Monday, December 8, 2008

Muda Monday: Lessons from my grandparents

Muda is the Japanese word for waste. My grandparents never new any Japanese, but they knew about reducing waste and getting the most out of what they had. My Grandpa Lafever had an 8th grade education and started life in the now submerged valleys of the TVA reservoirs in eastern Tennessee. When he died, he was a successful farmer in east central Indiana, left a sizable farm and estate to his two college educated sons, and passed on a prosperous legacy for all six grandchildren of whom have university degrees. One of the key factors in his prosperity was the astute financial management and common sense of using resources to their fullest extent. Along the way, I saw how my grandparents optimized their farm operation and turn muda into money:

1) Waste of one kind became a raw material for something else.

Baby food jars became screw containers. Old appliances and machines were taken apart and the bolts and fasteners became the "hardware" store which not only saved Grandpa money but also saved time making trips to town. Even old soup cans became tractor mufflers for a very low cost repair. Baling twine got reused as gate ties, and old rusty fence got a second life repairing holes where calves could escape

2) Food unfit for people became animal feed.

There was no curbside trash service to Grandpa's house so food waste got sent to animals. The cows would eat pretty much whatever was left over from supper as soon as it was thrown over the fence. What was left after the bovine crew ate was usually eaten by some nocturnal scavenger. Even the gnarly old apples off the backyard tree got thrown over the fence so that a four legged beast could have a treat. Every bit of food could help fatten cows and pigs for market.

3) Plentiful poop powers produce!

Oh yes, bovine waste makes good fertilizer. Not only did Grandpa spread it around on crop fields, but when he saw a dried up pile in the pasture, he would kick it as hard as he could to bust it up and spread it around to fertilize the grass. Everything, even cow manure, had its purpose and opportunity. The joke used to be that if you could smell cow or pig feces, you would say, "I smell money!"

4) Everything has some value or use.

I could never see any use for thorn or hedge apple trees. But even the the old thorn trees could be cut down and used for firewood. Old rotted fence posts could be part of a bonfire or the good parts were cut up to be made into something else. There was no end to their sense of thrift.

My grandpa and grandma didn't like to see us leave food on our plates so they insisted we eat everything. They hated waste...they were great kaizeneers in their own right. Their frugal ways paid dividends not only to them but to their children and grand children. I am most grateful for their lessons.

Take a minute and reflect to see what you could use more efficiently. In our culture, most people don't stop and consider what they waste, let alone what is not optimized. You may not only find some great kaizens to improve your life and save time, and you to might find ways to "smell the money."

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

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