A Review of David Fleming’s Lean Logic (and Resilience)

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Lean Logic (LL), “A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It,” David Fleming’s magnum opus, was put into form for publication this year after his death in 2010 by his friend and colleague Shaun Chamberlin. (Surviving the Future, by Chamberlin, is a less daunting a more linear version of one of the narratives in LL.) I first took note of it in The Archdruid Report:

I’m delighted to announce the impending publication of David Fleming’s astonishing book Lean Logic, an encyclopedic guide to the principles and practice of life in a deindustrializing world. Fleming was a central figure in the British sustainability movement for decades, and played an important role in the founding of the UK Green Party, the Transition Town Movement, and the New Economics Foundation; he spent some thirty years assembling Lean Logic as a comprehensive book on the ways of thinking and acting we’re going to need to get through the mess ahead.

I’m a sucker for beautiful books, and LL is a beautiful book. Here’s one of the many woodcuts from Howard Phipps:

phipps1

But I’m also a sucker for the particular kind of beauty — see especially Christopher Alexander’s books on pattern languages — that comes from breaking down a topic that is not amenable to narrative treatment into entries, and then cross-linking the entries; books like the old version of Roget’s Thesaurus, that had synonyms and antonyms in parallel columns, or dictionaries like the OED, or the Dictionary of the Khazars LL is such a book. From an Amazon Review:

Each entry is cross referenced via an asterisk system to other entries so you can find yourself moving seamlessly from ‘Sleep’ to ‘Private and Public Sphere’, from ‘Conversation’ to ‘Disconnection’, from ‘False Analogy’ to ‘The Straw Man’ to ‘Aunt Sally’. David’s immense erudition is evident in every entry, populated as they are by everyone from Philetas of Cos, ‘philosopher, romantic poet and tutor to the young Ptolemy II in the fourth century BC’ to contemporary economists and philosophers. Yet every entry is also shot through with his own especial breed of irreverence and his lifelong and unshakeable faith in the ability of individuals, if left to themselves, to organise life to perfection.

(LL’s structure also makes it excellent bathroom (UK: “loo”) reading, and at 623 pages LL also serves to hold the tank top down, a fine example of stacking functions.)

The non-Amazon reviews I can find seem to be mostly from small transition town blogs from the UK (Michelle’s Blog; . and more on David Fleming from The Art of Climbing Trees. The Mid-Wales Permaculture Network summarizes the intellectual origins of LL:

The Lean perspective originates from the Lean Production systems developed in the 1940s at a Toyota factory in Japan; it maintained low back-up stocks of parts and finished goods, and that forced the whole productive process to develop rapid reactions and to achieve very low rates of error. This in turn meant that workers had responsibility for taking timely decisions in response to local circumstances, forestalling errors rather than waiting for them to happen.

Since then lean production has evolved into the more broadly based system of management known as lean thinking, the guiding principle of Lean Logic. In the Dictionary, Fleming applies Lean Logic to a future scenario (not a forecast, he insists) of more or less rapid energy descent and climate change (the Climacteric), covering similar ground to David Holmgren’s Future Scenarios (available as a book or online at www.futurescenarios.org), though in much greater scope and detail./p>

The Lean perspective is very evident in that many words you look up in the dictionary will steer you towards a Lean entry; so Permaculture takes you to Lean Food Production.

Permaculture, eh? Let’s start at the Permaculture entry and see where we end up (p. 261). Note the asterisks:

Permaculture is designed to produce a yield within a *closed-loop system, recycling as much as it can of its own *waste, relying on renewable sources of *energy and on ecosystem services such as a healthy soil and natural predators. It uses the *diversity of plants and animals, devising ways to integrate them into productive, *small-scale, local guilds and ecologies. It applies tested patterns to local situations and values the opportunities supplied at the margins between distinct ecologies.

There is emphasis on close observation and personal interaction with the ecology, on the need to adjust our own *intentions in the light of what we observe, and on creative responses to changes in it.

