I have just spent a week in St. Petersburg, Russia teaching a three day course on Lean Culture and Continuous Improvement. This was my first trip to Russia and I thought I would share a few impressions.
On the last day the class asked me my impressions of Russia and my first response was that Russian women are much more attractive then I had anticipated, which is true but has little to do with the state of Russian management and culture.
My second impression may best be summarized by this quote from The Moscow Times on the day I was leaving. The headline is “Medvedev Draws Privatization Out Even More.” In the fifth paragraph of the article is written “Every seat around the Cabinet meeting desk now has an iPad2 installed for ministers to cut down on paper notes. Medvedev, a fan of the latest gadgets and online social networks, ended up looking into two iPads – one of them his personal device – rolling his lips at times as he sidetracked himself to tap and scroll.”
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently commented that “Russia is our number one geo-political foe.” I don’t think so. Not unless we choose to make them so, which would be an act of stupidity of historic proportions.
My class of forty students included a two star general who is a senior manager of the Russian Railroad, managers from auto suppliers and from the leading Russian auto company struggling to match the many Ford, VW, Toyota and other plants now pouring out cars for the growing Russian market. The roads are populated with the exact same cars, makes and models, that populate the streets of Annapolis, MD. These students are reading every book on lean manufacturing and culture, visiting the same websites as you and I, and striving to achieve the same efficiency and work cultures that demonstrate Respect for People, as you and I. They are also just as busy on their cell phones, Iphone apps, typing on their Ipods or other device, as American or European managers.
It is all good news. We are all increasingly citizens of one country, the global world community and economy. Just as American or Canadian manufacturing or health care managers, they are striving to understand and implement lean culture. Language changes but aspirations and human nature remain the same. We have nothing to fear from Russia or Russians anymore than we do from Canadians or Mexicans. We are all moving rapidly in the same direction.
Oh, and their basket making skills are no better or worse than U.S. managers. Here are the 39 sold baskets in the second round. Those of you who have been subjected to my basket exercise will understand. They just about broke even in the second round.