Magician at the Gemba:

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In today’s post, I will be discussing magic, one of my passions. My inspiration for today’s post comes from the great Cybernetician Heinz von Foerster, the wonderful mentalist Derren Brown and the silent partner of Penn & Teller, Raymond Teller. When I was a young kid, I believed that true magic was real. I saw the great American Illusionist David Copperfield on TV, where he did amazing illusions and as a finale act flew around the whole stage and the arena. I also heard about him vanishing the Statue of Liberty in front of spectators. These amazing feats led me to believe that magic was indeed real. I started learning about magic from that young age onward. I became disillusioned quickly when I came across the many secrets of magic. I am thankful for this early disillusionment since it made me a skeptic from a young age.

Magicians can sometimes view themselves as a God-like figure, someone who is superior and can do things that others cannot. They go into theatrics with the belief that they are improving the craft of magic. Derren Brown warns against this approach:

Magic is massively flawed as theatre… Magic is performance, and performance should have an honesty, a relevance and a resonance if it is to be offered to spectators without insulting them… The magician’s role must change from a whimsical god-figure who can click his fingers and have something change in the primary world, to a hero-figure who, with his skills and intriguing character, provides a link with a secondary world of esoteric power. He must arrange circumstances in the primary world – such, as the correct participation of his small audience – in such a way that if that precarious balance is held, a glimmer of magic (only just held under control for a while) will shine through and illuminate the primary world with wonder. That requires investment of time and energy from him and from his audience, and involves the overcoming of conflict. When the routine is over, something has shifted in the world, for both spectator and performer. There is a true sense of catharsis.

Heinz von Foerster, the Socrates of Cybernetics, was also an accomplished magician as a youth. Von Foerster provides his views on magic:

We did it (magic) in such a way that the spectator constructs a world for himself, in which what he wished for takes place. That has led me to the sentence: “The hearer, not the speaker, determines the meaning of an utterance.”

The other thing we saw is: When one succeeds in creating the world in which one can give rise to miracles, it is the fantasy, the imagination, the mind’s eye of the spectator that you support and nourish.

We are letting the spectator construct the experience of magic. We should not construct it for them. There is a difference between a magician saying, “See there is nothing in my hand,” and the spectator saying, “I see nothing in your hand.” The magic occurs in the minds of the spectator. Great magicians allow the spectator to construct the magic. There is no magic without a spectator.

At the Gemba:

How does all this matter to us at the gemba? During my undergrad studies, I first heard about this magical new production system called ‘Lean Manufacturing’. Apparently, Toyota was doing magical things with this approach and all automakers were trying to copy them. Just like with magic tricks, if one is curious enough, the secret of a trick can be found out. But that will not let you be like David Copperfield or Derren Brown. To paraphrase the Toyota veteran, Hajime Ohba, copying what Toyota does is like creating a Buddha image and forgetting to put a soul in it. Later on, when I started working, I was advised by a senior manager that the only book I need to read is ‘The Goal’ by Eliyahu Goldratt. Supposedly, the book had all the answers I would ever need. Luckily, I was already disillusioned once with magic. As I have written a lot in the past, copying Toyota’s solutions (tricks) will not help if you don’t have Toyota’s problems.  The solution to a problem should be isomorphic. That is, the key should match the lock it opens. Toyota developed its production system over decades of trial and error. We cannot simply copy the tools without understanding what problems they were trying to solve. To paraphrase another Toyotaism, Toyota’s Production System is different from the Toyota Production System (TPS).

This brings me to the idea of constructivism. I have talked about this before as well. A bad magician tries to sell the idea of a Superbeing who can do things that don’t seem to belong to the natural realm. He is trying to force his constructed reality onto others. A good magician on the other hand invites the spectator to create the magic in their mind. This is evident in the statements from Heinz von Foerster. The role of the observer is of utmost importance because he is the one doing the description of the phenomenon. What he describes is based on what he already knows. The properties of the “observed” are therefore the properties infused by the observer. The emphasis is then about epistemology (study of knowledge), not ontology (study of reality). Multiple perspectives and continued learning are important. One cannot optimize a complex system. It is dynamic, nonlinear and multidimensional. There are at least as many realities as the number of participants in the complex system. What optimization means depends upon the observer. There may never be a “perfect” answer to a complex problem. There are definitely wrong answers. There are definitely ‘less wrong’ answers. We should seek understanding and learn from multiple perspectives. Humility is a virtue. To paraphrase von Foerster: “Only when you realize you are blind can you see!” This is such a powerful statement. If we don’t know that our understanding is faulty, we cannot improve our understanding. This touches on the idea of Hansei or “self-reflection” in TPS.

We should be aware that everybody has a view of what is out there (reality). We all react to an internally constructed version of reality built of our internal schema/mental models/biases/what we know etc. We cannot be God-like and assume that our version is the true reality. We should not force our version on others as well. We should allow our cocreators/participants to co-construct our social reality together. This touches on the idea of Respect for Humanity in TPS.

To keep with the theme of this post, I will post some of my old videos of magic below, and end with a funny magician joke.

A Spanish magician told everyone he would disappear.

He said, “Uno, dos….” Poof! He disappeared without a tres.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Free Energy Principle at the Gemba:

My performance videos from a long time ago (pardon the video quality)…

The Free Energy Principle at the Gemba:

FEP

In today’s post, I am looking at the Free Energy Principle (FEP) by the British neuroscientist, Karl Friston. The FEP basically states that in order to resist the natural tendency to disorder, adaptive agents must minimize surprise. A good example to explain this is to say successful fish typically find themselves surrounded by water, and very atypically find themselves out of water, since being out of water for an extended time will lead to a breakdown of homoeostatic (autopoietic) relations.[1]

Here the free energy refers to an information-theoretic construct:

Because the distribution of ‘surprising’ events is in general unknown and unknowable, organisms must instead minimize a tractable proxy, which according to the FEP turns out to be ‘free energy’. Free energy in this context is an information-theoretic construct that (i) provides an upper bound on the extent to which sensory data is atypical (‘surprising’) and (ii) can be evaluated by an organism, because it depends eventually only on sensory input and an internal model of the environmental causes of sensory input.[1]

In FEP, our brains are viewed as predictive engines, or also Bayesian Inference engines. This idea is built on predictive coding/processing that goes back to the German physician and physicist Hermann von Helmholtz from the 1800s. The main idea is that we have a hierarchical structure in our brain that tries to predict what is going to happen based on the previous sensory data received. As philosopher Andy Clarke explains, our brain is not a cognitive couch potato waiting for sensory input to make sense of what is going on. It is actively predicting what is going to happen next. This is why minimizing the surprise is important. For example, when we lift a closed container, we predict that it is going to have a certain weight based on our previous experiences and the visual signal of the container. We are surprised if the container is light in weight and can be lifted easily. We have similar experiences when we miss a step on the staircase. From a mathematical standpoint, we can say that when our internal model matches the sensory input, we are not surprised. This refers to the KL divergence in information theory. The lower the divergence, the better the fit between the model and the sensory input, and lower the surprise. The hierarchical model is top down. The prediction flows top down, while the sensory data flows bottom up. If the model matches the sensory data, then nothing goes up the chain. However, when there is a significant difference between the top down prediction and the bottom up incoming sensory date, the difference is raised up the chain. One of my favorite examples to explain this further is to imagine that you are in the shower with your radio playing. You can faintly hear the radio in the shower. When your favorite song plays on the radio, you feel like you can hear it better than when an unfamiliar song is played. This is because your brain is able to better predict what is going to happen and the prediction helps smooth out the incoming auditory signals. British neuroscientist Anil Seth has a great quote regarding the predictive processing idea, “perception is controlled hallucination.”