Permaculture has applications both to food production and to whole human habitats. It airms to build complex mosaics of ecological exchange, producing a rich flow of food and *materials with the minimum need for intervention.

I found Fleming’s focus on opportunities at the (literal) margins interesting; I put a good deal of time into the raspberry patch and the front garden area, which are my interfaces to the town; and to protecting the edges of the vegetable garden, with fishing line and distracting plants, from deer. One of the reasons I like permaculture is that I seem to end up doing the right thing without necessarily knowing it at the time; when you find a field like that, you stick with it. But I’d be interested in knowing what practioners in the readership think.

Following an asterisk, let’s go to *Small-scale, which we find redirects us to *Scale (pp 412-414). Here we have a longish entry in the form of an essay, which I excerpt. Again, watch the asterisks:

The advantages that large scale does enjoy come at a high cost. The key to this is that a large system has a relatively short *boundary (border, edge, surface) across which it can obtain its *needs. Large animals and societies have to go to a lot of trouble to import sufficient nutrients and energy to which then have to be distributed over the larger distances in their bodies, with waste having to travel all the way back to the boundaries

(As we often see in the “Shipping” section of Water Cooler.)

And in a large human *community, material waste comes up against the *sorting problem, and tends to be lost from the system rather than recycled.

Well now, that sounds just like our little problem with the landfill! I had intended to take another path on our way toward *resilience, but let’s look at the *sorting problem (p. 435):

Work can be divided into two essential kinds: Mixing and sorting. There are *exceptions subject to circumstances, but as a rule it can be affirmed that mixing is most efficiently done on a large scale, while sorting is most efficiently done on a small scale. This latter is an example of a diseconomy (inefficiency) of scale.

[C]onsider the case of bread. We start with the ingredients, ready and waiting in the village bakery: Flour, water, yeast, salt; an oven, bread tins, wood; the *expertise of the baker. Now light the fire, mix the dough, bake, turn-out, sell. This is primarily a mixing operation; the stores of bulk ingredients are mixed and turned into a more complex product; and it has required a lot of energy, as proved by the ash, which is all that is left of the wood. It is clear that economies of scale apply…. But then there is the sorting out to do. From each of these processes, there is an end-product and there is also leftover waste such as: empty bottles, broken pots, bent nails, urine, faeces, and unwanted paper. If a *closed-loop [back to the permaculture entry!] is to be maintained, that lot has to be sorted. Now, the first principle of sorting is to try to stop it getting scrambled in the first place. Sorting starts with the first moment of use. But all this depends on it being done on a small scale.

Generally speaking, the sorting of *waste on a small scale has these properties (relative to sorting at large scale):

Fleming goes on to list eight properies of small-scale sorting, of which I will extract three particularly relevant to my landfill experience:

5. It avoids the disgusting and dangerous properties of industrial-scale waste.

6. It is cheaper: Small-scale sorting sits easily in the *informal economy. Large-scale sorting is a horrible job that has to be paid for.

8. It requires less transport, since waste materials do not have to be driven to a sorting centre and back.

(All confirming the view that the intrusion of an out-of-state but politically metastatic trash company, which has destroyed local composters, curbside recycling, and the time-honored Maine tradition of dump-picking, and is filling the ground it controls with out-of-state trash as fast as ever it can, for profit, is bad for the state. It’s the wrong scale. Fleming concludes:

The use of the small scale has benign implications. It limits the depth of disorder that is likely to build up [in the case of a landfill, a literal depth] if the sorting task is allowed to accumulate on a large scale [“Mount Baldacci”, Baldacci being the Democrat governor who got us into this mess].

It [the use of the small scale] may, therefore, avoid the necessity for the comprehensive crash — or “release” — discussed in the *Wheel of Life.

In the case of our landfill, “release” would be the inevitable failure of the liner, and the effects on the ecology of the Penobscot River basin.

In fact, as discussed in that entry, within the bounds of the small scale, cycles of release and renewal can take place without being lethal to the system as a whole; they confer long life on a large — but subdivided (*modular) — natural or cultural community. Nature goes through these subcycles all the time. If they are allowed to happen, they can prevent the need for a large-scale crash, making the ecology as a whole more *resilient.

Small-scale sorting, by preventing bulk chaos, can sustain a living ecology. The enabling condition is that the system should give it a chance.

And *resilience is where I wanted to end up. LL’s entry on resilience (pp 397-408) is quite the essay and includes a illustrations, sidebars, and tables, so I’ll just excerpt some bits to give you the flavor. First, the very last paragraph:

In a sense, a complex system is permanently on the edge of collapse. It uses its taut complexity, and the capability it provides, to keep its nemesis at bay. When it can no longer do so, it reaches the tipping point which willl take it back to a much less complex order. A slack, modular system lives much closer to the edge.

(Fleming’s “taut complexity” may reminds readers of Yves’s idea of tightly coupled systems, especially financial systems. And since the whole thrust of policy by the entire political class was devoted to preserving the “complex order” of the financial sector, we can expect nemesis, in the form of collapse, to appear again.) More on the contrast between complex and taut vs. slack and modular:

So far, we have established that a modular system actually depends on having complex parts. So the independence (weak connectedness) within a modular system and the interdepence (strong connectedness) within a complex system depend on each other. The parts within a complex system are so strongly connected that they have almost no freedom–your heart and your liver must carry out instructions coming from some combination of brain, nervous system, and local chemistry. But this internal interdependence confers a high degree of freedom and capability on the complex system (in this case, you) acting as a whole.

It can apply this freedom of action within the space allowed by the modular system to which is belongs (in this case, your *community). In other words, a complex system like you can only make use of its powers of *intelligence and foresight — its ingenious response and avoidance — if it is part of a modular system which gives it the *freedom to do so.

So just as complexity and modularity are mutually dependent, so are strong connectedness (taut) and weak connectedness (slack). The taut brillliance of a complex system is only revealed and able to express itself because it lives in the context of a slack system. The complex system makes choices; the slack system enables choices to be made. And htis allows the slack, modular system to benefit from the resilience of its parts.

The financial system would, I suppose, be a complex system. It would therefore be embedded in a slack system — I suppose the planet. We had better hope, then, that the planet has plenty of slack….

* * *

So that is the end of my serendipitous wandering through Lean Logic; I hope it gives readers a good sense of the book (which indeed I have placed on top of my toilet tank). It occurs to me that I did not define “Lean,” that there is no entry for “Lean” in the book, and that there’s no entry for “Lean” as such in the Index. So what is “Lean”? From the entry for Lean Thinking (pp 284-289):

[Lean thinking is] a frame of reference for enabling people to join together in a shared aim.

“Lean” in this sense was originally derived from industrial *team production in the post-war period, and the concept is widely applied in industry… LL applies this frame of reference in the shared aim of rebuilding a *political economy in place of the failing “market.”

The essence is this. Two ways of making something happen can be compared. One of them–top down management–is to tell people what to do…. The other way is to set people up with the necessary resources: the *skills and equipment, a *common purpose, and the *freedom to appy their *judgment.

This is regime change–from disjointed regulation to freedom to think, from command-and-control to concentration on the matter at hand. And, in lean thinking, such a break is called kaikaku; whereas incremental improvement is kaizen. The switch into lean thinking itself is almost always a radical break, prompted by crisis and reluctantly done. Whether further radical breaks, or creative destruction, are needed after that switch has been made is a more complex matter.

The relevance to the 2016 election seems clear: Clinton is the candidate of kaizen; the entire political class supports her in this. Kaikaku, or what we might also call nemesis, has yet to break through at the national level, which Fleming would call a case of preventive resilience (suitable for complex systems) versus recovery-elastic resilience (suitable for slack systems).

