a camera crew and professional editors, it was neat to see it happening right there on a mobile device. 

Despite my initial reaction to those wise words, since I drove 3,000 miles to spend time around these amazing people, I figured I ought to listen. The minute I got home, I traded in my old phone for the latest iPhone, downloaded iMovie and set out to make some videos. 

Little did I know what was about to happen would change the course of my business, my people and my life. Looking back now, those words were one of the keys to the lean universe, I’m sure glad I listened.

Improvement videos

The first thing we started making was improvement videos. This seems strange in the beginning but the results are nothing short of amazing. Some people will say they don’t want to be in a video, and I have found that to be true in very few cases. Once it becomes “normal” to make improvement videos, it gives people a whole new reason to make improvements. Above that, I think it also gives everyone a sense of validation. “My boss thinks my improvements are so important they make videos to show everyone,” they think. No improvement is too small to be worth a video. I’m no psychologist, so I can’t explain why we react the way we do, but I can say emphatically IT WORKS.

We have been making videos now somewhat religiously for 5 years. We have tons of improvement videos on YouTube, we have demonstration videos from when we are at other factories. we also have an entire lean learning video library. It's safe to say making videos has changed our landscape. 

Sarah’s lesson

Just last week I witnessed one of the most profound effects of taking a video. It's a little known fact that it is very difficult to do a task and improve that task. Humans are not wired for multitasking, don’t let anyone tell you they are. If they do, that's a sure sign of their time going down the drain. However, we all want people to improve their processes right? If you're struggling to gather ideas for improvements, do what one of our process engineers, Sarah, did last week.

It was in our morning meeting and we were talking about process improvement.  Sarah was leading the meeting and decided to make a video of her getting ready in the morning.  he broke it up into short segments and asked everyone for any opportunities they saw to improve.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, had so many ideas for improvement that I could hardly write them down fast enough. The creative genius in everyone was ignited. 

Not everyone is as forthcoming as Sarah was, and when it comes to working, for the most part we don’t like to be watched, and we most defiantly don’t like someone standing there telling us how to improve. Remember, for any idea to be accepted, it should be their own idea.

Using video to improve

Get out your phone and video the process you want to improve. Then all you have to do is review it with the person doing that job. This allows them the opportunity to observe the process and not be thinking about doing it.

Their creative genius will kick in! Having it on video allows you to do accurate time studies, you can pause and rewind as many times as necessary, and there is less judgment when you’re watching yourself. It’s always fun to have people watching these videos, inevitably they always say, “Wow, I had no idea I did that.” We have repeated this technique over and over and there is rarely a time where you don’t get at least a 30-percent improvement. So, if you are thinking videos aren’t your thing, do the math. You might quickly discover they are worth their weight in gold.

Light a fire under your improvement efforts, incorporate some videos and watch the magic happen. If you need some ideas to get a jumpstart, just go to YouTube and check out the Quantum Lean channel, or simply search “2 second improvement.” I promise, it’s easier than you think, and way more effective than you expect.


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

Brad Cairns is the senior principal at The Center for Lean Learning/ 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]