Divine Wisdom and Paradigm Shifts:

cancer

One of the best books I have read in recent times is The Emperor of All Maladies by the talented Siddhartha Mukherjee. Mukherjee won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for this book. The book is a detailed history of Cancer and humanity’s battle with it. Amongst many things that piqued my interest, was one of the quotes I had heard attributed to Dr. Deming – In God we trust, all others must bring data.

To tell this story, I must first talk about William S. Halsted. Halsted was a very famous surgeon from John Hopkins who came up with the surgical procedure known as the “Radical Mastectomy” in the 1880’s. This is a procedure to remove the breast, the underlying muscles and attached lymph nodes to treat breast cancer. He hypothesized that the breast cancer spreads centrifugally from the breast to other areas. Thus, the removal of the breast, underlying muscles and lymph nodes would prevent the spread of cancer. He called this the “centrifugal theory”. Halsted called this procedure as “radical” to notate that the roots of the cancer are removed. Mukherjee wrote in his book that the intent of radical mastectomy was to arrest the centrifugal spread by cutting every piece of it out of the body. Physicians all across America identified the Radical Mastectomy as the best way to treat breast cancer. The centrifugal theory became the paradigm for breast cancer treatment for almost a century.

There were skeptics of this theory. The strongest critics of this theory were Geoffrey Keynes, a London based surgeon in the 1920s, and George Barney Crile, an American surgeon who started his career in the 1950s. They noted that even with the procedures that Halsted had performed, many patients died within four or five years from metastasis (cancer spreading to different organs). The surgeons overlooked these flaws, as they were firm believers in the Radical Mastectomy. Daniel Dennett, the famous American Philosopher, talks about the concept of Occam’s Broom, which might explain the thinking process for ignoring the flaws in a hypothesis. When there is a strong acceptance of a hypothesis, any contradicting information may get swept under the rug with Occam’s Broom. The contradictory information gets ignored and not confronted.

Keynes was even able to perform a local surgery of the breast and together with radiation treatment achieve some success. But Halsted’s followers in America ridiculed this approach, and came up with the name “lumpectomy” to call the local surgery. In their minds, the surgeon was simply removing “just” a lump, and this did not make much sense. They were aligning themselves with the paradigm of Radical Mastectomy. In fact, some of the surgeons even went further to come up with “superradical” and “ultraradical” procedures that were morbidly disfiguring procedures where the breast, underlying muscles, axillary nodes, the chest wall, and occasionally the ribs, part of the sternum, the clavicle and the lymph nodes inside the chest were removed. The idea of “more was better” became prevalent.

Another paradigm with clinical studies during that time was trying to look only for positive results – is treatment A better than treatment B? However, this approach did not show that treatment A was no better than treatment B. Two statisticians, Jerry Neyman and Egon Pearson, changed the approach with their idea of using the statistical concept of power. The sample size for a study should be based on the power calculated. Loosely stated, more independent samples mean higher power. Thus, with a large sample size of randomized trials, one can make a claim of “lack of benefit” from a treatment. The Halsted procedure did not get challenged for a long time because the surgeons were not willing to take part in a large sample size study.

A Philadelphia surgeon named Dr. Bernard Fisher was finally able to shift this paradigm in the 1980s. Fisher found no reason to believe in the centrifugal theory. He studied the cases put forth by Keynes and Crile. He concluded that he needed to perform a controlled clinical trial to test the Radical Mastectomy against Simple Mastectomy and Lumpectomy with radiation. The opposition from the surgeons slowly shifted with the strong advocacy from the women who wanted a less invasive treatment. Mukherjee cites the Thalidomide tragedy, the Roe vs Wade case, along with the strong exhortation from Crile to women to refuse to submit to a Radical Mastectomy, and the public attention swirling around breast cancer for the slow shift in the paradigm. Fisher was finally able to complete the study, after ten long years. Fisher stated that he was willing to have faith in divine wisdom but not in Halsted as divine wisdom. Fisher brusquely told a journalist – “In God we trust. All other must have data.”

The results of the study proved that all three cases were statistically identical. The group treated with Radical Mastectomy however paid heavily from the procedure but had no real benefits in survival, recurrence or mortality. The paradigm of Radical Mastectomy shifted and made way to better approaches and theories.

While I was researching this further, I found that the quote “In God we trust…” was attributed to another Dr. Fisher. Dr. Edwin Fisher, brother of Dr. Bernard Fisher, when he appeared before the Subcommittee on Tobacco of the Committee on Agriculture, House of Representatives, Ninety-fifth Congress, Second Session, on September 7, 1978. As part of presentation Dr. Fisher said – “I should like to close by citing a well-recognized cliche in scientific circles. The cliche is, “In God we trust, others must provide data. This is recorded in “Effect of Smoking on Nonsmokers. Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Tobacco of the Committee on Agriculture House of Representatives. Ninety-fifth Congress, Second Session, September 7, 1978. Serial Number 95-000”. Dr. Edwin Fisher unfortunately was not a supporter of the hypothesis that smoking is bad for a non-smoker. He even cited that people traveling on an airplane are more bothered by crying babies than the smoke from the smokers.

fisher

Final Words:

This past year, I was personally affected by a family member suffering from the scourge of breast cancer. During this period of Thanksgiving in America, I am thankful for the doctors and staff who facilitated her recovery. I am thankful for the doctors and experts in the medical field who were courageous to challenge the “norms” of the day for treating breast cancer. I am thankful for the paradigm shift(s) that brought better and effective treatments for breast cancer. More is not always better! I am thankful for them for not accepting a hypothesis based on just rationalism, an intuition on how things might be working. I am thankful for all the wonderful doctors and staff out there who take great care in treating all cancer patients.

I am also intrigued to find the quote of “In God we trust…” used with the statement that smoking may not have a negative impact on non-smokers.

I will finish with a story of another paradigm shift from Joel Barker in The Business of Paradigms.

A couple of Swiss watchmakers in Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH) in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, developed the first Quartz based watch. They went to different Swiss watchmakers with the technology that would later revolutionize the watch industry. However, the paradigm at that time was the intricate Swiss watch making process with gears and springs. No Swiss Watch company was interested in this new technology which did not rely on gears or springs for keeping time. The Swiss watchmakers with the new idea then went to a Clock convention and set up a booth to demonstrate their new idea. Again, no Swiss watch company was interested in what they had to offer. Two representatives, one from the Japanese company Seiko, and the other from Texas Instruments took notice of the new technology. They purchased the patents and as they say – the rest is history. The new paradigm then became Quartz watches. The Swiss, who were on the top of watch making with over 50% of the watch market in the 1970s, stepped aside for the Quartz watch revolution marking the decline of their industry. This was later termed as the Quartz Revolution.    