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

19 comments

  1. clarky90

    Features of a successful therapeutic fast of 382 days’ duration
    W. K. Stewart and Laura W. Fleming

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2495396/

    IMO, learning to enthusiastically fast (like our forebears did) is the number one task if you want to be resilient (and lean). The fear of “going without” stalks the land. Learn to go without.

    I wholeheartedly recommend Dr Jason Fung, on youtube or at https://intensivedietarymanagement.com/ if you are interested in fasting or intermittent fasting.

    I have not eaten for 6 days as I type this and I feel better than ever.

    Way way back, we had long interludes with no food. We are designed for this!! If we are eating constantly, something is wrong. Look around and see what I am saying.

    The paper above describes a therapeutic (doctor monitored) that lasted for over one year! The (very fat) man happily ate nothing for 382 days..

  2. efschumacher

    Why do I feel like I’m reading a paean to the eponymous E.F.Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful”?

    efs

    1. Greyfell

      It was clearly a big influence on Lean Logic, and is approvingly quoted and referenced. Mind, Lean Logic has the most extensive impressive bibliography I’ve seen!

  3. ambrit

    So, would politics be an example of a ‘permitting function’ in the ‘slack’ system?
    The evolution of American politics especially can be seen to fit a case of a function switching between both systems. Local politics works on the slack modularity, while national politics, due to it’s financialization, has entered the ‘tight’ modus. Financialization can be seen to be the enabling force for phase changes in many fields of endeavour. Simply put, the more money per vote swirling through a political system, the more removed from personal interactions public life becomes. Even the putative ‘evil oligarchs’ are buffered from their effects by layers of ‘specialists’ who purport to carry out the oligarchs whims.
    The above might explain part of the Trump campaign’s allure to ‘average’ voters. The man makes the political equation appear to be ‘personal’ in the extreme. His opponent has yet to forge a general connection to the ‘average’ voter. As history shows, small tightly integrated cliques are best at ‘coups,’ not elections.
    Ramble on good sir.

  4. diptherio

    I think that’s the first time I’ve heard anybody mention Dictionary of the Khazars. Glad to know I’m not the only one who read and enjoyed that utterly unique piece of writing.

  5. Jim Haygood

    “in lean thinking, such a break is called kaikaku

    Sadly — human nature being what it is — the brief interlude of fresh thinking is soon replaced by a kaikakustocracy.

  6. diptherio

    I’m currently involved in a social enterprise project that will likely involve some quite literal sorting of waste, so the point about the advantages of small scale are personally interesting. The question for us is how to be able to process and/or reuse enough of what we sort to make it pay (financially) for itself and for our time and labor.

  7. Steve H.

    There is an aspect of tightly coupled systems far from equilibrium, that they can do fast transients with almost no loss to entropy. Mae-Wan Ho has some intriguing writing on this. This is distinct from the Maximum Power Principle of Odum, which splits the difference between very slow high efficiency, and high speed but much energy blown into heat production. Within this frame, kaikaku could be considered a cascade effect, large sudden change where most of the energy goes into the change, while kaizen is necessarily slower (marginal) in effect.

    A problem with slow effect is that conditions can change quicker than a complex adaptation can respond to. Cipolla seemed to feel that stupid people were a causal force in this. I call this the Epimetheus effect. However, Mollison had a different view on edges and energy transitions:

    “The “edge effect” is an important factor in permaculture. It is recognized by ecologists that the interface between two ecosystems represents a third, more complex system which combines both. At interfaces species from both systems can exist and the edge also supports its own species in many cases. Gross photosynthetic production is higher at interfaces.”

  8. Left in Wisconsin

    Great post.