Andy Clarke explains this further:

Perception itself is a kind of controlled hallucination… [T]he sensory information here acts as feedback on your expectations. It allows you to often correct them and to refine them.

(T)o perceive the world is to successfully predict our own sensory states. The brain uses stored knowledge about the structure of the world and the probabilities of one state or event following another to generate a prediction of what the current state is likely to be, given the previous one and this body of knowledge. Mismatches between the prediction and the received signal generate error signals that nuance the prediction or (in more extreme cases) drive learning and plasticity.

Predictive coding models suggest that what emerges first is the general gist (including the general affective feel) of the scene, with the details becoming progressively filled in as the brain uses that larger context — time and task allowing — to generate finer and finer predictions of detail. There is a very real sense in which we properly perceive the forest before the trees.

What we perceive (or think we perceive) is heavily determined by what we know, and what we know (or think we know) is constantly conditioned on what we perceive (or think we perceive).

(T)he task of the perceiving brain is to account for (to accommodate or ‘explain away’) the incoming or ‘driving’ sensory signal by means of a matching top-down prediction. The better the match, the less prediction error then propagates up the hierarchy. The higher level guesses are thus acting as priors for the lower level processing, in the fashion (as remarked earlier) of so-called ‘empirical Bayes’.

The question on what happens when the prediction does not match is best explained by Friston:

“The free-energy considered here represents a bound on the surprise inherent in any exchange with the environment, under expectations encoded by its state or configuration. A system can minimize free energy by changing its configuration to change the way it samples the environment, or to change its expectations. These changes correspond to action and perception, respectively, and lead to an adaptive exchange with the environment that is characteristic of biological systems. This treatment implies that the system’s state and structure encode an implicit and probabilistic model of the environment.”

Our brains are continuously sampling the data coming in and making predictions. When there is a mismatch between the prediction and the data, we have three options.

  • Update our model to match the incoming data.
  • Attempt to change the environment so that the model matches the environment. Try resampling the data coming in.
  • Ignore and do nothing.

Option 3 is not always something that will yield positive results. Option 1 is a learning process where we are updating our internal models based on the new evidence. Option 2 show ours strong confidence in our internal model, and that we are able to change the environment. Or perhaps there is something wrong with the incoming data and we have to get more data to proceed.

The ideas from FEP can also further our understanding on our ability to balance between maintaining status quo (exploit) and going outside our comfort zones (explore). To paraphrase the English polymath Spencer Brown, the first act of cognition is to differentiate (act of distinction). We start with differentiating – Me/everything else. We experience and “bring forth” the world around us by constructing it inside our mind. This construction has to be a simpler version due to the very high complexity of the world around us. We only care about correlations that matter to us in our local environment. This matters the most for our survival and sustenance. This leads to a tension. We want to look for things that confirm our hypotheses and maintain status quo. This is a short-term vision. However, this doesn’t help in the long run with our sustenance. We also need to explore to look for things that we don’t know about. This is the long-term vision. This helps us prepare to adapt with the everchanging environment. There is a balance between the two.

The idea of FEP can go from “I model the world” to “we model the world” to “we model ourselves modelling the world.” As part of a larger human system, we can cocreate a shared model of our environment and collaborate to minimize the free energy leading to our sustenance as a society.

Final Words:

FEP is a fascinating field and I welcome the readers to check out the works of Karl Friston, Andy Clarke and others. I will finish with the insight from Friston that the idea of minimizing free energy is also a way to recognize one’s existence.

Avoiding surprises means that one has to model and anticipate a changing and itinerant world. This implies that the models used to quantify surprise must themselves embody itinerant wandering through sensory states (because they have been selected by exposure to an inconstant world): Under the free-energy principle, the agent will become an optimal (if approximate) model of its environment. This is because, mathematically, surprise is also the negative log-evidence for the model entailed by the agent. This means minimizing surprise maximizes the evidence for the agent (model). Put simply, the agent becomes a model of the environment in which it is immersed. This is exactly consistent with the Good Regulator theorem of Conant and Ashby (1970). This theorem, which is central to cybernetics, states that “every Good Regulator of a system must be a model of that system.” .. Like adaptive fitness, the free-energy formulation is not a mechanism or magic recipe for life; it is just a characterization of biological systems that exist. In fact, adaptive fitness and (negative) free energy are considered by some to be the same thing.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Whole is ________ than the sum of its parts:

[1] The free energy principle for action and perception: A mathematical review. Christopher L. Buckley, Chang Sub Kim, Simon McGregor, Anil K. Seth (2017)

Constructivism at the Gemba:

forester

Gemba is one of the most emphasized words in Toyota Production System and Lean. Gemba is where the real action takes place, where one should go to gather the facts. As I ventured into Systems Thinking and Cybernetics, especially the teachings of Heinz von Foerster, it gave me a chance to reflect upon ‘gemba’. Often, we talk about gemba being an objective reality existing independent of us, and one which we can understand if we spend enough time in it. What I have come to realize is that the question of whether an objective reality exists is not the right one to ask. For me, the important question is not whether there is a reality (ontology), but how do you come to know that which we refer to as reality (epistemology).

I will start off with the famous aphorism of West Churchman, a key Systems Thinker:

“A systems approach begins when first you see the world through the eyes of another.”

We all have different worldviews. Your “reality” is different than mine, because you and I are different. We have our own unique experiences that shape our worldviews. One could say that we have constructed a stable reality based on our experiences. We learn in school that we should separate the observed from the observer to make valid observations. The idea of constructivism challenges this. Constructivism teaches that any observation made cannot be independent of the observer. Think about this – what we are reacting to, is actually a model of the world we have built in our heads. This world is constructed based on repeat experiences. The repeat experiences have trained our brain to identify correlations that we can experience when we come across a similar experience again. This is detailed in the excellent book on Heinz von Foerster by Lynn Segal (The Dream of Reality: Heinz Von Foerster’s Constructivism):

The constructivists challenge the idea that we match experience to reality. They argue instead that we “re-cognize” a reality through the intercorrelation of the activities of the various sense organs. It is through these computed correlations that we recognize a reality. No findings exist independently of observers. Observing systems can only correlate their sense experiences with themselves and each other. “All we have are correlations,” says von Foerster. “I see the pencil and I hold the pencil; I can correlate my experience of the pencil and use it… There is indeed a deep epistemological divide that separates the two notions of reality, the one characterized by use of the definite article (“the reality”), the other by the indefinite article (“a reality”). The first depends on the assumption that independent observations confirm the existence of the real world, the second, on the assumption the correlation of independent observations leads to the construction of a real world. To wit, the school says my sensation of touch is confirmation for my visual sensation that ‘here is a table.’ A school says my sensation of touch, in correlation with my visual sensation, generates an experience that I may describe as ‘here is a table.’ “

Von Foerster takes this idea further with an excellent gem:

Properties associated with things are indeed properties that belong to the observer. Obscenity- what’s obscene resides in the observer. If Mr. X says this picture is obscene, then we know something about Mr. X and nothing about the picture.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy, one of the founding fathers of Systems Theory, also had similar ideas. He noted in his 1955 essay, “An Essay on the Relativity of Categories”:

It seems to be the most serious shortcoming of classic occidental philosophy, from Plato to Descartes and Kant, to consider man primarily as a spectator, as ens cogitans, while, for biological reasons, he has essentially to be a performer, an ens agens in the world he is thrown in… the conception of the forms of experience as an adaptive apparatus proved in millions of years of struggle for existence, guarantees that there is a sufficient correspondence between “appearance” and “reality”. Any stimulus is experienced not as it is but as the organism reacts to it, and thus the world-picture is determined by psychophysical organization… perception and experienced categories need not mirror the “real” world; they must, however, be isomorphic to it to such degree as to allow orientation and thus survival. What traits of reality we grasp in our theoretical system is arbitrary in the epistemological sense, and determined by biological, cultural and probably linguistic factors?

An important outcome of accepting the idea of constructivism is the realization that I, as the constructor, am responsible for the reality that I create. I cannot revoke my responsibility for my reality nor my actions. I will further this again by using a von Foerster quote:

“Ontology, and objectivity as well, are used as emergency exits for those who wish to obscure their freedom of choice, and by this to escape the responsibility of their decisions.”

With this, we come to realize that our reality is not the only valid reality. As a constructivist, we realize that others have their own versions of reality.

“The only thing you can do as a constructivist is to give others the opportunity to construct their own world.”

Heinz von Foerster captured this with his two imperatives:

Von Foerster’s Ethical Imperative: “Always act in ways that create new possibilities.”

Von Foerster’s aesthetic imperative: “if you want to SEE, learn how to act.”

The ethical imperative is an invitation to realize that there are other participants in your reality, who themselves create their own versions of realities. The aesthetic imperative similarly is an invitation to reflect that objective reality is not possible. One has to interact and experience to construct a stable reality. Additionally, there are certain things that cannot be made explicit. These have to be implicit in action. My own humble take on the aesthetic imperative is – “if you want to SHOW, learn how to act.” The two imperatives flow into each other nicely. Von forester teaches that we should ensure autonomy for the other participants. For if we do not stipulate autonomy, then the observation does not result in interaction and thus minimize the experience. The concept of observation itself disappears. We should give the responsibility for others to construct their own reality as autonomous agents. In order to see, there has to be interaction between sensorium and motorium.

The idea of autonomous agents is important in constructivism. As Ernst von Glasersfeld puts it: “From the constructivist perspective, ‘input’ is of course not what an external agent or world puts in, but what the system experiences.” This means that we cannot simply command and expect the participants to follow through the orders. This is the idea of viewing the worker as a machine, not as a thinking agent.We should not stipulate the purpose of another. The participants at the gemba must be given the freedom to construct their own stable reality. This includes stipulating their own purposes. Voiding this takes away their freedom of choice and responsibility from the participants.

This brings us back to the original point about gemba. When you go to gemba, you are trying to gather facts from the real place. But as we have been reflecting, reality is not something objective. We need to seek understanding from others’ viewpoints. If we do not seek understanding from others, our reality will not include their versions. Our models will remain our own, one full of our own biases and weaknesses. There is no one Gemba out there. Gemba is a socially constructed reality, one that is a combination of everybody’s constructed reality. As noted earlier, to improve our experience, we should go to gemba often. Our experience helps with our construction of stable reality, which in turn improves our experience. This idea of closure is important in cybernetics and constructivism. We will use another von Foerster gem to improve this understanding – “Experience is the cause. The world is the consequence.”

The very act of knowing that our knowledge is incomplete or imperfect is a second order act. This allows us to perform other second order acts such as thinking about thinking. The idea of constructivism and the rejection of an objective reality might challenge your current mental paradigm of the world. But this is an important idea to at least consider.

I will finish this post with yet another wonderful von Foerster gem, where he talks about Alfred Korzybski’s famous quote, “The map is not the territory.”:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am glad that you are all seated, for now comes the Heinz von Foerster theorem: ‘The map is the territory’ because we don’t have anything else but maps. We only have depictions or presentations – I wouldn’t even say re-presentations – that we can braid together within language with the other.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was If the Teacher Hasn’t Learned, the Teacher Hasn’t Taught:

If the Teacher Hasn’t Learned, the Teacher Hasn’t Taught:

teacher hasnt learned

One of the key phrases of Training Within Industry (TWI) and Lean is – “If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.” To this I say, “If the teacher hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.” Or even – “if the teacher hasn’t learned, the student hasn’t taught.” I say this from two aspects, the first from the aspect of the teacher, and the second from the aspect of the student. To explain my statements, I will use ideas from Cybernetics.

Circularity:

The core of this post started with the thought that Teaching should be a non-zero sum activity. As the old saying goes, teaching is the best way to learn a subject. From the point of Cybernetics, teaching is circular. The idea of circularity is best explained by Heinz von Foerster, the Socrates of Cybernetics, and one of my heroes.

What is meant by circularity is that the outcome of the operation of a system initiates the next operation of that system: the system and its operations are a “closed system”. This is to allow that an experimenter considers her- or himself as part of the experiment; or that a family therapist perceives of him or herself as a partner of the family; or that a teacher sees her- or himself as participant in the learning/ teaching process in the classroom, etc., etc.

The teacher learns as part of teaching. The outcome of the teaching goes back as a feedback. This could be a new train of thought that was sparked from the conversation with the student or a new perspective that was brought up by the student, and so on. The next time the teacher teaches he adapts based on their reflection.

Communication:

Teaching is a communicative act between the teacher and the student(s), that is circular in nature. In order for this communication act to be efficient and effective, the participants should first learn about each other. The teacher should learn from the student just like the student should learn from the teacher. This learning is about each other. This allows for communication to progress as a dance, rather than it being a one-person act. The teacher has to reflect just like the student has to reflect.

As Philip Baron notes:

Human communication is subject to several perceptual errors in both listening and seeing, which challenges the success of the communication in the education system. The ability of the teacher and the learners to effectively communicate with each other is a factor for the success of each reaching their goals. The teacher imparts her knowledge in the classroom, but according to von Foerster, “it is the listener, not the speaker, who determines the meaning of an utterance,” for the listener contextualizes this information based on their own past lived experience. Thus, the student’s epistemology and their expression of their understanding is integral in the classroom context and should be actively included into the education system… The ability of the teacher and the students to communicate effectively with each other is a factor in the attempt of each reaching their goals.

Information is not a commodity that can be passed around. The teacher cannot pass the information onto the student and expect that the student completely processed the information. I will go back to a von Foerster gem that might explain this further (also noted by Baron in the paragraph above):

“The hearer, not the speaker, determines the meaning of an utterance.”

Any physical artifact such as a book or a pamphlet contains information, however this does not mean that the reader was able to completely transfer it to their knowledge domain. If we take a step back, the person who wrote the book was trying to codify his knowledge. But this codification operation is not at all efficient. This falls under the realm of “Tacit Knowledge” by Micahel Polanyi. We know more than what we can say.

Organization Closure:

I have written about Organizational Closure before. The idea of autopoiesis and organizational closure is explained very well by their creators Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela:

Autopoietic systems are organizationally (or operationally) closed. That is to say, the behavior of the system is not specified or controlled by its environment but entirely by its own structure, which specifies how the system will behave under all circumstances. It is as a consequence of this closure that living systems cannot have “inputs” or “outputs”-nor can they receive or produce information-in any sense in which these would have independent, objective reality outside the system. Put in another way, since the system determines its own behavior, there can be no “instructive interactions” by means of which something outside the system determines its behavior. A system’s responses are always determined by its structure, although they may be triggered by an environmental event.

The Cybernetician, Bernard Scott adds:

…an organism does not receive “information” as something transmitted to it, rather, as a circularly organized system it interprets perturbations as being informative.

This idea extends what we spoke about earlier – information is not a commodity. However, I want to focus on another aspect this brings in: ‘the student is an autopoietic system’. From this standpoint, the student teaches himself; the teacher is there to perturb the student. Learning is an autonomous activity.

Even as you read what I am writing, I am not passing any information on to you. Any thought or idea that is generated is that of the reader, one that is constructed purely by the reader.

This is where things get interesting, if the student teaches himself, then what we have been saying so far is applicable to himself too. Thus, we are also talking about a second order act. Maturana said – “Anything said is said by an observer.” To this, von Foerster added – “Anything said is said to an observer.” The second order nature comes, when we come to an important point raised by von Foerster, “An observer is his own ultimate object.” This is reflected in Maturana’s statement from 1988, “Everything said is said by an observer to another observer that could be him or herself”.

As von Foerster adds – in second order, we now reflect about these circular processes which generate structure, order, behavior, etc., in those things we observe… We reflect upon our reflections. We are stepping into the domain of concepts that apply to themselves.

Final Words:

I hope that this post helped the reader to reflect upon the notion of teaching and learning. I stated the importance of the concept of second order, the idea of asking questions such as – “what is the purpose of the stated ‘purpose’?”, rather than just asking – “what is the purpose?” Nike’s slogan, “Just do it!”, a first order slogan can perhaps be updated as, “Before I just do it, I need to stipulate what is my purpose of doing it.” This makes it a second order slogan.

I will finish with a great von Foerster gem:

I can still remember the big motto in the Stanford School of Journalism that said, “Tell it like it is.” When to my horror, I saw that motto, I walked in there and said, “Listen, ladies and gentlemen, it is as you tell it, and that’s why you’re responsible for the ‘it.’ Because you tell ‘it,’ it ‘is’ as you tell it. You can’t say how it ‘is’ – no one knows how it ‘is.’ And when it ‘was’, no one can reconstruct how it was.”

In case you missed it, my last post was Wu Wei at the Gemba:

Weber’s Law at the Gemba:

Ernst_Heinrich_Weber

In today’s post, I am looking at Weber’s Law. Weber’s Law is named after Ernst Heinrich Weber (24 June 1795 – 26 January 1878), a German physician who was one of the pioneers of experimental psychology. I highly recommend the Numberphile YouTube video that explains this in detail.

A simple explanation of Weber’s Law is that we notice things more at a lower intensity than at a higher intensity. For example, the light from your phone in a dark room may appear very bright to you. At the same time, the light from your phone in a bright room may seem insignificant. This type of perception is logarithmic in nature. This means that a change from 1 to 2 feels about the same as a change from 2 to 4, or 4 to 8. The perception of change for an increment of one unit, depends on whether you are experiencing it at a low intensity or a high intensity. At low intensity, a slight change feels stronger.

This is explained in the graph below. The green ovals represent the change of 2 units (2 to 4) and the red ovals represent the same change of 2 units (30 to 32). It can be seen that the perceived intensity is much less for the change from 30 to 32 than for the change from 2 to 4. These are represented by the oval shapes on the Y-axis. To achieve the same level of perceived intensity (change from 2 to 4), we need to create a large amount of intensity (~ change from 30 to 60, a difference of 30 units).

Weber

All of this fall under Psychophysics. Per Wikipedia; Psychophysics quantitatively investigates the relationship between physical stimuli and the sensations and perceptions they produce. What does all this have to do with Gemba and Lean?

How often were you able to see problems differently when you came to the production floor as an outsider? Perhaps, you were asked by a friend or colleague for help. You were able to see the problem in a different perspective and you saw something that others missed or you had a better perception of the situation. Most often, we get used to the problems on the floor that we miss seeing things. We do not notice problems until things get almost out of hand or the problems become larger. Small changes in situations do not alert us to problems. This to me is very similar to what Weber’s law teaches us. Small changes in intensity do not appear in our radar unless we are at the low intensity area.

A good example is to imagine a white sheet of paper. If there is one black spot on the paper, it jumps out to us. But if there are many spots on the paper, an additional dot does not jump out to us. It takes a lot of dots before we realize things have changed. One of the experiments that is used to demonstrate Weber’s law is to do with dots. It is easier to see the change from 10 to 20 dots, rather than the change from 110 to 120 dots.

Weber-Fechner_law_demo_-_dots

Ohno and Weber’s Law:

Taiichi Ohno was the father of Toyota Production System. I wonder how Taiichi Ohno’s perceptive skills were and whether his skillset followed Weber’s Law. I would like to imagine that his perceptive skillset was linear rather than logarithmic. He trained his perceptive muscles to see a small change no matter what the intensity was. Even if he was used to his gemba, he was able to see waste no matter if it was small, medium or large. Ohno is famous for his Ohno circle, which was a chalk circle he drew on the production floor for his supervisors, engineers etc. He would have them stand in the circle to observe an operation, trying to see waste in the operation. Waste is anything that has no value. Ohno was an expert who could differentiate a little amount of waste. Ohno’s Weber’s Law plot might appear to be linear instead of being logarithmic, when compared to a student like me.

Weber Ohno

What we can learn from Weber’s Law is that we need to improve our perception skills to perceive waste as it happens. We should not get used to “waste”. When there is already so much waste, the ability to perceive it is further diminished. It would take a larger event to make us notice of problems on the floor. We lack the ability to perceive waste accurately. We can only understand it based on what has been perceived already. This would mean that we should go to gemba more often, and each time try to see things with a fresh set of eyes. As the Toyota saying goes, we should think with our hands and see with our feet. Change spots from where you are observing a process. Understand that gemba not only means the actual place, but it also includes people, equipment, parts and the environment. We should avoid going with preconceived notions and biases. As we construct our understanding try to include input from the actual users/operators as much as possible. Learn to see differently.

Final Words:

One of the examples I came up with for this post is about cleaning rooms. Have you noticed that cleaner rooms get messy fast? Actually, we perceive a slight increase in messiness when the room is clean versus when it is not. The already messy room requires a larger amount of mess to have a noticeable difference. What Weber’s law shows us is that our natural instinct is not to think linearly.

Humans evolved to notice and minimize relative error. As noted on an article on the Science20 website:

One of the researchers’ assumptions is that if you were designing a nervous system for humans living in the ancestral environment, with the aim that it accurately represents the world around them, the right type of error to minimize would be relative error, not absolute error. After all, being off by four matters much more if the question is whether there are one or five hungry lions in the tall grass around you than if the question is whether there are 96 or 100 antelope in the herd you’ve just spotted.

The STIR researchers demonstrated that if you’re trying to minimize relative error, using a logarithmic scale is the best approach under two different conditions: One is if you’re trying to store your representations of the outside world in memory; the other is if sensory stimuli in the outside world happen to fall into particular statistical patterns.

Perhaps, all this means that we learn to see waste and solve problems on a logarithmic scale. And as we get better, we should train to see and solve problems on a linear scale. Any small amount of waste is waste that can be eliminated and the operation to be improved. It does not matter where you are on the X-axis of the Weber’s law plot. I will finish with an excellent anecdote from one of my heroes, Heinz von Foerster, who was also a nephew of Ludwig Wittgenstein. I have slightly paraphrased the anecdote.

Let me illustrate this point. I don’t know whether you remember Castaneda and his teacher, Don Juan. Castaneda wants to learn about things that go on in the immense expanses of the Mexican chaparral. Don Juan says, “You see this … ?” and Castaneda says “What? I don’t see anything.” Next time, Don Juan says, “Look here!” Castaneda looks, and says, “I don’t see a thing.” Don Juan gets desperate, because he wants really to teach him how to see. Finally, Don Juan has a solution. “I see now what your problem is. You can only see things that you can explain. Forget about explanations, and you will see.”

You become surprised because you abandoned your preoccupation with explanations. Therefore, you are able to see. I hope you will continue to be surprised.

In case you missed it, my last post was OODA Loop at the Gemba:

I also encourage the readers to check out my other similar posts:

Drawing at the Gemba

The Colors of Waste

Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Lean Lessons

OODA Loop at the Gemba:

Boyd

In today’s post, I am looking at OODA Loop, the brainchild of Col. John Boyd, a highly influential American military strategist. OODA is an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. Boyd did not write any book detailing his ideas. However, he did write several papers and also gave lectures detailing his ideas. Boyd was a fighter pilot with the US Air Force. He was famously dubbed as the “40-second Boyd.” Legend goes that he could defeat any pilot who took him on in less than 40 seconds.

Francis Osinga, in his excellent book “Science, Strategy and War”, explained the OODA loop as:

OODA stands for observation, orientation, decision, action. Explained in brief, observation is sensing yourself and the world around you. The second element, orientation, is the complex set of filters of genetic heritage, cultural predispositions, personal experience, and knowledge. The third is decision, a review of alternative courses of action and the selection of the preferred course as a hypothesis to be tested. The final element is action, the testing of the decision selected by implementation.  The notion of the loop, the constant repetition of the OODA cycle, is the essential connection that is repeated again and again.  Put simply, Boyd advances the idea that success in war, conflict, competition even survival hinges upon the quality and tempo of the cognitive processes of leaders and their organizations.

The OODA loop is generally shown as the schematic below:

Simple OODA

John Boyd’s final version of the OODA loop is given below:

1920px-OODA.Boyd.svg

From Osinga:

(Boyd) was the first to observe that the common underlying mechanism involved tactics that distort the enemy’s perception of time. He identified a general category of activities to achieve this distortion, the ability to change the situation faster than the opponent could comprehend, which he called “operating inside the Observation– Orientation–Decision–Action (OODA) loop.”

Boyd wonderfully explains the idea of getting inside the opponent’s OODA loop in his paper, “Destruction and Creation.”

Destruction and Creation:

Boyd starts with explaining that we have conceptual models of the external world, the reality. We interact with reality, and we update this model based on our continuous interaction. He stated:

To comprehend and cope with our environment we develop mental patterns or concepts of meaning. The purpose of this paper is to sketch out how we destroy and create these patterns to permit us to both shape and be shaped by a changing environment. In this sense, the discussion also literally shows why we cannot avoid this kind of activity if we intend to survive on our own terms. The activity is dialectic in nature generating both disorder and order that emerges as a changing and expanding universe of mental concepts matched to a changing and expanding universe of observed reality.

Boyd said that we are in a continuous struggle to remove or overcome physical and social environmental obstacles. This means that we have to take actions and decisions on an ongoing basis for our survival. We have to keep modifying our internal representation of reality based on new data. He called this destruction and creation, which he further detailed as analysis and synthesis. We have to use a reductive process of taking things apart, and assembling things together to gather meaning.

There are two ways in which we can develop and manipulate mental concepts to represent observed reality: We can start from a comprehensive whole and break it down to its particulars or we can start with the particulars and build towards a comprehensive whole.

Readers of this blog might see that the ideas of analysis and synthesis are very important in Systems Thinking. Boyd was an avid reader and he was able to see similar ideas in various fields and bring them all together. His sources of inspiration varied from Sun Tzu, Toyota to Kurt Godel.

Boyd continued that the acts of analysis and synthesis require verification to ensure that the newly created mental representation is appropriate.

Recalling that we use concepts or mental patterns to represent reality, it follows that the unstructuring and restructuring just shown reveals a way of changing our perception of reality. Naturally, such a notion implies that the emerging pattern of ideas and interactions must be internally consistent and match-up with reality… Over and over again this cycle of Destruction and Creation is repeated until we demonstrate internal consistency and match-up with reality.

Boyd brilliantly brings in the ideas of the great logician, mathematician, and analytic philosopher Kurt Godel. Godel in 1931 shook the world of mathematics and logic with his two phenomenal theorems – the Incompleteness Theorems. He proved that in any formal systems there will always be statements that cannot be proven within the logical structures of the system, and that any formal system cannot demonstrate its own consistency. Godel’s ideas were so powerful that the great polymath von Neumann is said to have remarked, “it’s all over!”

Boyd used ideas from Godel, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and entropy to further explain his OODA loop. Boyd explained Godel’s ideas as:

“You cannot use a system’s own workings to determine if a system is consistent or not…One cannot determine the character and nature of a system within itself. Moreover, attempts to do will lead to confusion and disorder.”

This was the great insight that Boyd had. One has to continuously stay in touch with his environment to have a consistent internal representation of reality. If the link to the environment is cut off, then the internal representation gets faulty, and the continuous destruction and creation of the internal representation is then based on faulty references.

“If I have an adversary out there, what I want to do is have the adversary fold back inside of himself where he cannot really consult the external environment he has to deal with, if I can do this then I can drive him to confusion and disorder, and bring him into paralysis.”

Boyd stated:

According to Gödel we cannot— in general—determine the consistency, hence the character or nature, of an abstract system within itself. According to Heisenberg and the Second Law of Thermodynamics any attempt to do so in the real world will expose uncertainty and generate disorder. Taken together, these three notions support the idea that any inward-oriented and continued effort to improve the match-up of concept with observed reality will only increase the degree of mismatch. Naturally, in this environment, uncertainty and disorder will increase as previously indicated by the Heisenberg Indeterminacy Principle and the Second Law of Thermodynamics, respectively. Put another way, we can expect unexplained and disturbing ambiguities, uncertainties, anomalies, or apparent inconsistencies to emerge more and more often. Furthermore, unless some kind of relief is available, we can expect confusion to increase until disorder approaches chaos— death.

Orient – the Most Important Step:

Orient

In the OODA loop, the most important step in OODA is the second O – Orient. This is the step about our mental models and internal representation of the external world. This is where all the schema reside.

Boyd wrote:

The second O, orientation—as the repository of our genetic heritage, cultural tradition, and previous experiences—is the most important part of the O-O-D-A loop since it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.

From Osinga:

Orientation is the schwerpunkt (center of gravity). It shapes the way we interact with the environment.

In this sense, Orientation shapes the character of present observations-orientation- decision-action loops – while these present loops shape the character of future orientation.

Chet Richards, friend of Boyd, writes about orientation:

Orientation, whether we want it to or not, exerts a strong control over what we observe. To a great extent, a person hears, as Paul Simon wrote in “The Boxer,” what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. This tendency to confirm what we already believe is not just sloppy thinking but is built into our brains (Molenberghs, Halász, Mattingley, Vanman. and Cunnington, 2012) … Strategists call the tendency to observe data that confirm our current orientations “incestuous amplification”.

Final Words:

OODA loop is a versatile framework to learn and understand. We already use the concept unconsciously. The knowledge about the OODA loop helps us prepare to face uncertainty in the everchanging environment. You can also see in today’s world that intentional misinformation can heavily disorient people and distort reality.

We should always stay close to the source, the gemba, to gather our data. We should keep updating our mental models, and not rely on old mental models. We should not try to find only data that corroborates our hypotheses. We should continuously update/improve our orientation. We should start learning from varying fields.

We should allow local autonomy in our organization. This allows for better adaptation since they are close to the source. The idea of not being able to adapt with a fast changing environment can also be explained by Murray Gell-Mann’s maladaptive schemata. From Osinga:

One of the most common reasons for the existence of maladaptive schemata is that they were once adaptive, but under conditions that no longer prevail. The environment has changed at a faster rate than the evolutionary process can accommodate.

In case you missed it, my last post was AQL/RQL/LTPD/OC Curve/Reliability and Confidence:

Cybernetics and Design – Poka Yoke, Two Hypotheses and More:

sonic screwdriver

In today’s post I am looking at “Design” from a cybernetics viewpoint. My inspirations for today’s post are Ross Ashby, Stafford Beer, Klaus Krippendorff, Paul Pangaro and Ranulph Glanville. The concept I was originally playing around was how the interface of a device conveys the message to the user on how to interact with the device. For example, if you see a button, you are invited to press on it. In a similar vein, if you see a dial, you know to twist the dial up or down. By looking at the ideas of cybernetics, I feel that we can expand upon this further.

Ross Ashby, one of the pioneers of Cybernetics defined variety as the number of possible elements(states) of a system. A stoplight, for example, generally has three states (Red, Green and Yellow). Additional states are possible, such as (blinking red, no light, simultaneous combinations of two or three lights). Of all the possible states identified, the stoplight is constrained to have only three states. If the stoplight is not able to regulate the traffic in combination with similar stoplights, acting in tandem, the traffic gets heavy resulting in a standstill. Thus, we can say that the stoplight was lacking the requisite variety. Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety states that only variety can destroy (absorb) variety. This means that the regulator should have enough variety to absorb any perturbations in order to truly manage a system. Unfortunately, the external variety is always larger than the internal variety. In other words, the regulator has to have the means to filter out unwanted external variety and it should amplify the internal variety to stay viable. An important concept to grasp with this idea is that the number of distinguishable states (and thus variety) depends upon the ability of the observer. In this regard, the variety of a system may be dependent on the observer.

With these concepts in mind, I will introduce two ideas (hypotheses) that I have been playing with:

1) Purpose hypothesis: The user determines the purpose/use of a device.

2) Counteraction hypothesis: When presented with a complex situation, the user generally seeks simplicity. When presented with a simple situation, the user generally seeks complexity.

Harish’s Purpose Hypothesis: The user determines the purpose/use of a device.

The user is external to the design of a device. The user at any given point has more variety than the simple device. Thus, the user ultimately determines the purpose of a device. How many times have you used a simple screwdriver for other purposes than screwing/unscrewing a screw?

Harish’s Counteraction hypothesis: When presented with a complex situation, the user generally seeks simplicity. When presented with a simple situation, the user generally seeks complexity.

The user has a tendency to move away from the perceived complexity of a device. If it is viewed as simple, the user will come up with complex ways to use it. If it is viewed as complex, the user will try to come up with simple ways to use the device. Complexity is in the eyes of the beholder. This can be also explained asUpon realizing that something is not working, a rational being, instead of continuing on the same path, will try to do the opposite. A good example is a spreadsheet – in the hands of an expert, the spreadsheet can be used for highly complicated mathematical simulations with numerous macros, and alternately, in the hands of a novice, the spreadsheet is just a table with some data points. In a similar way, if something is perceived as complex, the user will find a way to simplify the work to get the bare minimum output.

The Cybernetic Dance between the Designer and the User:

There is a dance between the designer and the user, and the medium of the dance is the interface of the device. The designer has to anticipate the different ways the user can interface with the device, and make the positive mannerisms attractive and the negative mannerisms unattractive. In the cybernetics terms, the designer has to amplify the desirable variety of the device so that the user is more likely to choose the correct way the device should be used. The designer also has to attenuate the undesirable variety so that the user will not choose the incorrect ways of use. If the design interface is providing a consistent message each time, then the entropy of the message is said to be zero. There is no change in the “message” conveyed by the design. One of the concepts in Lean is poka yoke or error proofing a device. From what we have seen so far, we can say that a successful poka yoke device has the requisite variety. The message conveyed by the device is consistent and the user always chooses the correct sequence of operation.

Krippendorff explains this nicely in terms of affordances of a device: [1]

When an interface works as expected, one can say with James Gibson (1979) that the artifact in question affords the construction that a user has of it; and when it does not work as expected, one can say that the artifact objects to being treated the way it is, without revealing why this is so.

Krippendorff also explains that the interface does not carry a message from the designer to the user. This is an interesting concept. Krippendorff further explains that the user assigns the meaning from how the user interacts with the device. The challenge then to the designer is to understand the problem, and determine the easiest way to solve it.

Different people may interface rather differently with the same artifact. What is a screwdriver for one person, may be an ice pick, a lever to pry a can of paint open, and a way to bolt a door for another. Human-centered designers must realize that they interface with their artifacts in anticipation that the result of their interactions affords others to meaningfully interface with their design—without being able to tell them how.

An interface consists of sequences of ideally meaningful interactions—actions followed by reactions followed by responses to these reactions and so on—leading to a desirable state. This circularity evidently is the same circularity that cybernetics theorizes, including what it converges to, what it brings forth. In human terms, the key to such interactions, such circularities, is their meaningfulness, the understanding of what one does in it, and towards which ends. Probably most important to human-centeredness is the axiom:

Humans do not respond to the physical qualities of things but act on what they mean to them (Krippendorff, 2006a).

Variety Costs Money:

Another concept from the cybernetics viewpoint is that adding variety costs money. In theory, a perfect device could be designed, but this would not be practical from a cost standpoint. Afterall, a low price is one of the ways the designer can amplify variety. A good story to reflect this is the design of the simple USB. A USB cord is often cited as an example for poka yoke. There is only way to insert it into the port. When you think about it, a USB pin has two states for insertion, of which only one is correct. There is no immediate standard way that the user can tell how it can be inserted. Thus, the USB lacks the requisite variety and it can lead to dissatisfaction of the user. Now the obvious question is why this is not an issue on a different connector such as Apple’s lightning cord, which can be inserted either way. It turns out that the lack of variety for the USB was on purpose. It was an effort to save money.[2]

A USB that could plug in correctly both ways would have required double the wires and circuits, which would have then doubled the cost. The Intel team led by Bhatt anticipated the user frustration and opted for a rectangular design and a 50-50 chance to plug it in correctly, versus a round connector with less room for error.

Feedback must be Instantaneous:

Paul Pangaro defines Cybernetics as:

Cybernetics is about having a goal and taking action to achieve that goal. Knowing whether you have reached your goal (or at least are getting closer to it) requires “feedback”, a concept that was made rigorous by cybernetics.

Thus, we can see that the device should be designed so that any error must be made visible to the user immediately and the user can correct the error to proceed. Any delay in this can only further add to the confusion of the user. The designer has to take extreme care to reduce the user’s cognitive load, when the user is interfacing with the device. Paraphrasing Michael Jackson (not the singer), from the cybernetics standpoint, the organization of the device should have the best possible model of the environment relevant to its purposes. The organization’s structure and information flows should reflect the nature of that environment so that the organization is responsive to it.

Final Words:

I will finish with wise words from Krippendorff regarding how the user perceives meaning by interfacing with a device.

Unlike what semiotics conceptualizes, from a cybernetic perspective, artifacts do not “carry” meanings from designers to their users. They do not “contain” messages or “represent” meanings…

For example, the meaning of a button is what pressing it sets in motion: ringing an alarm, saving a file or starting a car. The meaning of a soccer ball is the role it plays in a game of soccer and especially what its players can do with it. The meaning of an architectural space is what it encourages its inhabitants to do in it, including how comfortable they feel. The meaning of a chair is the perceived ability to sit on it for a while, stand on it to reach something high up, keep books on it handy, for children to play house by covering it with a blanket, and staple several of them for storage. For its manufacturer, a chair is a product; for its distributor, a problem of getting it to a retailer; for a merchant it means profit; for its user, it may also be a conversation piece, an investment, a way to complete a furniture arrangement, an identity marker, and more.

Typically, artifacts afford many meanings for different people, in different situations, at different times, and in the context of other artifacts. Although someone may consider one meaning more important than another, even by settling on a definition—like a chair in terms of affording sitting on it—it would be odd if an artifact could not afford its associated uses. One can define the meaning of any artifact as the set of anticipated uses as recognized by a particular individual or community of users. One can list these uses and empirically study whether this set is afforded by particular artifacts and how well. Taking the premise of second-order cybernetics seriously and applying the axioms of human-centeredness to designers and users alike calls on designers to conceive of their job not as designing particular products, but to design affordances for users to engage in the interfaces that are meaningful to them, the very interfaces that constitute these users’ conceptions of an artifact, for example, of a chair, a building or a place of work.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was A Study of “Organizational Closure” and Autopoiesis:

[1] The Cybernetics of Design and the Design of Cybernetics – Klaus Krippendorff

[2] Ever Plugged A USB In Wrong? Of Course You Have. Here’s Why

Conceptual Metaphors in Lean:

Vitruvian Man blueprint.

In today’s post, I am looking at conceptual metaphors in Lean. A Conceptual metaphor is a concept in conceptual linguistics, first introduced by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in their 1980 book, Metaphors We Live By. They noted that:

Human beings structure their understanding of their experiences in the world via “conceptual metaphors” derived from basic sensorimotor and spatial concepts (spatial primitives and image schemata) learned during infancy and early childhood. 

Metaphors are normally thought of as a way to explain something further. Aristotle noted that metaphors made learning pleasant. “To learn easily is naturally pleasant to all people, and words signify something, so whatever words create knowledge in us are most pleasant.” However, the conceptual metaphor theory goes beyond the metaphor being just a linguistic/artistic phenomenon. The conceptual metaphor theory notes that metaphors are primarily used to understand abstract concepts, and that these are used subconsciously on an everyday basis. The conceptual metaphors are treated as an inevitable part of our thinking and reasoning. Lakoff and Johnson note that:

The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another… Metaphors are fundamentally conceptual in nature; metaphorical language is secondary. Conceptual metaphors are grounded in everyday experience. Abstract thought is largely, though not entirely, metaphorical. Metaphorical thought is unavoidable, ubiquitous, and mostly unconscious. Abstract concepts have a literal core but are extended by metaphors, often by many mutually inconsistent metaphors. Abstract concepts are not complete without metaphors. For example, love is not love without metaphors of magic, attraction, madness, union, nurturance, and so on.

One form of conceptual metaphor is an “Ontological Metaphor” – a metaphor in which an abstraction, such as an activity, emotion, or idea, is represented as something concrete, such as an object, substance, container, or person. A good example of an ontological metaphor in lean is waste. We are taught that we should seek total elimination of waste in lean. We are giving a physical representation to the abstract concept of “waste”. Waste is an adversary that can hurt us, steal from us, and destroy us. To paraphrase Lakoff: (I have inserted Waste in his example)

The ontological metaphor of waste allows us to make sense of phenomena in the world in human terms—terms that we can understand on the basis of our own motivations, goals, actions, and characteristics. Viewing something as abstract as waste in human terms has an explanatory power of the only sort that makes sense to most people. When we are suffering substantial economic losses, WASTE IS AN ADVERSARY metaphor at least gives us a coherent account of why we’re suffering these losses.

It is also interesting to see how the concept of waste got translated as it was transplanted from Toyota to the West. Taiichi Ohno, the father of TPS, saw waste in terms of man-hours and labor density. Outside Toyota, elimination of waste was seen as a means to increase capacity, a pursuit of efficiency alone.

Labor density is the ratio of work and motion.

Work/Motion = Labor Density

In the equation, work indicates the action carried out to forward a process or enhance the added value. Ohno realized that the correct way to improve labor density is to keep the numerator (work) the same, while decreasing the non-value added portion of motion. The denominator is an impersonal motion and the numerator is work with a human touch. The act of intensifying labor density or of raising the labor utility factor means to make the denominator smaller (by eliminating waste) without making the numerator larger.

Kiichiro Toyoda, Toyota’s president in 1949, issued the challenge to catch up with the United States within three years. America’s productivity was thought to be eight or nine times better than Japan’s. Ohno realized that this was not because the Americans were physically exerting ten times more than the Japanese. “It was probably that the Japanese are wasteful in their production system”, Ohno thought. Ohno’s view was that the total elimination of waste should result in man-hour reduction. Toyota’s man-hour reduction movement is aimed at reducing the overall number of man-hours by eliminating wasted motions and transforming them into work. Toyota succeeded because they realized that elimination of waste was an expression of their respect for humanity. The respect of humanity portion may have gotten lost in translation when the ontological metaphor of “waste” was spread outside Toyota. Toyota noted:

Employees give their valuable energy and time to the company. If they are not given the opportunity to serve the company by working effectively, there can be no joy. For the company to deny that opportunity is against the principle of respect for humanity. People’s sense of value cannot be satisfied unless they know they are doing something worthwhile.

Ohno’s first go-to training tool was to ask the supervisor to try doing the same work with less operators. The elimination of waste becomes easier when the operators have a visual control system for seeing waste as either time on hand or stock on hand, and when they avoid overproduction via Kanban. Ohno’s view of elimination of waste was to be effective and efficient by producing only what is needed. The idea of elimination of waste in the West may have become pursuing just efficiency and dropping effectiveness. The waste elimination can be viewed as a means to increase capacity, and this leads to the question – why should we stop at the daily required quantity of 100 units now that the improvement activities have yielded us more capacity to produce up to 125 units a day? Lean has become “doing more with less”, while Ohno’s goal was “doing just what is needed with less.” Ohno’s goal was being efficient and effective, even if it meant machines remained idle.

Final Words:

The term “Lean” itself is a conceptual metaphor. “Lean” refers to being fit, as opposed to being obese. In “Lean”, elimination of waste is about “trimming the fat”. The metaphor of “lean” represents the aesthetics of being beautiful and healthy – perhaps a notion of being in charge and knowing what needs to be done. This could be viewed as the Western philosophy of outwardly focus on external beauty, whereas the Eastern philosophy is more inwardly focused. In Japanese culture, the concept of harmony is imperative. This is part of the ‘respect for humanity’ side of the Toyota Production System.

I welcome the reader to explore the concept of conceptual metaphor. You may also like one of my older posts – Would Ohno Change the Term “Lean”?

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Chekhov’s Gun at the Gemba:

The Confirmation Paradox:

albino raven

In today’s post I will be looking at Confirmation Paradox or Black Raven Paradox by Carl Hempel. Let’s suppose that you have never seen a raven in your life. You came across a raven one fine morning, and observe that it is black in color. Now that you have seen one, you suddenly start paying more attention and you start seeing ravens everywhere. Each time you see a raven, you observe that its color is black. Being the good scientist that you are, you come to a hypothesis – All ravens are black. This is also called induction, coming to a generalization from many specific observations.

Now you would like to confirm your hypothesis. You ask your good friend, Carl Hempel, to help. Carl suggests that you start looking at things around his house that are not black and not raven, like his red couch, the yellow tennis ball etc. He suggests that each of those observations support your hypothesis that all ravens are black. You are rightfully puzzled by this. This is the confirmation paradox. Carl Hempel was a German born philosopher who later immigrated to America.

Carl Hempel is correct with this claim. Let’s look at this further. All ravens are black can be restated as “Whatever is not black is not a raven”. This is a logical equivalence of your hypothesis. This would mean that if you observe something that is not black and is not a raven, it would support your hypothesis. Thus, if you observe a red couch, it is not black and it is also not a raven, therefore it supports your hypothesis that all ravens are black.

How do we come in terms with this? Surely, it does not make sense that a red couch supports the hypothesis that all ravens are black. The first point to note here is that one can never prove a hypothesis via induction. Induction requires the statement to be provided with a level of confidence or certainty. This would mean that the level of “support” that each observation makes depends upon the type of information gained from that observation.

I will explain this further with the concept of information from Claude Shannon’s viewpoint. Information is all around us. Where ever you look, you can get information. Claude Shannon quantified this in terms of entropy with the unit as a bit. He described this as the amount of surprise or reduction of uncertainty. Information is inversely proportional to probability of an event. The less probable an event is, the more information it contains. Let’s look at the schematic below:

ravens

The black triangle represents all the black ravens in our observable universe. The blue square represents all of the black things in our observable universe. The red circle represents all the things in the observable universe. Thus, the set of black ravens is a subset of all black things, which in turn is a subset of all things. From a probability standpoint, the probability of observing a black raven is much smaller than the probability of observing a black thing since there are proportionally a lot more black things in existence. Similarly, the probability of observing a non-black thing is much higher since there are lot more non-black things in existence. Thus, from an information standpoint, the information you get from observing a non-black thing that is not a raven is very very small. Logically, this observation does provide additional support, however, the information content is miniscule. Please note that, on the other hand, observing a black raven is also supporting the statement that all non-raven things are non-black.

When you first saw a black raven, you had no idea about such a thing existing. The information content of that observation was high. After you started observing more ravens, the information you got from each observation started diminishing. Even if you made 10,000 observations of black ravens, you cannot prove (100% confirm) that all ravens are black. This is the curse of induction. This is where Karl Popper comes in. Karl Popper, an Austrian-British philosopher, had the brilliant insight that good hypotheses should be falsifiable. We should try to look for observations that would fail our hypothesis. His insight was in the asymmetry of falsifiability. You may have 100,000 observations supporting your hypothesis. All you need is a single observation to fail it. The most popular example for this is the case of the black swan. The belief that all swans are white was discredited when black swans were discovered in Australia. To come back to the information analogy, the observation of a white raven has lot more information content that is powerful enough to break down your hypothesis since the occurrence of a white raven(albino) is very low in nature. Finding a white raven is quite rare and thus have the most information or surprise.

This also brings up the concept of Total Evidence. The concept of Total Evidence was put forth by Rudolf Carnap, a German born philosopher. He stated that in the application of inductive logic to a given knowledge situation, the total evidence available must be taken as basis for determining the degree of confirmation. Let’s say that as we learned more about ravens and other birds, we came across the concept of albinism in other animals and birds. This should make us challenge our hypothesis since we know that albinism can occur in nature, and thus it is not farfetched that it can occur in ravens as well. The concept of Total Evidence is interesting because even though it has the term “Total” in it, it is beckoning us to realize that we cannot ever have total information. It is a reminder for us to consider all possibilities and to understand where our mental models break down. In theory, one could also make whimsical statements such as “All unicorns are rainbow colored”, and say that the observation of a white shoe supports it based on the confirmation paradox. Total evidence in this case would require us to have made at least one observation of a rainbow colored unicorn.

I will finish with another paradox that is similar to the confirmation paradox – the 99-foot (feet) man paradox by Paul Berent. Up to this point, we have been looking at qualitative data (black versus not black, or raven versus not raven). Let’s say that you have a hypothesis that says all men are less than 100 feet. You surveyed over 100,000 men and found all of them to be less than 100 feet. One day you heard about a new circus company coming to town. Their main attraction is a 99-foot man. You go to see him in person and sure enough, he is 99 feet tall. Now, your hypothesis is still intact since the 99-foot man is technically less than 100 feet. However, this adds doubt to your mind. You realize that if there is a 99-foot man, then the occurrence of a 100-foot man is not farfetched. The paradox occurs since the observation of a 99-foot man strengthens your hypothesis, but at the same time it also weakens it.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Know Your Edges:

Know Your Edges:

jigsaw

In today’s post I will start with a question, “Do you know your edges?

Edges are boundaries where a system or a process (depending upon your construction) breaks down or changes structure. Our preference, as the manager or the owner, is to stay in our comfort zone, a place where we know how things work; a place where we can predict how things go; a place we have the most certainty. Let’s take for a simple example your daily commute to work – chances are high that you always take the same route to work. This is what you know and you have a high certainty about how long it will take you to get to your work. Counterintuitively, the more certainty you have of something, the less information you have to gain from it. Our natural tendency is to have more certainty about things, and we hate uncertainty. We think of uncertainty as a bad thing. If I can use a metaphor, uncertainty is like medicine – you need it to stay healthy!

To discuss this further, I will look at the concept of variety from Cybernetics. Variety is a concept that was put forth by William Ross Ashby, a giant in the world of Cybernetics. Simply speaking, variety is the number of states. If you look at a stop light, generally it has three states (Red, Yellow and Green). In other words, the stop light’s variety is three (ignoring flashing red and no light). With this, it is able to control traffic. When the stop light is able to match the ongoing traffic, everything is smooth. But when the volume of traffic increases, the stop light is not able to keep up. The system reacts by slowing down the traffic. This shows that the variety in the environment is always greater than the variety available internally. The external variety also equates with uncertainty. Scaling back, let’s look at a manufacturing plant. The uncertainty comes in the form of 6M (Man, Machine, Method, Material, Measurement and Mother Nature). The manager’s job is to reduce the certainty. This is done by filtering the variety imposed from the outside, magnifying the variety that is available internally or looking at ways to improve the requisite variety. Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety can be stated as – “only variety can absorb variety.

All organizations are sociotechnical systems. This also means that in order to sustain, they need to be complex adaptive systems. In order to improve the adaptability, the system needs to keep learning. It may be counterintuitive, but uncertainty is required for a complex adaptive system to keep learning, and to maintain the requisite variety to sustain itself. Thus, the push to stay away from uncertainty or staying in the comfort zone could actually be detrimental. Metaphorically, staying the comfort zone is staying away from the edges, where there is more uncertainty. After a basic level of stability is achieved, there is not much information available in the center (away from the edges). Since the environment is always changing, the organization has to keep updating the information to adapt and survive. This means that the organization should engage in safe to fail experiments and move away from their comfort zone to keep updating their information. The organization has to know where the edges are, and where the structures break down. Safe to fail experiments increases the solution space of the organization making it better suited for challenges. These experiments are fast, small and reversible, and are meant to increase the experience of the organization without risks. The organization cannot remain static and has to change with time. The experimentation away from the comfort zone provides direction for growth. It also shows where things can get catastrophic, so that the organization can be better prepared and move away from that direction.

This leads me to the concept of “fundamental regulator paradox”. This was developed by Gerald Weinberg, an American Computer scientist. As a system gets really good at what it does, and nothing ever goes wrong, then it is impossible to tell how well it is working. When strict rules and regulations are put in place to maintain “perfect order”, they can actually result in the opposite of what they are originally meant for. The paradox is stated as:

The task of a regulator is to eliminate variation, but this variation is the ultimate source of information about the quality of its work. Therefore, the better job a regulator does, the less information it gets about how to improve.

This concept also tells us that trying to stay in the comfort zone is never good and that we should not shy away from uncertainty. Exploring away from the comfort zone is how we can develop the adaptability and experience needed to survive.

Final Words:

This post is a further expansion from my recent tweet. https://twitter.com/harish_josev/status/1055977583261769728?s=11

Information is most rich at the edges. Information is at its lowest in the center. Equilibrium also lies away from the edges.

The two questions, “How good are you at something?” and “How bad are you at something?” may be logically equivalent. However, there is more opportunity to gain information from the second question since it leads us away from the comfort zone.

I will finish with a lesson from one of my favorite TV Detectives, D.I Richard Poole from Death in Paradise.

Poole noted that solving murders were like solving jigsaw puzzles. One has to work from the corners, and then the edges and then move towards the middle. Then, everything will fall in line and start to make sense.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Bootstrap Kaizen: