Nature of Order for Conceptual Models:

251

I have recently been reading upon the renowned British-American architect and design theorist, Christopher Alexander.

Alexander is known for the idea of pattern languages. A pattern is a collection of a known problem discussed with a solution for the problem. As Alexander explains it:

Now, a pattern is an old idea. The new idea in the book was to organize implicit knowledge about how people solve recurring problems when they go about building things.

For example, if you are building a house you need to go from outside to inside and there are centuries of experiments on how to do this in a “just so” way. Sometimes the transition is marked not by just a door but by a change in elevation (steps, large, small, straight, or curved), or a shaded path, or through a court yard.

We wrote up this knowledge in the form of a pattern about entrance transitions.

I was very much inspired by what Alexander was pointing at. Alexander’s view is that a construction should always promote social interactions and thus life. He would ask the question, which building has more life? In a city or a village or even in your house, where do you see life? Is there a particular room that you really love in your house? Why do you like that room? Alexander was after this question. He and his team came up with 253 patterns that they observed by studying the world around them. They noticed that certain buildings and locations had more “life” than others. People were engaged in more interactions and they were enjoying being with one another. These buildings and locations add to the wholeness of the surrounding and also to the people themselves. They promote the nature of order.

For example, one of the patterns Alexander’s team came up with was “SMALL PUBLIC SQUARES” (Alexander’s team used capital letters to denote a pattern.) This pattern provides guidelines for the width of the public squares to less than 70 feet.

A town needs public squares; they are the largest, most public rooms, that the town has. But when they are too large, they look and feel deserted.

It is natural that every public street will swell out at those important nodes where there is the most activity. And it is only these widened, swollen, public squares which can accommodate the public gatherings, small crowds, festivities, bonfires, carnivals, speeches, dancing, shouting, mourning, which must have their place in the life of the town.

But for some reason there is a temptation to make these public squares too large. Time and again in modern cities, architects and planners build plazas that are too large. They look good on drawings; but in real life they end up desolate and dead.

Our observations suggest strongly that open places intended as public squares should be very small. As a general rule, we have found that they work best when they have a diameter of about 6o feet – -at this diameter people often go to them, they become favorite places, and people feel comfortable there. When the diameter gets above 70 feet, the squares begin to seem deserted and unpleasant.

They reasoned that a person’s face is still recognizable at 70 feet, and the voice can also be heard at this distance. In other words, any distance further than 70 feet reduces interactions, and thus does not promote “life”.

Conceptual Models:

I am not an architect by trade or by passion. However, I noticed that the ideas that Alexander was talking about has much wider use. His ideas were behind the wiki movement.

We generally construct conceptual models to explain how things work in our mind. For example, when we look at a car, we may construct a conceptual model in our mind to explain how the car works. It could be as simple as – put gasoline, and the engine runs making the car move. When we talk about problem solving and problem structuring, we are in many regards constructing a conceptual model in our mind.

Alexander stated:

One of the things we looked for was a profound impact on human life. We were able to judge patterns, and tried to judge them, according to the extent that when present in the environment we were confident that they really do make people more whole in themselves.

The allegory of “constructing a model” works well with Alexander’s ideas. Alexander would propose that one should not construct a building that does not add to the existing surroundings. Furthermore, it should add to the wholeness, and it should promote life via social interactions. I am sometimes guilty of coming to a problem with a preconceived bias and notion. When I am informed of a problem, I may construct the problem statement immediately. I come to the source with the problem model already constructed.  This hinders “life” and promotes “unwholeness”, as Alexander would say.

Similar to Marie Kondo’s question of “Does it spark joy?”, Alexander asks the question, “Does it promote life?” and “Does it add to the wholeness?”

Alexander defines wholeness as “the source of coherence in any part of the world.”

When you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent and more whole; and the thing which you make take its place in the web of nature as you make it.

When we are constructing a problem model, we should not come with the box already prepared. Instead, we should construct the box around the problem as we find it at the source, the gemba. We often talk about lean problems and six sigma problems. This is not the correct approach. We should construct the box around the problem making sure to match the conceptual surroundings. The model should add to the wholeness. This in my mind is regarding correspondence and coherence. The problem model should correspond to the reality, and should promote coherence to other ideas and models that we have in our epistemological toolbox. In other words, the problem model should make sense.

Each pattern is connected to certain larger patterns which come above it in the language; and to certain smaller patterns which come below it in the language.

No pattern is an island… Each pattern can exist in the world, only to the extent that it is supported by other patterns.

A thing is whole according to how free it is of inner contradictions. When it is at war with itself, and gives rise to forces which act to tear it down, it is unwhole.

In this post, we will look at one additional pattern that Alexander’s team came up with called “DIFFERENT CHAIRS” to discuss this further. This patterns adds further clarity to the multidimensional and multireality nature of complex problems.

People are different sizes; they sit in different ways. And yet there is a tendency in modern times to make all chairs alike. Never furnish any place with chairs that are identically the same. Choose a variety of different chairs, some big, some small, some softer than others, some rockers, some very old, some new, with arms, without arms, some wicker, some wood, some cloth.

In my mind, this alludes to the multiple perspectives that we should consider. Problem structuring is extremely difficult (and sometimes not possible) for complex problems mainly because of the numerous connected parts, numerous perspectives and due to the fact that there are portions of a complex phenomenon that we are not able to completely grasp. We should always welcome multiple perspectives. The great American Systems Thinker, Russell Ackoff said:

Effective research is not disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or multidisciplinary; it is transdisciplinary.

In our case, we can paraphrase this and say that effective construction of a conceptual model is transdisciplinary.

The same idea of conceptual model is applicable in Systems Thinking. A “system” is also a conceptual model. This is very well articulated by Weber Ulrich:

‘Systems’ are essentially conceptual constructs rather than real-world entities. Systems concepts and other constructs help us describe and understand the complex realities of realworld situations, including natural, technical, social, psychological or any other aspects that might potentially or actually be relevant at any one time. 

Alexander proposed an 8-step approach for promoting “wholeness”. As we look at the steps, we can see that it requires deep questioning and thinking. How can we use this approach to promote constructing better conceptual models?

  1. At every step of the process—whether conceiving, designing, making, maintaining, or repairing—we must always be concerned with the whole within which we are making anything. We look at this wholeness, absorb it, try to feel its deep structure.
  2. We ask which kind of thing we can do next that will do the most to give this wholeness the most positive increase of life.
  3. As we ask this question, we necessarily direct ourselves to centers, the units of energy within the whole, and ask which one center could be created (or extended or intensified or even pruned) that will most increase the life of the whole.
  4. As we work to enhance this new living center, we do it in such a way as also to create or intensify (by the same action) the life of some larger center.
  5. Simultaneously we also make at least one center of the same size (next to the one we are concentrating on), and one or more smaller centers— increasing their life too.
  6. We check to see if what we have done has truly increased the life and feeling of the whole. If the feeling of the whole has not been deepened by the step we have just taken, we wipe it out. Otherwise we go on.
  7. We then repeat the entire process, starting at step 1 again, with the newly modified whole.
  8. We stop altogether when there is no further step we can take that intensifies the feeling of the whole.