    As an aside, the Toyota Production System, from which all this “lean” thinking originated, has been romanticized into something it never was. Only in a very particular sense is it true to say it is not command-and-control. Low inventories do require immediate problem solving, and Toyota engineers were early to realize that involving front line workers in this problem solving is efficient because they are the ones who see problems when they first arise, and often can provide easy, common-sense solutions. (Where Toyota really was different in the 1950s and 60s was that the engineers still ran the show, whereas at the US Big Three the finance people had already taken over.) But, in order to be efficient, it is important not to be re-solving the same problems over and over. The astounding levels of productivity of Japanese factories could never be achieved if the line was stopping frequently for problem solving. So one of the rules of TPS was that every efficiency-improving solution had to be approved by management, and was then incorporated into the official line assembly manual, from which no deviation is allowed. If there is a subsequent problem or a further efficiency improvement is discovered, there may be a subsequent round of problem solving or worker consultation. But at all times, there is ONE CORRECT WAY to perform each task, and all workers performing that task must do it the same (most efficient) way. So it’s hardly the worker participation panacea that it is often made out to be.

    For anyone interested, especially engineering types, I highly recommend the original bible: Ohno’s Toyota Production System Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production 1st Edition. It skips the BS that fills most subsequent re-tellings of the story.

    This is all related to a larger point, which is that “lean production” is typically not lean at all in a total system sense. It is well known among those who care to know that the way Japanese car companies were/are able to build cars on order was by requiring workers to stay at work until all the cars due that day were made, no matter how long it took. The English-language phrase for that is mandatory unlimited overtime. Also, a key requirement for just-in-time parts delivery, since the system could not function if parts were delivered too late or too early, was to require delivery trucks to loiter off-site or simply cruise around until the loading dock was ready to accept them. In other words, lean production gives the appearance of a highly efficient closed system because the inefficiencies that make the system work are outsourced.

    Which is not to say that the term “lean” shouldn’t be appropriated to mean something positive like lean living.

    Also, I don’t think the kaizen/kaikaku analogy translates to HRC. Others who know Japan better than me might know better but my understanding (again, primarily from Ohno) is that the original Toyota Production System was able to make a “clean break” from the half-assed second-hand technology the Americans gave them after the war by invoking Japanese nationalism/greatness. It was a national priority to rebuild a world-class industrial base and working people were absorbed into the project, working (from a US viewpoint) unbelievably hard and unbelievably long hours, because they were persuaded by nationalist calls to make Japan great again. Also by busting the original, socialist, postwar unions and replacing them with compliant company unions. If this is the origin of kaikaku, then it is very far from what most of us would understand as the “freedom to think.” And, whatever HRC is, it’s hard for me to see it as “continuous improvement” of anything.

    1. Steve H.

      – the inefficiencies that make the system work are outsourced.

      Well-said, thanks for the insight. That system functions with efficiencies at the point of contact, but requires surplus resources ready to go around that point. Not a stretch to liken it to a catalyst that still requires high concentrations of feedstock around it.

      One other thing that needs to be said. While the financial system is tightly coupled within its boundaries (loosely the FIRE sector), it is specifically uncoupled from the material productive systems. The two are different beasts with different rules, and a pissed-off Summers may have said more than he was supposed to when he asserted the current economy is bubbles all the way down. This may be the root of the difficulty in applying an environmental economics approach to a system based on inside information.

      Soddy: “In future, if any class in the community desires to live upon interest, it must encourage and not discourage the production of consumable wealth, and discourage the production of capital except as required to produce perishable wealth.”

    2. Howard Beale IV

      The Deming prize is one of the most coveted prized in Japan-they even built a statue of him there-but he was never appreciated here in the states.

    3. Jeremy Grimm

      Naming a book on resilience “Lean” and referring to the Japanese system of lean manufacturing seems strange to me. As you point out the Japanese lean manufacturing system began the processes of just-in-time production and efforts to minimize the inventories of parts and finished goods. Toyota tended to place its assembly plants near the parts makers enabling a relatively quick response to supply problems. But when the system moved to the US the Corporations cut back on inventories and shifted parts production far away from the point of assembly and consolidated the parts providers to ever more narrow supply streams. The end result is anything but resilient.

    4. Dougen Hadaka

      “Lean” in a capitalist context is almost always a disguised synonym for exploitation. Left in Wisconsin has made an excellent summary of why “lean” in the context of postwar Toyota labor-management relations actually meant that management leaned very hard on workers and forced them to do two jobs at once, though they were only paid for one. And yes, Toyota leaned so hard on labor unions that only in-house pseudo-unions remained. Toyota also depended heavily on a two-tier labor system, using large numbers of part-time workers in full-time positions and using this part-time reserve force as a way of putting pressure and leaning on full-time workers to work long hours without extra pay or overtime pay or else be summarily fired. According to oral tradition in Japan, workers referred to postwar Toyota factories as “hells,” and the bodies of these Toyota workers, who were forced to overwork and who constantly lacked sleep, must have been physically rather lean. New ideas developed by worker groups were immediately appropriated upward and controlled by management and were often used to squeeze even more utility out of each worker. The Japanese military discipline and ultranationalism of the 1935-45 period were subtly transformed into a new industrial ideology that had little to do with worker control or self-management. Closer to home, it seems ironic that one of the slogans the US military uses to make volunteers work harder is “Leaner and Meaner.” Since we live in a world dominated by capitalism, Fleming could surely have used a better word than “lean.”

      I agree. Hillary and kaizen do not really go together unless you are talking about “improving” the efficiency of Wall Street and MIC control over Washington — and the world. For the most part Hillary engages in kaihi, the Japanese word for evasion or avoidance: of responsibility, of leadership, of vision, of concern, of truth, you name it.

      1. Greyfell

        Yes, I’d tend to agree, though Fleming does address this to some extent:

        Lean thinking is a radical approach. It begins with the break of kaikaku, which may be hard to bear, as it is a profound change from previous assumptions and methods and so is usually resisted until a shock intervenes. The changed thinking that follows, approaching the system in a profoundly new way, moves ahead with incremental improvement and evolution, guided by experience and local detail.

        It is a philosophy with wide application, shaped by the context. But there are significant differences between lean thinking as it is now widely applied in industry and the use that Lean Logic makes of it—apart from the obvious one that the industrial case is about extending the flying-time of the *market state and Lean Logic is about bringing it in to land.

        Above all, we must acknowledge that some instances of *lean production as applied in industry are far from being a model for our future society. For example, lean production’s precision and synchronised timing has in some places been coupled with ruthless treatment of the participating workers. The value of lean production and the lean thinking that came out of it is to be found in its insights, and not always in its commercial practice.

        Another important difference—although in fact it is more apparent than real, as we shall see—lies in the attitude to standard practice. Industry requires its procedures to be carried out to a standard, and in a standard way. Individuals are encouraged to invent and develop new ways, but they are not adopted without testing and widely shared agreement that this is to be the new way of doing it. The reason for this becomes obvious when you think about what it means to introduce, say, a new procedure in an aircraft cockpit. Each cockpit is used by many different pilots and co-pilots, who must be confident that all the cockpits they enter are virtually identical; they need to be able to use the equipment with *certainty, not only as a routine, but in the dark, in an emergency and when tired. Innovations in equipment and practice are constantly introduced in response to pilots’ suggestions—this is key to the debugging process which is needed for every new model—but only after an established routine of evaluation, followed by briefings to everyone involved, and then the change is made to all aircraft of that type at the same time. A similar case for standard practice can be made for any system in which a number of people use the same equipment, where customers want to know in advance what service they can expect, and where “trial and error” has to be strictly contained, and cannot be allowed to escape into actual practice.

        For a *panarchy, or *ecology, of communities, matters are more relaxed. The people who work in them and who depend on them tend to stay in the same *place; it does not mater that they don’t know much about how things are done elsewhere; trial and error is not only acceptable, it is at the heart of their working practice. Their “errors” rarely have fatal consequences, and experiments can be extended and refined over many years; surviving mistakes; allowing successes to be gradually copied and locally adapted. At the same time, there is a presumption in favour of local practice, allowing a lack of standardisation that would be impractical in an industrial organisation.

        And yet, a group of independent *communities will still not be without its standard practice. For instance, the principles of *organic food production and *permaculture are widely agreed. It helps, of course, that those principles advocate a high degree of diversity in application, depending on soil, *climate and the needs and numbers of the people involved in it, but the insights of teachers like Eve Balfour, David Holmgren and Patrick Whitefield have universal application, once the local *intention has been settled. These enabling principles are, in a sense, a standard practice; they can be learned.

        And the same applies to the whole cluster of *practical and *cultural skills discussed in Lean Logic and beyond—in surgery and computer programming for instance. This is not a case, then, of inventing everything from scratch, but of having a foundation of skills and relevant *expertise opening up possibilities and degrees of *freedom which, without that foundation, would not be available. As any musician will tell you, you must know the rules before you can invent interesting ways to break them.

        The key to the freedom and flexibility of the Lean Economy, then, consists of a range of *skills, needing hands, mind, memory, *judgment, *emotion and cooperation. It will be a case of lifetime learning, starting not long after the first breath, and continuing with experience and *conversation for as long as a person is able to take part in making community work.

        With that platform of competence, it is possible to sustain flexibility and pragmatism in the bloodstream of the Lean Economy, and this affects such fundamentals as the “The Plan” – the *Energy Descent Action Plan, for instance. There is nothing wrong with long-term plans: to learn from them is instructive, and to deliberate about them engages the wits, but to believe them is a betrayal of the creative *imagination which is the heart of the matter (see box, “Flexibility and Invention”).

        And a more profound difference between mainstream lean thinking and its application in Lean Logic lies in the idea of a *slack economy. The lean enterprise is designed to be so *taut that problems immediately show up, with dire consequences, and everyone involved has the maximum *incentive to make sure they don’t happen. This is the “Just-In-Time” (kanban) principle which does not allow backup stocks, so that supplies are delivered at the last minute. It certainly concentrates the mind but, even in industry itself, it has its risks, leading to stock outages if, for instance, there is a problem in supply which the company can do nothing about. And yet, there is slack even in the industrial version of lean thinking, in the sense of its responses to such challenges: it is unencumbered; it can respond quickly and effectively; it *travels light. There is extended freedom for the people involved in it – not just a remote well-intentioned management – to engage their minds.

        The lean approach is not about apple-pie-sensible practices. It is about listening acutely to what a *system needs and responding accurately. It is not an ecology in which the waste of materials, money, labour, health, or environmental quality is cut: some *waste may indeed still be present, but here it is not inadvertently designed into the system.

        Lean thinking switches on that information technology that we keep in the space between the bridge of the nose and the top of the head. Regulatory management has not been made aware of its existence.

  9. Steve H.

    – the inefficiencies that make the system work are outsourced.

    Well-said, thanks for the insight. That system functions with efficiencies at the point of contact, but requires surplus resources ready to go around that point. Not a stretch to liken it to a catalyst that still require high concentrations of feedstock around it.

    One other thing that needs to be said. While the financial system is tightly coupled within its boundaries (loosely the FIRE sector), it is specifically uncoupled from the material productive systems. The two are different beasts with different rules, and a pissed-off Summers may have said more than he was supposed to when he asserted the current economy is bubbles all the way down. This may be the root of the difficulty in applying an environmental economics approach to a system based on inside information.

    Soddy: “In future, if any class in the community desires to live upon interest, it must encourage and not discourage the production of consumable wealth, and discourage the production of capital except as required to produce perishable wealth.”

  10. DarkOptimism

    Hi Lambert,

    Thanks for the review, and as editor of the book, you’re right, I missed a trick by not including “Lean: See Lean Thinking” as an entry. I’ll see about getting that corrected in the next printing!

    Best,
    Shaun

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