Kufu Eyes:

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I came across an interesting phrase recently. I was reading Kozo Saito’s paper, “Hitozukuri and Monozukuri”, and I saw the phrase “kufu eyes”. Kufu is a Japanese word that means “to seek a way out of a dilemma.” This is very well explained in K. T. Suzuki’s wonderful book, “Zen and Japaense Culture.” Suzuki talks about kufu in three sections of the book, and each time he adds a little more detail.

“Kufu is not just thinking with the head, but the state when the whole body is involved and applied to the solving of a problem.”

 “Kufu means ‘employing oneself assiduously to discover the way to the objective.’ One may say that this is literally groping in the dark, there is nothing definite indicated… I am afraid this is as far as any master of Zen or swordsmanship can go with his disciples. He leads them until no more leading is possible, and the rest is left to their own devices. If it is a matter of intellection, the way to the goal may be ‘definitely’ prescribed… The students must resort to something very much deeper than mere intellection – something which they cannot obtain from another.”

‘‘The term kufu is the most significant word used in connection with Zen and also in the fields of mental and spiritual discipline. Generally, it means ‘to seek the way out of a dilemma’ or ‘to struggle to pass through a blind alley.’ A dilemma or a blind alley may sound somewhat intellectual, but the fact is that this is where the intellect can go no further, having come to its limit, but an inner urge still pushes one somehow to go beyond. As the intellect is powerless, we may enlist the aid of the will; but mere will, however pressing, is unable to break through the impasse. The will is closer to fundamentals than the intellect, but it is still on the surface of consciousness. One must go deeper yet, but how? This how is kufu. No teaching, no help from the outside is of any use. The solution must come from the most inner part of oneself. One must keep knocking at the door until all that makes one feel an individual being crumbles away. That is, when the ego finally surrenders itself, it finds itself. Here is a newborn baby. Kufu is a sort of spiritual birth pang. The whole being is involved. There are physicians and psychologists who offer a synthetic medicinal substance to relieve one of this pang. But we must remember that, while man is partially mechanistic or biochemical, this does not by any means exhaust his being; he still retains something that can never be reached by medicine. This is where his spirituality lies, and it is kufu that finally wakes us to our spirituality.’’

In his paper, Saito talked about kufu eyes to explain the process of having a curious scientific mind. Kufu eyes looks at the whole and uses personal intuition than just the analytical thinking process. Kufu eyes pushes you to think further perhaps through thought experiments, and to experiment to truly understand the whole picture. One interesting note I would like to make here is of the great American philosopher Dan Dennett’s “intuition pumps.” An intuition pump is a thought experiment structured to allow the thinker to use their intuition to develop an answer to a problem. Just like a mechanical device, if you can model your thought in a thought experiment, you can push on different buttons and pull on different levers and see what happens.

With kufu eyes, you can observe to gain insight. Siato talked about Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System, to explain the concept of kufu eyes further:

… learning engineering and science is not enough. There is a third element: professional intuition, probably the most important, yet most difficult to master, but required for the engineering problem solving process. Taichi Ohno, one of the pioneers who developed Toyota Production System, once declared that the essence of TPS is to develop the well trained ‘‘eyes’’ that can see waste which is invisible to the untrained.

Taiichi Ohno took the task of catching up to the American market when the Japanese worker was assumed to be only 1/8th productive as his American counterpart. The most recent development in manufacturing at that time was the idea of mass manufacturing, which is essentially a push system that led to lots of inventory. Toyota could not afford to carry a lot of inventory. The thinking in those days was to combine similar equipment together and perform operations in isolation. Ohno rearranged the entire layout of the plant he was in charge of, so that the equipment was set to follow the process. The practice at that time was to have one operator manning one piece of equipment. Ohno had one operator man multiple equipment at a time. This led to autonomation or Jidoka. To control the amount of parts produced, Ohno came up with the idea of Kanban. Looking back, Ohno definitely had to employ himself assiduously to discover the way to his objective. He could not just rely on his analytical mind, it was more complex than that. His thinking is clearly stated when he said that efficiency must be improved at every step and at the same time, for the plant as a whole. This is the big picture view that is needed in kufu.

Saito combines the different ideas of total-unit, dedication to the team, holistic view, dialectic approach, and nonlinear thinking to explain kufu. Logic and words have limits. I am inspired by the phrase “kufu eyes”. To me, it means looking outward and inward, looking at the big picture, thinking inside and outside of the “box”, and always pushing to go to the edge of a problem. It means to look with the determination to gain insight. It also means to not fall for status-quo, and to always improve. It also means to go slow but deliberately. It means to not stop until you have solved the problem. And at the same not stop there but keep on improving. This is further explained by Suzuki.

This may be difficult , but when you go on exercising kufu toward the subject, you will after some time come to find this state of mind exercising kufu toward the subject, you will after some time come to find this state of mind actualized without noticing each step of progress. Nothing, however, can be accomplished hurriedly.

