Be Like Coal at the Gemba:

Piece of coal isolated on white

One of the lessons I learned as a child from my mother was about being like coal and not like paper. Her point was that coal may not be fast to catch fire, but once lit the coal will retain heat for a long time. Paper on the other hand, catches fire quickly and burns out. The lesson was about persistence and not jumping on the band wagon only to lose interest quickly – about making decisions with level headed thinking for the long term.

Coal is also good at filtering water (information). When you are asking or looking for information, you get information along with opinions. You should be able to filter out the opinions and be able to find the information to make good decisions.

Observe, Gather Data, Gain Consensus and Then Act for the Long Term:

Toyota is famous for observing, gathering data from the gemba, and getting consensus before acting. This is the type of thinking that Toyota enriches in its culture. All decisions are based on long term thinking, and this goal does not lend itself to quick decisions or acting on fads. This is the essence of being like coal – slow to get hot but stays hot for a long time.

Filter Information – Don’t Jump to Conclusions:

Any information that is out there is information coated with opinions. Coal (activated charcoal) is used for purifying water. Using this analogy, you should train yourself to discern fact from opinions. Lean Thinking encourages coming up with hypotheses and running experiments to validate your thinking. The act of filtering data to “purify” or distill information is akin to the ability of coal to purify data. This requires constant reminding and practice from your part.

Final Words:

I will finish this post with the three filter story about Socrates. Source – Unknown

In ancient Greece, Socrates was reputed to hold knowledge in high esteem. One day an acquaintance met the great philosopher and said, “Do you know what I just heard about your friend?”

“Hold on a minute,” Socrates replied. “Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you’re going to say. That’s why I call it the triple filter test. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“Well, no,” the man said, “actually I just heard about it and…”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now, let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?”

“Umm, no, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about my friend, but you’re not certain it’s true. You may still pass the test though, because there’s one filter left—the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really.”

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither true, nor good, nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Dharma, Karma and Quality.


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