Final Words:

The title of this post is adopted from the title of a Christopher Alexander book, “The Nature of Order”. I welcome the readers to take upon reading and learning his wonderful works. I will finish with the complete description of pattern 252, DIFFERENT CHAIRS:

251 - Diff Chairs

People are different sizes; they sit in different ways. And yet there is a tendency in modern times to make all chairs alike.

Of course, this tendency to make all chairs alike is fueled by the demands of prefabrication and the supposed economies of scale. Designers have for years been creating “perfect chairs” – chairs that can be manufactured cheaply in mass. These chairs are made to be comfortable for the average person. And the institutions that buy chairs have been persuaded that buying these chairs in bulk meets all their needs.

But what it means is that some people are chronically uncomfortable; and the variety of moods among people sitting gets entirely stifled.

Obviously, the “average chair” is good for some, but not for everyone. Short and tall people are likely to be uncomfortable. And although situations are roughly uniform – in a restaurant everyone is eating, in an office everyone is working at a table – even so, there are important distinctions: people sitting for different lengths of time; people sitting back and musing; people sitting aggressively forward in a hot discussion; people sitting formally, waiting for a few minutes. If the chairs are all the same, these differences are repressed, and some people are uncomfortable.

What is less obvious, and yet perhaps most important of all, is this: we project our moods and personalities into the chairs we sit in. In one mood a big fat chair is just right; in another mood, a rocking chair; for another, a stiff upright; and yet again, a stool or sofa. And, of course, it isn’t only that we like to switch according to our mood; one of them is our favorite chair, the one that makes us most secure and comfortable; and that again is different for each person. A setting that is full of chairs, all slightly different, immediately creates an atmosphere which supports rich experience; a setting which contains chairs that are all alike puts a subtle straight jacket on experience.

Therefore:

Never furnish any place with chairs that are identically the same. Choose a variety of different chairs, some big, some small, some softer than others, some rockers, some very old, some new, with arms, without arms, some wicker, some wood, some cloth.

In case you missed it, my last post was UX at the Gemba:

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UX at the Gemba:

joy

In today’s post I am looking at UX (User Experience) at the gemba. Generally, usability (how the end user can effectively and efficiently complete the tasks needed) and UX (the meaningful and relevant experience the user has from effectively and efficiently completing the tasks needed) are two terms that are associated with product design. I would like to see how this applies at the gemba.

ISO 9241 (Ergonomics of human-system interaction) defines Usability as – a measure of the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users can achieve specified goals in a particular environment.

While UX is defined by ISO 9241 as – a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service.

We should use the same ideas at the gemba for the operators. How easy is the operation in making a product? How is the work station laid out? How is the process flow? At the gemba we can view Usability as – the operator making a good product with ease, and UX can be viewed as – the operator enjoying making the good product.

Some of the terms that are associated with usability are:

  • Task oriented – objective values
  • Functional – works as intended
  • Reliable – always works as intended
  • Usable – can be used with without difficulty

Similarly, some of the terms associated with UX are:

  • Experience oriented – subjective values
  • Convenient – easy to work with and does not give grief
  • Pleasurable – an enjoyable experience
  • Meaningful – adds to personal value and significance

At the Gemba:

Marie Kondo, the great Japanese organizing consultant is famous for her question – “does it spark joy?” To me, this is a great UX question. Does your operation/process spark joy?

When you are at the gemba, observe an operation. Take a note of how many times the operator takes a tool and put it down, only to take it again for another step. Take a note of how many times the operator has to look around and reach for a tool. Take a note on whether the operator is in his or her ‘zone’. Or is he or she getting frustrated with the steps?

As Lean leaders/engineers, we owe it to our team to design a good process. This was the theme of Industrial Engineering pioneered by Taylor, Gilbreth et al. At best, this approach falls right under usability. My challenge to my readers is to consider UX for the operators. We should minimize the cognitive load on the operators. The complexity of an operation is generally a constant. A good operation absorbs this complexity through easy to manufacture design, good fixtures, poke yoke, well laid out work stations etc. This way, the operator does not have to absorb the complexity, leading to a good UX model. This idea is explained here.

One of the ideas in UX is visibility. This aligns very well with Lean. This idea is about being able to know the state of a system just by looking. Is it working properly? Does it say what is going on? Are the signals easy to interpret? Are the correct parts visible and are they conveying the correct message? By seeing that something is wrong, we can stop to correct the problem.

We should design the process for the operator and not for the product. This means that we should work with the involved operators from the start, making improvements as we go along. We should be open to their input and ideas. The UX approach requires empathy. The UX view is a big picture holistic view. Making an operation consistent, intuitive and easy for an entry level person can actually make the operation easier for the most experienced person.

Some of the UX based questions you can ask yourself (along with the ones already posed in this post) are:

  • How do people learn to assemble our products?
  • What makes a step easy or hard to remember?
  • Why do people make errors?
  • Are our products easy to manufacture, again and again?
  • Are problems easy to see?
  • Do we have the right tools? Do the tools fit what they are used for?
  • Are they more likely to assemble the product the wrong way? Is it more easier to assemble the right way?
  • Is our product easy to inspect? Do we rely on 100% visual inspection to catch problems?
  • Would you do the operation? What would make it easy for you?
  • Above all, Does it spark joy?

Final Words:

I will finish with the great Don Norman’s words on UX from his wonderful book, “The Design of Everyday Things.” Don Norman is a pioneer of UX.

It is relatively easy to design things that work smoothly and harmoniously as long as things go right. But as soon as there is a problem or a misunderstanding, the problems arise. This is where good design is essential. Designers need to focus their attention on the cases where things go wrong, not just on when things work as planned. Actually, this is where the most satisfaction can arise: when something goes wrong but the machine highlights the problems, then the person understands the issue, takes the proper actions, and the problem is solved. When this happens smoothly, the collaboration of person and device feels wonderful.

The above passage has underpinnings of Jidoka where the idea is to stop the line or the machine when a problem occurs. The same idea is important in UX as well. Norman continues:

Human-centered design is a design philosophy. It means starting with a good understanding of people and the needs that the design is intended to meet. This understanding comes about primarily through observation, for people themselves are often unaware of their true needs, even unaware of the difficulties they are encountering.

My take on this passage again is Lean-oriented. Toyota teaches us to go to gemba to grasp the facts. Going to gemba and observing, identifying waste and solving problems is an excellent way to develop oneself.

Great designers produce pleasurable experiences. Experience: note the word. Engineers tend not to like it; it is too subjective. But when I ask them about their favorite automobile or test equipment, they will smile delightedly as they discuss the fit and finish, the sensation of power during acceleration, their ease of control while shifting or steering, or the wonderful feel of the knobs and switches on the instrument. Those are experiences.

Experience is critical, for it determines how fondly people remember their interactions. Was the overall experience positive, or was it frustrating and confusing? When our home technology behaves in an uninterpretable fashion we can become confused, frustrated, and even angry—all strong negative emotions. When there is understanding it can lead to a feeling of control, of mastery, and of satisfaction or even pride—all strong positive emotions. Cognition and emotion are tightly intertwined, which means that the designers must design with both in mind.

Norman’s above passage to me captures the essence of UX at the gemba. Our processes must be user friendly, and should always yield positive experiences for the operators.

My post has barely covered the basics of UX. I encourage the reader to research further on this topic. Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Wittgenstein’s Ladder at the Gemba:

Nurikabe strikes again…

Haven’t written for a while. Now having writer’s block. Reminds me of Nurikabe yokai. Yōkai are a class of supernatural monsters, spirits, and demons in Japanese folklore. Per Wiki – Nurikabe is said to manifest as an invisible wall impeding travelers; quite tall to prevent people from climbing over it, and wide enough to dampen any attempts to go around it.

I have several posts pending. Just need to write. 😐

Wittgenstein’s Ladder at the Gemba:

ladder

In today’s post, I am looking at Wittgenstein’s ladder at the gemba. Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of the most profound philosophers of the 20th century. His first book was Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in which he came up with the picture theory of language. He defined how language and reality relate to each other, and how limits of language corresponded to limits of knowledge to some extent.

Loosely put, the Tractatus explained how language can be used to directly depict reality. Language should mirror exactly the arrangement of objects, and their relationships to each other in the real world. Wittgenstein proposed that what can be said about the world makes sense only if there is a correspondence to the real world out there. Everything else is nonsense. This idea puts limits to how we use language. The real use of language is to describe reality. Anthony Quinton, the late British philosopher, explained the main concepts of Tractatus as:

Tractatus is a theory of declarative sentences, a theory of what can be put in a proposition and what cannot. Anything that can be said can be said clearly or not at all.

The world is all that is the case. The state of affairs around us, the simple facts, are the world for us. Wittgenstein is talking about what we can and cannot sensibly  talk about.

The world consists of facts. Facts are arrangement of objects. Objects must be simple. These ideas appear as dogmatic assertions. Language has to have a definite sense and it can have a definite sense only if it is of a certain structure. And therefore the world must be of that certain structure in order to be capable of being represented in the language.

One of the metaphors, Wittgenstein used in the Tractatus is the idea of a ladder. This has come to be known as “Wittgenstein’s Ladder.”

Wittgenstein said:

My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.   

This is a fascinating idea because Wittgenstein is cautioning against doctrines as the eternal rules to abide by. If the concepts that Wittgenstein explained in the Tractatus are true, then the assertion of his ideas being true would contradict the ideas themselves. Wittgenstein uses the metaphor of a ladder to have the reader climb to a higher level of understanding and then asks the reader to kick the ladder away.

Let’s see how Wittgenstein’s ladder relates to Lean/Toyota Production System. Taiichi Ohno developed TPS as a production system through decades of trial and error methods. The solutions Ohno came up with were specific to the problems Toyota had at that time. We should learn about these different tools and understand the problems they are trying to solve. We should not exactly copy the tools that Toyota uses just because Toyota is using them. Even within Toyota, each plant is unique and doesn’t use a specific set of tools. As one Toyota veteran put it, Toyota Production System and Toyota’s Production System are different. What each plant does is unique and based on the complexity of problems it has.

There are several doctrines that are set forth by the experts. Let’s look at two examples – zero inventories and one-piece flow. Taiichi Ohno himself tried to correct these two misrepresentations/misunderstandings.

Ohno called the Zero Inventory idea nonsense:

To be sure, if we completely eliminate inventories, we will have shortages of goods and other problems. In fact, reducing inventories to zero is nonsense.

The goal of Toyota Production System is to level the flows of production and goods… In every plant and retail outlet, we strive to have the needed goods arrive in the needed quantities in the needed time. In no way is the Toyota Production System a zero-inventory system.

Similarly, Ohno also cautioned about implementing one-piece flow without thinking and looking at your production system.

The essence of Toyota Production System is found in the saying, “Can we realistically reduce one more?” and then after that “one more?”

The removal of parts or operators is about identifying waste and ways to improve human capital through problem solving. The idea is to develop people and not think only about developing parts. Kaizen is a philosophy of personal improvement (improving oneself) through process improvements. Kaizen begets more kaizen.

Final Words:

The problem with doctrines is that we build a religion out of them. 

Ask yourself – What is the problem that I am trying to solve? Toyota’s solutions work for Toyota’s problems. We should climb the TPS/Lean ladder (understand the ideas) and then throw away the ladder of doctrines. We should solve our problems using solutions that match our problems.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Drawing at the Gemba:

Drawing at the Gemba:

IMG_9727

In today’s post, I am writing about Genchi Genbutsu and drawing. “Genchi Genbutsu” is an important concept in Lean/Toyota Production System. It can be translated as going to the actual place (gemba) to see, and grasp the situation. There are different translations to this such as “Boots on the ground” and “Go and See”.

I have been recently researching on how artists “see” things. When an arts teacher trains students, the most important lesson the teacher can teach is to not think of the object when you draw. For example, if you are not a natural artist, when you draw a face, you will draw what “you” think an eye looks like in your mind. The same for the nose, lips etc. You are not drawing what you are seeing, instead you are drawing what you think they look like in your mind, even though the subject is right in front of you. Your brain acts as a blinder and blocks what you see and instead points you towards your preconceived notion of the different features of the face. Thus, the final product looks like a bunch of circles, slanted lines and curves, which does not resemble a real face at all.

I think there is an important lesson for a lean leader in this. When we go to the gemba, if we come with preconceived notions, we will miss what is right in front of us. If we go to gemba already armed with the wrong answer, we will not ask the right questions. We should go to the gemba with a fresh mind, and with limited preconceived notions. West Churchman, the great American philosopher and Systems Thinker said, “A systems approach begins when first you see the world through the eyes of another.

When we talk about truth and reality in philosophy, there is an important principle called the Correspondence principle. Loosely put, the Correspondence principle indicates that what we construct in our mind should correspond to what is outside in the real world. We cannot do this effectively, if we hinder the process of construction and fill it with our preconceived notions. This is like an amateur artist drawing a face with his version of eyes, nose, lips etc., and not the actual face.

In TPS, we learn that making things is about making (developing) people. I have seen developing people described as “human capital development.” In order to develop people, Toyota created a production system where problems are forced to surface so that the operators get a chance to learn how to solve problems. A good tool that explains this well is Jidoka or autonomation. Jidoka requires the operation to stop when problems occur. Additionally, Jidoka also requires the operator to stop when the work is done. Nampachi Hayashi, a Toyota veteran, describes this as:

What are the necessary conditions for good products?

Stop when problems occur – build good quality in each process, and stop when the work is done – increase operator’s added-value and productivity.

Kaizen does not progress when there is no need for kaizen.

To add to this, Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System, said, “When we study the way we work, there is an endless cycle of improvement. We cannot do this, if we do not go to gemba with a fresh mind and eyes. We should train our brain to not interfere with this process. As Churchman said, we should try to see the operation through the eyes of the operator.

Toyota views problem solving as the most important skill for human capital. Then, our job as the lean leaders is to create conditions for identifying problems as they occur, and develop the operators to see them and solve them on their own. In this regard Hayashi says that managers should go and see gemba, and for each emerging problem, they should give specific challenge and make sure to follow up.

Final words:

Inetrestingly, there is another closely sounding phrase in Japanese for “Genchi Genbutsu”. It is “Genchi Kenbutsu”. Genchi Kenbutsu means “Go and Sightsee.”

I will finish with an interesting anecdote from Betty Edwards wonderful book, “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.” In the book she talked about getting frustrated with her students. She had given her students the assignment to copy a Pablo Picasso work. The outcomes were not as good as she expected. So, in a flash of genius, she hung the painting upside down, and asked the students to copy. The results were very surprising. The copies of the upside-down painting were far better than the copies of the right-side-up painting. She was quite puzzled by this. She later realized that keeping the painting upside down, changed how the students “saw.” Their brains stopped interfering with how they saw the subject, and they were able to draw much better. Edwards writes:

What prevents a person from seeing things clearly enough to draw them?

The left hemisphere has no patience with this detailed perception and says, in effect, “It’s a chair, I tell you. That’s enough to know. In fact, don’t bother to look at it, because I’ve got a ready-made symbol for you. Here it is; add a few details if you want, but don’t bother me with this looking business.”

And where do the symbols come from? From the years of childhood drawing during which every person develops a system of symbols. The symbol system becomes embedded in the memory, and the symbols are ready to be called out, just as you called them out to draw your childhood landscape.

The symbols are also ready to be called out when you draw a face, for example. The efficient left brain says, “Oh yes, eyes. Here’s a symbol for eyes, the one you’ve always used. And a nose? Yes, here’s the way to do it.” Mouth? Hair? Eyelashes? There’s a symbol for each. There are also symbols for chairs, tables, and hands.

To sum up, adult students beginning in art generally do not really see what is in front of their eyes—that is, they do not perceive in the special way required for drawing. They take note of what’s there, and quickly translate the perception into words and symbols mainly based on the symbol system developed throughout childhood and on what they know about the perceived object.

What is the solution to this dilemma? Psychologist Robert Ornstein suggests that in order to draw, the artist must “mirror” things or perceive them exactly as they are. Thus, you must set aside your usual verbal categorizing and turn your full visual attention to what you are perceiving—to all of its details and how each detail fits into the whole configuration. In short, you must see the way an artist sees.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Cybernetics and Design – Poka Yoke, Two Hypotheses and More:

Cybernetics and Design – Poka Yoke, Two Hypotheses and More:

sonic screwdriver

In today’s post I am looking at “Design” from a cybernetics viewpoint. My inspirations for today’s post are Ross Ashby, Stafford Beer, Klaus Krippendorff, Paul Pangaro and Ranulph Glanville. The concept I was originally playing around was how the interface of a device conveys the message to the user on how to interact with the device. For example, if you see a button, you are invited to press on it. In a similar vein, if you see a dial, you know to twist the dial up or down. By looking at the ideas of cybernetics, I feel that we can expand upon this further.

Ross Ashby, one of the pioneers of Cybernetics defined variety as the number of possible elements(states) of a system. A stoplight, for example, generally has three states (Red, Green and Yellow). Additional states are possible, such as (blinking red, no light, simultaneous combinations of two or three lights). Of all the possible states identified, the stoplight is constrained to have only three states. If the stoplight is not able to regulate the traffic in combination with similar stoplights, acting in tandem, the traffic gets heavy resulting in a standstill. Thus, we can say that the stoplight was lacking the requisite variety. Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety states that only variety can destroy (absorb) variety. This means that the regulator should have enough variety to absorb any perturbations in order to truly manage a system. Unfortunately, the external variety is always larger than the internal variety. In other words, the regulator has to have the means to filter out unwanted external variety and it should amplify the internal variety to stay viable. An important concept to grasp with this idea is that the number of distinguishable states (and thus variety) depends upon the ability of the observer. In this regard, the variety of a system may be dependent on the observer.

With these concepts in mind, I will introduce two ideas (hypotheses) that I have been playing with:

1) Purpose hypothesis: The user determines the purpose/use of a device.

2) Counteraction hypothesis: When presented with a complex situation, the user generally seeks simplicity. When presented with a simple situation, the user generally seeks complexity.

Harish’s Purpose Hypothesis: The user determines the purpose/use of a device.

The user is external to the design of a device. The user at any given point has more variety than the simple device. Thus, the user ultimately determines the purpose of a device. How many times have you used a simple screwdriver for other purposes than screwing/unscrewing a screw?

Harish’s Counteraction hypothesis: When presented with a complex situation, the user generally seeks simplicity. When presented with a simple situation, the user generally seeks complexity.

The user has a tendency to move away from the perceived complexity of a device. If it is viewed as simple, the user will come up with complex ways to use it. If it is viewed as complex, the user will try to come up with simple ways to use the device. Complexity is in the eyes of the beholder. This can be also explained asUpon realizing that something is not working, a rational being, instead of continuing on the same path, will try to do the opposite. A good example is a spreadsheet – in the hands of an expert, the spreadsheet can be used for highly complicated mathematical simulations with numerous macros, and alternately, in the hands of a novice, the spreadsheet is just a table with some data points. In a similar way, if something is perceived as complex, the user will find a way to simplify the work to get the bare minimum output.

The Cybernetic Dance between the Designer and the User:

There is a dance between the designer and the user, and the medium of the dance is the interface of the device. The designer has to anticipate the different ways the user can interface with the device, and make the positive mannerisms attractive and the negative mannerisms unattractive. In the cybernetics terms, the designer has to amplify the desirable variety of the device so that the user is more likely to choose the correct way the device should be used. The designer also has to attenuate the undesirable variety so that the user will not choose the incorrect ways of use. If the design interface is providing a consistent message each time, then the entropy of the message is said to be zero. There is no change in the “message” conveyed by the design. One of the concepts in Lean is poka yoke or error proofing a device. From what we have seen so far, we can say that a successful poka yoke device has the requisite variety. The message conveyed by the device is consistent and the user always chooses the correct sequence of operation.

Krippendorff explains this nicely in terms of affordances of a device: [1]

When an interface works as expected, one can say with James Gibson (1979) that the artifact in question affords the construction that a user has of it; and when it does not work as expected, one can say that the artifact objects to being treated the way it is, without revealing why this is so.

Krippendorff also explains that the interface does not carry a message from the designer to the user. This is an interesting concept. Krippendorff further explains that the user assigns the meaning from how the user interacts with the device. The challenge then to the designer is to understand the problem, and determine the easiest way to solve it.

Different people may interface rather differently with the same artifact. What is a screwdriver for one person, may be an ice pick, a lever to pry a can of paint open, and a way to bolt a door for another. Human-centered designers must realize that they interface with their artifacts in anticipation that the result of their interactions affords others to meaningfully interface with their design—without being able to tell them how.

An interface consists of sequences of ideally meaningful interactions—actions followed by reactions followed by responses to these reactions and so on—leading to a desirable state. This circularity evidently is the same circularity that cybernetics theorizes, including what it converges to, what it brings forth. In human terms, the key to such interactions, such circularities, is their meaningfulness, the understanding of what one does in it, and towards which ends. Probably most important to human-centeredness is the axiom:

Humans do not respond to the physical qualities of things but act on what they mean to them (Krippendorff, 2006a).

Variety Costs Money:

Another concept from the cybernetics viewpoint is that adding variety costs money. In theory, a perfect device could be designed, but this would not be practical from a cost standpoint. Afterall, a low price is one of the ways the designer can amplify variety. A good story to reflect this is the design of the simple USB. A USB cord is often cited as an example for poka yoke. There is only way to insert it into the port. When you think about it, a USB pin has two states for insertion, of which only one is correct. There is no immediate standard way that the user can tell how it can be inserted. Thus, the USB lacks the requisite variety and it can lead to dissatisfaction of the user. Now the obvious question is why this is not an issue on a different connector such as Apple’s lightning cord, which can be inserted either way. It turns out that the lack of variety for the USB was on purpose. It was an effort to save money.[2]

A USB that could plug in correctly both ways would have required double the wires and circuits, which would have then doubled the cost. The Intel team led by Bhatt anticipated the user frustration and opted for a rectangular design and a 50-50 chance to plug it in correctly, versus a round connector with less room for error.

Feedback must be Instantaneous:

Paul Pangaro defines Cybernetics as:

Cybernetics is about having a goal and taking action to achieve that goal. Knowing whether you have reached your goal (or at least are getting closer to it) requires “feedback”, a concept that was made rigorous by cybernetics.

Thus, we can see that the device should be designed so that any error must be made visible to the user immediately and the user can correct the error to proceed. Any delay in this can only further add to the confusion of the user. The designer has to take extreme care to reduce the user’s cognitive load, when the user is interfacing with the device. Paraphrasing Michael Jackson (not the singer), from the cybernetics standpoint, the organization of the device should have the best possible model of the environment relevant to its purposes. The organization’s structure and information flows should reflect the nature of that environment so that the organization is responsive to it.

Final Words:

I will finish with wise words from Krippendorff regarding how the user perceives meaning by interfacing with a device.

Unlike what semiotics conceptualizes, from a cybernetic perspective, artifacts do not “carry” meanings from designers to their users. They do not “contain” messages or “represent” meanings…

For example, the meaning of a button is what pressing it sets in motion: ringing an alarm, saving a file or starting a car. The meaning of a soccer ball is the role it plays in a game of soccer and especially what its players can do with it. The meaning of an architectural space is what it encourages its inhabitants to do in it, including how comfortable they feel. The meaning of a chair is the perceived ability to sit on it for a while, stand on it to reach something high up, keep books on it handy, for children to play house by covering it with a blanket, and staple several of them for storage. For its manufacturer, a chair is a product; for its distributor, a problem of getting it to a retailer; for a merchant it means profit; for its user, it may also be a conversation piece, an investment, a way to complete a furniture arrangement, an identity marker, and more.

Typically, artifacts afford many meanings for different people, in different situations, at different times, and in the context of other artifacts. Although someone may consider one meaning more important than another, even by settling on a definition—like a chair in terms of affording sitting on it—it would be odd if an artifact could not afford its associated uses. One can define the meaning of any artifact as the set of anticipated uses as recognized by a particular individual or community of users. One can list these uses and empirically study whether this set is afforded by particular artifacts and how well. Taking the premise of second-order cybernetics seriously and applying the axioms of human-centeredness to designers and users alike calls on designers to conceive of their job not as designing particular products, but to design affordances for users to engage in the interfaces that are meaningful to them, the very interfaces that constitute these users’ conceptions of an artifact, for example, of a chair, a building or a place of work.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was A Study of “Organizational Closure” and Autopoiesis:

[1] The Cybernetics of Design and the Design of Cybernetics – Klaus Krippendorff

[2] Ever Plugged A USB In Wrong? Of Course You Have. Here’s Why

My Recent Tweets (7/28/2019):

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I will be posting soon. Meanwhile, here are selected tweets (cybernetics, purpose of a system, complexity etc.):

 

Always keep on learning…

A Study of “Organizational Closure” and Autopoiesis:

autopoiesis

In today’s post, I am looking at the phrase “Organizational Closure” and the concept of autopoiesis. But before that, I would like to start with another phrase “Information Tight”. Both of these phrases are of great importance in the field of Cybernetics. I first came across the phrase “Information Tight” in Ross Ashby’s book, “An Introduction to Cybernetics”. Ross Ashby was one of the pioneers of Cybernetics. Ashby said: [1]

Cybernetics might, in fact, be defined as the study of systems that are open to energy but closed to information and control— systems that are “information‐tight”.

This statement can be confusing at first, when you look at it from the perspective of Thermodynamics. Ashby is defining “information tight” as being closed to information and control. The Cybernetician, Bernard Scott views this as: [2]

…an organism does not receive “information” as something transmitted to it, rather, as a circularly organized system it interprets perturbations as being informative.

Here the “tightness” refers to the circular causality of the internal structure of a system. This concept was later developed as “Organization Closure” by the Chilean biologists, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. [3] They were trying to answer two questions:

  • What is the organization of the living?
  • What takes place in the phenomenon of perception?

In answering these two questions, they came up with the concept of Autopoiesis. Auto – referring to self, and poiesis – referring to creation or generation. Autopoiesis means self-generation. Escher’s “Drawing Hands” is a good visualization of this concept. We exist in the continuous production of ourselves.

Escher

As British organizational theorist, John Mingers put it: [4]

Maturana and Varela developed the concept of autopoiesis in order to explain the essential characteristics of living as opposed to nonliving systems. In brief, a living system such as a cell has an autopoietic organization, that is, it is ”self-producing. ” It consists of processes of production which generate its components. These components themselves participate in the processes of production in a continual recursive re-creation of self. Autopoietic systems produce themselves and only themselves.

John H Little provides further explanation: [5]

Autopoietic systems, are self-organizing in that they produce and change their own structures but they also produce their own components… The system’s production of components is entirely internal and does not depend on an input-output relation with the system environment.

Two important principles underlying autopoiesis are “structural determinism” and “organizational closure.” To understand these principles, it is first necessary to understand the difference between “structure” and “organization” as Maturana uses these terms. “Organization” refers to the relations between components which give a system its identity. If the organization of a system changes, its identity changes. “Structure” refers to the actual components and relations between components that make up a particular example of a type of system.

Conceptually, we may understand the distinction between organization and structure by considering a simple mechanical device, such as a pencil. We generally have little difficulty recognizing a machine which is organized as a “pencil” despite the fact that pencil may be structurally built in a variety of ways and of a variety of materials. One organizational type, therefore may be manifested by any number of different structural arrangements.

Marjatta Maula provides additional information on the “organization” and “structure”, two important concepts in autopoiesis.

In autopoiesis theory, the concepts ‘organization’ and ‘structure’ of a system have a specific meaning. ‘Organization’ refers to an idea (such as an idea of airplane or a company in general). ‘Structure’ refers to the actual embodiment of the idea (such as a specific airplane or a specific company). Thus, ‘organization’ is abstract but ‘structure’ is concrete (Mingers, 1997). Over time an autopoietic system may change its components and structure but maintain its ‘organization.’ In this case, the system sustains its identity. If a system’s ‘organization’ changes, it loses its current identity (von Krogh & Roos, 1995). [6]

The most important idea that Maturana and Varela put forward was that an autopoietic system does not take in information from its environment and an external agent cannot control an autopoietic system. Autopoietic systems are organizationally (or operationally) closed. That is to say, the behavior of the system is not specified or controlled by its environment but entirely by its own structure, which specifies how the system will behave under all circumstances. It is as a consequence of this closure that living systems cannot have “inputs” or “outputs”-nor can they receive or produce information-in any sense in which these would have independent, objective reality outside the system. Put in another way, since the system determines its own behavior, there can be no “instructive interactions” by means of which something outside the system determines its behavior. A system’s responses are always determined by its structure, although they may be triggered by an environmental event.[7]

Although organizationally closed, a system is not disconnected from its environment, but in fact in constant interaction with it. Maturana and Varela (1987) call this ongoing process “structural coupling” (p. 75). System and environment (which will include other systems) act as mutual sources of perturbation for one another, triggering changes of state in one another. Over time, provided there are no destructive interactions between the system and the medium in which it realizes itself (i.e., its environment), the system will appear to an observer to adapt to its environment. What is in fact happening, though, is a process of structural “drift” occurring as the system responds to successive perturbations in the environment according to its structure at each moment. [7]

In other words, the idea of an organism as an information processing agent is a misunderstanding. When you look at it further, although it might appear as strange, little by little, it might make sense. Think about a classroom, a teacher is giving a lecture and the same “information” reaches the students. However, what type and amount of “information” is taken in depends on each individual student. Maturana explains it as the teacher makes the selection (in the form of the lecture), however, the teacher cannot make the student accept the “information” in its entirety. A loose analogy is a person pushing a button on a vending machine. The internal structure of the machine determines how to react. If the machine does not have a closed structure inside, it cannot react. The pressing of the button is viewed as a perturbation, and the vending machine reacts based on its internal structure at that point in time. If the vending machine was out of order or if there was something blocking the item, the machine will not dispense even if the external agent “desired” the machine to reach in a specific way.

According to Maturana, all systems consisting of components are structure-determined, which is to say that the actual changes within the system depend on the structure itself at that particular instant. Any change in such a system must be a structural change. If this is the case, then an environmental action cannot determine its own effect on a system. Changes, or perturbations in the environment can only trigger structural change or compensation. “It is the structure that determines both what the compensation will be and even what in the environment can or cannot act as a trigger” (Mingers, 1995, p. 30).

It is the internal structure of the system at any point in time that determines:

  1. all possible structural changes within the system that maintain the current organization, as well as those that do not, and
  2. all possible states of the environment that could trigger changes of state and whether such changes would maintain or destroy the current organization (Mingers, 1995, p. 30).[5]

As we understand the idea of autopoiesis, we start to realize that it has serious implications. Our abstract concept of a process is shown below:[5]

INPUT -> PROCESS -> OUTPUT

In light of autopoiesis, we can see that this abstraction does not make sense. An autopoietic system cannot accept inputs. We treat information and knowledge as a commodity that can be easily coded, stored and transferred. Again, in the light of autopoietic systems, we require a new paradigm. As Little continues:[5]

An organizationally closed system is one in which all possible states of activity always lead to or generate further activity within itself… Organizationally closed systems do not have external inputs that change their organization, nor do they outputs in terms of their organization. Autopoietic systems are organizationally closed and do not have inputs and outputs in terms of their organization. They may appear to have them, but that description only pertains to an observer who can see both the system and its environment, and is a mischaracterization of the system. The idea of organizational closure, however, does not imply that such systems have no interactions with their environment. Although their organization is closed, they still interact with their environment through their structure, which is open.

John Mingers provides further insight: [4]

Consider the idea that the environment does not determine, but only triggers neuronal activity. Another way of saying this is that the structure of the nervous system at a particular time determines both what can trigger it and what the outcome will be. At most, the environment can select between alter­natives that the structure allows. This is really an obvious situation of which we tend to lose sight. By analogy, consider the humming computer on my desk. Many interactions, e.g., tapping the monitor and drawing on the unit, have no effect. Even pressing keys depends on the program recognizing them, and press­ing the same key will have quite different effects depending on the computer’s current state. We say, “I’ll just save this file,” and do so with the appropriate keys as though these actions in themselves bring it about. In reality the success (or lack of it) depends entirely on our hard-earned structural coupling with the machine and its software in a wider domain, as learning a new system reminds us only too well.

Another counterintuitive idea was put forth by the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, that further elaborates the autopoietic system’s autonomous nature and the “independence” from the external agent:

The memory function never relates to facts of the outer world . . . but only to the states of the system itself. In other words, a system can only remember itself.

An obvious question at this point is – If a system is so independent of its environment, how does it come to be so well adjusted, and how do systems come to develop such similar structures?[4]

The answer lies in Maturana’s concept of structural coupling. An autopoietic organization is realized in a particular structure. In general, this structure will be plastic, i.e., changeable, but the changes that it undergoes all maintain auto poiesis so long as the entity persists. (If it suffers an interaction which does not maintain autopoiesis, then it dies.) While such a system exists in an environ­ment which supplies it with necessities for survival, then it will have a structure suitable for that environment or autopoiesis will not continue. The system will be structurally coupled to its medium. This, however, is always a contingent matter and the particular structure that develops is determined by the system. More generally, such a system may become structurally coupled with other systems-the behavior of one becomes a trigger for the other, and vice versa.

Maturana and Varela did not extend the concept of autopoiesis to a larger level such as a society or an organization. Several others took this idea and went further. [8]

Using the tenets of autopoietic theory (Zeleny: 2005), he interprets organizations as networks of interactions, reactions and processes identified by their organization (network of rules of coordination) and differentiated by their structure (specific spatio-temporal manifestations of applying the rules of coordination under specific conditions or contexts). Following these definitions, Zeleny argues that the only way to make organizational change effective is to change the rules of behavior (the organization) first and then change processes, routines, and procedures (the structure). He explains that it is the system of the rules of coordination, rather than the processes themselves, that defines the nature of recurrent execution of coordinated action (recurrence being the necessary condition for learning to occur). He states: ‘Organization drives the structure, structure follows organization, and the observer imputes function’.

 Espejo, Schumann, Schwaninger, and Bilello (1996)adopt similar terminology, but instead of organization they refer to an organization’s identity as the element that defines any organization, explaining that it is the relationships between the participants that create the distinct identity for the network or the group. Organization is then defined as ‘a closed network of relationships with an identity of its own’. While organizations may share the same kind of identity, they are distinguished by their structures. People’s relationships form routines, involving roles, procedures, and uses of resources that constitute stable forms of interaction. These allow the integrated use and operation of the organization’s resources. The emergent routines and mechanisms of interaction then constitute the organization’s structure. Hence, just like any autopoietic entity, organizations as social phenomena are characterized by both an organization (or identity) and a structure. The rules of interaction established by the organization and the execution of the rules exhibited by the structure form a recursive bond.

Final Words:

I highly encourage the readers to pursue understanding of autopoiesis. It is an important concept that requires a shift in your thinking.

I will finish off with an example of autopoietic system that is not living. I am talking about von Neumann probes. Von Neumann probes are named after John von Neumann, one of the most prolific polymaths of last century. A von Neumann probe is an ingenious solution for fast space exploration. A von Neumann probe is a spacecraft that is loaded with an algorithm for self-replication. When it reaches a suitable celestial body, it will mine the required raw materials and build a copy of itself, complete with the algorithm for self-replication. The new spacecraft will then proceed to explore the space in a different direction. The self-replication process continues with every copy in an exponential manner. You may like this post about John von Neumann.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Illegitimate Sensei:

[1] An Introduction to Cybernetics – Ross Ashby

[2] Second-order cybernetics: an historical introduction – Bernard Scott

[3] Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living – Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana

[4] The Cognitive Theories of Maturana and Varela – John Mingers

[5] Maturana, Luhmann, and Self-Referential Government – John H Little

[6] Organizations as Learning Systems – Marjatta Maula

[7] Implications of The Theory Of Autopoiesis For The Discipline And Practice Of Information Systems – Ian Beeson

The Illegitimate Sensei:

sensei

In today’s post, I am writing about coaching. My inspiration is Heinz von Foerster, the giant in Cybernetics. Von Foerster was the nephew of another giant in philosophy, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Heinz von Foerster defined an illegitimate question to be one for which the answer is known. A legitimate question is one for which the answer is not known.

Von Foerster dreamt of a society where there was an educational system that promoted asking legitimate questions. The idea of an “illegitimate question” is a fascinating one. Von Foerster’s point was that our education system teaches kids to learn answers to questions that they expect to be asked in a test. This is rote learning and does not make them think. Along these lines, I thought about senseis in Lean. Sensei is a Japanese word that literally means “person who came before you” or elder. The word has come to mean “teacher” especially in martial arts. In Toyota Production System, the original Lean, much emphasis is placed on developing people. One of Toyota’s slogan was “Good Thinking, Good Products.” Another slogan used by Toyota is “Monozukuri wa hitozukuri” or “making things is about making (developing) people.” Additionally, one of two pillars of the Toyota Way is “Respect for People.” In this light, one can see that a Lean sensei’s primary focus is on developing his/her disciple.

A sensei should take care to not just impart his wisdom by giving answers to problems. The sensei should probe the disciple’s current knowledge and guide him towards learning. All managers are senseis in many regards. They are tasked with developing his or her team members. Generally, the manager’s first instinct is to tell people what to do. When you think on this further, you can see that here the emphasis is on the manager getting his or her job done. This means that the employee is replaceable. You could bring in another employee and expect the job to be done. This is mechanistic thinking at best. The manager is viewing the employee as a machine that can get the job done. The employee will learn the task to be done this way. However, the employee does not get developed to think. The employee becomes an accessory to the manager to get the job done. This does not improve the quality of life for the employee. Telling an employee what to do is a reductionist approach, while training them to think and come up with ways to solve the problems is a holistic approach.

Suzumura Style and Cho-san Style:

Bob Emiliani [1] talks about the Suzumura style and Cho-san style of coaching for kaizen. Suzumura was one of Taiichi Ohno’s disciples and was famous for being short-tempered, strict, and sometimes demeaning. This is one of the stereotypes of Japanese Lean senseis. In fact, Emiliani called it the “Scary style”. On the other hand, is Fujio Cho, Toyota’s ex-President, who was well known for his gentle, caring nature on the floor. Cho was also a close disciple of Ohno. Cho is famous for his lesson of “Go See, Ask Why, and Show Respect.” Ohno talked about scolding supervisors at the gemba. [2] He said:

When I scold the supervisors on the gemba, the workers see that their boss is getting yelled at and they sympathize with their boss. Then it becomes easier for the supervisor to correct the workers. If you call the supervisor away to a dark corner somewhere to scold them, the message does not get through… When the workers see their boss getting scolded and they think it is because they are not doing something right, then the next time the supervisor corrects them, they will listen.

This is an interesting approach by Ohno! In either case, the employees are not being spoon fed the solution. The sensei is trying to challenge the supervisor to see the waste, and make improvements. The sensei gives the demand and the autonomy to the supervisor to get to the challenge. This way, the supervisor learns what needs to be done and becomes creative. Finally, the more problems that are solved, the better the supervisor gets at finding and solving problems. Additionally, they are now at a position to develop his or her subordinates.

Double Loop Learning:

The idea of Chris Argyris’ [3] Double Loop learning also falls nicely into place here. Telling an employee what to do may train the employee to do that task well. This is similar to single loop learning, where doing a task again and again helps with doing that task better the next time. Coaching the employee to find solutions on their own is similar to double loop learning. The employee gets to understand the “why” behind the problem, and modify his/her mental model and thinking to come up with creative ways to solve the problem. This type of learning improves the employee’s ability to solve a new problem in the future. Solving today’s problem gives the employee the experience and wisdom to solve a completely different and new problem in the future. Argyris wrote:

Organizational learning is a process of detecting and correcting error. Error is for our purposes any feature of knowledge or knowing that inhibits learning. When the process enables the organization to carry on its present policies or achieve its objectives, the process may be called single loop learning. Single loop learning can be compared with a thermostat that learns when it is too hot or too cold and then turns the heat on or off. The thermostat is able to perform this task because it can receive information (the temperature of the room) and therefore take corrective action. If the thermostat could question itself about whether it should be set at 68 degrees, it would be capable not only of detecting error but of questioning the underlying policies and goals as well as its own program. That is a second and more comprehensive inquiry; hence it might be called double loop learning.

Final Words:

Heinz von Foerster had a way with words and was a very wise man. I will finish with his lesson on legitimate questions. [4]

Tests are devices to establish a measure of trivialization. A perfect score in a test is indicative of perfect trivialization: the student is completely predictable and thus can be admitted into society. He will cause neither any surprises nor any trouble. I shall call a question to which the answer is known an “illegitimate question.” Wouldn’t it be fascinating to contemplate an educational system that would ask of its students to answer “legitimate questions” that is questions to which the answers are unknown. (H. Br ̈un in a personal communication) Would it not be even more fascinating to conceive of a society that would establish such an educational system?

The necessary condition for such an utopia is that its members perceive one another as autonomous, non-trivial beings. Such a society shall make, I predict, some of the most astounding discoveries. Just for the record, I shall list the following three:

  1. “Education is neither a right nor a privilege: it is a necessity.”
  2. “Education is learning to ask legitimate questions.”

A society who has made these two discoveries will ultimately be able to discover the third and most utopian one:

  1. “A is better off when B is better off.”

Von Foerster called the third idea a moral imperative.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Book Review – Seeing To Understand:

[1] Better Thinking, Better Results – Bob Emiliani

[2] Workplace Management – Taiichi Ohno

[3] Double Loop Learning in Organizations – Chris Argyris, September 1977 Harvard Business Review Issue

[4] Perception of the Future and the Future of Perception – Heinz von Foerster

Book Review – Seeing To Understand:

0307b5b1-1b7a-40e1-b72d-7a32be9659b1_D

In today’s post, I am reviewing Panos Efsta’s book, “Seeing to Understand”. Efsta kindly provided me a copy of his book. Efsta has written the book as a scientific thinking lifestyle coach. The book goes in depth on ways to coach yourself to developing intentional practice of scientific thinking using mainly Toyota Kata concepts. He also introduces concepts from Training Within Industry and process behavior charts. Efsta identifies it as a lifestyle regardless of what field you are working in. I have only introductory experience with Toyota Kata. So, reading this book was very helpful for me.

Toyota Kata is Mike Rother’s brainchild. Toyota Kata is based on the research that Rother and his team did from 2004 to 2009. Toyota Kata encapsulates the practice of scientific thinking as part of the management system at Toyota. Please note that this is what Rother and his team captured based on their research and not what Toyota has documented. As Rother puts it:

No one knows what the world will look like in the future, so one of the most valuable skills you can have is the ability to adapt. Scientific thinking is exactly that. It involves a running comparison between what you predict will happen next, seeing what actually happens, and adjusting based on what you learn from the difference. Scientific thinking may be the best way we have of navigating through unpredictable territory to achieve challenging goals. Practiced deliberately for even just 20 minutes a day, scientific thinking can make anyone more adaptive, creative, and successful in the face of uncertainty.

Rother’s research was based on two questions:

1.What are the unseen managerial routines and thinking that lie behind Toyota’s success with continuous improvement and adaption?

2.How can other companies develop similar routines and thinking in their organizations?

Efsta’s book is a great resource to have while learning about Toyota Kata. An example is the chapter on the Storyboard. The storyboard is a tool in Toyota Kata to document the improvement journey. It captures the four steps:

  1. Get the direction – Understand the sense of direction
  2. Grasp the current situation – Understand where we are with facts and data
  3. Establish the next target condition – Target condition focuses our attention and provides guidance. Target condition stretches you beyond your current limited knowledge and aspires you towards a new performance standard.
  4. Conduct experiments – Understand what obstacles are preventing you and experiment to remove the obstacle(s). Document what happened and what we learned along the way. Iterate.

The use of Job Methods from Training Within Industry is a great way to grasp the current condition. As Efsta puts it, during the process of grasping the current condition, we are looking for the specific work patterns that currently represents the focus process and all the behaviors and attributes which lead the process to perform the way it does.

Efsta has detailed an obstacle-hunting map that I found quite useful. The obstacles are identified when we ask the question – what is preventing us from performing at the target condition? There are several tips that Efsta provides that assists in understanding the process better. For example, in Manufacturing, an obstacle should be structured as Fact + Data + “Negative Impact”.

After each chapter, Efsta has a Reflection section where the reader can document their reflections upon reading each chapter. One sentence that Efsta uses across the book is – There is nothing arbitrary or unintentional about scientific thinking. Scientific thinking as detailed by Toyota Kata is a structured framework which helps in tackling the ordered and complicated problems. Efsta provides several examples that helps cement the framework. Efsta also goes into detail on creating IMR Process Behavior Charts in MS Excel that will be useful for the reader.

One of the key concepts I realized while reading Efsta’s book is that solving today’s problem helps you with solving tomorrow’s problem. The more you do it, the thinking sets in and you get better at the thinking itself. This is the basis of kata.

Efsta’s book is available here and here. Mike Rother’s website for Toyota Kata is here. I encourage the reader to check both of them out.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Real Lean: