This article analyses the introduction of Lean Production to ‘the Procurement Office’ (the Procurement Office is made anonymous due to promises of confidentiality in the research project ‘Lean without stress’), a work place marked by continuous organizational changes, unfavourable image and high turnover. This is analysed in terms of Italo Calvino's Invisible cities. It is argued that Calvino's themes and prose help us understand change as a multiplicity of temporal intensities producing ambivalence and affect. We describe this use of literary abstractions as a ‘hyperbolic social epistemology’. Through the depiction of four intensifications of Lean Production, the metaphors of Calvino's cities show how reality and illusion; hope and poverty; dreams and death and utopia and dystopia are intricately mingled and produce temporary and equally ambivalent affects of alienation, hypocrisy, self-governance, job-satisfaction, antagonisms and empowerment.