Drawing at the Gemba:

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In today’s post, I am writing about Genchi Genbutsu and drawing. “Genchi Genbutsu” is an important concept in Lean/Toyota Production System. It can be translated as going to the actual place (gemba) to see, and grasp the situation. There are different translations to this such as “Boots on the ground” and “Go and See”.

I have been recently researching on how artists “see” things. When an arts teacher trains students, the most important lesson the teacher can teach is to not think of the object when you draw. For example, if you are not a natural artist, when you draw a face, you will draw what “you” think an eye looks like in your mind. The same for the nose, lips etc. You are not drawing what you are seeing, instead you are drawing what you think they look like in your mind, even though the subject is right in front of you. Your brain acts as a blinder and blocks what you see and instead points you towards your preconceived notion of the different features of the face. Thus, the final product looks like a bunch of circles, slanted lines and curves, which does not resemble a real face at all.

I think there is an important lesson for a lean leader in this. When we go to the gemba, if we come with preconceived notions, we will miss what is right in front of us. If we go to gemba already armed with the wrong answer, we will not ask the right questions. We should go to the gemba with a fresh mind, and with limited preconceived notions. West Churchman, the great American philosopher and Systems Thinker said, “A systems approach begins when first you see the world through the eyes of another.

When we talk about truth and reality in philosophy, there is an important principle called the Correspondence principle. Loosely put, the Correspondence principle indicates that what we construct in our mind should correspond to what is outside in the real world. We cannot do this effectively, if we hinder the process of construction and fill it with our preconceived notions. This is like an amateur artist drawing a face with his version of eyes, nose, lips etc., and not the actual face.

In TPS, we learn that making things is about making (developing) people. I have seen developing people described as “human capital development.” In order to develop people, Toyota created a production system where problems are forced to surface so that the operators get a chance to learn how to solve problems. A good tool that explains this well is Jidoka or autonomation. Jidoka requires the operation to stop when problems occur. Additionally, Jidoka also requires the operator to stop when the work is done. Nampachi Hayashi, a Toyota veteran, describes this as:

What are the necessary conditions for good products?

Stop when problems occur – build good quality in each process, and stop when the work is done – increase operator’s added-value and productivity.

Kaizen does not progress when there is no need for kaizen.

To add to this, Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System, said, “When we study the way we work, there is an endless cycle of improvement. We cannot do this, if we do not go to gemba with a fresh mind and eyes. We should train our brain to not interfere with this process. As Churchman said, we should try to see the operation through the eyes of the operator.

Toyota views problem solving as the most important skill for human capital. Then, our job as the lean leaders is to create conditions for identifying problems as they occur, and develop the operators to see them and solve them on their own. In this regard Hayashi says that managers should go and see gemba, and for each emerging problem, they should give specific challenge and make sure to follow up.

Final words:

Inetrestingly, there is another closely sounding phrase in Japanese for “Genchi Genbutsu”. It is “Genchi Kenbutsu”. Genchi Kenbutsu means “Go and Sightsee.”

I will finish with an interesting anecdote from Betty Edwards wonderful book, “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.” In the book she talked about getting frustrated with her students. She had given her students the assignment to copy a Pablo Picasso work. The outcomes were not as good as she expected. So, in a flash of genius, she hung the painting upside down, and asked the students to copy. The results were very surprising. The copies of the upside-down painting were far better than the copies of the right-side-up painting. She was quite puzzled by this. She later realized that keeping the painting upside down, changed how the students “saw.” Their brains stopped interfering with how they saw the subject, and they were able to draw much better. Edwards writes:

What prevents a person from seeing things clearly enough to draw them?

The left hemisphere has no patience with this detailed perception and says, in effect, “It’s a chair, I tell you. That’s enough to know. In fact, don’t bother to look at it, because I’ve got a ready-made symbol for you. Here it is; add a few details if you want, but don’t bother me with this looking business.”

And where do the symbols come from? From the years of childhood drawing during which every person develops a system of symbols. The symbol system becomes embedded in the memory, and the symbols are ready to be called out, just as you called them out to draw your childhood landscape.

The symbols are also ready to be called out when you draw a face, for example. The efficient left brain says, “Oh yes, eyes. Here’s a symbol for eyes, the one you’ve always used. And a nose? Yes, here’s the way to do it.” Mouth? Hair? Eyelashes? There’s a symbol for each. There are also symbols for chairs, tables, and hands.

To sum up, adult students beginning in art generally do not really see what is in front of their eyes—that is, they do not perceive in the special way required for drawing. They take note of what’s there, and quickly translate the perception into words and symbols mainly based on the symbol system developed throughout childhood and on what they know about the perceived object.

What is the solution to this dilemma? Psychologist Robert Ornstein suggests that in order to draw, the artist must “mirror” things or perceive them exactly as they are. Thus, you must set aside your usual verbal categorizing and turn your full visual attention to what you are perceiving—to all of its details and how each detail fits into the whole configuration. In short, you must see the way an artist sees.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Cybernetics and Design – Poka Yoke, Two Hypotheses and More:

3 thoughts on “Drawing at the Gemba:

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