Naikan and Respect for People:


One of the important themes in Lean or Toyota Production System is “Hansei”. “Hansei” is translated as self-reflection and is a form of acknowledging that there is room for improvement. I have written about it here. Another term for self-reflection in Japanese is “Naikan”, which means “inside looking” or “introspection”. Naikan is also a form of meditation that was popularized by Ishin Yoshimoto, a Japanese businessman and a devout Buddhist of the Jodo Shinshu sect in Japan. He developed Naikan based on Mishirabe, an intense form of meditation. His goal was to make the practice suitable for the general populace.

Naikan is based on three questions;

  1. What have I received from others/a specific person?
  2. What have I given to others/a specific person?
  3. What troubles have I caused others/a specific person?

Yoshimoto purposefully eliminated the question – What troubles have others/a specific person caused me? The first question forces us to acknowledge that we have benefitted from others. The second question makes us aware of how we have responded. The third question makes us accountable for our actions.

Respect for Others:

Naikan increases our awareness of interconnectedness with others in this world. The theme of harmony and interconnectedness is very strong in Japanese culture. The heart of Naikan is to nurture gratitude and compassion – which aligns really well with the concept of Respect for People in lean. The biggest offense in lean is to waste others time through non-value adding activities. Our mindset puts us in the center of the world and creates stories where we are always right or why others cause problems. Naikan challenges this and gives us a chance to put on a “corrective lens”.

An Example:

At the end of each day, I can focus on a specific coworker X and ask the following questions;

  1. What have I received from X today? I can think about the interactions I had with X and the “things” either material or nonmaterial I received. There is no focus on judging the person. This is an opportunity to feel grateful.
  2. What have I given to X today? Again, the things can be either material or nonmaterial. I am not judging whether the things are good or bad. I am just creating an inventory of my contributions.
  3. What troubles have I caused X today? This is an opportunity for me to put myself in X’s shoes and examine my actions today.

With all three questions, I can now reflect on how I feel, and what I need to change or improve. This helps me to get out of the view of myself as a helpless victim, and appreciate others around me.

I will finish off with a Zen story about respect;

 Wealthy patrons invited Ikkyu to a banquet. Ikkyu arrived dressed in his beggar’s robe. The host, not recognizing him, chased him away. Ikkyu went home, changed into his ceremonial robe of purple brocade, and returned.

With great respect, he was received into the banquet room.

There, he put his robe on the cushion, saying, “Evidently you invited the robe since you showed me away a little while ago,” and left.

You can learn more about Naikan here.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Changing the Game – An Olympic Story.


3 thoughts on “Naikan and Respect for People:

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