Hitozukuri:

Zenmind

In today’s post, I am looking at “hitozukuri” from the famous Toyota saying, “monozukuri wa hitozukuri.” This can be translated as “making things is about making (developing) people”. To me, this encapsulates the idea of a sociotechnical system. When organizations attempt to business process reengineer, there is a tendency to focus on improving processes only from the technical standpoint. Their focus is on – How to make the process flow better or how to make the operation faster by removing waste? Toyota does focus on this, but at the same time, they also focus on developing their people. Unfortunately, as the lessons from Toyota got copied, the emphasis became more on the tools and not on the people development.

While we can translate monozukuri as craftsmanship, it also represents the spirit of creativity, doing more with less and not wasting valuable resources. Japanese culture has a strong emphasis on harmony, and this can also be seen with monozukuri. Monozukuri is the art of making things in the most harmonious way possible, with minimal waste, and maximum aesthetics. At the same time, we can also look at hitozukuri as lifelong development. Kozo Saito, Director of the Institute of Research for Technology Development at the University of Kentucky, describes hitozukuri as:

Hitozukuri … stresses a life-long process of learning. Hitozukuri emphasizes several different steps of human development, whose original form was emphasized by Confucius in his famous six different human development stages. It goes: ‘‘when I (Confucius) was fifteen years old, I decided to study; at thirty I became independent; at forty I focused; at fifty I realized my mission in my life; at sixty I became able to listen to people without bias and prejudice; finally at seventy I attained the stage that my thinking and action are harmonized with nature. Hitozukuri is a continuous life-long process of human development.

Hitozukuri aligns with the second pillar of the Toyota Way – respect for people. As part of developing people, Toyota focuses on teaching them to see waste and come up with ways to fix the problems. They are challenged with improving their processes, and in the process improve and develop themselves. This is all done in an environment of mutual respect, again based on the concept of harmony.

The technical aspects of monozukuri resides in the simple and complicated domains of order. It is like saying, follow this recipe exactly, and you will make a delicious food item. The social aspects of hitozukuri resides in the complex domain. There is no one best way of “developing” a person. As the famous saying goes, humans do not come with manuals. One heuristic that Toyota uses is – do not tell exactly how to solve a problem. As part of their development, the trainee identifies a problem. The trainer challenges the trainee to start experimenting, identifying patterns and to come up with countermeasures. The trainer provides the various concepts to help the trainee understand the problem, and works with him to find the root cause(s) and thus potential solutions.

In the delightful book, “Not Always So”, about the great Zen Teacher Shunryu Suzuki, Jusan Kanei tells a beautiful anecdote. Kanei was struggling with sitting still for meditation. Suzuki Roshi sat next to him and without saying a word rested his hands on Kanei’s shoulder. Soon, Kanei’s breath softened and lengthened, and he was able to stay with his breath. Kanei later asked Suzuki Roshi what he was doing when he had his hands on Kanei’s shoulders, and Suzuki Roshi responded, “I’m meditating with you.” Suzuki Roshi did not say to do this or do that. His touch did not say “Go over there” or “Get over here”, “Straighten Up” or “Calm down.” Kanei stated that the touch said, “I’ll be here with you wherever you are.”

This is a beautiful story that encapsulates the idea of not telling people what to do, and instead develops the person. When you have to tell someone what to do, the responsibility of their actions become yours. You are also stealing their opportunity to learn from the experience. We learn more from failures than from successes.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Distrust Simplicity:

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