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Best Attribute to Have at the Gemba:

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The Best Attribute to Have at the Gemba:

blindmen and elephant

Recently, I was playing around with the question – what is the best attribute to have at the gemba? At first, I thought that perhaps it could be creativity. I soon realized that this is like Superman, a superhero with all of the answers. This does not align with the idea of the people system or the thinking production system – generating ideas bottom-up. Then I thought, perhaps the best attribute to have at the gemba is the ability to listen. I felt that I was on the right track with this thought. I soon came to the realization that the best attribute to have at the gemba is “Anekantvada”.  Anekantvada is a Sanskrit word that translates as “many + ends + -ness” or “many sidedness”. This idea comes from one of the ancient religions from India called Jainism. Jainism is also famous for its other contribution – Ahimsa or non-violence. We can view anekantvada as cognitive ahimsa – in other words, not being violent or hostile to others’ ideas. The main idea of anekantvada is that Reality lies outside of your mind. What you have inside your mind is your perspective or your own version of a narrative regarding the reality outside. Thus, your perspective is a poorly translated and limited copy of the reality outside and your understanding of the reality is incomplete. Anekantvada requires you to look at multiple perspectives from other people to truly understand reality, as one perspective alone is incomplete. All knowledge is contextual. We cannot separate the object and the viewer, when we are creating knowledge about something. This means that if there is more than one viewer, the knowledge created will be different.

The story of the blind men and the elephant is a very common story that explains the different perspectives of reality. The story originated with Jainism to explain anekantvada. In the Jain version of the story, there were six blind men who came to “see” the elephant, and each person felt one part of the elephant and described the elephant from his perspective. Each perspective was different because each person felt a different part of the elephant. One person felt the ear and said that the elephant was like a fan, while another felt the tail and said that the elephant was like a rope. The king happened to be there at that time, and listened to the blind men fighting on who was correct. The king told them that while each of them was partially correct, when taken one perspective at a time the truth was incomplete.

From the Jain philosophy, reality and thus the truth itself is complex and always has multiple aspects. Even if you can experience reality, you cannot express the reality completely. The best we can do is like one of the blind men – give our version, a partial expression of truth. In Jain philosophy, this idea can be explained by “Syadvada”. The root word “Syad” can be translated as “perhaps”. Using this approach, we can express anekantavada by adding “perhaps” in front of our expression of reality. An example would be to say – “perhaps the dress is blue and black”.

dress

The two quotations below add more depth to what we have discussed so far:

“To deny the coexistence of the mutually conflicting viewpoints about a thing would mean to deny the true nature of reality.” – Acharang Sutra

“The water from Ocean contained in a pot can neither be called an ocean or a non-ocean, but simply a part of the ocean. Similarly, a doctrine, though arising from absolute truth can neither be called a whole truth or a non-truth.” – Tattvarthaslokavartikka.

The idea of anekantvada requires you to respect others’ ideas. It also makes you realize that your version of reality is incomplete. Thus, when you are at the gemba telling others what to do, you are not open to others’ viewpoints. You are going with your version of the story –  it should be easy to do this, the way I tell you. Anekantvada brings a new layer of meaning to Respect for People, one of the two pillars of the Toyota Way. Take the example of Standard Work – Do you create it in vacuum and ask the operators to follow it? When there is a problem on the floor, do you figure out what happened and then require the operators to follow your one “true” way?

All knowledge, judgment and decisions we make depends upon the context of the reality, and it may make sense only when viewed in that context. Why did the operator omit step 2 of the work instructions that led to all of these rejects? This reminds me of the principle of Local Rationality, an idea that I got from Sidney Dekker [1]. Local Rationality refers to the idea that people do what make the most sense to them, at any given time. This decision may have led to some disaster, but the operator(s) did what made sense to them at that time. When you look at things this way, you start to view it from the operator’s standpoint, and finally may be able to understand what happened from a different perspective.

I will finish with a story about context:

Two students came to study under the master. They were both fond of smoking. The first day itself, the first student went to the teacher and asked whether he could smoke when he was meditating. The teacher told him that he could not do that.

Feeling sad, the first student went outside to meditate under the tree. There he saw the second student under a tree smoking. The first student asked him, “Why are you smoking? Don’t you know that our teacher does not like it when you smoke and meditate?”

The second student responded that he had asked the teacher and the teacher said that he could smoke.

The first student was confused and asked the second student, what exactly did he ask the teacher.

The second student said, “I asked him if I can meditate when I smoke.”

The first student replied, “That makes sense. I asked him if I can smoke when I meditated.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Socratic Method:

[1] http://sidneydekker.com/

The Socratic Method:

Socrates Mural

In today’s post, I am looking at the Socratic Method. Socrates was one of the early founders of Western Philosophy. Marcus Cicero (106–43 BCE), a Roman politician, wrote that it was Socrates who brought philosophy down from heaven to earth.

“Socrates however (was the) first (who) called philosophy down from heaven, and placed it in cities, and introduced it even in homes, and drove (it) to inquire about life and customs and things good and evil.”

I have always been curious about the Socratic Method. I have heard it mentioned in many books as the method to teach by asking. In my mind, I drew the analogy of guiding a horse to the pond so that it can drink water. The “guiding” is done through the questions so that the teacher does not provide the answer to the student directly. Instead, the student comes up with the answer.  This is not the same as the normal teaching in schools (“lecturing”), where the teacher will give the answers, while the students remain passive. Socrates used the analogy of a midwife who helps others to deliver their thoughts in a clear and meaningful manner.

There are three terms commonly seen to describe the Socrates Method.

  • Elenchos
  • Dialectic
  • Aparia

Elenchos is a Greek term, which can be translated as “cross-examination”. There is a negative connotation to this term. Socrates’ method has been described as an Elenctic method. The negative connotation comes from pointing out to the interlocutor that he does not have the knowledge that he thought he did, puncturing the conceit of wisdom. Socrates would start out by saying that he does not know about something, for example, the concept of virtue. Then he would ask for help from the person of interest to define what virtue is. From that point onwards, once the person of interest commits to a definition, Socrates will continue to ask questions, and each question will point out a weakness that refutes the definition. After a round of questions, the person of interest gets very confused and recognizes that he did not understand the subject as he thought he did and feels that he embarrassed himself.

 Dialectic is another Greek term that can be translated as “discussion”. Dialectic does not have the negative connotation that Elenchos has. Any complex idea contains contradictions, inconsistencies and even portions of ignorance. The Dialectic method is a way to reveal the contradictions or inconsistencies, to go back and forth between contrasting ideas to refine the topic on hand.

What Socrates is trying to achieve from his questions is “Aparia”. Aparia is another Greek term that can be translated as “Cognitive discomfort”. Once the interlocutor realizes that he does not know as much as he thought he did, he achieves aparia. He feels the discomfort cognitively because he was sure that he knew about the subject. The interlocutor is outside of his comfort zone. However, Socrates was able to find fault with his knowledge. Aparia is the starting point for the interlocutor to examine himself and reflect so that new knowledge can be gained.

Combining the three ideas above, we can loosely explain the Socratic Method as follows:

  1. Make the person of interest (POI) at ease, and ask the question in the form of “what is X?”
  2. If POI defines “X” as “Y”, find examples where “X” is not “Y”
  3. Ask questions to further define “X” in light of the new information. Repeat (2) and (3).
  4. Each round of questions must move the POI further away from their first definition.
  5. POI achieves aparia.

Socrates would plead ignorance and ask for specific definitions when asking questions. The questions can also be in other forms such as “what is the purpose of X” or “How does one obtain X” etc. The first question forces the POI to define the boundary of his conception of the idea. This can be thought of as a box. However, with each refutation, the POI realizes that the boundary he first drew is not enough, and that he has to redefine the boundary – perhaps make it larger or smaller, or draw the boundary in a whole other area.

One of the best examples I have seen to explain this is that of a chair. How would one define a chair? One possible definition is that a chair is something for a person to sit upon.

chair 1

However, there are many other things that people sit on, for example – a step on a stair.

With this refutation, the definition may now be changed to “a chair is something designed for a person to sit.”

chair 2

The new refutation might be that a bench is something that is designed for a person to sit, and so is a stool. These are not chairs.

Perhaps, the chair can be now defined as “piece of furniture designed for only one person with a back and four legs”. This is similar to the definition in Merriam Webster dictionary.

Even with the new definition, there are still inconsistencies. There are chairs such as decorative chairs that are not supposed to be sat on. There are chairs like a bean bag chair that do not have a back or legs.

chair 3

Compared to defining a chair, it is harder to define ideas that are not tangible. There are many phrases in Lean like “Respect for People” and “flow” that are thrown around. How would you define “Respect for People”? Would you define it as being nice to your workers? How would you define “flow”? Would you define it as production with one-piece at a time?

On a side note, you can use the Socratic Method on yourself. This can be compared to Hansei in Toyota Production System. What are your beliefs and worldviews? Can you identify any contradictions or inconsistencies that might refute this? Actively seeking out to disprove your belief system helps you in your pursuit for wisdom. Seek out aparia!

Final words:

Socrates did not write any books. Plato, his disciple, wrote about Socrates a lot in his books. Most of what we know about Socrates came from Plato’s books. Socrates never defined or explained his method, nor did Plato write it down as a method. What we have come to know as the Socratic Method is from reading Plato’s books and noting the patterns of dialogues that Socrates engaged in. In Plato’s book, “Apology”, Socrates talks about the reason for going around and asking questions. Socrates’ friend, Chaerephon went to Delphi and asked the Pythian priestess Is there anybody wiser than Socrates?” The Pythian priestess responded that there was no one wiser. This really confused Socrates, and he took this to mean that the Gods are commanding him to examine himself as well as others. He came to the realization that while others were pretending to possess knowledge, he knows nothing, and this knowledge is what sets him apart from others. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. The pursuit of knowledge starts with questions.

I will finish with a story of Diogenes and Plato. Diogenes was one of the founders of Cynic Philosophy. Diogenes asked Plato for a definition of man. Knowing Diogenes’ cynical nature, Plato gave the tongue-in-cheek definition from Socrates – “Man is a featherless biped.” Diogenes went outside, and bought a chicken. He then plucked all of its feathers, brought it to Plato, and said, “Behold. Here is a man.”

Plato then ordered his academy to add “with broad flat nails” to the definition.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Which Way You Should Go Depends on Where You Are:

Which Way You Should Go Depends on Where You Are:

compass

I recently read the wonderful book “How Not To Be Wrong, The Power of Mathematical Thinking” by Jordan Ellenberg. I found the book to be enlightening and a great read. Jordan Ellenberg has the unique combination of being knowledgeable and capable of teaching in a humorous and engaging way. One of the gems in the book is – “Which way you should go depends on where you are”. This lesson is about the dangers of misapplying linearity. When we are thinking in terms of abstract concepts, the path from point A to point B may appear to be linear. After all, the shortest path between two points is a straight line. This type of thinking is linear thinking.

To illustrate this, let’s take the example of poor quality issues on the line. The first instinct to improve quality is to increase inspection. In this case, point A = poor quality, and point B = higher quality. If we plot this incorrect relationship between Quality and Inspection, we may assume it as a linear relationship – increasing inspection results in better quality.

Inspection and Quality

However, increasing inspection will not result in better quality in the long run and will result in higher costs of production. We must build quality in as part of the normal process at the source and not rely on inspection. In TPS, there are several ways to do this including Poka Yoke and Jidoka.

In a similar fashion, we may look at increasing the number of operators in the hopes of increasing productivity. This may work initially. However, increasing production at the wrong points in the assembly chain can hinder the overall production and decrease overall productivity. Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System, always asked to reduce the number of operators to improve the flow. Toyota Production System relies on the thinking of the people to improve the overall system.

The two cases discussed above are nonlinear in nature. Thus increasing one factor may increase the response factor initially. However, continually increasing the factor can yield negative results. One example of a non-linear relationship is shown below:

productivity

The actual curve may of course vary depending on the particularities of the example. In nonlinear relationships, which way you should go depends on where you are. In the productivity example, if you are at the Yellow star location on the curve, increasing the operators will only decrease productivity. You should reduce the number of operators to increase productivity. However, if you are at the Red star, you should look into increasing the operators. This will increase productivity up to a point, after which the productivity will decrease. Which Way You Should Go Depends on Where You Are!

In order to know where you are, you need to understand your process. As part of this, you need to understand the significant factors in the process. You also need to understand the boundaries of the process where things will start to breakdown. The only way you can truly learn your process is through experimentation and constant monitoring. It is likely that you did not consider all of the factors or the interactions. Everything is in flux and the only constant thing is change. You should be open for input from the operators and allow improvements to happen from the bottom up.

I will finish off with the anecdote of the “Laffer curve” that Jordan Ellenberg used to illustrate the concept of nonlinearity. One polical party in America have been pushing for lowering taxes on the wealthy. The conservatives made this concept popular using the Laffer curve. Arthur Laffer was an economics professor at the University of Chicago. The story goes that Arthur Laffer drew the curve on the back of a napkin during dinner in 1974 with the senior members of then President Gerald Ford’s administration. The Laffer Curve is shown below:

Laffer curve

The horizontal axis shows the tax rate and the vertical axis shows the revenue that is generated from taxation. If there is no taxation, then there is no revenue. If there is 100% taxation, there is also no revenue because nobody would want to work and make money, if they cannot hold on to it. The argument that was raised was that America was on the right hand side of the curve and thus reducing taxation would increase revenue. It has been challenged whether this assumption was correct. Jordan used the following passage from Greg Manikiw, a Harvard economist and a Republican who chaired the Council of Economic Advisors under the second President Bush:

Subsequent history failed to confirm Laffer’s conjecture that lower tax rates would raise tax revenue. When Reagan cut taxes after he was elected, the result was less tax revenue, not more. Revenue from personal income taxes fell by 9 percent from 1980 to 1984, even though average income grew by 4 percent over this period. Yet once the policy was in place, it was hard to reverse.

The Laffer curve may not be symmetric as shown above. The curve may not be smooth and even as shown above and could be a completely different curve altogether. Jordan states in the book – All the Laffer curve says is that lower taxes could, under some circumstances, increase tax revenue; but figuring out what those circumstances are requires deep, difficult, empirical work, the kind of work that doesn’t fit on a napkin.

Always keep on learning…

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

Epistemology at the Gemba:

plato 2

In today’s post, I will be looking at Epistemology at the Gemba. Epistemology is the part of philosophy that deals with the theory of knowledge. It tries to answer the questions – how do we know things and what are the limits of our knowledge? I have been learning about epistemology for a while now and I find it an enthralling subject.

The best place to start this topic is with “Meno’s paradox”. Plato wrote about Meno’s paradox as a conversation between Socrates and Meno in the book aptly called “Meno”.  This is also called the “paradox of inquiry”. The paradox starts with the statement that if you know something, then you do not need to inquire about it. And if you do not know something, then the inquiry is not possible since you do not know what you are looking for. Thus, in either case inquiry is useless. Plato believed that we are all born with complete knowledge and all we need to do is recollect what we know as needed.

Today, philosophers point out that knowledge is possible through two ways;

  • Rationalism –knowledge comes from within and does not need to rely on experience.
  • Empiricism – knowledge comes from experience using our senses.

One of the great empiricist philosophers, David Hume classified all objects of human inquiries into two categories, which aligned with the two above-mentioned sources of knowledge.

  • Relation of Ideas – These are tautological statements that are true by themselves. These can also be called “analytical statements” or “necessary statements”. Examples are “all bachelors are unmarried men” or “dogs are mammals”. We can know this just by looking at the statement and no further inquiry is needed. These ideas and observations do not rely on the world.
  • Matters of Facts – These are statements that needs further confirmation by evidence. These can also be called “synthetic” or “contingent” statements. Examples are “it is sunny today” or “the Eiffel Tower is 15 cm taller in the summer”. These rely on the world and experience in the particular matter.

As Science progressed, epistemology also progressed. There was more value placed on empiricism and one of the most famous of these philosophical movements was Logical Positivism. The central theme of Logical Positivism was verificationism which meant that all claims must be verifiable to make sense cognitively. This approach required an objective look at science and empiricism, and relied on the concept of positivism. Positivism was an approach to explain the world objectively and deterministically. It treated the nature of reality as objective, single and fragmentable. This promoted the idea of reductionism where everything can be taken apart and studied. The world was viewed as a machine where direct cause and effect relationships existed. One of the main criticisms of Logical Positivism was that the claim of verificationism itself was not empirically verifiable. Another main criticism was ignoring the observer as being part of the system. The world cannot be viewed independently of the observer. The world is in fact a social construct relying on multiple interpretations. The knowing and the knower are always interacting, and cannot be separated. This type of approach to creating the reality of the world is called interpretivism.

Stephen Pepper was one of the critics of Logical Positivism. He believed that it is not possible to have pure objective facts. He proposed the idea of worldviews or world hypotheses through which we create the meaning to reality in his 1942 book, World Hypotheses: a study in evidence. Four of his worldviews are:

  • Formism – the worldview where we make sense of things by identifying similarities and differences, and thus putting things in categories.
  • Mechanism – the worldview where we make sense of the world as if it were a machine. We assume that there are direct cause and effect relationships and we can take things apart to make sense of things.
  • Organicism – the worldview where importance is placed on creating an organic perspective of the world, where parts come together to create a coherent whole.
  • Contextualism – the worldview where we place value in the context of the world and its parts. This allows us to see the complexity of the world. Pepper identified the context through the two fundamental categories – quality and texture. Quality refers to the total character of an event and texture refers to the details and relations that make up this total character. Viewing the world in terms of context helps us to adopt the required strategies to meet the unpredictability of the world.

My own thoughts on epistemology favors empiricism but also relies on interpretivism. The four worldviews proposed by Pepper helps us to understand the reality from multiple perspectives. This brings me to some concepts in Toyota Production System. One of the main tenets of Toyota Production System is “Grasp the Situation”. This is preceded by going to the gemba, the actual work place where the action is. Once at the gemba, one has to grasp the reality – what is really going on. This requires one to keep personal biases aside and view gemba through the eyes of the operators. I like the use of the verb “grasp” – this indicates a tactile nature, as if you are actually trying to physically “feel out” the problem. Observation is the first step for empiricism. This can be achieved only by going to gemba.

Most of the time when we are informed of a problem, we do not have a clear understanding. Sometimes, the problem statement can be – “it does not work. Again!” This vague problem statement does not help us much. The problem is experienced by the operator and is external to you. Once we are at the gemba, we can start asking questions and even feel the operations by working at the station where the problem occurred. One of the Toyotaisms is – look with your feet and think with your hands. This tactile nature of learning helps us understand the implicit knowledge of the operator.

Another Toyotaism that is meaningful to this discussion is – There is a difference between Toyota Production System and Toyota’s Production System. Toyota Production System is static. It can be treated as explicit knowledge where every single tenet, every single tool and every single concept is written down. However, what Toyota does on a day-to-day basis is personal to the Toyota plant. This cannot be written down. Toyota’s Production System is dynamic where the solutions are unique to the problems that the specific Toyota plant experiences. Another concept that Toyota emphasizes is gaining consensus. This ensures that multiple perspectives are utilized to create the common reality. The concept of “wa” or harmony is important in the Japanese culture.

Final Words:

How do you know what you know? This is an epistemological question. If you are asked to implement 5S or any other lean tool, you need to know why it needs to be implemented. Do you know which problem it is trying to address? If you are asked to help solve a problem on the floor, how would you know what needs to be done? Empiricism is a great way to gain knowledge. This implies using your senses to gain knowledge. The best way to do this is to go to the actual place where the action is. In addition to this, be open to others’ perspectives. The reality must be built upon multiple perspectives.

I will finish with a Zenful story of mine.

The student was in awe of his master. One day, he told the master, “Master, you are truly wise. Do you have any words of wisdom for me?”

The master replied, “I may be wise today. However, wisdom is a habit. Wisdom comes with knowledge only through experience. Thus, I may no longer be a wise man tomorrow.”

Always keep on learning…

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

Meditations at the Gemba:

Aurelius

In today’s post, I am looking at Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations” and how it relates to us today. Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 AD, was a follower of Stoicism, a type of philosophy that extols a way of life based on moral virtue. It emphasizes logic and rationality, and views man as a microcosm corresponding to the macrocosm of the universe. Man has to use his reason to discern the universal order present in nature and he is obligated to live his life in accordance with nature [1].  I have identified 10 lessons from “Meditations” that I hope will be valuable to the lean leader. I have used the translation of “Meditations” by George Long for my notes[2].

1) Make Time for Contemplation:

“We ought to remember not only that our life is daily wasting away and a smaller part of it is left, but also that if a man should live longer, it is quite uncertain whether his mind will stay strong enough to understand things, and retain the power of contemplation to strive after knowledge of the divine and human.”

Marcus believes in making time for contemplation. He encourages us to “retire” into ourselves to recharge on a frequent basis. This is similar to the concept of “Hansei” in Lean. He continues;

“It is in your power, whenever you shall choose, to retire into yourself.”

Marcus talks of cleansing your soul so that you are free of discontentment and this allows you to return to the “stale things” with a refreshed mind. He reminds the reader that things cannot touch your soul since they are external to you, and that our perturbations come from our own opinions and viewpoints. This too shall pass.

2) Observe the Small Things in the Light of the Big Picture:

“We ought to observe also that even the small characteristics of things produced according to nature have something in them pleasing and attractive.”

Marcus believed that everything must be aligned with nature. Even the smallest detail has its own charm and beauty in the big picture. Marcus talks about the example of the cracks in the surface of a loaf of bread. In his eyes, they are beautiful even though they were not designed or intentionally added by the baker. They are visually appealing and stimulate the appetite. Observing small details in relation to the bigger picture is a beautiful thought. On the contrary, small characteristics are not pleasing and attractive when they are not according to nature. This is an important lesson for us at the Gemba – Why is the operator reaching out to get his retracted tool every time? Small characteristics not according to nature indicate all of the wasteful motions which can have a negative impact on a rational natural process.

3) Labor Not Unwillingly:

“Labor not unwillingly, nor without regard to the common interest, nor without due consideration, nor with distraction”.

When we do something, do we pay attention to the purpose? How many times do we catch ourselves doing things without thought, just to realize that we have wasted away a whole weekend. Does my action do anything to improve the common betterment of my organization, my family, or my neighborhood?

Marcus continues;

“On every occasion a man should ask himself, ‘Is this one of the unnecessary things?’”

Tim Ferriss talks about a Not-To-Do list [3], which is a list of things not to be done instead of a list of thing that needs to be done. This different approach trains our minds to pay attention to the habits that secretly steal valuable time away from us.

Marcus also advises us to “Do every act with a purpose.”

4) Don’t Jump to Conclusions:

“Honor the faculty which produces opinion. On this faculty it entirely depends whether there exists in your ruling part any opinion inconsistent with nature and the constitution of a rational being. And this faculty urges freedom from hasty judgment.”

Marcus clearly explains why we should not jump to conclusions. We need to recognize the faculty to ensure that the opinion is consistent with nature (virtuous) and rational.

Marcus continues;

“Make for yourself a definition or description of every object presented to you, so as to see distinctly what it is in its own naked substance, complete, and entire.”

Marcus is advising us to use a methodical approach to give us a rational and virtuous opinion when a situation presents itself to us the next time at the Gemba.

5) Be Virtuous:

“Whatever you do, do it as befits that character of goodness in the sense in which a man is rightfully supposed to be good. Hold this rule in every act.”

Virtue is a key theme in Stoicism. Virtue is getting the human mind aligned with nature.

Marcus continues;

“To a rational being the act that is according to nature is according to reason.”

The natural life is one controlled by reason. Stoics believe that happiness is found in virtue. How would you apply this in your organization? Are people happy in your organization? Does your organization provide happiness to your neighborhood? For example, one of Toyota’s Guiding Principles is –  “Dedicate our business to providing clean and safe products and to enhancing the quality of life everywhere through all of our activities.”

6) Pursuit of Rationality:

“Always hasten by the short way: and the short way is the natural one. Say and do everything in conformity with sound reason. For such a rule frees a man from trouble and strife and artifice and ostentatious display.”

Marcus is advising that the easy way is not necessarily the shortest way. The path chosen with sound reason, in alignment with nature is the short one. In the first manual of Toyota Production System, there was a concept that was introduced as the “pursuit of rationality”. Marcus has explained this really well. It is not always about efficiency, but about effectiveness. We should pay more attention to effectiveness than efficiency.

7) Staying Calm:

“You can pass your life in a calm flow of happiness, if you can take the right way, and think and act in the right way. The two things common to the soul of God and to the soul of man, and to the soul of every rational being, are not be hindered in their purpose by another; and to holds good the disposition of justice and the practice of it, and in this to let your desire find its satisfaction.”

Stoics are expected to remain calm in all situations, like an emotionless being. This is not exactly true. Stoics are expected to express emotions like being startled by a loud sound, but they are not to dwell on the emotion. They find calmness and happiness when they do not let the opinions and emotions control them. They do not get distracted by the acts of others or by things that are beyond their control, as long as they stay on their path. This is similar to the Serenity Prayer[4].

Marcus continues;

“I do my duty. Other things do not trouble me, for they are either things without life or things without reason, or things that have wandered and know not the way.”

“No man can hinder you from living according to reason of your own nature; nothing will happen to you contrary to the reason of the universal nature.”

Things can go against your way on a frequent basis at the Gemba. To be a good leader, heed Marcus’ advice.

8) Holistic View:

“Consider frequently the connection of all things in the universe and their relation to one another.”

 “All parts in the universe are interwoven with one another, and the bond is sacred. Nothing is unconnected with some other thing.”

“Observe the continuous spinning of the thread and the single texture of the web.”

Marcus believed in the grand scheme of things and the natural order. He advises us to look at everything from a systems standpoint. Everything is connected to one another. Changing one thing here can cause changes at another end, and sometimes we cannot anticipate the extent of the consequences.

“That which is not good for the swarm, is not good for the single bee.”

He also advises us to look at the optimization from a system standpoint and not from a local optimization standpoint.

9) Respect:

“He who acts unjustly acts irreverently. For since the universal nature has made rational animals for the sake of one another, to help one another according to their worth, but in no way to injure one another.”

“First, do nothing thoughtlessly or without a purpose. Secondly, see that your acts are directed to a social end.”

Being rational in Stoicism means to work towards a  common good in accordance with nature. This also indicates that you should allow everybody to reach their greatest potential, which is the rational thing to do. Harmony is a key theme in Stoicism, and this means being harmonious with nature as well as with other human beings. There is a lot of similarities between the concept of “Wa” in the Japanese culture. I have talked about it here [5].

Marcus also talked about being willing to request help from others.

“Be not ashamed to take help… Stand erect or be helped to stand erect.”

10) Change Must Happen:

“Is anyone afraid of change? Why, what can be done without change?”

Marcus advises us that change is inevitable. Marcus continues;

“Life is more like wrestling than dancing, in that it should stand ready and firm to meet onsets, however unexpected.”

We must be ready to wrestle while being rational. We should pursue rationality, engage in contemplation on a regular basis, do things that are only just, and be prepared.

Final Words:

Marcus Aurelius did not write “Meditations” in the hopes that it would be read by generations to come. He wrote these passages as part of his journal. The book does not have any particular organized structure to it. It is also strange that the title that Marcus gave to the book did not mean “Meditations”. In Greek, it meant “To Himself”. The title was given by an anonymous person much later.

My favorite section from the book also captures the essence of the book:

“Where every act must be performed in accord with the reason which is common to gods and men, we have nothing to fear; when we can profit by activity which is successful and in harmony with our nature, need suspect no harm.

Everywhere and at all times it is in your power to accept reverently your present condition, to behave justly to those about you, and to exert your skill to control your thoughts, that nothing shall steal into them without being well examined.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Gemba Playlist:

[1] Ethics: The Study of Moral Values – Mortimer J Adler and Seymour Cain

[2]Marcus Aurelius and His Times by Walter J Black Inc.

[3] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/not-to-do-list-9-habits-stop-now-tim-ferriss

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_Prayer

[5] https://harishsnotebook.wordpress.com/2016/05/15/the-idea-of-wa-in-nemawashi/

Gemba Playlist:

playlist

I was talking to my manager last week and he mentioned about “walking the line” to do process audits. We both exclaimed, “Johnny Cash”. My manager commented that he can see a post in the works and smiled. So here I am.

In today’s post, I am suggesting 10 songs to keep in mind at the Gemba, and I am calling it the “Gemba Playlist”. You can click on the song titles to open it on YouTube.

The “Man in Black” [1] said it right. As a Lean Leader, you have to walk the line every day. Go to the Gemba and observe, and learn. This is a great opportunity to learn, and to develop oneself and others. Walking the line allows you to develop your observation muscles to see waste. The more you walk the line, the more you can see waste. And the more you see waste, the better you can improve the process and develop oneself and others. Go and walk the line!

One of the basic tenets of Toyota Production System is one-piece flow. The song from Johnny Cash (again) reminds us of following this. The production should follow one-piece flow – make it one piece at a time. This improves the flow, eliminates excess inventory, and improves quality. It is easier to correct the process since you get fast feedback from the next process if there is a problem. Great advice!

It appears that Johnny Cash is a Lean guy after all. His advice to Get Rhythm is an important one. You have to produce product based on takt time – a beat or cadence for the production based on customer demand. This ensures that we stay on top of producing exactly what is needed and nothing more. This brings me to the next song.

Henry Ford is attributed to have said that “you can have any color car you want…. as long as it is black”. A Lean Leader would say, “you can have it any way you want it.” This is because of “heijunka” or production leveling. It might be more efficient to make the same color or style car again and again. However, the customer may not want a black car. Utilizing the Toyota Production System principles allows you to say – you can have the product any way you want it. Heijunka ensures that you are flexible in meeting the variety of demands imposed by the customers by making product in the right mix daily.

Sammy Davis Jr. might be on to something here. A Lean Leader knows to resist placing the blame on the operator when there is a problem. You have to look at the process and see what might have happened. It is too easy to blame the operator. However, replacing the operator can still result in the same problem happening. The operator is doing what he or she thinks is rational at that time, based on all the information available. Start with the process when you are addressing a problem at the Gemba.

This needs to be mantra of every Lean Leader – I (We) can make it better. This is the idea of kaizen. You are responsible to make things better than yesterday, no matter how small or insignificant the improvement is. The small improvements add up, and they also change the mindset. There is always a better way of doing things. The title of the song captures the essence of continuous improvement.

Just-In-Time (JIT) is one of the two pillars of the Toyota house. I have written about this many times before. JIT is the brainchild of Kiichiro Toyoda, who founded the Toyota Motor Corporation. He came up with the idea of making the right parts at the right time, and in the right amount. The essence of JIT is to make product almost on time. Kiichiro called this the first principle of improving efficiency. He believed that JIT would eliminate all the excess inventory and also avoid a shortage of parts since only the right part in the right amount will be made with proper resource utilization.

No list is complete without a song from The Beatles. TPS is not about Superman or any other Super Action Hero. TPS is about teamwork and working together. One of the two pillars of Toyota Way – Respect for People, is based on Teamwork. TPS is everybody working together everyday for the common betterment. Yoshio Ishizaka, a Toyota veteran stated in his wonderful book, “The Toyota Way in Sales & Marketing”, Toyota realized that the starting point and the building block for its production system was the employees.

At the Gemba, there are always Things That Make You Go Hmmmm.Why is that operator reaching out for a tool every time? Why does this part always have a flash at this corner? Why is there a pool of oil here? Why do we have to record this information twice in different formats? Why am I entering this information when it can be accessed anytime? These things are good because they set you on the right journey – the journey to eliminate waste and improve your process.

Taiichi Ohno, the father of TPS, is said to have drawn chalk circles on the floor and have the supervisor or engineer stand inside it to observe a process. The idea was to make them see the waste that he saw. This Christmas song has three questions that are very applicable at the Gemba.

  • Do you see what I see?
  • Do you hear what I hear?
  • Do you know what I know?

These questions are great starting points to train and develop a leader. Some sample questions might be  – Do you see the wastes that I see? Or Do you hear the abnormal sound coming from the machine? Following or shadowing a person and observing them at work is a great way to absorb his or her knowledge.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Rules of 3 and 5:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Cash

Rules of 3 and 5:

rules of thumb

It has been a while since I have blogged about statistics. So in today’s post, I will be looking at rules of 3 and 5. These are heuristics or rules of thumb that can help us out. They are associated with sample sizes.

Rule of 3:

Let’s assume that you are looking at a binomial event (pass or fail). You took 30 samples and tested them to see how many passes or failures you get. The results yielded no failures. Then, based on the rule of 3, you can state that at 95% confidence level, the upper bound for a failure is 3/30 = 10% or the reliability is at least 90%. The rule is written as;

p = 3/n

Where p is the upper bound of failure, and n is the sample size.

Thus, if you used 300 samples, then you could state with 95% confidence that the process is at least 99% reliable based on p = 3/300 = 1%. Another way to express this is to say that with 95% confidence fewer than 1 in 100 units will fail under the same conditions.

This rule can be derived from using binomial distribution. The 95% confidence comes from the alpha value of 0.05. The calculated value from the rule of three formula gets more accurate with a sample size of 20 or more.

Rule of 5:

I came across the rule of 5 from Douglas Hubbard’s informative book “How to Measure Anything” [1]. Hubbard states the Rule of 5 as;

There is a 93.75% chance that the median of a population is between the smallest and largest values in any random sample of five from that population.

This is a really neat heuristic because you can actually tell a lot from a sample size of 5! The median is the 50th percentile value of a population, the point where half of the population is above it and half of the population is below it. Hubbard points out the probability of picking a value above or below the median is 50% – the same as a coin toss. Thus, we can calculate that the probability of getting 5 heads in a row is 0.5^5 or 3.125%. This would be the same for getting 5 tails in a row. Then the probability of not getting all heads or all tails is (100 – (3.125+3.125)) or 93.75%. Thus, we can state that the chance of one value out of five being above the median and at least one value below the median is 93.75%.

Final words:

The reader has to keep in mind that both of the rules require the use of randomly selected samples. The Rule of 3 is a version of Bayes’ Success Run Theorem and Wilk’s One-sided Tolerance calculation. I invite the reader to check out my posts that sheds more light on this 1) Relationship between AQL/RQL and Reliability/Confidence , 2) Reliability/Confidence Level Calculator (with c = 0, 1….., n) and 3) Wilk’s One-sided Tolerance Spreadsheet.

When we are utilizing random samples to represent a population, we are calculating a statistic – a representation value of the parameter value. A statistic is an estimate of the parameter, the true value from a population. The higher the sample size used, the better the statistic can represent the parameter and better your estimation.

I will finish with a story based on chance and probability;

It was the finals and an undergraduate psychology major was totally hung over from the previous night. He was somewhat relieved to find that the exam was a true/false test. He had taken a basic stat course and did remember his professor once performing a coin flipping experiment. On a moment of clarity, he decided to flip a coin he had in his pocket to get the answers for each questions. The psychology professor watched the student the entire two hours as he was flipping the coin…writing the answer…flipping the coin….writing the answer, on and on. At the end of the two hours, everyone else had left the room except for this one student. The professor walks up to his desk and angrily interrupts the student, saying: “Listen, it is obvious that you did not study for this exam since you didn’t even open the question booklet. If you are just flipping a coin for your answer, why is it taking you so long?”

The stunned student looks up at the professor and replies bitterly (as he is still flipping the coin): “Shhh! I am checking my answers!”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Kenjutsu, Ohno and Polanyi:

[1] How to Measure Anything.

Kenjutsu, Ohno and Polanyi:

ken

Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System, has a way with his words. I was rereading his great book, “Toyota Production System – Beyond Large-Scale Production”, and I came across the section where he talked about “In an art form, action is requried.” [1]

In the section Ohno talked about the progression of swordsmanship from “gekken”, to “kenjutsu” to “kendo”. Ohno wrote that during the era of brute force fighting, “gekken” was about having the strongest swordsman winning over the weaker opponent. As time progressed, it was recognized that there is a structure to the swordsmanship, and “kenjustu” was developed. Kenjutsu is translated as “art of sword”. With this, a weaker opponent could strike down the physically stronger opponent. As time went on, there was no longer a need to carry sword around, and “kendo” was developed in its place. Kendo means “the way of the sword”. The etymology is similar to “judo” which means “the gentle way”. The “-do” stands for “the way of”. “Ken” stands for “sword”. Thus, kendo stands for “the way of the sword”. Kendo utilizes a bamboo sword called a “shinai”. Kendo is a martial art and has become very well known in Japan and outside Japan.

Ohno went on to state that he believed that swordsmanship advanced the most during the era of kenjustsu. The “jutsu” part stands for “the art of”. Ohno points out that “jutsu” is created by inserting the character “require” into the character “action”. Thus, kenjutsu advanced swordsmanship the most because it required action. Ohno continues to state that “real action is what counts”. Talking about technology and actually practicing it are two different things.

This is a great lesson from Ohno and I was reminded of tacit knowledge when he talked about “requiring action”. Tacit knowledge is the brain child of Michael Polanyi, a Hungarian-British polymath [2]. Tacit knowledge may be loosely described as the knowledge that is hard to codify and part of which cannot be codified. Polanyi stated that “we know more than we can tell”. “Tacit knowledge” is generally contrasted against “Explicit knowledge”. Explicit knowledge is the knowledge that is present in the codified form like written procedures, manuals etc. However, it is wrong to state that Tacit and Explicit knowledge are mutually exclusive and that all Tacit knowledge can be transformed to Explicit knowledge.

Polanyi believed that all knowledge is either tacit or rooted in tacit knowledge, including explicit knowledge. In Polanyi’s words;

                “While tacit knowledge can be possessed by itself, explicit knowledge must rely on being tacitly understood and applied. Hence all knowledge is either tacit or rooted in tacit knowledge. A wholly explicit knowledge is unthinkable.”

While it might be possible to codify some parts of tacit knowledge, not all tacit knowledge can be codified. Some of the examples that Polanyi gave were riding a bicycle and facial recognition. It is not easy to explain in written form how to ride a bicycle or how to recognize a person through facial recognition. With the advancement in Machine Learning, both these activities can now be performed by AI (Artificial Intelligence). However, even the AI has to perform the action and learn from errors to be somewhat successful in it. The tacit portion of the knowledge still requires action. One of the ways to teach facial recognition to AI is to give a large amount of pictures with proper identification to allow the AI to learn from the correct data first. Based on this, the AI will start performing facial recognition tasks, and every wrong answer gets corrected which adds to the learning. Once the supervised learning is complete, a new dataset with unidentified pictures are given, and the accuracy rate determined. Every attempt at recognizing a picture is a lesson that reinforces the facial recognition knowledge.

Polanyi’s theory of knowledge was based on his objections against the prevalent “objectivism” in the scientific method. Objectivism is the belief that all knowledge is posteriori (after the fact) and is derived only based on the perception of the results with senses. Thus, the knowledge is based on quantitative measures using only perception. Polanyi’s objection to this was objectivism ignored the role of the observer or the experimenter. Polanyi thought that discovery must be arrived at by the tacit powers of the mind and its content. The role of the knower is very important in the formation of knowledge. Polanyi’s ideas of tacit knowing were derived from Gestalt psychology and the part-whole perception model which requires coherence between focal and subsidiary awareness. A face is able to be recognized because of all the particularities of the face (relative position of nose, lips, eyes etc, size of the eyes, color of the eyes etc.) combined into a coherent image through subsidiary and focal awareness. There is lot more to tacit knowledge that cannot be contained in this post. I encourage the readers to read upon Michael Polanyi for more. There is a lot more to tacit knowledge than what can be written down here (no pun intended).

The tacit knowledge can only be acquired by carefully observing the expert, and performing the functions under his or her watchful eyes. In other words, tacit knowledge requires action. Even the expert may not be aware of all parts of the tacit knowledge. The tacit knowledge can be acquired only through “close interaction and buildup of shared understanding and trust”. Polanyi has said that “all knowing is personal knowing”. Explicit knowledge can be stored in hardware (computer, books discs etc.) Explicit knowledge can be thus “transferred”. This is not possible for tacit knowledge. Some Knowledge Management practitioners have argued that all tacit knowledge can be transformed to explicit knowledge. An example is the SECI model by Nonaka and Takeuchi [3]. I do not believe this is possible since I believe that tacit knowledge can be acquired only through action and personal interaction with the experts.

I will finish off with a story I read from Harry Collins’ book, Tacit and Explicit Knowledge [4].

A guy walked into a pub that he has never been to before and sat down for a few drinks. He was puzzled by the action of the locals at the bar. Every now and then one of them would shout out a number and everybody would break out into laughter. This continued for a while, and the guy was very curious about it. He went to the pub owner and quizzed him about the strange actions. The pub owner explained to him that the locals have been coming here for so long and that they have been telling the same jokes over and over that they started assigning them numbers. So now, all they have to do is just call out the number and everybody would know the joke. Armed with this information, the new guy started calling out numbers and each time he was met with silence. The pub owner felt sorry for him, and explained to him “It’s not the joke my friend, it’s how you tell it.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Shisa Kanko, a Different Kind of Checklist:

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Toyota-Production-System-Beyond-Large-Scale/dp/0915299143

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Polanyi

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SECI_model_of_knowledge_dimensions

[4] https://www.amazon.com/Tacit-Explicit-Knowledge-Harry-Collins/dp/022600421X/ref=mt_paperback?_encoding=UTF8&me=

Shisa Kanko, a Different Kind of Checklist:

Shisa Kanko

Regular readers of my blog know that I am a keen Japanophile. I love learning new things about the cultural nuances of Japan. In today’s post I will be looking at “Shisa Kanko” translated as “point with finger and call”.

Perhaps, like many others, when I was the last one to leave my house, I always questioned myself whether I closed the garage door. A mental trick I came up with was to talk to myself aloud as I pressed on the Garage Remote, “I am pressing on the remote”, and as the door closed I would remark again to myself, “look, the garage door is closing”. This action of talking it aloud created a physical and memory record that I could refer to later and recall that I did close the garage door.

Shisa Kanko is a similar process of “checking off” that an action was completed. Shisa Kanko is the process of pointing to something and calling out what happened. This could be a visual indicator for the status of an operation and calling out the status. This idea is said to have originated by a steam-train engineer of the name Yasoichi Hori. Hori started to lose his eye sight and thus began to call out the status signal to the fireman riding with hm. This was an attempt by Hori to not go through a wrong signal by mistake. The fireman would then repeat the status signal back to him and confirm it. This practice was deemed important and was implemented as a practice for railway staff. The practice of Shisa Kanko was published in the Japanese railway manual in 1913.  You can read about the proper way to point and call at the old website of JICOSH (Japanese International Center for Occupational Safety and Health) [1].

02

This activity involves pointing at target objects by stretching your arm and stating out loud, “Such and such is OK” at important points in the work in order to proceed with work safely and correctly.

Pointing and calling are methods for raising the consciousness level of workers and confirming that conditions are regular and clear, increasing the accuracy and safety of work. This method for ensuring safety is based on the philosophy of respecting human life and can be achieved only with the full participation of the workforce in practice activities across the whole of the workplace.

It is said that implementing the practice of Shisa Kanko can reduce mistakes by about 85% percent [2]. Shisa Kanko is a form of a checklist in some regards. By pointing and calling out, it is similar to the action of checking off on a checklist – “yup, this is done.” The physical and audible actions ensure that an important signal or action is not omitted. This is also an indicator to those around and provides an indication that an action was completed or the status of an operation. An example is the railway staff scanning to ensure that the tracks are free of debris before the train takes off. Instead of just scanning the tracks, the operator will point towards the track, making a sweeping action with the eyes following the hand. Once confirmed, the operator will announce that the track is clear.

Just like a checklist, the absence of Shisa Kanko will not always result in mistakes. However, the presence of Shisa Kanko will always aid in preventing mistakes. Thus it is a positive enabling constraint.

I will finish this post with a lesson from Buddha on learning to meditate;

Meditation can be a really hard skill to master and requires a lot of practice. Buddha’s advice is to make note of what is going on with your breath, similar to Shisa Kanko. Buddha’s lesson for mediation is “Anapanasati”. In Pali language “Ana” means “inhalation”, “pana” means “exhalation” and “sati” means “mindfulness”. Buddha is teaching us to be mindful of our breath going in (saying internally “in”), and going out (saying internally “out”). This practice of mindfulness, acknowledging the status of our breath, will allow us to be in control and in focus.

Buddha teaches about Anapanasati in the Anapanasati Sutta:

Breathing in long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in long’; or breathing out long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out long.’ Or breathing in short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in short’; or breathing out short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out short.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Concept of Constraints in Facing Problems:

[1] http://www.jniosh.go.jp/icpro/jicosh-old/english/zero-sai/eng/

[2] http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2008/10/21/reference/jr-gestures/#.WVujaemQzIU