The Worst Waste – Unused Human Creativity

Busyness may be the prime waste and a cause of the others, but it is not the worst. Only one of the wastes is an asset that is lost forever if not used; human creativity.

Unused Creativity > The Other 7

Let’s consider the other 7 wastes.

Waiting wastes time, which also cannot be recovered for individuals. For a company, there will always be more time. We’re just wasting money paying people to wait.

Over production and inventory are waste, but they’re mostly financial. Our money is locked up in warehouses. That’s a poor way to use money, but if we have enough then why worry about those dollars.

Transport & motion are both wasteful. These are actions that don’t produce client value; we’re paying people for a valueless activity and wasting money. As long as these costs aren’t too big, we’ll be fine.

Over processing costs us time doing work clients don’t need. This adds to costs without adding value. It lowers competitiveness, but only a little.

Defects cost us a few things; reputation, time, money, etc. given enough time and effort, we can recover from these.

Why is Unused Human Creativity the Worst?

Any agile or lean operation, requires the constant addition of new ideas to improve the process. Whether it’s a scrum retro or a lean kaizen, we’re constantly applying brain power to improve the process. Just sustaining such an operation requires this, since all processes naturally degrade.

Unlike time & money, human creativity is lost if not used. It is very contextually sensitive. There must be a problem, the time to invest into finding an idea, and the support to invest into applying the idea. If any of these elements is lacking, there is irreparable harm to mankind.

That flash of insight may never be had by another person. Money can’t buy back missed improvements or ideas. If there is no support to implement the idea, that creates a negative feedback loop, which may cause the person to stop applying human creativity to their work. That is perhaps the most tragic outcome and is too common in inhuman and bureaucratic organizations.

Not having nor acting upon creative impulses robs people of their very humanity. It denies them the chance to grow as an individual and improve the world they live in.

A Learning Organization by Using Human Creativity

Many people describe the zenith of a lean organization as a “learning” organization, but that is a bit of a misnomer. These aren’t companies that just learn, these would be more correctly described as companies that are harnessin the collective creativity of their team members in a rigorous way (like through PDCA loops) to learn the best way of being and competing.

The organization learns, but the fuel is freedom to pursue and apply human creativity at an individual and team level.

Unused Creativity in the Other 7 Wastes

Waiting is only a loss if that time could have been spent in a more valuable way. Most pointedly, if that person was applying some human brain power to a problem instead of waiting. That also forms a counter point, is waiting a waste if that time is invested into applying human creativity into a problem? Like, perhaps, the problem of how to eliminate this waiting from the process?

Over productions and inventory create longer feedback loops. Rather than applying human creativity to a problem when it arises, we waste that opportunity and let weeks or months of inventory build up before we address it. Now we have to apply human creativity to fix real the problem, and to the problem of all that inventory. Or, we choose not to do that and accept the defects.

To be able to recover from defects rather than perpetuate them, we must apply human minds to find the source of the defect and insure it doesn’t happen again. When we don’t do this, we will keep a phasing similar defects.

Transport & motion require people invest human mind power to a task that isn’t helping anyone. We’re wasting creativity by moving stuff rather than doing stuff.

When we’re over processing, we’re applying human creativity to a less valuable problem. 


Why is unused human creativity the worst? Perhaps most simply, using human creativity is the only way to eliminate the other 7 wastes.

By wasting human creativity, we’re making all the other wastes acceptable.

The more we do that, the more invisible they become.

The more invisible they become, the less we’ll invest into fixing them.

The less we invest into fixing them, the less likely people will be to come forth with ideas to improve the process.

When people start accepting the world as it is rather than applying their talents to improving it, we’ve deprived them of what it means to be human.

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