An idea is not always enough.

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on March 24, 2010 · 3 comments

A useful fable from Aesop, one of my all-time favorite writers, The Mice in Council.

Long ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this, and some said that; but at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make, which he thought would meet the case. “You will all agree,” said he, “that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily retire while she was in the neighbourhood.”

This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: “That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?” The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke.


We see this often in lean activities. Ideas get put forth and then implemented. Skeptics say “I’ve been saying that for years.” Yes, but have you been doing anything about it. And saying it to who. It might not be their fault, mind you. It might be that they fault like hell, and the system wouldn’t allow them. But that, at times, is where lean comes in, to break the momentum of stagnation and get things done.

Many people have ideas. Ideas are free, and fundamentally useless, until of course they are actually put to use.

An idea is not always enough. Do something with it.

1 Brian Buck March 24, 2010 at 10:47 am

Jamie, this story is so perfect.

Whenever someone brings up an suggested improvement, I always ask if they have tried it yet. If they say no, I ask why haven’t they tried it yet.

Focusing people on action instead of discussion gets more things done. Why debate if something will work or not before you try it? Granted, some things need to be discussed or weighed out before action, but most of the time you can try little experiments!

2 Jim Baran March 24, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Perhaps Lean’s infamous 5Y analysis should be replaced with the 5 Why-Nots.

3 TIm McMahon March 24, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Unimplemented ideas are useless, talk is cheap, action is everything, and failed ideas are lessons learned.

Great story.

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