I will stop with a wonderful lesson from Suzuki’s book:

When we tie a cat, being afraid of its catching a bird, it keeps on struggling for freedom. But train the cat so that it would not mind the presence of a bird. The animal is now free and can go anywhere it likes. In a similar way, when the mind is tied up, it feels inhibited in every move it makes, and nothing will be accomplished with any sense of spontaneity.  Not only that, the work itself will be of a poor quality, or it may not be finished at all.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Hitozukuri:

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Hitozukuri:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always keep on learning…

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

Cannon’s Polarity Principle:

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I recently read the wonderful book “On the Design of Stable Systems”, by Jerry Weinberg and Daniela Weinberg. I came across a principle that I had not heard of before called “Cannon’s Polarity Principle”. Cannon’s Polarity Principle can be stated as the strategy that a system can use to overcome noise by supplying its own opposing actions. If a system relies on an uncertain environment to supply the opposing factor to one of its regulatory mechanisms, that mechanism must have a much more refined model. By supplying its own opposing factor, it can get away with a much simpler model of the environment.

This principle is one of those things that is profound yet very simple. The Weinbergs give the example of a sticky knob on a gas stove to explain this idea. If the knob is sticky then it is tricky to raise the flame to the precise point we would like it to be. Due to the “stickiness” we will try to apply much more force than needed and inadvertently overshoot, going past the desired point. The result is that the flame is at a much higher setting. When we try to turn the flame down we are still in the same situation and again go past the point where we would like to be.

What we can do instead is to use one hand to push against the direction we would like and then slowly try to turn the knob with our other hand. With this approach we can be much more refined and be at our desired position. By working “against” our own goal, we make precise adjustment possible in the face of an unknown, but small, amount of stickiness.

This got me thinking. There are several times where we apply opposing forces to slow us down, to take the time to reach the correct decision (precise adjustment). One of my favorite Toyotaism is – Go slow to go fast. This makes a lot of sense in the light of the Polarity Principle. Any time we are doing a root cause analysis, we are prone to a plethora of biases including confirmation bias – selectively looking for ideas that reinforce our thinking, and availability bias – latching on to the first idea because that was the immediate idea we came up with. These biases might make us jump to unwarranted conclusions to address symptoms, and not addressing the root problem(s). The Polarity Principle would advise us to slow down.

I will finish this short and sweet with an apt Zen saying:

The one who is good at shooting does not hit the center of the arrow.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Contextual Why:

Contextual Why:

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One of the scientists that I have referenced in my posts a lot is the American physicist Richard Feynman. I particularly love his imaginary depiction of Mayan astronomy. Feynman went to Mexico for his second honeymoon and came across a copy of the Dresden Codex (one of the oldest surviving books from the Americas). He was particularly interested in the bars and dots in the codex. He was able to decipher the number system that the Mayans used to depict Venus’ trajectory in the solar system. He was so good at it that he was able to find that some of the versions were actually fakes. Feynman imagined the Mayans counting and putting nuts in a pot to make predictions of where Venus would be on a given day. Feynman was curious whether the Mayans actually knew what was happening (why it was happening) or whether they were going by the rules and making predictions based on a rule-based system of counting and manipulating numbers. Feynman stated that the Mayans may have gotten really good with counting but they must not have understood how the celestial bodies worked.

The push for following rules without understanding the context is unfortunate. Yet this is very prevalent. The rigidity of the rules cannot be sustained when a complex situation arises. The rigidity of rules indicates a direct linear relationship where cause and effect are clearly noted. This is the push for standardization and having one best way of doing things. This leads to stagnation, since this stymies creativity and the push for innovation. Rigid rules always break. Another way to look at this is as the push for robustness – avoiding failure by any means. We will put redundant steps, perform multiple inspections and implement punishments for not following rules. In the complex world, we should accept that things will fail – the push should be for resilience, getting back up in a short time. The rules are dictated top-down since the rules are created by the experts. These rules do not have the requisite variety to tackle the uncertainties of day-to-day dealings. The contexts of these rules do not match the actual context where the action takes place – the context at the gemba. Context is what brings out the meaning in a situation. The focus on rules and efficiency through best practice does not lead to having the requisite variety to change the context as needed to address a problem when it arises. We are involved in complex adaptive systems on a day-to-day basis. We need to change context as needed and adapt to respond to unanticipated events. Evolution requires that we have variety. This response is not always rule-based and is developed depending upon the context. We should allow room for bottom-up heuristics, since these are based on experience and local context.

As a simple example, let’s look at 5S, one of the most commonly identified lean tools, to look into this more. 5S is translated from Japanese as Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain. The rules are provided to us and they are clear cut. Similar to the Mayan story, do we actually know the context for 5S? Toyota did not have 5S. The last few S’s were added on later. This has now changed into 6S and even 7S. The “sort” step in 5S is to have only the required tools needed at the station. The “straighten” step is to identify/label the tools so that operators from other shifts or job rotations can easily find the tools. The third step is “shine” where the work station is cleaned by the operator. This allows the operator to find any spills or other signs of wear and tear that may not be seen by a cleaning crew. These three steps help the operator to identify problems as they occur, raises awareness and helps to take pride in the work. The fourth step is “standardize” and this is mainly a regulatory function to ensure that the first three steps are followed. The last step is “sustain”, which means to integrate the first three steps so that they become the normal routine and if they are not followed, one feels like something is missing. The context is to help the operator do his or her job better and be effective. The context is that a problem is made visible immediately so that it can be addressed and people can be developed. The context is not following rules. The context is not applying 5S in areas where it does not make sense. The context certainly is not policing people. When the context of what the operator does is not made clear, they do what makes sense to them in their context – at that time with the limited information they have. Empty actions do not have context and are thus meaningless and non-value adding.

Seek to understand the perspectives of your employees. Seek to understand their local context. Seek to make them understand your context, and the context of the shared goals and objectives. Heed to their stories. Develop your employees to see problems.

I will finish with an interesting question that was posed by some French researchers in the late 1970’s.

“On a boat, there are 26 sheep and 10 goats. What is the age of the captain?”

Perhaps, you might see this as a trick question. Perhaps, you may use the two numbers given and come up with the answer as 36. The answer 36 sounds right. The answer that the researchers expected was “I do not have enough information to give the answer.”

To the researchers’ surprise, very few subjects challenged the question. Most of them reasoned in their context and came up with a number that made sense in their mind. We are not trained to ask the contextual questions.

Always keep on learning and ask contextual questions…

In case you missed it, my last post was MTTF Reliability, Cricket and Baseball:

Flat Earth Lean:

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How many interpreters does it take to change a light bulb?

It depends on the context!

In today’s post, I will be looking at what I call “Flat Earth Lean” and “Contextual Lean”. I recently came across the concept of “Flat Earth View” in organizational communication. Matthew Koschmann, currently an associate professor at the University of Colorado, talks about the one-dimensional approach to organization communication where the big picture is not used. It is a linear approach without looking at the contexts or the social aspects. Koschmann explains – What I mean by a flat earth approach is a perspective that seems correct from a limited vantage point because it works for much of our day to day lives, but ultimately it fails to account for the complexity of a situation. For much of human history we got by just fine thinking the earth was flat, even though it was always round. And even with our 21st century sophistication where we know the earth is round, most of us can actually get by with flat earth assumptions much of the time. But what about when things get more complex? If you want to put a satellite into space or take a transcontinental flight, flat earth assumptions are not going to be very helpful. Remember in elementary school when you compared a globe to a map and realized, for example, that it s quicker to fly from New York to Moscow by flying over the North Pole instead of across the Atlantic? What seems counter intuitive from a flat earth perspective actually makes perfect sense from a round earth perspective.”

I would like to draw an analogy to Lean. Perhaps, the concept of flat earth exists in Lean as well. This could be looked at as the tools approach or copying Toyota’s solutions to apply them blindly. The linear approach implies a direct cause and effect relationship. From the Complexity Science standpoint, the linear relationship makes sense only in the simple and complicated domains. This is the view that everything is mechanistic, utilizing the metaphor of a machine – press this button here to make something happen on the other side with no unintended consequence or adverse effects. In this world, things are thought to be predictable, they can be standardized with one-glove-fits-all solutions, and every part is easily replaceable. Such a view is very simplistic and normally cares only about efficiency. This is an approach that is used for technical systems. There is limited or no focus on context. Hajime Ohba, a Toyota veteran, used to say that simply copying Toyota’s methods is like creating the image of Buddha and forgetting to inject soul in it. In Flat Earth Lean, the assumption is that end goal is clearly visible and that it is as easy as going from HERE to THERE. The insistence is always to KISS (keep it simple stupid). In many regards, this reductionist approach was working in the past. Information generation was minimal and the created information was kept local in the hands of the experts. In today’s global economy, organizations do not have the leisure to keep using the reductionist approach. Today, organizations not only have to ensure that information is diffused properly, they also have to rely on their employees to generate new information on a frequent basis. The focus needs to be shifted to organizations being socio-technical systems where things are not entirely predictable.

Here to There

Karl Weick, an American organizational theorist, advises to “complicate yourself”. He cautions us to not rely on oversimplification. We need to understand the context of what we are doing, and then challenge our assumptions. We have to look for contradictions and paradoxes. They are the golden nuggets that help us to understand our systems. In Contextual Lean, we have to understand our problems first and then look for ways to make things better. Implementing 5S with the aim of being “Lean” is the Flat Earth Approach. Implementing 5S and other visualization methods to make sense of our world, and making problems visible so that we can address them is “Contextual Lean”. If there is such a thing as “going Lean” for an organization, it is surely a collective expression. “Lean” does not exist in isolation in a department or in a cabinet; let alone in one Manager or an employee. To paraphrase the great philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, the meaning of an expression exists only in context. Context gives meaning. Toyota’s “Lean” has limited meaning in relation to your organization since it makes sense only in the context of the problems that Toyota has. Thus, when the Top Management pushes for Lean initiation, it has to be in the context of the problems that the organization has. Understanding context requires self-reflection and continuous learning for the organization. This again is a collective expression and does not exist without involving the employees. Interestingly, Contextual Lean has to utilize Flat Earth approach as needed.

Flat Earth and Contextual Lean have some similarities to the late American business theorist Chris Argyris’ ideas of Single and Double Loop learning. Single Loop learning is the concept of correcting an error by using the existing mental models, norms and practices. Argyris gives the example of a thermostat to explain this – Single loop learning can be compared with a thermostat that learns when it is too hot or too cold and then turns the heat on or off. The thermostat is able to perform this task because it can receive information (the temperature of the room) and therefore take corrective action. Double Loop Learning, on the other hand, involves a reflective phase that challenges the existing mental models, norms and practices, and modifies them to correct the error. In Chris Argyris’ words –If the thermostat could question itself about whether it should be set at 68 degrees, it would be capable not only of detecting error but of questioning the underlying policies and goals as well as its own program. That is a second and more comprehensive inquiry; hence it might be called double loop learning. Single Loop Learning has some similarities to Flat Earth Lean in that it wants to take a simplistic approach and does not want to modify the mental models. It wants to keep doing what is told and to use an old analogy – only bring your hands to work and leave your brains outside. Single Loop Learning is a superficial approach to solve problems symptomatically. Double Loop Learning has some similarities to Contextual Lean in that it is not one-dimensional and results in modifying the mental models as needed. It is a continuous learning and adapting cycle. Argyris also believed that organizations learn when its people learn – Organizational learning occurs when individuals, acting from their times and maps, detect a match or mismatch of outcome to expectation which confirms or disconfirms organizational theory-in-use.

I will finish with a fitting contextual story about change.

Mulla Nasrudhin was now an old man. People used to gather around to hear him talk. One day a young man asked for some words of wisdom.

Mulla replied, “When I was young I was very strong minded- I wanted to awaken everyone. I prayed to God to give me the strength to change the world. As time went on, I became middle aged and I realized that I did not change the world. Then I prayed to God to give me strength so that I can at least change those close around me. Now that I am older and perhaps wiser, my prayer has become simpler. I say – God, please grant me the strength to change at least myself.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Purpose of Visualization:

The Purpose of Visualization:

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Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not the fish they are after.” – a quote misattributed to Henry David Thoreau.

What is the purpose of visualization? Before answering this, let’s look at what is visualization. Visualization is making information visible at the gemba. The information could be in the form of daily production boards or it could be non-conforming components or other artifacts placed on a table on the production floor. Another phrase that is used in place of visualization is “visibilization”. I had talked about this in the post – Visibilization: Crime Fighting, Magic and Mieruka. The purpose of visualization or visibilization is to make waste visible so that appropriate action can be pursued. Or is it?

I recently came across the paper “Defining Insight for Visual Analytics” by Chang, Ziemkiewicz et al. I enjoyed the several insights I was able to gain from this paper. The purpose of visualization is to enable and discover insight. This may seem fairly logical and straightforward. Chang et al. details that there are two types of insights – knowledge building insight and spontaneous insight. The knowledge building insight is a linear continuous process where the operator can use established problem solving methods and heuristics to solve a problem and gain insight into the process. The spontaneous insight does not come from gradual learning heuristics or problem solving methods. The spontaneous insight results in “aha!” moments and usually new knowledge. The spontaneous insight often occurs when the operator has tried the normal problem solving routines without success. The spontaneous insight happens in frustration after several attempts when the mind breaks off from normal routines. Researchers are able to study the two insights by using electroencephalogram (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on the participants’ brains.

Chang et al. notes that – In normal problem solving, the activity in the temporal lobe is continuous and mostly localized in the left hemisphere, which is thought to encode more detailed information in tightly related semantic networks. This indicates that normal problem solving involves a narrow but continuous focus on information that is highly relevant to the problem at hand. In contrast, when participants solve a problem with spontaneous insight, the right temporal lobe shows a sharp burst of activity, specifically in an area known as the superior temporal gyrus. Unlike the left temporal lobe, the right temporal lobe is thought to encode information in coarse, loosely associated semantic networks. This suggests that spontaneous insight occurs through sudden activation of less clearly relevant information through weak semantic networks, which corresponds to a participant’s paradigm shift following an impasse.

The findings indicate that the spontaneous insight is qualitatively different from the knowledge building insight. The knowledge building insight is using the normal routines and increasing the existing knowledge, while the spontaneous insight is breaking away from the normal routines and creating new knowledge. Spontaneous insight is a form of problem solving that is used to find solutions to difficult and seemingly incomprehensible problems. Knowledge-building insight, on the other hand, is a form learning that builds a relationally semantic knowledge base through a variety of problem-solving and reasoning heuristics.

In the light of the two insights, which one is better? The point is not to identify what is better, but to understand that both types of insights are important and are both related to one another. Chang et al. theorizes that one can only gain spontaneous insights only from routine knowledge building insights. In their words – Einstein didn’t come up with the Theory of Relativity out of thin air but rather based it on experiments inconsistent with existing theories and previous mathematical work. The existence of deep, complex knowledge about a subject increases the likelihood that a novel connection can be made within that knowledge. Likewise, each major spontaneous insight opens up the possibility of new directions for knowledge-building. Together, the two types of insights support each other in a loop that allows human learning to be both flexible and scalable.

Chang et al. hypothesizes that there is a positive non-linear relationship between gaining insights and the knowledge that the operator already possesses. The more knowledge the operator has, the more likelihood that the operator will gain further insights with visualization. In this light, the purpose of visualization is to develop your employees, and in some regards demonstrates respect for people. Making the problems/waste visible allows them to engage in daily/ frequent problem solving routines that builds knowledge building insights, which then leads to spontaneous insights to improving their processes. In other words, it is about building the continuous improvement muscle! The problems on the floor can vary in their complexities. There can be routine problems with known linear relationships (simple to complicated problems), and there can be problems where there are no known solutions and are intricately woven with non-linear relationships (complicated to complex problems). Solving the routine problems can help with gaining valuable spontaneous insights to tackle the complex problems.

I will finish off with a quote from the great Carl Sagan when he went on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson:

For most of history of life on this planet, almost all the information they had to deal with was in their (organisms’) genes.  Then about 100 million years ago or a little longer than that, there came to be a reptile that for the first time in the history of life had more information in its brains than in its genes. That was a major step symbolically in the evolution of life on this planet. Well, now we have an organism – us, which can store more information outside the body altogether than inside the body – that is in books and computers and television and video cassettes. And that extraordinarily expands our abilities to understand what is happening and to manipulate and control our environment, if we do it wisely, for human benefit.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Looking at Kaizen and Kaikaku:

Looking at Kaizen and Kaikaku:

trotoise-hare

In today’s post, I will be looking at the “Kaizen” and “Kaikaku” in light of the Explore/Exploit model. Kaizen is often translated from Japanese as “continuous improvement” or “change for better”. “Kaikaku”, another Japanese term, is translated as “radical change/improvement”. “Kakushin” is another Japanese word that is used synonymously with “Kaikaku”. “Kakushin” means “innovation” in Japanese. Kaikaku got more attention from Lean practitioners when the previous Toyota President and CEO, Katsuaki Watnabe said  in 2007- Toyota could achieve its goals through Kaizen. In today’s world, however, when the rate of change is too slow, we have no choice but to resort to drastic changes or reform: Kaikaku

The explore/exploit model is based on a famous mathematical problem. I will use the example from Brian Christian and Tom Griffith’s wonderful 2016 book “Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions”. Let’s say that you are very hungry and do not feel like cooking. Which restaurant should you go to? Your favorite Italian restaurant or the new Thai place that just opened up? Would your decision capabilities be impacted if you are traveling? Sticking with what you know and being safe is the “exploit” model. Trying out new things and taking risks is the “explore” model. The dilemma comes because you have to choose between the two. The optimal solution depends on how much time you have on your hands. If you are traveling and you are at a new place for two weeks, you should try out different things at the beginning (explore). As days go by and you only have a few more days left, you should definitely stick with what you know to be the best choice so far (exploit). Christian and Griffith stated in the book – Simply put, exploration is gathering information, and exploitation is using the information you have to get a known good result.

From an organization’s standpoint, the explore/exploit dilemma is very important. The exploit model is where the organization continues to focus on efficiency and discipline in what they already manufacture. The explore model on the other hand, is focusing on innovation and new grounds. The exploit model does not like risk and uncertainty. The exploit model does not necessarily mean maintaining status-quo or not rocking the boat. The exploit model is getting better at what you already do. One way that I have heard the differentiation between the two explained is like this – exploitation is like playing in the same sandbox and getting better at the games you play inside the sandbox. Exploration is like venturing outside of your sandbox and finding new sandboxes to play with and creating new games.

Some strategies used for the exploit model are:

  • Optimize the organization for current organizational rules and structure
  • Make sure standards are in place and the established rules are followed in order to achieve efficiency
  • Make incremental improvements for existing processes better and still stay within the current organizational structures
  • Keep making more of the current product portfolio

The explore model is about breaking new grounds. Some strategies used for the explore model are:

  • Break away from the current organizational rules and structure
  • Develop new structures to allow for diversity and discovery
  • Make radical improvements to overhaul current processes, rules and structures
  • Add new product portfolios altogether

The exploit model relies on current constraints, rules and structures. The exploration model relies on the willingness to break away from the current constraints, rules and structures. A perfect balance between the two models and oscillating between both models or engaging in both models simultaneously is very important for an organization to thrive. The organizations that can do both are called “ambidextrous”.

The explore/exploit model has some similarities to Kaizen and Kaikaku. Kaizen is about getting better at what we do incrementally. It is a personal development model. Kaikaku, on the other hand, is about breaking the mold and overhauling the organization in some cases. Launching a Lean initiative can be viewed as Kaikaku. Kaizen could be an ideal strategy for exploitation and Kaikaku for exploration. I came across a paper from Yuji Yamamoto called “Kaikaku in Production in Japan: An Analysis of Kaikaku in Terms of Ambidexterity” that further shed light on this. The paper is part of the collection called “Innovative Quality Improvements in Operations”. Yamamoto points out that while Kaizen is incremental; Kaikaku entails large-scale changes to both the social and technical systems of an organization. Kaizen is often viewed as an opportunity and Kaikaku may sometimes be viewed as a necessity. Kaizen is also viewed as a bottom-up activity with autonomy, and Kaikaku on the other hand can be viewed as top-down activity with direction from the top management. Kaikaku may be continual (with definite timelines and stops) and Kaizen is continuous. Kaizen is described as engaging everybody in improvement every day, everywhere in the organization.

Yamamoto discussed data from 65 case studies where Kaikaku activities were implemented at Japanese manufacturing companies. Yamamoto noted that the defining characteristic for Kaikaku based on the studies was that Kaikaku requires everybody’s exploration effort. In the 65 reports, the importance of everyone in the organization having a specific mental mode related to exploration, for instance, a challenging spirit, give-it-a-try mentality, and unlearning, is frequently mentioned. In the Kaikaku activities, managers often encouraged everyone in the organizations to think and act in a more explorative way than they were used to. Apparently, companies used the word Kaikaku as a way to make managers and employees be aware of this mental stance toward exploration.

Yamamoto used the exploit/explore model to further differentiate Kaizen and Kaikaku. The figure below is adapted from Yamamoto. The figure shows different degrees of exploitation and exploration activities. Problem solving with a high degree of innovativeness tends to involve more exploration than exploitation.

K and K

Some key takeaways from Yamamoto’s paper are:

  • Kaikaku and Kaizen are complementary and reinforce each other. Effective Kaizen often has a positive influence on Kaikaku, and Kaikaku can stimulate Kaizen.
  • Employees engaged in iterative problem solving activities in Kaizen and Kaikaku develop exploitation and exploration abilities as part of a learning cycle. The beginning of this learning cycle is about making problems and challenges visible to increase the sense of urgency. Once they are resolved, the results are made visible throughout the organization. The organizations in the case studies created an environment for keeping the learning cycle going with opportunities to engage in improvement and innovation.
  • The participants of Kaikaku activities reflect on and learn from their successes and failures. They achieve a sense of achievement and are motivated to tackle challenges that are even more difficult.
  • Problem solving activities often lead to identifying further improvement opportunities.
  • Some companies in the report used Kaikaku to enhance Kaizen because Kaizen had been slow and reactive. While some other companies initiated Kaikaku to make employees more competent in innovation.

I will end with a Zen quote with focus on when we should be doing more:

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you are too busy. In that case, you should meditate for an hour a day.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Hammurabi, Hawaii and Icarus:

The Information Model for Poka Yoke:

USB2

In today’s post, I will be looking at poka yoke or error proofing using an information model. My inspirations for this post is Takahiro Fujimoto, who wrote the wonderful book “The Evolution of a Manufacturing System at Toyota” (1999) and a discussion I had with my brother last weekend.

I will start with an interesting question – “where do you see information at your gemba, your production floor?” A common answer to this might be the procedures or the work instructions, or you might answer it as the visual aids readily available on the floor. Yet another answer might be the production boards where the running total along with reject information is recorded. All of this is correct. A general definition of information is something that carries content, which is related to data. I am not going into Claude Shannon’s work with information in this post. Fujimoto’s brilliant view of information is that every artifact on the production floor, and in fact every materialistic thing carries information. Fujimoto defines an information asset as the basic unit of an information system. Information cannot exist without the materials or energy in which it is embodied – its medium.

info asset

This information model indicates that the manufactured product carries information. The information it carries came from the design of the product. The information is transferred and transformed from the fixtures/dies/prints etc onto the physical product. Any loss of information during this process results in a defective product. To take this concept further, even if the loss of information is low, the end-user interaction with the product brings in a different dimension. The end-user gains information when he interacts with the product. If this information matches his expectations, he is satisfied. Even if there is minimal loss of information from design to manufacturing, if the end product information does not match the user’s expectations, the user gets dissatisfied.

Lets look at a simple example of a door.  A door with a handle is a poor design since the information of whether to push or pull is not clearly transferred to the user. The user might expect to pull on the handle instead of pushing on it. The information carried by the door handle is to “open the door using handle”. It does not convey whether to push or pull to open the door.

handle

Perhaps, one can add a note on the door that says, “Push”. A better solution to avoid the confusion is to eliminate the handle altogether so that the only option is to push. The removal of the handle with a note indicating “push” conveys the information that to open the door, one has to push. The information gets conveyed to the user and there is no dissatisfaction.

This example brings up an important point – a defect is created only when an operator or machine interacts with imperfect information. The imperfect information could be in the form of a worn-out die or an imperfect work instruction that aids loss of original information being transferred to the product. When you are trying to the solve a problem on the production floor, you are updating the information available on the medium so that the user’s interaction is modified to achieve the optimum result. This brings us to poka yoke or error-proofing.

If you think about it, you could say that the root cause for any problem is that the current process allows that problem to occur due to imperfect information.  This is what poka yoke tries to address. Toyota utilizes Jidoka and poka yoke to ensure product quality. Jidoka or autonomation is the idea that when a defect is identified, the process is stopped either by the machine in an automated process, or by the operator in an assembly line. The line is stopped so that the quality problem can be addressed. In the case of Jidoka, the problem has already occurred. In contrast, poka yoke eliminates the problem by preventing the problem from occurring in the first place. Poka yoke is the brainchild of probably one of the best Industrial Engineers ever, Shigeo Shingo. The best error-proofing is one where the operator cannot create a specific defect, knowingly or unknowingly. In this type of error-proofing, the information is embedded in the medium such that it conveys the proper method to the operator and if that method is not followed, the action cannot be completed. This information of only one proper way is physically embedded onto the medium.

Information in the form of work instructions may not always be effective because of limited interaction with the user. Information in the form of visual aids can be effective since it interacts with the user and provides useful information. However, the user can ignore this or get used to it. Information in the form of alarms can also be useful. This too may get ignored by the user and may not prevent the error from occurring. However, the user cannot ignore the information in the form of contact poka yoke since he has to interact with it. The proper assembly information is physically embedded in the material. A good example is a USB cable where it can be entered in only one way. The USB icon on top indicates that it is the top. Apple took this approach further by eliminating the need of orientation altogether with its lightning cables. The socket on the Apple product prevents any other cable from being inserted due to its unique shape.

Final Words:

The concept of physical artifacts carrying information is enlightening for me as a Quality Engineer. You can update the process information by updating a fixture to have a contact feature so that a part can be inserted in only one way. This information of proper orientation is embedded onto the fixture. This is much better that updating the work instruction to properly orient the part. The physical interaction ensures that the proper information is transferred to the operator to properly orient the part.

As I was researching for this post, I came across James Gleick who wrote the book, “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood”. I will finish off with a story I heard from James Gleick regarding information: When Gleick started working at the New York Times, a wise old head editor told him that the reader is not paying for all the news that they put in to be printed. What the reader is paying them was for all the news that they left out.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Divine Wisdom and Paradigm Shifts:

The Best Attribute to Have at the Gemba:

blindmen and elephant

Recently, I was playing around with the question – what is the best attribute to have at the gemba? At first, I thought that perhaps it could be creativity. I soon realized that this is like Superman, a superhero with all of the answers. This does not align with the idea of the people system or the thinking production system – generating ideas bottom-up. Then I thought, perhaps the best attribute to have at the gemba is the ability to listen. I felt that I was on the right track with this thought. I soon came to the realization that the best attribute to have at the gemba is “Anekantvada”.  Anekantvada is a Sanskrit word that translates as “many + ends + -ness” or “many sidedness”. This idea comes from one of the ancient religions from India called Jainism. Jainism is also famous for its other contribution – Ahimsa or non-violence. We can view anekantvada as cognitive ahimsa – in other words, not being violent or hostile to others’ ideas. The main idea of anekantvada is that Reality lies outside of your mind. What you have inside your mind is your perspective or your own version of a narrative regarding the reality outside. Thus, your perspective is a poorly translated and limited copy of the reality outside and your understanding of the reality is incomplete. Anekantvada requires you to look at multiple perspectives from other people to truly understand reality, as one perspective alone is incomplete. All knowledge is contextual. We cannot separate the object and the viewer, when we are creating knowledge about something. This means that if there is more than one viewer, the knowledge created will be different.

The story of the blind men and the elephant is a very common story that explains the different perspectives of reality. The story originated with Jainism to explain anekantvada. In the Jain version of the story, there were six blind men who came to “see” the elephant, and each person felt one part of the elephant and described the elephant from his perspective. Each perspective was different because each person felt a different part of the elephant. One person felt the ear and said that the elephant was like a fan, while another felt the tail and said that the elephant was like a rope. The king happened to be there at that time, and listened to the blind men fighting on who was correct. The king told them that while each of them was partially correct, when taken one perspective at a time the truth was incomplete.

From the Jain philosophy, reality and thus the truth itself is complex and always has multiple aspects. Even if you can experience reality, you cannot express the reality completely. The best we can do is like one of the blind men – give our version, a partial expression of truth. In Jain philosophy, this idea can be explained by “Syadvada”. The root word “Syad” can be translated as “perhaps”. Using this approach, we can express anekantavada by adding “perhaps” in front of our expression of reality. An example would be to say – “perhaps the dress is blue and black”.

dress

The two quotations below add more depth to what we have discussed so far:

“To deny the coexistence of the mutually conflicting viewpoints about a thing would mean to deny the true nature of reality.” – Acharang Sutra

“The water from Ocean contained in a pot can neither be called an ocean or a non-ocean, but simply a part of the ocean. Similarly, a doctrine, though arising from absolute truth can neither be called a whole truth or a non-truth.” – Tattvarthaslokavartikka.

The idea of anekantvada requires you to respect others’ ideas. It also makes you realize that your version of reality is incomplete. Thus, when you are at the gemba telling others what to do, you are not open to others’ viewpoints. You are going with your version of the story –  it should be easy to do this, the way I tell you. Anekantvada brings a new layer of meaning to Respect for People, one of the two pillars of the Toyota Way. Take the example of Standard Work – Do you create it in vacuum and ask the operators to follow it? When there is a problem on the floor, do you figure out what happened and then require the operators to follow your one “true” way?

All knowledge, judgment and decisions we make depends upon the context of the reality, and it may make sense only when viewed in that context. Why did the operator omit step 2 of the work instructions that led to all of these rejects? This reminds me of the principle of Local Rationality, an idea that I got from Sidney Dekker [1]. Local Rationality refers to the idea that people do what make the most sense to them, at any given time. This decision may have led to some disaster, but the operator(s) did what made sense to them at that time. When you look at things this way, you start to view it from the operator’s standpoint, and finally may be able to understand what happened from a different perspective.

I will finish with a story about context:

Two students came to study under the master. They were both fond of smoking. The first day itself, the first student went to the teacher and asked whether he could smoke when he was meditating. The teacher told him that he could not do that.

Feeling sad, the first student went outside to meditate under the tree. There he saw the second student under a tree smoking. The first student asked him, “Why are you smoking? Don’t you know that our teacher does not like it when you smoke and meditate?”

The second student responded that he had asked the teacher and the teacher said that he could smoke.

The first student was confused and asked the second student, what exactly did he ask the teacher.

The second student said, “I asked him if I can meditate when I smoke.”

The first student replied, “That makes sense. I asked him if I can smoke when I meditated.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Socratic Method:

[1] http://sidneydekker.com/

The Socratic Method:

Socrates Mural

In today’s post, I am looking at the Socratic Method. Socrates was one of the early founders of Western Philosophy. Marcus Cicero (106–43 BCE), a Roman politician, wrote that it was Socrates who brought philosophy down from heaven to earth.

“Socrates however (was the) first (who) called philosophy down from heaven, and placed it in cities, and introduced it even in homes, and drove (it) to inquire about life and customs and things good and evil.”

I have always been curious about the Socratic Method. I have heard it mentioned in many books as the method to teach by asking. In my mind, I drew the analogy of guiding a horse to the pond so that it can drink water. The “guiding” is done through the questions so that the teacher does not provide the answer to the student directly. Instead, the student comes up with the answer.  This is not the same as the normal teaching in schools (“lecturing”), where the teacher will give the answers, while the students remain passive. Socrates used the analogy of a midwife who helps others to deliver their thoughts in a clear and meaningful manner.

There are three terms commonly seen to describe the Socrates Method.

  • Elenchos
  • Dialectic
  • Aparia

Elenchos is a Greek term, which can be translated as “cross-examination”. There is a negative connotation to this term. Socrates’ method has been described as an Elenctic method. The negative connotation comes from pointing out to the interlocutor that he does not have the knowledge that he thought he did, puncturing the conceit of wisdom. Socrates would start out by saying that he does not know about something, for example, the concept of virtue. Then he would ask for help from the person of interest to define what virtue is. From that point onwards, once the person of interest commits to a definition, Socrates will continue to ask questions, and each question will point out a weakness that refutes the definition. After a round of questions, the person of interest gets very confused and recognizes that he did not understand the subject as he thought he did and feels that he embarrassed himself.

 Dialectic is another Greek term that can be translated as “discussion”. Dialectic does not have the negative connotation that Elenchos has. Any complex idea contains contradictions, inconsistencies and even portions of ignorance. The Dialectic method is a way to reveal the contradictions or inconsistencies, to go back and forth between contrasting ideas to refine the topic on hand.

What Socrates is trying to achieve from his questions is “Aparia”. Aparia is another Greek term that can be translated as “Cognitive discomfort”. Once the interlocutor realizes that he does not know as much as he thought he did, he achieves aparia. He feels the discomfort cognitively because he was sure that he knew about the subject. The interlocutor is outside of his comfort zone. However, Socrates was able to find fault with his knowledge. Aparia is the starting point for the interlocutor to examine himself and reflect so that new knowledge can be gained.

Combining the three ideas above, we can loosely explain the Socratic Method as follows:

  1. Make the person of interest (POI) at ease, and ask the question in the form of “what is X?”
  2. If POI defines “X” as “Y”, find examples where “X” is not “Y”
  3. Ask questions to further define “X” in light of the new information. Repeat (2) and (3).
  4. Each round of questions must move the POI further away from their first definition.
  5. POI achieves aparia.

Socrates would plead ignorance and ask for specific definitions when asking questions. The questions can also be in other forms such as “what is the purpose of X” or “How does one obtain X” etc. The first question forces the POI to define the boundary of his conception of the idea. This can be thought of as a box. However, with each refutation, the POI realizes that the boundary he first drew is not enough, and that he has to redefine the boundary – perhaps make it larger or smaller, or draw the boundary in a whole other area.

One of the best examples I have seen to explain this is that of a chair. How would one define a chair? One possible definition is that a chair is something for a person to sit upon.

chair 1

However, there are many other things that people sit on, for example – a step on a stair.

With this refutation, the definition may now be changed to “a chair is something designed for a person to sit.”

chair 2

The new refutation might be that a bench is something that is designed for a person to sit, and so is a stool. These are not chairs.

Perhaps, the chair can be now defined as “piece of furniture designed for only one person with a back and four legs”. This is similar to the definition in Merriam Webster dictionary.

Even with the new definition, there are still inconsistencies. There are chairs such as decorative chairs that are not supposed to be sat on. There are chairs like a bean bag chair that do not have a back or legs.

chair 3

Compared to defining a chair, it is harder to define ideas that are not tangible. There are many phrases in Lean like “Respect for People” and “flow” that are thrown around. How would you define “Respect for People”? Would you define it as being nice to your workers? How would you define “flow”? Would you define it as production with one-piece at a time?

On a side note, you can use the Socratic Method on yourself. This can be compared to Hansei in Toyota Production System. What are your beliefs and worldviews? Can you identify any contradictions or inconsistencies that might refute this? Actively seeking out to disprove your belief system helps you in your pursuit for wisdom. Seek out aparia!

Final words:

Socrates did not write any books. Plato, his disciple, wrote about Socrates a lot in his books. Most of what we know about Socrates came from Plato’s books. Socrates never defined or explained his method, nor did Plato write it down as a method. What we have come to know as the Socratic Method is from reading Plato’s books and noting the patterns of dialogues that Socrates engaged in. In Plato’s book, “Apology”, Socrates talks about the reason for going around and asking questions. Socrates’ friend, Chaerephon went to Delphi and asked the Pythian priestess Is there anybody wiser than Socrates?” The Pythian priestess responded that there was no one wiser. This really confused Socrates, and he took this to mean that the Gods are commanding him to examine himself as well as others. He came to the realization that while others were pretending to possess knowledge, he knows nothing, and this knowledge is what sets him apart from others. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. The pursuit of knowledge starts with questions.

I will finish with a story of Diogenes and Plato. Diogenes was one of the founders of Cynic Philosophy. Diogenes asked Plato for a definition of man. Knowing Diogenes’ cynical nature, Plato gave the tongue-in-cheek definition from Socrates – “Man is a featherless biped.” Diogenes went outside, and bought a chicken. He then plucked all of its feathers, brought it to Plato, and said, “Behold. Here is a man.”

Plato then ordered his academy to add “with broad flat nails” to the definition.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Which Way You Should Go Depends on Where You Are: