Respect and Yokai:


In today’s post I am looking at Respect and Yokai. “Yokai” is a catch-all word in Japanese which refers to supernatural beings. I have written several posts regarding respect for people [1]. Respect for people is an important concept in the Toyota Production System, and it goes beyond the superficial “let’s be nice to people”. As a Japanophile, I was very enthralled by the “Yokai” culture. One of the things I learned about yokai was the connection between respect and yokai. Yokai originated from Japanese folklore. Later on, yokai was used to represent creatures that originated from material things like an umbrella or a lantern. Yokai are generally mischievous and can be good or bad. Yokai filled the gap to explain the unexplainable or mysterious events. For example, “Tenjoname”, a yokai who likes to lick the ceilings can be used to explain the stains on the ceilings. The word “tenjoname” literally means “to lick the ceiling”. Tenjoname has a long tongue that can reach all the way up to the ceiling, and he comes out when there is nobody around and licks ceilings in buildings and this leaves stains on them.


The respect part in this post comes from the belief in the Japanese culture to use everything to its fullest value. If you have a lantern, and you throw it away to buy a new lantern, the discarded lantern can turn into a yokai, generally called as tsukumogami, and come back for “revenge” or “payback”. I found this to be a fascinating thought. One needs to respect one’s belongings. I can relate to this concept – as a kid, I was scolded by my parents if I left books on the floor. Leaving books on the floor can lead to one inadvertently stepping on them. Books represented wisdom and learning, and a lack of respect for books meant that I will not be able to learn from them.

Japan has limited natural resources and thus the concept of using things to its full value is a very important concept in Japanese culture. In this regard, one can see how being wasteful can extend to the idea of yokai. Being wasteful is bad, and disrespectful to the environment and your neighbors. In my eyes, this also extends to respect for people. In Japanese culture, it is said that at the end of life an item is “discarded” with respect. One may even go to a shrine to pay respect to the item before discarding it. The respect is not only for the item, but also for the numerous people who had a hand in creating that item. In today’s world of use-and-discard and buying the latest tech gadget, yokai reminds us to respect the planet and others.

I will finish by discussing my favorite yokai – kappa. “Kappa” is a yokai that is associated with water bodies like ponds or rivers. Kappa is depicted as a humanoid form generally the size of a child, with webbed feet and hands. Sometimes they are depicted as monkey-like or like frog-like. They have a saucer-like indentation on the head that has water in it. This is the source of their power and losing the water from its head can make them powerless. Even though they are small, they are very strong. Kappa was often used by elders to warn children to stay away from the river or pond.


The most interesting characteristic of kappa is that they are very polite. Thus, the way to capture or defeat a kappa is to bow your head down as a show of respect. The kappa will have to then bow their head back, and this will empty the water in their head thus making them powerless. Thus kappa is most likely the only evil being in any culture that can be defeated with respect and politeness.

Always keep on learning…

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more here.

In case you missed it, my last post was Kant and Respect for Humanity:


Kant and Respect for Humanity:


In today’s post, I will be looking at the concept of Respect of Humanity from a “Kantian philosophy standpoint”. “Respect for Humanity” is one of the two pillars of the “Toyota Way”. Yoshio Ishizaka defined Toyota Way as – Toyota’s implicit knowledge put in statutory form in 2001 [1]. I have written about Respect for People many times in this blog before [2].

Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) is a giant in modern philosophy. Kant wrote about the Categorical Imperative in his 1785 book, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals [3]. Kant defined the Categorical Imperative as a universal moral law or principle that must be followed at all times, no matter what the circumstance or what our natural inclinations or desires are. Our focus is on Kant’s second formulation of the Categorical Imperative;

Act so that you use humanity, as much in your own person as in the person of every other, always at the same time as end and never merely as means.’’

Kant viewed humans as rational beings and accordingly rational beings cannot be treated merely (solely) as a means to ends, but as ends themselves.  A rational person will not subject himself to be treated as a mere means to an end, thus it is only rational to treat others the same way, in a universal manner. This thinking is applicable to oneself as well. One of the examples that Kant gave to explain this concept, is of a man who does not try to develop his natural talent. The man in the example is content with where he is, and in Kant’s eyes this means that the man is not respecting himself. Kant said, it is not enough that the action does not conflict with humanity in our person as end in itself; it must also harmonize with it (humanity).

Kant used the term “menschlichkeit”, a German word to explain his ideas regarding humanity. He viewed humanity as possessing a “rational nature” [3]. Humanity, through which we have the rational capacities to set ends, use means to them, and organize them into a whole. And as a rational being, at the heart of this is the capacity for autonomy or the ability to self-govern. The word “autonomy” from Greek means autos = self, nomos = law. This ability for self-governing, morally forces us to view each other with respect.

The concept of Respect for People does not begin or end with “being nice” to others. From a Kantian standpoint, respect is about morality. Morality is not about consequences – what others would think about me, but about intentions – it is rational to be respectful to others. Kant does not have a problem with using a person as a means to an end. For example, when an operator comes to work, he is being used to produce a product (means to an end). Kant’s problem is when a person is used as a “mere means” to an end. If the operator is seen only as a pair of hands, and if his or her input is not valued, then he or she is being used as a “mere means”. This adds a dimensionality to the relationship with the operator. It goes both ways, from the manager to the operator and the operator to the manager. The operator in turn should not view the job as a mere paycheck.

From a Kantian perspective, Respect for People means to ensure that everybody is capable of being valuable. There are opportunities for development of talent, and in Kant’s words, a chance to harmonize with humanity. How does one increase the worth of an employee? You can increase their worth by developing the employee to understand the value in his work. You can increase their worth by training him to look for gaps between the ideal state and the current state. By understanding this gap, you can further develop him to take countermeasures and corrective actions to move closer to the ideal state. Ideally, the employee would now be able to train the employees underneath him. The employee is now at a stage to be making decisions and implementing improvements on his own. In other words, he is empowered.

Final Words:

Kant was ahead of his time with his thinking. Kant spent his entire life in his hometown (Königsberg, the then capital of Prussia), and is said to have never set his foot outside a 100 mile radius from his house. Most of his famous works came later in his life. He famously said that David Hume, the great Scottish philosopher, woke him up from his dogmatic slumber.  As I was reading upon Kant as part of my personal journey through philosophy, I came upon his Categorical Imperative and it struck me how much the second formulation aligned itself well with the Respect of Humanity theme of the Toyota Way.

There are many play-on-words with Kant’s name. One of my favorite memes is below:


I will finish with an anecdote about Kant.

Kant was a firm believer in rules. He had set a rule for himself to not smoke more than one pipe a day. Smoking was Kant’s time to think and reflect. As time went on, Kant wanted to spend more time smoking. However, he did not want to break his own rule. His way out was to get a larger pipe. It is said that as time went on, the size of the bowls of his pipes grew in size considerably.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Process Validation and the Problem of Induction:




Process Validation and the Problem of Induction:


From “The Simpsons”

Marge: I smell beer. Did you go to Moe’s?

Homer: Every time I have beer on my breath, you assume I’ve been drinking.[1]

In today’s post, I will be looking at process validation and the problem of induction.  I have looked at process validation through another philosophical angle by using the lesson of the Ship of Theseus [4] in an earlier post.

US FDA defines process validation [2] as;

“The collection and evaluation of data, from the process design stage through commercial production, which establishes scientific evidence that a process is capable of consistently delivering quality product.”

My emphases on FDA’s definition are the two words – “capability” and “consistency”. One of the misconceptions about process validation is that once the process is validated, then it achieves almost an immaculate status. One of the horror stories I have heard from my friends in the Medical Devices field is that the manufacturer stopped inspecting the product since the process was validated. The problem with validation is the problem of induction. Induction is a process in philosophy – a means to obtain knowledge by looking for patterns from observations and coming to a conclusion. For example, the swans that I have seen so far are white, thus I conclude that ALL swans are white. This is a famous example to show the problem of induction because black swans do exist. However, the data I collected showed that all of the swans in my sample were white. My process of collection and evaluation of the data appears capable and the output consistent.

The misconception that the manufacturer had in the example above was the assumption that the process is going to remain the same and thus the output also will remain the same. This is the assumption that the future and present are going to resemble the past. This type of thinking is termed the assumption of “uniformity of nature” in philosophy. This problem of induction was first thoroughly questioned and looked at by the great Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776). He was an empiricist who believed that knowledge should be based on one’s sense based experience.

One way of looking at process validation is to view the validation as a means to develop a process where it is optimized such that it can withstand the variations of the inputs. Validation is strictly based on the inputs at the time of validation. The 6 inputs – man, machine, method, materials, inspection process and the environment, all can suffer variation as time goes on. These variations reveal the problem of induction – the results are not going to stay the same. There is no uniformity of nature. The uniformities observed in the past are not going to hold for the present and future as well.

In general, when we are doing induction, we should try to meet five conditions;

  1. Use a large sample size that is statistically valid
  2. Make observations under different and extreme circumstances
  3. Ensure that none of the observations/data points contradict
  4. Try to make predictions based on your model
  5. Look for ways and test your model to fail

The use of statistics is considered as a must for process validation. The use of a statistically valid sample size ensures that we make meaningful inferences from the data. The use of different and extreme circumstances is the gist of operational qualification or OQ. OQ is the second qualification phase of process validation. Above all, we should understand how the model works. This helps us to predict how the process works and thus any contradicting data point must be evaluated. This helps us to listen to the process when it is talking. We should keep looking for ways to see where it fails in order to understand the boundary conditions. Ultimately, the more you try to make your model to fail, the better and more refined it becomes.

The FDA’s guidance on process validation [2] and the GHTF (Global Harmonized Task Force) [3] guidance on process validation both try to address the problem of induction through “Continued Process Verification” and “Maintaining a State of Validation”. We should continue monitoring the process to ensure that it remains in a state of validation. Anytime any of the inputs are changed, or if the outputs show a trend of decline, we should evaluate the possibility of revalidation as a remedy for the problem of induction. This brings into mind the quote “Trust but verify”. It is said that Ronald Reagan got this quote from Suzanne Massie, a Russian writer. The original quote is “Doveryai, no proveryai”.

I will finish off with a story from the great Indian epic Mahabharata, which points to the lack of uniformity in nature.

Once a beggar asked for some help from Yudhishthir, the eldest of the Pandavas. Yudhishthir told him to come on the next day. The beggar went away. At the time of this conversation, Yudhishthir’s younger brother Bhima was present. He took one big drum and started walking towards the city, beating the drum furiously. Yudhishthir was surprised.

He asked the reason for this. Bhima told him:
“I want to declare that our revered Yudhishthir has won the battle against time (Kaala). You told that beggar to come the next day. How do you know that you will be there tomorrow? How do you know that beggar would still be alive tomorrow? Even if you both are alive, you might not be in a position to give anything. Or, the beggar might not even need anything tomorrow. How did you know that you both can even meet tomorrow? You are the first person in this world who has won the time. I want to tell the people of Indraprastha about this.”

Yudhishthir got the message behind this talk and called that beggar right away to give the necessary help.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was If a Lion Could Talk:

[1] The Simpsons – Season 27; Episode 575; Every Man’s Dream




[5] Non-uniformity of Nature Clock drawing by Annie Jose

If a Lion Could Talk:


In today’s post, I am continuing with the theme of being inspired by philosophy. This post is inspired by the famous Austrian/British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein [1]. In his posthumously published book “Philosophical Investigations” [2], Wittgenstein wrote;

If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.

One of the interpretations of this statement is that a lion has a totally different worldview than us, thus his values would be entirely different. Even though, we may have a common language, the intentions and interpretations would be completely different. A lion does not share a common frame of reference with us. The mutual understanding also depends upon whether we are interested in actively listening. Another aspect to think about is the non-verbal communication. The majority of human communication is non-verbal so simply talking does not convey the entire meaning. The meaning of a word depends upon the use of it within the context of a shared understanding.

When I was pondering about this, I started wondering whether we would understand if our process or gemba is “talking” to us. In some regards, they do talk to us through the visual controls we have in place. The visual controls lets us know how the process is going – but do we understand it?

The purpose of a visual control is to immediately make any abnormality, waste, or deviation visible so that we can immediately take action. Notice that I used “immediately” twice. This is how we should understand it. This sets the tone for how gemba talks to us. There are several ways that we fail to understand what the gemba is saying to us. A great resource for Visual controls is a collection of articles compiled from NKS Factory Management Journal, available in the form of the book “Visual Control Systems.” [3] Some of the ways Visual Controls can fail are;

1) A failure to understand what the visual controls are for:

One of the examples given of inadequate implementation of visual controls is to treat visual controls as a mere extension of 5S. The purpose of visual controls is, as noted above, to make abnormalities immediately visible. Additionally, action must be taken to address the problem.

2) Low problem consciousness among the employees:

If the employee is failing to make the abnormality visible, or if the supervisor / group leader or management is failing to take action immediately, the purpose of visual controls is being defeated. This leads to “business-as-usual” thinking.

3) Inadequate Visual Control Tools:

If there is no daily production board used, then any metric tracked is going to lead only to a delayed response. No timely action that can be taken. In a similar note, if the daily production board is located in a place that is not easy to see, the operators will not use it because of the inconvenience.

4) Lack of established standards for the visual controls:

In order to have the visual controls operate successfully, the establishment and dissemination of the rules of the visual controls must be performed. Everybody should know how to understand the visual control – what is the norm, what is good versus bad, signs something is abnormal etc.

I will finish off with a great Zen story that relates to the lack of understanding.

Provided he makes and wins an argument about Buddhism with those who live there, any wandering monk can remain in a Zen temple. If he is defeated, he has to move on. In a temple in the northern part of Japan two brother monks were dwelling together. The elder one was learned, but the younger one was stupid and had but one eye. A wandering monk came and asked for lodging, properly challenging them to a debate about the sublime teaching. The elder brother, tired that day from much studying, told the younger one to take his place. “Go and request the dialogue in silence,” he cautioned.

So the young monk and the stranger went to the shrine and sat down. Shortly afterwards the traveler rose and went in to the elder brother and said: “Your young brother is a wonderful fellow. He defeated me.”
“Relate the dialogue to me,” said the elder one.
“Well,” explained the traveler, “first I held up one finger, representing Buddha, the enlightened one. So he held up two fingers, signifying Buddha and his teaching. I held up three fingers, representing Buddha, his teaching, and his followers, living the harmonious life. Then he shook his clenched fist in my face, indicating that all three come from one realization. Thus he won and so I have no right to remain here.” With this, the traveler left.

“Where is that fellow?” asked the younger one, running in to his elder brother.
“I understand you won the debate.”
“Won nothing. I’m going to beat him up.”
“Tell me the subject of the debate,” asked the elder one.
“Why, the minute he saw me he held up one finger, insulting me by insinuating that I have only one eye. Since he was a stranger I thought I would be polite to him, so I held up two fingers, congratulating him that he has two eyes. Then the impolite wretch held up three fingers, suggesting that between us we only have three eyes. So I got mad and got ready to punch him, but he ran out and that ended it!”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Ehipassiko – Come and See:




[4] Lion drawing by Audrey Jose

Ehipassiko – Come and See:

Einstein Poster

As I noted in my last post, I have been reading upon philosophy, both Western and Eastern. One of the terms that I came across in Eastern Philosophy is from Buddhism. The term is “ehipassiko”. This is a phrase from the Pali language, that Buddha used. This term is derived from the Sanskrit phrase “ehi, paśya”. Ehipassiko is loosely translated as “come and see for yourself”. One of the tenets of Toyota Production System is “Genchi Genbutsu” or “Go and See”. Genchi Genbutsu means to go to the source and grasp the facts.

Ehipassiko is a teaching by Buddha to not accept things based on what you hear. He is asking you to come and see for yourself. It is an invitation to come to the source and test things out empirically – to check out the nature of reality for yourself. I could not help but draw comparisons to Genchi Genbutsu when I read about ehipassiko. The teachings of Buddha are very well accepted and received in Japan. It may not be that Genchi Genbutsu was derived from ehipassiko, but there are similarities there.

Similar to Genchi Genbutsu in Toyota Production System, Honda also has a concept called “sangen shugi” or the three realities (3 gens). The Sangen shugi are;

  • Genba – the real spot, where the action takes place. This is also termed as Gemba by English translators.
  • Genbutsu – the actual part, the source of the problem
  • Genjitsu – the actual facts, to base your decision on reality and not opinions.

As Jeffrey Rothfeder writes in his 2015 book[1], “Driving Honda”, genba is where the knowledge begins; after maturing during genbutsu this knowledge serves as the footing for genjitsu where decisions are arrived at based on firsthand understanding. In turn, the facts that emerge during genjitsu organically inform the blossoming of the new information at future genba.

It is said that Buddha started teaching once he became Buddha, the awakened one. However, he did not want people to just take his words on authority. He wanted them to test it out for themselves – ehipassiko. I will finish this post with a story about Buddha;

Buddha was at a village called Kesaputta teaching. The villagers told Buddha that they were confused as to whose teaching is correct. Many teachers visited their village telling them that all the other teachings are wrong. Buddha then told them about ehipassiko.

He told them[2], “Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration that the person is our teacher.”

He asked them to be not passive about what they hear from the wise, but to actively question and test out to confirm the reality.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Popper’s Circle:


[2] “Kalama Sutta: The Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry”, translated from the Pali by Soma Thera. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013,

Popper’s Circle:


I have been reading a lot these days about Western Philosophy. The most recent book that I have been reading is from one of the great Philosophers of the twentieth century, Karl Popper – All Life is Problem Solving. This is a collection of Popper’s writings. One of the great teachings from Popper is the concept of “falsification”, which means that as a scientist one should always try to disprove his theory rather than trying to confirm it. A classic example is the case of black swans (not Nicholas Taleb’s black swan) – if one were to say that all swans are white based on the empirical evidence of his observations of only white swans, he is looking to only confirm his theory. He is not actively trying to disprove his theory. When a black swan is discovered, his theory now breaks down. Loosely put, falsification should lead to attempts to disprove or challenge one’s theory. The more survival of attempts to falsify the theory, the more “reliable” the theory becomes. An extreme example is if I claim that I have the psychic ability to have my coin turn heads on all tosses. I can toss a thousand times and show one thousand heads. However, if I refuse to look at both sides of the coins to see if it is a two-headed coin, I am not looking to reject my claim. I am only looking for evidence that supports my claim.

My post today is not about falsification, but about Karl Popper’s advice on observation. Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System, was said to have drawn a chalk circle on the factory floor and asked a supervisor or manager to stand inside the circle and observe an operation on the floor. The task he had was to find as much waste as possible by observing the operation. This has come to be termed as “Ohno’s circle” in the Lean world.

When I came across a section in the book, All Life is Problem Solving, where Popper also talked about observation as part of his three step scientific methodology, I was very interested. His three step model is as follows;

  1. Problem
  2. Attempted solutions
  3. Elimination

In Popper’s words, the first step, “problem” arises when some kind of disturbance takes place – a disturbance either of innate expectations or of expectations that have been discovered or learnt through trial and error. The second stage in our model consists of “attempted solutions” – that is, attempts to solve the problem. The third stage in our model is the “elimination” of unsuccessful solutions.

Popper had strong words about observation;

The old theory of science taught, and still teaches, that the starting point for science is our sense perception or sensory observation. This sounds at first thoroughly reasonable and persuasive, but it is fundamentally wrong. One can easily show this by stating the thesis: without a problem, no observation. If I asked you: ‘Please, observe!’, then linguistic usage would require you to answer by asking me: ‘Yes, but what? What am I supposed to observe?’ In other words, you ask me to set you a problem that can be solved through your observation; and if I do not give you a problem but only an object, that is already something but it is by no means enough. For instance, if I say to you: ‘Please look at your watch’, you will still not know what I actually want to have observed. But things are different once I set you the most trivial problem. Perhaps you will not be interested in the problem, but at least you will know what you are supposed to find out through your perception or observation.

The standards on the production floor are an important aspect for observation. They tell us what the sequence of operations is, what the takt time is, and what the standard work-in-process should be. Another important aspect to look out for is muri or overburden. If an operator is doing an operation where he is required to lift heavy loads or if he has to reach out to grab something, then it is an opportunity to improve the work. Popper’s advice brings into mind that when we are out on floor and observing, we need to know what we should be looking for.

I will finish off with another great twentieth century philosopher Bertrand Russell’s somber Turkey story, that I have paraphrased;

There was once a turkey that lived on a farm, and the turkey was scientifically oriented. He observed that the farmer gives him food everyday at 7:00 AM. Since he was a smart turkey, he knew that he needed to take a lot of data points. He is observations were made on cloudy days, rainy days, sunny days, weekdays, weekends and all kind of days. Months go by, and by now the turkey feels that he has enough data now and feels confident that tomorrow the farmer is going to feed him at 7:00 AM. However, the next day was Christmas Eve and the turkey was not fed but instead had his throat cut.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Effectiveness of Automation:



The Effectiveness of Automation:


In today’s post, I will be looking at automation. Stephen Hawking, perhaps the most famous Scientist alive today, warned us about automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in his column on The Guardian. He said;

The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.

Bill Gates recently talked about the concept of taxing robots who are taking away the manufacturing jobs. Interestingly, these concerns are not new. Lillian Gilbreth talked about “The Human Side of Automation” in a 1957 speech at the Society of Women Engineers National Convention. She put forth the need to evaluate the responsibilities of the engineers doing the automation. She advised relying on the scientific method and ethics, and proposed adding “human resources” to the definition of automation. Her concept of automation is about the removal of “drudgery” from work. However, she warned that there are different ways someone views what drudgery is.

In my mind, the main question that needs to be answered is the effectiveness of automation. The aspect of making a job easier to do is part of continuous improvement activities. Frederick Taylor, often cited as the father of Scientific Management, changed the manufacturing world by pushing the concept of finding the one standard way of doing the job. He pushed the concept of time and motion studies with the help of the Gilbreths. The wasted motions were eliminated and this surged the productivity in the plants. The pursuit of wasted motions is as valid today as it was back when Taylorism was around. The consequences of Taylorism were the focus on only efficiency and the reliance on a small group of experts, which paved the way to mass manufacturing with the assembly lines. The “experts” designed the manufacturing floors and the work, sometimes with minimal input from the operators. This continued until, Toyota came into the picture with the ideas of Toyota Production System. Toyota also pursued efficiency; however they realized the lessons of Lillian Gilbreth as well. The employees are invaluable resources, and they focused on the Thinking Production System (TPS) where the employees were asked to bring not only their pairs of hands but also their brains. The Toyota Way, Toyota’s attempt to codify the implicit knowledge, was written with the two pillars of Toyota as “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People”. Unfortunately, when TPS was reinterpreted as Lean, sometimes the focus was put back on efficiency alone which led to the pejorative definition of LEAN as “Less Employees Are Needed” or what Mark Graban calls as LAME. Lillian Gilbreth, in her 1957 speech advises us to keep this in mind when improvement activities are performed – What happens to the employees? This impacts the company culture.

Russell Ackoff, the great American Systems Thinker, when talking about Toyota asked an important question about effectiveness. He asked why the focus is not on improving the environment since cars can cause pollution. This is the big picture question. Toyota has been working on zero emissions and recently launched Mirai, which is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. The question of effectiveness is about the betterment of human kind.

Automation can replace only those portions of the jobs which are ordered or complicated – which means there are strong cause and effect relationships, and have repeatable operations. This is almost as if following a script- if this happens, then do this. Automation cannot handle complexity at this point in time. In Complex situations, there are no straightforward cause and effect relationships. Every situation is unique. Artificial Intelligence has not been able to make strides in these areas. The concept of efficiency is strong in complicated regions and the concept of effectiveness is strong in the complex regions. Creativity and continuous improvement are not repeatable activities. A robot with a melted candy bar in its pocket next to a magnetron cannot invent the next microwave oven, at least not yet.

The push for automation can again put us back into the mass manufacturing era. We can start making things for the sake of not keeping the robot idle. We can start making things that people do not want to purchase. We can keep making the wrong things. The push for automation for the sake of cost reduction which leads to loss of jobs is not pursuing effectiveness. There is no easy answer to this. We do need automation to replace “drudgery”. However, the betterment of humanity must be the focus at all times.

I will finish off with a story that Mrs. Lillian Gilbreth told in her speech;

Lillian was at a factory with her husband Frank. Frank had arranged for a trolley to move the iron back and forth so that the woman operator did not have not to do any heavy lifting. Frank asked the operator, “Mary, how do you do like this nice little trolley I made for your iron?”

The operator looked at him straight in the eyes and asked, “Do you really want me to tell you?”

Lillian knew the answer was not going to be good and wanted to move on. But Frank persisted for an answer.

Mary said, “Well, I think it is the work of a big, fat, lazy man.”

Lillian concluded in her speech that by creating the trolley, Frank had taken away all the satisfaction from Mary’s work. Mary was the only one strong enough to do what she did and she took pride in what she did. Now it was a job anybody could do. Lillian also noted that they should have been “intelligent” enough to notice that what seemed drudgery to them was not necessarily the case to Mary. They should had asked for input and better defined what drudgery actually was.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Practicing Lean, a review:

Practicing Lean, a review:


Today I am writing a review on the book “Practicing Lean”, edited by Mark Graban( Mark kindly gave me an early preview of this book. This book is a collection of personal experiences of sixteen authors on practicing lean. The first two chapters by Mark detail what it means to practice lean. This was quite enlightening. As Mark points out, people talk about lean thinking, doing lean, implementing lean etc., but all of these phrases miss the point. Lean thinking does not contain any action; doing lean does not contain any thinking, implementing lean could mean that there is end in sight. Practicing lean means that it is something that is done to improve oneself. There is no end and there is both action and thinking.

The personal experiences in the book make it an easy read. They are all something you can easily relate to. It is also humbling to learn from the “failures” and “successes”. From a philosophical standpoint, this is about epistemology – how each of the authors came to attain their knowledge about lean. Their personal journeys make the book quite enjoyable to read. Some of these authors were familiar to me from LinkedIn and from the Gemba Academy podcasts. This is quite a diverse group of authors.

The sixteen authors are;

Mark Graban, Author of the books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, blogger at
Nick Ruhmann, Director of Operational Excellence for Aon National Flood Services, Inc.
Michael Lombard, Chief Executive Officer of Cornerstone Critical Care Specialty Hospital of Southwest Louisiana
Paul Akers, President of FastCap, author of 2-Second Lean and Lean Health
Jamie Parker, 15 years’ experience in operations management / leadership in retail, service, and manufacturing
Harry Kenworthy, Expert in Lean government after a long career in manufacturing
Bob Rush, Lean Manufacturing Group Leader for Tesla Motors
Samuel Selay, Continuous Improvement Manager for the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton
David Haigh, David works at Johnson & Johnson Canada, the largest consumer healthcare company in Canada
Joe Swartz, Administrative Director, Business Transformation, Franciscan Alliance, co-author of Healthcare Kaizen
Cameron Stark, Physician and Lean improvement leader in Scotland
Harvey Leach, Principal Consultant with The Consultancy Company based near Oxford, England
Andy Sheppard, Author, The Incredible Transformation of Gregory Todd: a Novel about Leadership and Managing Change
Mike Leigh, President and Founder of OpX Solutions, LLC and former Lean leader at General Electric
Jamie Flinchbaugh, Lean advisor, speaker, and author, who has advised over 300 companies on their Lean journey
Lesa Nichols, Founder, Lesa Nichols Consulting and former Toyota leader

One of quotes attributed to Napoleon Hill is;

“One of the most valuable things any person can learn is the art of using the knowledge and experience of others.”

This quote captures the essence of the book.

Practicing Lean is available here. All the proceeds from this book go to the non-profit Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation.

This book has made such an impression on me that I have bought my own copy. Thank you Mark for being the force behind this book!


Entropy in the Manufacturing World:


In today’s post, I will be looking at Entropy in the Manufacturing world. Entropy is generally defined as disorder. This general definition can sometimes be inadequate. Let’s look at the example of a desk in an office; One could say that if the desk appears to be in order (neat and tidy), then it has low entropy. However, the concept of orderliness is very subjective. Entropy can be referred to as the measure of disorderliness. To me, if I am able to know where everything is, and I can access each item quickly, then my desk has low entropy. It may not seem “ordered” to an outsider, and he may conclude that my desk has high entropy. The second law of Thermodynamics can be loosely stated as – the entropy always increases. Thus, a desk will always get messier. There is a probability aspect to entropy. There are many different ways the things on my desk can be arranged, and only a very small number of those arrangements can be concluded as “ordered”. There is a multitude of more ways a desk can be seen more disorderly than the small number of ways it can be seen as orderly. Thus, from a probability standpoint, it is always likely that a desk is messy unless there is a consistent process in place to keep it back to the “ordered” state at frequent intervals. This line of thinking also shows that the more things you have on your desk, your desk is always most likely to be in a state of “messiness”. Interestingly, 5S in Lean requires you to limit the number of items in an area to only those items that are needed. All of the extra items are encouraged to be removed.

Entropy can also be explained in terms of the element of surprise. For example, a brand new deck of playing cards in order has low entropy because one knows exactly where every card is. There is minimal element of surprise. If one were to riffle shuffle the cards once, there is still some form or order maintained in the cards. For example, the order of the cards from Ace to King is not disturbed. There may be some different cards in between, but the Three of Hearts is still above Four of Hearts, even though there may be other suit cards in between them. This concept is known to magicians and used in several magic tricks. When the cards are shuffled again and again, the knowledge of any form of order is lost, and the entropy thus increases. With a good shuffled deck of cards, any card presents an element of surprise – new information. With the same logic used in the previous paragraph, it is very unlikely that continuous shuffling will bring a deck back to the original new deck order. There is always more ways for the deck to be in a different order than a new deck order. In the new deck order, if you are required to produce the King of Hearts, it is simple to do it since you know the order of the cards. You can do this fairly quickly. However, when the deck is shuffled, this becomes harder. You will need more time to look through every single card until you get to the King of Hearts. Although it is not exactly the same, it is stated that as entropy increases, it causes decaying of energy. In other words, the useable energy becomes less and less. Thus if one were to put the concept of value with regards to entropy, one could say that high entropy states do not yield value. Jeremy Campbell, in his wonderful book “Grammatical Man” states;

“At the heart of the second law (of Thermodynamics) is the insight has order has value.”

From this light, one can understand the need to maintain order in the manufacturing plant. The management strives to maintain low entropy within the manufacturing system, and they surely do not appreciate elements of surprises. From their viewpoint, painting all cars black does make sense. Producing the same item in big numbers using the principles of mass manufacturing is an attractive proposition for management. More number of products and components bring disorder and increase in entropy. Thus minimizing the variety of products manufactured also will be an attractive proposition for management.

However, the world has become smaller globally, and the market is asking for variety. From a Complexity Science standpoint, one can say that the manufacturing processes are ordered or complicated. There are good cause and effect relationships, and these can be easily controlled. However, the complexity outside a manufacturing plant is increasing with the advent of the information age. A manufacturer in China can sell his goods in America, and vice-versa easier. The demand for variety from the market is increasing and the manufacturer cannot make only black cars anymore to stay in business.

The management has to realize that the organizations are not technical systems, but sociotechnical systems. When you treat an organization as a technical system you assume that direct, linear cause and effect relationships exist, and that it is able to control the system through hierarchy. The most important requirement in this case becomes to minimize entropy. Entropy has a negative relationship with efficiency in mechanical (technical) systems. The goal of a sociotechnical system is not primarily to lower the entropy at all times. Complexity lies between low entropy and high entropy. Complex problems require complex dynamic solutions. Organizations should become complex adaptive systems and be able to move between phases in order to thrive. “Everything changes” is the reality, and thus the organization should be able to change and adapt the actions to meet the needs posed by the environment. The idea of order implies a state of permanence. The organization has to go through phases of permanence and impermanence to be able to thrive. Analogically, this is similar to the idea of kaizen in the Toyota Production System, where kaizen requires standards. Kaizen, the idea of change to improve, requires order (standards).  This is also the going back and forth between permanence and impermanence. In the complex world today, nothing should be set in stone.

I will finish with a wonderful lesson from Shunryū Suzuki-roshi;

“Suzuki Roshi, I’ve been listening to your lectures for years,” a student said during the question and answer session following a lecture, “but I just don’t understand. Could you just please put it in a nutshell? Can you reduce Buddhism to one phrase?”

Everyone laughed. Suzuki laughed.

“Everything changes,” he said. Then he asked for another question.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Minimal Critical Specification.

Minimal Critical Specification:


In today’s post, I will be looking at Cherns’ second principle of Sociotechnical Design – Minimal Critical Specification. Albert Cherns, the late famous social scientist who founded the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University, documented nine principles for designing a sociotechnical system (1976). I discussed one of these nine principles, the Forth Bridge principle earlier here.

The principle of Minimal Critical Specification has two aspects, negative and positive, according to Cherns;

  1. The negative aspect states that no more should be specified than is absolutely essential.
  2. The positive aspect states that we need to identify what is essential.

Cherns continued – “While it may be necessary to be quite precise about what has to be done, it is rarely necessary to be precise about how it is to be done… It is a mistake to specify more than is needed because by doing so options are closed that could be kept open.”

This is quite an enlightening lesson from Cherns. A common misconception about leadership and managers is that it is the manager’s responsibility to determine what needs to be done, and then tell the employees exactly what needs to be done. This type of thinking is a leftover from Tayloristic Management from the turn of Twentieth century. Frederick Taylor’s brilliant contribution that worked at the time, was to focus on the labor activities and improve efficiency by streamlining motion and eliminating wasted motions. An unavoidable consequence from this was to view the operator as any other equipment. This meant that the operator was asked to bring his pair of hands to work and not his brains. The brains were provided by the managers and engineers. From a complexity science standpoint, this is using the perspective of a complicated system. There is some form of a cause and effect relationship, and with the help of experts we can control how the complicated system works. In other words, this is viewing an organization as a technical system in some regards. This leads to relying on a small group of experts to determine how the system should be designed. This worked at that point in time because, to put simplistically, the world was not complex then or not as complex as it is currently. The demand for variety from the market was easily attained by the variety that was able to be offered by the manufacturing plants. Tayloristic thinking paved the way to mass manufacturing and great hikes in productivity. However, the information age changed the world landscape, and the use of complicated thinking did not seem to work anymore. There came a realization that all organizations are sociotechnical systems. In Cherns’ words, the realization was that the organizational objectives were best met not by the optimization of the technical system, and the adaptation of a social system to it, but by the joint optimization of the technical and the social aspects.

It is said that the management style at Toyota is not to tell the subordinate exactly what needs to be done. The manager’s role is to develop the subordinate by allowing him to come up with solutions, and in turn develop oneself through the process. This concept aligns neatly with the principle of Minimal Critical Specification. Telling exactly what needs to be done is managing people, however developing them by giving them the minimal critical specification is managing the interactions that act on the subordinate. Russell Ackoff, the great American Systems Thinker, advises us that the most important role of a manager is not to manage people, but to manage the interactions between the people, making it easy for them to do their job. Toyota also talks about their production system as the Thinking Production System. Toyota does not see their employees simply as a pair of hands, but as a valuable resource which allows Toyota to grow.

Another aspect that Cherns talked about with the principle of Minimal Critical Specification was regarding bureaucracy. He complained that most organizations have too much specificity regarding how things should be conducted. He even says that “working to rule” can bring the whole system to a grinding halt and that employees have to contrive to get the job done despite of the rules.  Dave Snowden, the great thinker of modern times and creator of the Cynefin Framework, has talked about the dangers of using too many constraints on an ordered system where there is a strong cause and effect relationships. The employees create informal structures and processes to work around the strict constraints. This means that the problems, when they arise, do not always come to the surface. They stay hidden from the top management. Unfortunately, this means that when the system ultimately breaks down, it is generally catastrophic because the system is not prepared and the informal structures are simply not capable.

I will finish with a Zen story;

Zen teachers train their young pupils to express themselves. Two Zen temples each had a child protégé. One child, going to obtain vegetables each morning, would meet the other on the way.

“Where are you going?” asked the one.

“I am going wherever my feet go,” the other responded.

This reply puzzled the first child who went to his teacher for help. “Tomorrow morning,” the teacher told him, “when you meet that little fellow, ask him the same question. He will give you the same answer, and then you ask him: ‘Suppose you have no feet, then where are you going?’ That will fix him.”

The children met again the following morning.

“Where are you going?” asked the first child.

“I am going wherever the wind blows,” answered the other.

This again nonplussed the youngster, who took his defeat to his teacher.

“Ask him where he is going if there is no wind,” suggested the teacher.

The next day the children met a third time.

“Where are you going?” asked the first child.

“I am going to the market to buy vegetables,” the other replied.

 Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Incomplete Solution.