If the Teacher Hasn’t Learned, the Teacher Hasn’t Taught:

teacher hasnt learned

One of the key phrases of Training Within Industry (TWI) and Lean is – “If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.” To this I say, “If the teacher hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.” Or even – “if the teacher hasn’t learned, the student hasn’t taught.” I say this from two aspects, the first from the aspect of the teacher, and the second from the aspect of the student. To explain my statements, I will use ideas from Cybernetics.


The core of this post started with the thought that Teaching should be a non-zero sum activity. As the old saying goes, teaching is the best way to learn a subject. From the point of Cybernetics, teaching is circular. The idea of circularity is best explained by Heinz von Foerster, the Socrates of Cybernetics, and one of my heroes.

What is meant by circularity is that the outcome of the operation of a system initiates the next operation of that system: the system and its operations are a “closed system”. This is to allow that an experimenter considers her- or himself as part of the experiment; or that a family therapist perceives of him or herself as a partner of the family; or that a teacher sees her- or himself as participant in the learning/ teaching process in the classroom, etc., etc.

The teacher learns as part of teaching. The outcome of the teaching goes back as a feedback. This could be a new train of thought that was sparked from the conversation with the student or a new perspective that was brought up by the student, and so on. The next time the teacher teaches he adapts based on their reflection.


Teaching is a communicative act between the teacher and the student(s), that is circular in nature. In order for this communication act to be efficient and effective, the participants should first learn about each other. The teacher should learn from the student just like the student should learn from the teacher. This learning is about each other. This allows for communication to progress as a dance, rather than it being a one-person act. The teacher has to reflect just like the student has to reflect.

As Philip Baron notes:

Human communication is subject to several perceptual errors in both listening and seeing, which challenges the success of the communication in the education system. The ability of the teacher and the learners to effectively communicate with each other is a factor for the success of each reaching their goals. The teacher imparts her knowledge in the classroom, but according to von Foerster, “it is the listener, not the speaker, who determines the meaning of an utterance,” for the listener contextualizes this information based on their own past lived experience. Thus, the student’s epistemology and their expression of their understanding is integral in the classroom context and should be actively included into the education system… The ability of the teacher and the students to communicate effectively with each other is a factor in the attempt of each reaching their goals.

Information is not a commodity that can be passed around. The teacher cannot pass the information onto the student and expect that the student completely processed the information. I will go back to a von Foerster gem that might explain this further (also noted by Baron in the paragraph above):

“The hearer, not the speaker, determines the meaning of an utterance.”

Any physical artifact such as a book or a pamphlet contains information, however this does not mean that the reader was able to completely transfer it to their knowledge domain. If we take a step back, the person who wrote the book was trying to codify his knowledge. But this codification operation is not at all efficient. This falls under the realm of “Tacit Knowledge” by Micahel Polanyi. We know more than what we can say.

Organization Closure:

I have written about Organizational Closure before. The idea of autopoiesis and organizational closure is explained very well by their creators Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela:

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.

The Cybernetician, Bernard Scott adds:

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

This idea extends what we spoke about earlier – information is not a commodity. However, I want to focus on another aspect this brings in: ‘the student is an autopoietic system’. From this standpoint, the student teaches himself; the teacher is there to perturb the student. Learning is an autonomous activity.

Even as you read what I am writing, I am not passing any information on to you. Any thought or idea that is generated is that of the reader, one that is constructed purely by the reader.

This is where things get interesting, if the student teaches himself, then what we have been saying so far is applicable to himself too. Thus, we are also talking about a second order act. Maturana said – “Anything said is said by an observer.” To this, von Foerster added – “Anything said is said to an observer.” The second order nature comes, when we come to an important point raised by von Foerster, “An observer is his own ultimate object.” This is reflected in Maturana’s statement from 1988, “Everything said is said by an observer to another observer that could be him or herself”.

As von Foerster adds – in second order, we now reflect about these circular processes which generate structure, order, behavior, etc., in those things we observe… We reflect upon our reflections. We are stepping into the domain of concepts that apply to themselves.

Final Words:

I hope that this post helped the reader to reflect upon the notion of teaching and learning. I stated the importance of the concept of second order, the idea of asking questions such as – “what is the purpose of the stated ‘purpose’?”, rather than just asking – “what is the purpose?” Nike’s slogan, “Just do it!”, a first order slogan can perhaps be updated as, “Before I just do it, I need to stipulate what is my purpose of doing it.” This makes it a second order slogan.

I will finish with a great von Foerster gem:

I can still remember the big motto in the Stanford School of Journalism that said, “Tell it like it is.” When to my horror, I saw that motto, I walked in there and said, “Listen, ladies and gentlemen, it is as you tell it, and that’s why you’re responsible for the ‘it.’ Because you tell ‘it,’ it ‘is’ as you tell it. You can’t say how it ‘is’ – no one knows how it ‘is.’ And when it ‘was’, no one can reconstruct how it was.”

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

My Recent Tweets on Cybernetics / Systems Thinking:

cybernetics tweets

Do Systems Exist?

Heinz von Foerster, Master Storyteller!

My humble take on von Foerster’s Aesthetic Imperative:

Wittgenstein’s Ruler and Models:

The Whole is NOT greater than the sum of its parts:

Autonomy, what’s the big deal?

Teaching from a Cybernetics standpoint:

My favorite translation of von Foerster’s Ethical Imperative:

The map IS the territory! Another von Foerster Gem:

Carlo Rovelli, the Systems Thinker!

Another von Foerster gem:

Heinz von Foerster’s Therapeutic Imperative:

Umpleby on Ashby’s Epistemology:

There are no such things as self-organizing systems!

What are systems again?

Systems thinking is fundamentally based on a spatial metaphor:

If you enjoyed these, please follow me on Twitter. https://twitter.com/harish_josev

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

Wu Wei at the Gemba:


In today’s post, I am looking at wu wei. “Wu wei” is an important concept detailed in the Chinese classic text “Tao Te Cheng” by Lao Tzu. This term is generally translated into English as Wu = No, Wei = Action, or no-action. There are other similar concepts in Taosim such as Wu-shin or no-mind.

Alan Watts, the delightful English philosopher described wu wei as “not forcing”:

The whole conception of nature is as a self-regulating, self-governing, indeed democratic organism. But it has a totality that all goes together and this totality is the Tao. When we can speak in Taoism of “following the course of nature; following the way”, what it means is more like this. Doing things in accordance with the grain. It doesn’t mean you don’t cut wood, but it means that you cut wood, along the lines where wood is most easy to cut, and you interact with other people along lines which are the most genial. And this then is the great fundamental principle which is called wu-wei, which is not to force anything. I think that’s the best translation. Some call it “not doing”, “not acting”, “not interfering”, but not to force seems to me to hit the nail on the head. Like don’t ever force a lock, you’ll bend the key or break the lock. You jiggle until it revolves.

So wu-wei is always to act in accordance with the pattern of things as they exist. Don’t impose on any situation as a kind of interference that is not really in accordance with the situation. It will be better to do nothing, than to interfere without knowing the system of relations that exist.

As a person interested in Systems Thinking and Cybernetics, Alan Watts explanation left a strong impression on me. When we try to solve a problem or “fix a system”, we assume a position outside the system looking in. We don’t realize that in order to manage the system we need to be a part of the system. The system itself is a conceptual model that we are using to make sense of the portion of the world we are interested in. The system is not a real entity in the world. The system is exactly a construction of the observer. Second order cybernetics teaches us that I, the observer, am a part of the system that I am observing. In a similar manner, there are other observers in the system as active participants. Their “system” is different from ours. Each observer stipulates a purpose for the system from their standpoint. Any human system is highly complex. Take for example, the health care system. It means different things to different people depending on how they view themselves in the system. The first act of systems thinking is to understand that the system is your mental construct, and that there are several such “systems” constructed by the participants. We need to seek understanding on how others perceive their purpose in order to make sense, and then collaborate to improve.

From a wu wei standpoint, Alan Watt’s advice of understanding the constraints, the pattern of things as they exist is highly important, if you want to make sense of the system you are interested in. At the same time, we also need to understand the perspectives of others interacting. We should also be aware of the environment we are in, and how we interact with the environment, and also how it interacts with us.

The paradoxical lesson of wu wei is that in order to act, one must not-act. This does not mean not doing anything, but as Alan Watts taught – don’t force anything, go with the grain. This brings me to Heinz von Foerster. Von Foerster was the nephew of the brilliant philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Von Foerster was also a great cybernetician and gave us the term, the “second order cybernetics”. He defined first order cybernetics as the cybernetics of observed systems and the second order cybernetics as cybernetics of observing systems. In second order, one reflects upon one’s reflections. One of von Foerster’s imperatives that aligns with wu wei is his therapeutic imperative – “If you want to be yourself, change!” This may seem paradoxical at first. My view on this imperative is that the only constant phenomenon is change. Therefore, to remain yourself, you need to change with your environment.

How does this all go with gemba? Gemba is the actual place where things happen. It is the environment; it is the reality. Most often, we come to gemba with our agenda and understanding of how things really work in the real place! We may start making changes without truly understanding the relations existing; without truly understanding that the system we are trying to fix is just our perspective with our imagined causal relationships. We cannot manage unless we are part of that which we are trying to manage. We cannot stipulate purposes for others. We need to seek understanding first. Wu wei teaches us to go with grain rather than against the grain. Wu wei is taking action with knowledge of the relations existing. I will finish with more lessons from Alan Watts:

Anybody who wants to alter the situation must first of all become sensitive, to all the conditions and relationships going on there. It’s terribly important than to have this feeling of the interdependence of every form of life upon every other form of life…

Wu-wei is the understanding that energy is gravity. And thus, brush writing, or dancing, or judo, or sailing, or pottery, or even sculpture is following patterns in the flow of liquid.

In case you missed it, my last post was Karakuri Kaizen:

Karakuri Kaizen:

karakuri doll tea

As the readers of my blog know, I am an ardent student of Toyota Production System (TPS). One of the core philosophies of TPS is kaizen, often translated from Japanese as continuous improvement. It is the idea that one should continuously find ways to eliminate non-value adding activities, and in the process develop oneself and others to get better at kaizen. The idea of kaizen begetting more kaizen. Kaizen is a human capital enrichment philosophy. As Eiji Toyoda, Toyota Motor Corporation President from 1967 to 1982, said – “It is people that make things, and so people must be developed before work can start.

One of the ways Toyota inspire their employees to nurture their creativity is Karakuri Kaizen. It is said that in the early seventeenth century, during the Edo period, European clocks were introduced in Japan. This sparked a wide curiosity amongst the Japanese craftsmen. The idea of developing motion mechanisms with elaborate sets of springs and gears was new to them. This led to the development of karakuri ningyō, or mechanized dolls. These were dolls that moved around and did several tasks such as bring tea to a guest and then bring it back to the owner, or climb a set of stairs. There was even a magician doll that performed a cups and balls routine.

What set the karakuri dolls of Japan separate from the European clockwork mechanism was the humanization of the dolls. The dolls were created with high importance to its physical features such as face, movement of head and limbs; in an effort to the make the doll life-like. Aesthetics was of utmost importance. All the mechanisms were cleverly hidden beneath clothing such that no mechanism was visible from outside. The doll moved around as if it is alive. The karakuri dolls brought fascinated delight to its spectators.

All the motion was achieved using simple springs, gravity and gears. No external power source was used. How does this all relate to the manufacturing floor? One of the challenges that is often posed to an organization is to increase its production. This is often tackled by either hiring more employees or by using automation. Automation is highly attractive even though it is sometimes cost prohibitive. It might make sense that the nonvalue added activities such as transportation and repeated motions could be replaced with a robot. Most modern manufacturing operations are riddled with automation. However, this comes with its own problems. The main one is that the automation becomes the focus of manufacturing rather than the employees. The high cost, large equipment becomes a monument that everything has to work around the monument. It is an expensive way to ensure that the status quo is maintained. To get the most out of the high expense, the new machine is run around the clock increasing the unwanted inventory and it raises the cost of the operation.

This is where karakuri kaizen comes in. Karakuri, as explained before, is a low-cost automation that does not utilize external power resources. It is comparatively small and works solely based on gravity, counterweights, springs, gears etc. The key point of karakuri kaizen is that it should inspire more kaizen. Generally, a challenge is posed to the operators to come up with a means to remove unwanted strain and motion, and to eliminate waste. Normally, this would be task where a heavy part(s) is lifted and moved to another location or where a part is turned around and operated on. The first impulse is to automate the process. This would require an expensive piece of equipment. Karakuri kaizen focuses on solving the problem on hand with what is readily available and using minimal resources. This might be construed as pushing to minimize capital expenditure. However, the most important part is that the operators are being challenge to use their wit and brains. As Fujio Cho, Toyota Motor Corporation President from 1999 to 2005, said – “Human ingenuity has no bounds.” The karakuri mechanism does not become the center of focus. Instead, the operator does. The mechanism generally is such that it can easily be modified if needed, and even replaced with another karakuri. Unlike, a heavy piece of machinery, a karakuri does not become a monument. It is built specifically to achieve a purpose, and thus it is highly customized. It is also designed in-house. The “challenge” portion is a core ingredient for kaizen.

When Toyota started car manufacturing, it did not have a lot of capital or resources. They modified existing machinery to achieve its needs. They first used what they had in-house before going outside for solutions. They relied on their employees to come up with ingenious solutions to their problems. This meant that the solutions were made specifically for their problems. Generally, when an equipment or a software is purchased, it is not always made specific to the need of the customer. The customer often has to work with what was offered. Toyota had to come up with ingenious solutions to solve their problems without spending much capital. The only capital they would come up with was human capital. Even after Toyota became successful, this mindset was maintained.

As Toyota veteran Kazuhiko Furui explained:

Toyota has tried to use as little external power as possible in its car manufacturing since its foundation. Karakuri kaizen is one of the Toyota Way values. Karakuri is a mechanism that uses gravity, springs and gears instead of external power sources to manipulate objects. A karakuri does not always work well on the first try. If something breaks, we rebuild it, trying continuously to make it better, always reforming the mechanism. For us, when we succeed, there is a great sense of achievement: “we did it!” And that brings a drive to try making yet another mechanism. Developing karakuri is also about developing people. 

Final Words:

What is the point of kaizen? The simple answer is often to make things better. If kaizen does not beget more kaizen and if it does not improve the thinking of the persons involved, then it is missing the meaning of kaizen. Kaizen should lead the employees to develop their abilities to see and identify waste, and come up with ways to eliminate waste. It should lead them to second order thinking where they don’t just what is my goal, but also ask what is the purpose of my goal. This means that the employee becomes part of the meta-system rather than just doing what they are told.

I will finish with some fine words from the great philosopher, Immanuel Kant:

The human being can either be merely trained, broken in, mechanically instructed, or really enlightened. One trains dogs and horses, and one can also train human beings. Training, however, does little; what matters above all is that they learn to think. The aim should be the principles from which all actions spring.

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


Weber’s Law at the Gemba:


In today’s post, I am looking at Weber’s Law. Weber’s Law is named after Ernst Heinrich Weber (24 June 1795 – 26 January 1878), a German physician who was one of the pioneers of experimental psychology. I highly recommend the Numberphile YouTube video that explains this in detail.

A simple explanation of Weber’s Law is that we notice things more at a lower intensity than at a higher intensity. For example, the light from your phone in a dark room may appear very bright to you. At the same time, the light from your phone in a bright room may seem insignificant. This type of perception is logarithmic in nature. This means that a change from 1 to 2 feels about the same as a change from 2 to 4, or 4 to 8. The perception of change for an increment of one unit, depends on whether you are experiencing it at a low intensity or a high intensity. At low intensity, a slight change feels stronger.

This is explained in the graph below. The green ovals represent the change of 2 units (2 to 4) and the red ovals represent the same change of 2 units (30 to 32). It can be seen that the perceived intensity is much less for the change from 30 to 32 than for the change from 2 to 4. These are represented by the oval shapes on the Y-axis. To achieve the same level of perceived intensity (change from 2 to 4), we need to create a large amount of intensity (~ change from 30 to 60, a difference of 30 units).


All of this fall under Psychophysics. Per Wikipedia; Psychophysics quantitatively investigates the relationship between physical stimuli and the sensations and perceptions they produce. What does all this have to do with Gemba and Lean?

How often were you able to see problems differently when you came to the production floor as an outsider? Perhaps, you were asked by a friend or colleague for help. You were able to see the problem in a different perspective and you saw something that others missed or you had a better perception of the situation. Most often, we get used to the problems on the floor that we miss seeing things. We do not notice problems until things get almost out of hand or the problems become larger. Small changes in situations do not alert us to problems. This to me is very similar to what Weber’s law teaches us. Small changes in intensity do not appear in our radar unless we are at the low intensity area.

A good example is to imagine a white sheet of paper. If there is one black spot on the paper, it jumps out to us. But if there are many spots on the paper, an additional dot does not jump out to us. It takes a lot of dots before we realize things have changed. One of the experiments that is used to demonstrate Weber’s law is to do with dots. It is easier to see the change from 10 to 20 dots, rather than the change from 110 to 120 dots.


Ohno and Weber’s Law:

Taiichi Ohno was the father of Toyota Production System. I wonder how Taiichi Ohno’s perceptive skills were and whether his skillset followed Weber’s Law. I would like to imagine that his perceptive skillset was linear rather than logarithmic. He trained his perceptive muscles to see a small change no matter what the intensity was. Even if he was used to his gemba, he was able to see waste no matter if it was small, medium or large. Ohno is famous for his Ohno circle, which was a chalk circle he drew on the production floor for his supervisors, engineers etc. He would have them stand in the circle to observe an operation, trying to see waste in the operation. Waste is anything that has no value. Ohno was an expert who could differentiate a little amount of waste. Ohno’s Weber’s Law plot might appear to be linear instead of being logarithmic, when compared to a student like me.

Weber Ohno

What we can learn from Weber’s Law is that we need to improve our perception skills to perceive waste as it happens. We should not get used to “waste”. When there is already so much waste, the ability to perceive it is further diminished. It would take a larger event to make us notice of problems on the floor. We lack the ability to perceive waste accurately. We can only understand it based on what has been perceived already. This would mean that we should go to gemba more often, and each time try to see things with a fresh set of eyes. As the Toyota saying goes, we should think with our hands and see with our feet. Change spots from where you are observing a process. Understand that gemba not only means the actual place, but it also includes people, equipment, parts and the environment. We should avoid going with preconceived notions and biases. As we construct our understanding try to include input from the actual users/operators as much as possible. Learn to see differently.

Final Words:

One of the examples I came up with for this post is about cleaning rooms. Have you noticed that cleaner rooms get messy fast? Actually, we perceive a slight increase in messiness when the room is clean versus when it is not. The already messy room requires a larger amount of mess to have a noticeable difference. What Weber’s law shows us is that our natural instinct is not to think linearly.

Humans evolved to notice and minimize relative error. As noted on an article on the Science20 website:

One of the researchers’ assumptions is that if you were designing a nervous system for humans living in the ancestral environment, with the aim that it accurately represents the world around them, the right type of error to minimize would be relative error, not absolute error. After all, being off by four matters much more if the question is whether there are one or five hungry lions in the tall grass around you than if the question is whether there are 96 or 100 antelope in the herd you’ve just spotted.

The STIR researchers demonstrated that if you’re trying to minimize relative error, using a logarithmic scale is the best approach under two different conditions: One is if you’re trying to store your representations of the outside world in memory; the other is if sensory stimuli in the outside world happen to fall into particular statistical patterns.

Perhaps, all this means that we learn to see waste and solve problems on a logarithmic scale. And as we get better, we should train to see and solve problems on a linear scale. Any small amount of waste is waste that can be eliminated and the operation to be improved. It does not matter where you are on the X-axis of the Weber’s law plot. I will finish with an excellent anecdote from one of my heroes, Heinz von Foerster, who was also a nephew of Ludwig Wittgenstein. I have slightly paraphrased the anecdote.

Let me illustrate this point. I don’t know whether you remember Castaneda and his teacher, Don Juan. Castaneda wants to learn about things that go on in the immense expanses of the Mexican chaparral. Don Juan says, “You see this … ?” and Castaneda says “What? I don’t see anything.” Next time, Don Juan says, “Look here!” Castaneda looks, and says, “I don’t see a thing.” Don Juan gets desperate, because he wants really to teach him how to see. Finally, Don Juan has a solution. “I see now what your problem is. You can only see things that you can explain. Forget about explanations, and you will see.”

You become surprised because you abandoned your preoccupation with explanations. Therefore, you are able to see. I hope you will continue to be surprised.

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

I also encourage the readers to check out my other similar posts:

Drawing at the Gemba

The Colors of Waste

Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Lean Lessons

The Cybernetic Aspects of OODA Loop:


I had briefly discussed OODA loop in my previous post. In today’s post, I will continue looking at OODA loop and discuss the cybernetic aspects of OODA loop. OODA loop was created by the great American military strategist, John Boyd. OODA stands for Observe-Orient-Decide-Act. The simplest form of OODA loop, taken from Francis Osinga, is shown below.

Simple OODA

The OODA loop is a framework that can be used to describe how a rational being acts in a changing environment. The first step is to take in the available information as part of Observation. With the newly gathered information, the rational being has to gage the analyzed and synthesized information against the previous sets of information, relevant schema and mental models. The relevant schema and mental models are updated as needed based on the new set of information. This allows the rational being to better Orient themselves for the next step – Decide. The rational being has to decide what needs to be done based on their orientation, and at this point, the rational being Acts. The loop is repeated as the action triggers some reaction, which demands additional observation, orientation, decision and action. The loop has to be repeated until, a stable equilibrium is reached. Boyd was a fighter pilot and was often called as “40 second Boyd” because of his ability to get the better of his opponents in 40 seconds or less. The OODA loop was a formalization of his thoughts. See my previous post for additional information.

The key points of Boyd’s teachings are:

  • A rational being has to have a link with the external world to keep updating their orientation.
  • The absence of this live link will trigger an inward spiral that leads to disorientation and entropy.
  • Based on this, a rational being has to ensure that they maintain their internal harmony, and stay in touch with the external environment.

Osinga summarized this beautifully as:

The abstract aim of Boyd’s method is to render the enemy powerless by denying him the time to mentally cope with the rapidly unfolding, and naturally uncertain, circumstances of war, and only in the most simplified way, or at the tactical level, can this be equated with the narrow, rapid OODA loop idea… This points to the major overarching theme throughout Boyd’s work: the capability to evolve, to adapt, to learn, and deny such capability to the enemy.

In “John Boyd and John Warden – Air Power’s Quest for Strategic Paralysis”, David S. Fadok explained Boyd’s ideas as:

Boyd’s theory of conflict advocates a form of maneuver warfare that is more psychological and temporal in its orientation than physical and spatial.  Its military object is “to break the spirit and will of the enemy command by creating surprising and dangerous operational or strategic situations.” To achieve this end, one must operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than one’s adversaries. Put differently, the aim of Boyd’s maneuver warfare is to render the enemy powerless by denying him the time to mentally cope with the rapidly unfolding, and naturally uncertain, circumstances of war.  One’s military operations aim to: (1) create and perpetuate a highly fluid and menacing state of affairs for the enemy, and (2) disrupt or incapacitate his ability to adapt to such an environment.

Cybernetic Aspects:

The simplest explanation of Cybernetics is (from Paul Pangaro):

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.

The term cybernetics comes from a Greek word than means “steering”. Cybernetics is the art of steering towards the goal. The feedback loop allows for the regulatory component of the system to adjust itself and steer the system towards the goal. An example is a thermostat where a set temperature is inputted as the goal, and the thermostat kicks on when the temperature goes below the set point. It stops once it reaches the set temperature. This is achieved due to the feedback loop in the system. Pangaro continues:

The idea is this: You have goals and I have goals. If we’re in conversation, the way we find a shared goal is through probing, experimentation, alignment on means, revision of the goals, mistakes…and recursion. The recursive process of seeing a goal, aiming for it, seeing the “error” or gap and then moving to close the gap…that’s cybernetics. And the principles of cybernetics really are a way to think about everything. Or, rather…anything that has a purpose, goals, intention. So, orgs that need to shift business models, teams that need to tighten timelines…getting your friends to pick a restaurant for next week…So, everything that really matters!

Any closed loop is capable of feedback and thus has cybernetic functionality. One can see that the OODA loop has cybernetic aspects to it. You, the rational being, are trying to get inside the opponent’s OODA loop. This essentially means that you are working at a tempo faster than your opponent, and that you are able to go through your OODA loop more efficiently and effectively than your opponent. In order to do this, you should have a better equipped orientation which can also adapt as needed to the changing needs of the environment.

A key idea in Cybernetics is Ross Ashby’s Law of requisite variety (LRV). Variety in cybernetics means the number of available states of a system. In order for a system to control and regulate another system, the regulating system should have more variety than the one that is being regulated. For example, a light switch has two varieties (on or off). Depending upon the two states, the switch can control the light bulb to be either lit or not lit. If the demand is to have the brightness dimmed by the switch, the switch lacks the requisite variety. If we can add an adjustable resistor to the switch, then we are increasing the variety of the switch, and the switch now has the requisite variety to have the light’s brightness adjusted in more varieties (on, dim, bright, off).

One of the ways the regulator can handle the excess variety from the environment is to attenuate it or in other words filter out the excess variety. Our brains are very good at this. For example, if you are driving your car, most of the information coming at you gets filtered out by your brain. Your brain does not want you focusing on the color of the shirt of the driver of the car coming in the opposite direction.

Another way the regulator can attempt controlling a system is to amplify its variety so that it has a better capability to control certain factors. An example of this is the use of sabermetric approach to assemble a baseball team as narrated in the book and movie, Moneyball.

Ultimately, in order to regulate a system, the regulating system must attenuate unwanted variety, and amplify its variety so that the requisite variety is achieved.

John Boyd was aware of the power of cutting off the variety of the opponent.

Fadok explains:

Boyd proposes that success in conflict stems from getting inside an adversary’s OODA loop and staying there. The military commander can do so in two supplementary ways.

First, he must minimize his own friction through initiative and harmony of response. This decrease in friendly friction acts to “tighten” his own loop (i.e., to speed up his own decision-action cycle time).

Second, he must maximize his opponent’s friction through variety and rapidity of response. This increase in enemy friction acts to “loosen” the adversary’s loop (i.e., to slow down his decision-action cycle time). Together, these “friction manipulations” assure one’s continual operation within the enemy’s OODA loop in menacing and unpredictable ways. Initially, this produces confusion and disorder within the enemy camp. Ultimately, it produces panic and fear which manifest themselves in a simultaneous paralysis of ability to cope and willingness to resist.

Fadok’s thesis details that Boyd is actually looking at variety attenuation and amplification, referred to as “variety engineering” in Management Cybernetics.

In Cybernetics, information is of paramount importance. Information in many regards can be seen as the fuel in the “feedback engine”. Stale or wrong information can steer the system in the wrong direction sometimes at its own peril. The most important phase of OODA loop is the Orientation phase. This refers to the phase where the internal schema and mental models are reviewed and updated as needed based on incoming information. Boyd identified this really well. From Fadok:

The operational aim should be to ensure the opponent cannot rid himself of these menacing anomalies by hampering his ability to process information, make decisions, and take appropriate action. In consequence, he can no longer determine what is being done to him and how he should respond. Ultimately, the adversary’s initial confusion will degenerate into paralyzing panic, and his ability and/or willingness to resist will cease.

Final Words:

Most of us, I hope, are not engaged in wars. What can we then learn from OODA loop?

OODA loop gives us a good framework to understand how we make decisions and interact. OODA loop points out the utmost importance of staying connected to the source (gemba) and getting “fresh” information as much as possible. We should keep our feedback loops short, and this provides us security even if our decisions are slightly imperfect. The feedback allows us to steer as needed. But having a long feedback loop makes the information stale or incorrect, and we would not be able to steer away from trouble. We should update our mental models to match our reality. We should ensure that the new piece of information coheres well with our constructed schema and mental models. We should understand how to minimize our internal friction. We should attenuate unwanted variety and amplify our variety to better adapt to a changing environment. If we are in an inward spiral and feel disoriented, we should ground ourselves to reality by observing our surroundings, and stop engaging in a perilous inward spiral. Understanding the constraints in the surroundings may help us understand why some people make certain decisions.

I will finish with some wise words from John Boyd (taken from The Essence of Winning and Losing)

Without analyses and synthesis, across a variety of domains or across a variety of competing/independent channels of information, we cannot evolve new repertoires to deal with unfamiliar phenomena or unforeseen change.

 Without OODA loops, we can neither sense, hence observe, thereby collect a variety of information for the above processes, nor decide as well as implement actions in accord with those processes… Without OODA loops embracing all the above and without the ability to get inside other OODA loops (or other environments), we will find it impossible to comprehend, shape, adapt to, and in turn be shaped by an unfolding, evolving reality that is uncertain, everchanging, unpredictable 

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

OODA Loop at the Gemba:


In today’s post, I am looking at OODA Loop, the brainchild of Col. John Boyd, a highly influential American military strategist. OODA is an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. Boyd did not write any book detailing his ideas. However, he did write several papers and also gave lectures detailing his ideas. Boyd was a fighter pilot with the US Air Force. He was famously dubbed as the “40-second Boyd.” Legend goes that he could defeat any pilot who took him on in less than 40 seconds.

Francis Osinga, in his excellent book “Science, Strategy and War”, explained the OODA loop as:

OODA stands for observation, orientation, decision, action. Explained in brief, observation is sensing yourself and the world around you. The second element, orientation, is the complex set of filters of genetic heritage, cultural predispositions, personal experience, and knowledge. The third is decision, a review of alternative courses of action and the selection of the preferred course as a hypothesis to be tested. The final element is action, the testing of the decision selected by implementation.  The notion of the loop, the constant repetition of the OODA cycle, is the essential connection that is repeated again and again.  Put simply, Boyd advances the idea that success in war, conflict, competition even survival hinges upon the quality and tempo of the cognitive processes of leaders and their organizations.

The OODA loop is generally shown as the schematic below:

Simple OODA

John Boyd’s final version of the OODA loop is given below:


From Osinga:

(Boyd) was the first to observe that the common underlying mechanism involved tactics that distort the enemy’s perception of time. He identified a general category of activities to achieve this distortion, the ability to change the situation faster than the opponent could comprehend, which he called “operating inside the Observation– Orientation–Decision–Action (OODA) loop.”

Boyd wonderfully explains the idea of getting inside the opponent’s OODA loop in his paper, “Destruction and Creation.”

Destruction and Creation:

Boyd starts with explaining that we have conceptual models of the external world, the reality. We interact with reality, and we update this model based on our continuous interaction. He stated:

To comprehend and cope with our environment we develop mental patterns or concepts of meaning. The purpose of this paper is to sketch out how we destroy and create these patterns to permit us to both shape and be shaped by a changing environment. In this sense, the discussion also literally shows why we cannot avoid this kind of activity if we intend to survive on our own terms. The activity is dialectic in nature generating both disorder and order that emerges as a changing and expanding universe of mental concepts matched to a changing and expanding universe of observed reality.

Boyd said that we are in a continuous struggle to remove or overcome physical and social environmental obstacles. This means that we have to take actions and decisions on an ongoing basis for our survival. We have to keep modifying our internal representation of reality based on new data. He called this destruction and creation, which he further detailed as analysis and synthesis. We have to use a reductive process of taking things apart, and assembling things together to gather meaning.

There are two ways in which we can develop and manipulate mental concepts to represent observed reality: We can start from a comprehensive whole and break it down to its particulars or we can start with the particulars and build towards a comprehensive whole.

Readers of this blog might see that the ideas of analysis and synthesis are very important in Systems Thinking. Boyd was an avid reader and he was able to see similar ideas in various fields and bring them all together. His sources of inspiration varied from Sun Tzu, Toyota to Kurt Godel.

Boyd continued that the acts of analysis and synthesis require verification to ensure that the newly created mental representation is appropriate.

Recalling that we use concepts or mental patterns to represent reality, it follows that the unstructuring and restructuring just shown reveals a way of changing our perception of reality. Naturally, such a notion implies that the emerging pattern of ideas and interactions must be internally consistent and match-up with reality… Over and over again this cycle of Destruction and Creation is repeated until we demonstrate internal consistency and match-up with reality.

Boyd brilliantly brings in the ideas of the great logician, mathematician, and analytic philosopher Kurt Godel. Godel in 1931 shook the world of mathematics and logic with his two phenomenal theorems – the Incompleteness Theorems. He proved that in any formal systems there will always be statements that cannot be proven within the logical structures of the system, and that any formal system cannot demonstrate its own consistency. Godel’s ideas were so powerful that the great polymath von Neumann is said to have remarked, “it’s all over!”

Boyd used ideas from Godel, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and entropy to further explain his OODA loop. Boyd explained Godel’s ideas as:

“You cannot use a system’s own workings to determine if a system is consistent or not…One cannot determine the character and nature of a system within itself. Moreover, attempts to do will lead to confusion and disorder.”

This was the great insight that Boyd had. One has to continuously stay in touch with his environment to have a consistent internal representation of reality. If the link to the environment is cut off, then the internal representation gets faulty, and the continuous destruction and creation of the internal representation is then based on faulty references.

“If I have an adversary out there, what I want to do is have the adversary fold back inside of himself where he cannot really consult the external environment he has to deal with, if I can do this then I can drive him to confusion and disorder, and bring him into paralysis.”

Boyd stated:

According to Gödel we cannot— in general—determine the consistency, hence the character or nature, of an abstract system within itself. According to Heisenberg and the Second Law of Thermodynamics any attempt to do so in the real world will expose uncertainty and generate disorder. Taken together, these three notions support the idea that any inward-oriented and continued effort to improve the match-up of concept with observed reality will only increase the degree of mismatch. Naturally, in this environment, uncertainty and disorder will increase as previously indicated by the Heisenberg Indeterminacy Principle and the Second Law of Thermodynamics, respectively. Put another way, we can expect unexplained and disturbing ambiguities, uncertainties, anomalies, or apparent inconsistencies to emerge more and more often. Furthermore, unless some kind of relief is available, we can expect confusion to increase until disorder approaches chaos— death.

Orient – the Most Important Step:


In the OODA loop, the most important step in OODA is the second O – Orient. This is the step about our mental models and internal representation of the external world. This is where all the schema reside.

Boyd wrote:

The second O, orientation—as the repository of our genetic heritage, cultural tradition, and previous experiences—is the most important part of the O-O-D-A loop since it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.

From Osinga:

Orientation is the schwerpunkt (center of gravity). It shapes the way we interact with the environment.

In this sense, Orientation shapes the character of present observations-orientation- decision-action loops – while these present loops shape the character of future orientation.

Chet Richards, friend of Boyd, writes about orientation:

Orientation, whether we want it to or not, exerts a strong control over what we observe. To a great extent, a person hears, as Paul Simon wrote in “The Boxer,” what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. This tendency to confirm what we already believe is not just sloppy thinking but is built into our brains (Molenberghs, Halász, Mattingley, Vanman. and Cunnington, 2012) … Strategists call the tendency to observe data that confirm our current orientations “incestuous amplification”.

Final Words:

OODA loop is a versatile framework to learn and understand. We already use the concept unconsciously. The knowledge about the OODA loop helps us prepare to face uncertainty in the everchanging environment. You can also see in today’s world that intentional misinformation can heavily disorient people and distort reality.

We should always stay close to the source, the gemba, to gather our data. We should keep updating our mental models, and not rely on old mental models. We should not try to find only data that corroborates our hypotheses. We should continuously update/improve our orientation. We should start learning from varying fields.

We should allow local autonomy in our organization. This allows for better adaptation since they are close to the source. The idea of not being able to adapt with a fast changing environment can also be explained by Murray Gell-Mann’s maladaptive schemata. From Osinga:

One of the most common reasons for the existence of maladaptive schemata is that they were once adaptive, but under conditions that no longer prevail. The environment has changed at a faster rate than the evolutionary process can accommodate.

In case you missed it, my last post was AQL/RQL/LTPD/OC Curve/Reliability and Confidence:

AQL/RQL/LTPD/OC Curve/Reliability and Confidence:


It has been a while since I have posted about statistics. In today’s post, I am sharing a spreadsheet that generates an OC Curve based on your sample size and the number of rejects. I get asked a lot about a way to calculate sample sizes based on reliability and confidence levels. I have written several posts before. Check this post and this post for additional details.

The spreadsheet is hopefully straightforward to use. The user has to enter data in the required yellow cells.


A good rule of thumb is to use 95% confidence level, which also corresponds to 0.05 alpha. The spreadsheet will plot two curves. One is the standard OC curve, and the other is an inverse OC curve. The inverse OC curve has the probability of rejection on the Y-axis and % Conforming on the X-axis. These corresponds to Confidence level and Reliability respectively.


I will discuss the OC curve and how we can get a statement that corresponds to a Reliability/Confidence level from the OC curve.

The OC Curve is a plot between % Nonconforming, and Probability of Acceptance. Lower the % Nonconforming, the higher the Probability of Acceptance. The probability can be calculated using Binomial, Hypergeometric or Poisson distributions. The OC Curve shown is for n = 59 with 0 rejects calculated using Binomial Distribution.


The Producer’s risk is the risk of good product getting rejected. The Acceptance Quality Limit (AQL) is generally defined as the percent defectives that the plan will accept 95% of the time (in the long run). Lots that are at or better than the AQL will be accepted 95% of the time (in the long run). If the lot fails, we can say with 95% confidence that the lot quality level is worse than the AQL. Likewise, we can say that a lot at the AQL that is acceptable has a 5% chance of being rejected. In the example, the AQL is 0.09%.


The Consumer’s risk, on the other hand, is the risk of accepting bad product. The Lot Tolerance Percent Defective (LTPD) is generally defined as percent defective that the plan will reject 90% of the time (in the long run). We can say that a lot at or worse than the LTPD will be rejected 90% of the time (in the long run). If the lot passes, we can say with 90% confidence that the lot quality is better than the LTPD (% nonconforming is less than the LTPD value). We could also say that a lot at the LTPD that is defective has a 10% chance of being accepted.

The vertical axis (Y-axis) of the OC Curve goes from 0% to 100% Probability of Acceptance. Alternatively, we can say that the Y-axis corresponds to 100% to 0% Probability of Rejection. Let’s call this Confidence.

The horizontal axis (X-axis) of the OC Curve goes from 0% to 100% for % Nonconforming. Alternatively, we can say that the X-axis corresponds to 100% to 0% for % Conforming. Let’s call this Reliability.


We can easily invert the Y-axis so that it aligns with a 0 to 100% confidence level. In addition, we can also invert the X-axis so that it aligns with a 0 to 100% reliability level. This is shown below.


What we can see is that, for a given sample size and defects, the more reliability we try to claim, the less confidence we can assume. For example, in the extreme case, 100% reliability lines up with 0% confidence.

I welcome the reader to play around with the spreadsheet. I am very much interested in your feedback and questions. The spreadsheet is available here.

In case you missed it, my last post was Nature of Order for Conceptual Models:

My Recent Tweets (10/17/2019):


My recent tweets ranging from Cybernetics to John Boyd/OODA Loop to Kaizen.


Nature of Order for Conceptual Models:


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.


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: