TPS’s Operation Paradox:

Recently, I came across an interesting insight at the Toyota Global website. The section of interest is shown below:

Eventually, the value added by the line’s human operators disappears, meaning any operator can use the line to produce the same result. Only then is the jidoka mechanism incorporated into actual production lines. Through the repetition of this process, machinery becomes simpler and less expensive, while maintenance becomes less time consuming and less costly, enabling the creation of simple, slim, flexible lines that are adaptable to fluctuations in production volume.

I was taken aback by the first sentence of the paragraph – eventually, the value added by the line’s human operators disappears! Generally, we talk about increasing the value-added activities in Lean or TPS (Toyota Production System). Here, Toyota seems to be stating a paradox – We should get so good at what we do that we do not add value anymore. We keep finding better and better ways at doing what we do that it does not necessarily need us or even a human to do that job.

The website details the ideas of TPS, mainly Jidoka. Jidoka is the idea of building-in quality so if a defect is produced, the line stops automatically. I have talked about it on my website before – here and here. Toyota is advising us to make the operations as simple as possible. We are advised to remove the complexity of the operation. The operator does not have to face unwanted complexity. This complexity should be absorbed by the Engineers or Management designing the assembly line or the operation. This is an idea similar to Tesler’s law that I have discussed before. Before we can implement the ideas of Jidoka, we need to make the operation as stable as possible by avoiding unwanted variation from the operations. By doing this, multiple machines can be handled by one operator.

The paradoxical message might seem to be promoting automation. It is not so simple. Toyota focuses on work done by hand. The website states:

The work done by hand in this process is the bedrock of engineering skill. Machines and robots do not think for themselves or evolve on their own. Rather, they evolve as we transfer our skills and craftsmanship to them. In other words, craftsmanship is achieved by learning the basic principles of manufacturing through manual work, then applying them on the factory floor to steadily make improvements. This cycle of improvement in both human skills and technologies is the essence of Toyota’s jidoka. Advancing jidoka in this way helps to reinforce both our manufacturing competitiveness and human resource development.

The emphasis on doing the work by hand ensures that we understand all the aspects of the operation. Even if a robot is doing the work, it has to be most efficient. This allows for maximum flexibility. The robot imitates a human activity whether it is to grab or move or transform something. When most companies are going for automation, Toyota focuses on simpler activities that might be done with simple machines rather than state of the art robots. The push is to simplify the operation even for a robot! The manufacturing world has to adapt to ever changing demands, and this means that the assembly lines or the operations will have to be changed as needed. The environment has a lot more variety than what we can tackle. Thus, the goal is not to get stuck with a monument of expensive and large automation but simple and small machines/robots that can be easily moved or modified as need to meet the demand. The website continues:

Human wisdom and ingenuity are indispensable to delivering ever-better cars to customers. Going forward, we will maintain our steadfast dedication to constantly developing human resources who can think independently and implement kaizen.

We are to do our jobs so that we can keep “dehumanizing” the activities so that we have more time to focus on making more improvements. By “dehumanizing”, I mean that we keep improving our work so that we are not engaged in repetitive activities that can be done by a machine. The more time we spend on making improvements, the more efficient and effective we become. The machine can be viewed as a closed system. It keeps doing what it is programmed to do. When we interact with the machine, we provide it with new information that allows it to do something new.  

Taking this idea of the paradox further – in an ideal world, when we do our jobs effectively, we are engaging in eradicating our jobs all together. For example, a doctor should be engaging in activities to create conditions where a doctor is no longer needed!

I will finish with Taiichi Ohno’s wise words:

It is easy to remember theory with the mind; the problem is to remember with the body. The goal is to know and do instinctively.

This post is also available as a podcast here.

Please maintain social distance and wear masks. Please take vaccination, if able. Stay safe and Always keep on learning… In case you missed it, my last post was Complexity is in the Middle:

Observing with Your Hands:

In today’s post, I am looking at the ideas inspired by mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are a class of neurons that activate when someone engages in an activity or when they observe the same activity being performed by someone else. It was first identified by a group of Italian neurophysiologists led by Giacomo Rizzolatti in the 1980s. They were studying macaque monkeys. As part of their research, they placed electrodes in the monkeys’ brains to study hand and mouth motions. The story goes that the electrodes sent signals when the monkeys observed the scientists eating peanuts. The same neurons that fired when the monkeys were eating peanuts fired when they merely observed the same action. Several additional studies indicate that the mirror neurons are activated to respond to goal-oriented actions. For example, when the scientist covered the peanut bowl, and performed the action of picking a peanut and eating, the mirror neurons still fired even though the monkeys could not see the peanut bowl. However, when the scientist simply mimicked the action of taking a peanut without a peanut bowl, the neurons did not fire. There have been several hypotheses regarding the mirror neurons such as they facilitate learning by copying, and that they are the source for empathy.

The most profound idea about mirror neurons is that action execution and action observation are tightly coupled. Our ability to interpret or comprehend other’s actions involve our own motor system. For example, when we observe someone doing an action, depending upon whether we have performed the action adds depth to how we can observe the action being performed. If I am watching a ballet and the ballerina performs a difficult move, I may not fully grasp what I have seen since I do not know ballet and because I have never performed it. However, if I watch a spin bowler in Cricket throwing an off-spin, I will be able to grasp it better and possibly tell how the ball is going to spin. This is because I have played a lot of Cricket as a youth. The same with a magician performing a sleight of hand.

The idea of mirror neurons brings an extra depth to the meaning of going to the gemba. Going to gemba is a key tenet of Toyota Production System. We go to the gemba, where the action is, to grasp the current situation. We go there to observe. Gemba, it is said, is our best teacher. When we go there to observe the work being performed, we may get a different experience depending upon whether we ourselves have performed the work or not. Heinz von Foerster, the Socrates of Cybernetics, said – if you want to see, learn how to act. He was talking about the circular loop of sensorium and motorium. In order to see, there has to be interaction between the sensorium and motorium.

In a similar way, Kiichiro Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Motor Corporation is said to have remarked that engineers would never amount to anything unless they had to wash their hands at least three times a day; the evidence they were getting their hands dirty from real work.

I will finish with a great advice from Taiichi Ohno:

Don’t look with your eyes, look with your feet. Don’t think with your head, think with your hands.

Please maintain social distance and wear masks. Stay safe and Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Extended Form of the Law of Requisite Variety:

Image Reference – Now You See It. Now You Don’t (Bill Tarr)

The Cybernetics of Ohno’s Production System:

In today’s post, I am looking at the cybernetics of Ohno’s Production System. For this I will start with the ideas of ultrastability from one of the pioneers of Cybernetics, Ross Ashby. It should be noted that I am definitely inspired by Ashby’s ideas and thus may take some liberty with them.

Ashby defined a system as a collection of variables chosen by an observer. “Ultrastability” can be defined as the ability of a system to change its internal organization or structure in response to environmental conditions that threaten to disturb a desired behavior or value of an essential variable (Klaus Krippendorff). Ashby identified that when a system is in a state of stability (equilibrium), and when disturbed by the environment, it is able to get back to the state of equilibrium. This is the feature of an ultrastable system. Let’s look at the example of an organism and its environment. The organism is able to survive or stay viable by making sure that certain variables, such as internal temperature, blood pressure etc. stays in a specific range. Ashby referred to these variables as essential variables. When the essential variables go outside a specific range, the viability of the organism is compromised. Ashby noted:

That an animal should remain ‘alive’, certain variables must remain without certain ‘physiological’ limits. What these variables are, and what the limits, are fixed when the species is fixed. In practice one does not experiment on animals in general, one experiments on one of a particular species. In each species the many physiological variables differ widely in their relevance to survival. Thus, if a man’s hair is shortened from 4 inches to 1 inch, the change is trivial; if his systolic blood pressure drops from 120 mm. of mercury to 30, the change will quickly be fatal.

Ashby noted that the organism affects the environment, and the environment affects the organism: such a system is said to have a feedback. Here the environment does not simply mean the space around the organism. Ashby had a specific definition for environment. Given an organism, its environment is defined as those variables whose changes affect the organism, and those variables which are then changed by the organism’s behavior. It is thus defined in a purely functional, not a material sense. The reactionary part is the sensory-motor framework of the organism. The feedback between the reactionary part (R) of an organism (Orgm) and the environment (Envt.) is depicted below:

Ashby explains this using an example of a kitten resting near a fire. The kitten settles at a safe distance from the fire. If a lump of hot coal falls near the kitten, the environment is threatening to have a direct affect on the essential variables. It the kitten’s brain does nothing; the kitten will get burned. The kitten being the ultrastable system is able to use the correct mechanism – move away from the hot coal and maintain its essential variables in check. Ashby proposed that an ultrastable system has two feedbacks. One feedback that operates frequently while the other feedback that operates infrequently when the essential variables are threatened. The two feedback loops are needed for a system to get back into equilibrium. This is also how the system can learn and adapt. Paul Pangaro and Michael C. Geoghegan note:

What are the minimum conditions of possibility that must exist such that a system can learn and adapt for the better, that is, to increase its chance of survival? Ashby concludes via rigorous argument that the system must have minimally two feedback loops, or double feedback… The first feedback loop, shown on the left side and indicated via up/down arrows, ‘plays its part within each reaction/behavior.’ As Ashby describes, this loop is about the sensory and motor channels between the system and the environment, such as a kitten that adjusts its distance from a fire to maintain warmth but not burn up. The second feedback loop encompasses both the left and right sides of the diagram, and is indicated via long black arrows. Feedback from the environment is shown coming into an icon for a meter in the form of a round dial, signifying that this feedback is measurable insofar as it impinges on the ‘essential variables.’

Ashby depicted his ultrastable system as below:

The first feedback loop can be thought as a mechanism that cannot change itself. It is static, while the second feedback loop is able to operate some parameters so that the structure can change resulting in a new behavior. The second feedback loop acts only when the essential variables are challenged or when the system is not in equilibrium. It must be noted that there are no decisions being made with the first feedback loop. It is simply an action mechanism. It keeps doing what was working before, while the second feedback loop alters the action mechanism to result in a new behavior. If the new behavior is successful in maintaining the essential variables, the new action is continued until it is not effective any longer. When the system is able to counter the threatening situation posed by the environment, it is said to have requisite variety. The law of requisite variety was proposed by Ashby as – only variety can absorb variety. The system must be able to have the requisite variety (in terms of available actions) to counter the variety thrown upon it by the environment. The environment always possesses far more variety than the system. The system must find ways to attenuate the variety coming in, and amplify its own variety to maintain the essential variables.

Let’s look at this with an easy example of a baby. When the baby experiences any sort of discomfort, it starts crying. The crying is the behavior that helps put it back into equilibrium (removal of discomfort) since it gets the attention from its mother or other family members. As the baby grows, its desired variables also get specific (food, water, love, etc.) The action of crying does not always get it what it is looking for. Here the second feedback loop comes in, and it tries a new behavior and see if it results in a better outcome. This behavior could be to point at something or even learning and using words. The new action is kept and used, as long as it becomes successful. The baby/child learns and adapts as needed to meet its own wants and desires.

Pangaro and Geoghegan note that the idea of an ultrastable system is applicable in social realms also. To evoke the social arena, we call the parameters ‘behavior fields.’ When learning by trial-and-error, a behavior field is selected at random by the system, actions are taken by the system that result in observable behaviors, and the consequences of these actions in the environment are in turn registered by the second feedback loop. If the system is approaching the danger zone, and the essential variables begin to go outside their acceptable limits, the step function says, ‘try something else’—repeatedly, if necessary—until the essential variables are stabilized and equilibrium is reached. This new equilibrium is the learned state, the adapted state, and the system locks-in.

It is important to note that the first feedback loop is the overt behavior that is locked in. The system cannot change this unless the second feedback loop is engaged. Stuart Umpleby cites Ashby’s example of an autopilot to explain this further:

In his theory of adaptation two feedback loops are required for a machine to be considered adaptive (Ashby 1960).  The first feedback loop operates frequently and makes small corrections.  The second feedback loop operates infrequently and changes the structure of the system, when the “essential variables” go outside the bounds required for survival.  As an example, Ashby proposed an autopilot.  The usual autopilot simply maintains the stability of an aircraft.  But what if a mechanic miswires the autopilot?  This could cause the plane to crash.  An “ultrastable” autopilot, on the other hand, would detect that essential variables had gone outside their limits and would begin to rewire itself until stability returned, or the plane crashed, depending on which occurred first. The first feedback loop enables an organism or organization to learn a pattern of behavior that is appropriate for a particular environment.  The second feedback loop enables the organism to perceive that the environment has changed and that learning a new pattern of behavior is required.

Ohno’s Production System:

Once I saw that the idea of an ultrastable system may be applied to the social realm, I wanted to see how it can be applied to Ohno’s Production System. Taiichi Ohno is regarded as the father of the famous Toyota Production System. Before it was “Toyota Production System”, it was Ohno’s Production System. Taiichi Ohno was inspired by the challenge issued by Kiichiro Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Motor Corporation. The challenge was to catch up with America in 3 years in order to survive.  Ohno built his ideas with inspirations from Sakichi Toyoda, Kiichiro Toyoda, Henry Ford and the supermarket system. Ohno did a lot of trial and error. And the ideas he implemented, he made sure were followed. Ohno was called “Mr. Mustache”. The operators thought of Ohno as an eccentric. They used to joke that military men used to wear mustaches during World War II, and that it was rare to see a Japanese man with facial hair afterward. “What’s Mustache up to now?” became a common refrain at the plant as Ohno carried out his studies. (Source: Against All Odds, Togo and Wartman)

His ideas were not easily understood by others. He had to tell others that he will take responsibility for the outcomes, in order to convince them to follow his ideas. Ohno could not completely make others understand his vision since his ideas were novel and not always the norm. Ohno was persistent, and he made improvements slowly and steadily. He would later talk about the idea of Toyota being slow and steady like the tortoise. Ohno loved what he did, and he had tremendous passion pushing him forward with his vision. As noted, his ideas were based on trial and error, and were thus perceived as counter-intuitive by others.

Ohno can be viewed as part of the second feedback loop and the assembly line as part of the first feedback loop, while the survivability of the company via the metrics of cost, quality, productivity etc. can be viewed as the “essential variables”. Ohno implemented the ideas of kanban, jidoka etc. on the line, and they were followed. The assembly line could not change the mechanisms established as part of Ohno’s production system. Ohno’s production system can be viewed as a closed system in that the framework is static. Ohno watched how the interactions with the environment went, and how the essential variables were being impacted. Based on this, the existing behaviors were either changed slightly, or changed out all the way until the desired equilibrium was achieved.

Here the production system framework is static because it cannot change itself. The assembly line where it is implemented is closed to changes at a given time. It is “action oriented” without decision powers to make changes to itself. There is no point in copying the framework unless you have the same problems that Ohno faced.

Umpleby also describes the idea of the double feedback loop in terms of quality improvement similar to what we have discussed:

The basic idea of quality improvement is that an organization can be thought of as a collection of processes. The people who work IN each process should also work ON the process, in order to improve it. That is, their day-to-day work involves working IN the process (the first, frequent feedback loop). And about once a week they meet as a quality improvement team to consider suggestions and to design experiments on how to improve the process itself. This is the second, less frequent feedback loop that leads to structural changes in the process. Hence, process improvement methods, which have been so influential in business, are an illustration of Ashby’s theory of adaptation.

This follows the idea of kairyo and kaizen in the Toyota Production System.

Final Words:

It is important to note that Ohno’s Production System is not Toyota Production System is not Toyota’s Production System is not Lean. Ohno’s Production System evolved into Toyota Production System. Toyota’s production system is emergent while Toyota Production System is not. Toyota Production System’s framework can be viewed as a closed system, in the sense that the framework is static. At the same time, the different plants implementing the framework are dynamic due to the simple fact that they exist in an everchanging environment. For an organization to adapt to an everchanging environment, it needs to be ultrastable. An organization can have several ultrastable systems connected with each other resulting in a homeostasis. I will finish with an excellent quote from Mike Jackson.

The organization 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.

Please maintain social distance and wear masks. Stay safe and Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Cybernetics of a Society:

The Toyota House – Why Jidoka and JIT?

In today’s post, I am looking at the “house” of Toyota Production System. The TPS house is shown above (Source: Toyota Europe website).

The two pillars of the house are Jidoka and Just-In-Time (JIT). I have been thinking about why Jidoka and JIT are the two pillars, and why it is not kanban or kaizen. Jidoka was developed from the ideas of Sakichi Toyoda, father of Kiichiro Toyoda. Kiichiro Toyoda founded the Toyota Motor Corporation. Sakichi Toyoda invented an automatic loom that stopped immediately when the thread broke. He viewed it as automation with human intelligence. Jidoka in Japanese means “automation”, but Toyota’s Jidoka has a human character included in the script such that it still pronounces as “jidoka” but it now means “autonomation”.  The emphasis of Jidoka is quality. We can view Jidoka as not passing defects along or ensuring that the quality of the product is maintained as it flows through the line. The second pillar of the TPS House is JIT. JIT was the brainchild of Kiichiro Toyoda. The idea of JIT is also quite simple – have only what is needed, only in the right quantity, and only when it is needed. Perhaps, one might view that the two pillars of the TPS house are Jidoka and JIT to show respect to the Toyoda elders. I think there is more to this than just showing respect to Sakichi and Kiichiro Toyoda.

One way to explain the two pillars is to view them as two lofty goals –  Jidoka as a call for maximizing quality and JIT for minimizing inventory. I again think there is more to this. Toyota in their 1998 little green & white book explained Jidoka as:

The principle of stopping work immediately when problems occur and preventing the production of defective items is basic to the Toyota Production System. We call that principle Jidoka… we design equipment to detect abnormalities and to stop automatically whenever they occur. And we equip our operators with means of stopping the production flow whenever they note anything suspicious. That mechanical and human jidoka prevents defective items from progressing into subsequent stages of productions, and it prevents the waste that would result from producing a series of defective items… The most fundamental effect of jidoka, though, is the way it changes the nature of line management: it eliminates the need for an operator or operators to watch over each machine continuously – since machines stop automatically when abnormalities occur – and therefore opens the way to major gains in productivity. Jidoka thus is a humanistic approach to configuring the human-machine interface. It liberates operators from the tyranny of the machine and leaves them free to concentrate on tasks that enable them to exercise skill and judgment.

Similarly, they explained JIT as “doing it all for the customer”. They noted:

JIT is making on what is needed, only when it is needed, and only in the amount that is needed. JIT production eliminates lots of kinds of waste. It eliminates the need for maintaining large inventories, which reduces financing costs and storage costs. It eliminates the waste that occurs when changes in specifications or shifts in demand render stocks of old items worthless. It also eliminates the waste that occurs when defects go undetected in the manufacturing of large batches. JIT production, though simple in principle, requires dedication and careful, hard work to implement properly. Once managers and employees have mastered the basic concept, they learn to devise various tools and techniques for putting this concept into practice… (leveled production, pull system, continuous-flow processing and takt time).

The two principles also link to another House of Toyota called the Toyota Way. The two pillars for the Toyota Way are Continuous Improvement and Respect for People. This is explained very well by the architect of the Toyota Way, Fujio Cho:

Toyota is planning and running its production system on the following two basic concepts. First of all, the thing that corresponds to the first recognition of putting forth all efforts to attain low cost production is “reduction of cost through elimination of waste”. This involves making up a system that will thoroughly eliminate waste by assuming that anything other than the minimum amount of equipment, materials, parts, and workers (working time) which are absolutely essential to production are merely surplus that only raises the cost. The thing that corresponds to the second recognition of Japanese diligence, high degree of ability, and favored labor environment is “to make full use of the workers’ capabilities”. In short, treat the workers as human beings and with consideration. Build up a system that will allow the workers to display their full capabilities by themselves.

Toyota Production System is a result of decades of trial and error to find solutions for unique problems faced by Toyota. Toyota did not have luxury to have the state-of-the-art machines or carry large inventory to support the then prevalent mass production system. Taiichi Ohno, the father of TPS, was able to come up with a framework that incorporated the principles of Jidoka and JIT to ensure that Toyota was able to keep the cost low for its customers, increase productivity and yet at the same time provide them high quality products. Jidoka and JIT are aligned very well with the principles of continuous improvement and respect for people. Ohno was famous for asking to do more with less (less people, less inventory etc.). He created conditions where the human capital was nurtured such that they learned to see wastes and came up with ingenious ways to remove them. Ohno created a framework for cultivating capable leaders and for providing employees with necessary practical skills. The idea of Jidoka ensures that quality is not compromised (quality is built-in). The operators can take pride in what they are doing and ensure that it is value-added. The work of the machine is separated from the operator such that they can focus on utilizing their creative skills to remove further waste.

Toyota Production System’s framework can be viewed as a closed system, in the sense that their framework is static. At the same time, the different plants implementing the framework are dynamic due to the simple fact that they exist in an everchanging environment. In a cybernetic sense, information can be processed (meaning can be generated) only in a closed system. And viability requires an open system. Thus, you need to be closed and open at the same time.

The basic concepts of the Toyota Production System are unchanging. But companies implement those concepts differently. One of the great advantages of the Toyota Production System is its adaptability. Yet common threads are apparent in the experience of the companies that have implemented the system successfully. Just-In-Time manufacturing and other elements of the Toyota Production System work best when they are a common basis for synchronizing activity throughout the production sequence. This an egalitarian arrangement in which each process in the production flow becomes the customer for the preceding process and each process becomes a supermarket for the following process.

I will finish with some strong words from Taiichi Ohno:

Those who decide to implement TPS must be fully committed. If you try to adopt only the “good parts” you will fail.

Please maintain social distance and wear masks. Stay safe and Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Whose Gemba Is It Anyway?

Whose Gemba Is It Anyway?

“Gemba” is an important concept in Toyota Production System (TPS) and Lean. Gemba, the Japanese word, can be translated as the actual place. The etymology of Gemba stems to “gen” (meaning “actual”) and “ba” (meaning “place”). One might say that the first lesson in TPS is to go to the gemba. This is often expressed as “genchi genbutsu” or “Go and See to grasp the facts from the source.”

My take on gemba is that it is to do with reality as the word suggests. From here, I will ask the question – whose gemba is it anyway? I am asking this from a post-modernist/Constructivist angle. We are all meaning generating, sensemaking autopoietic creatures. We are organizationally closed, and this means that we generate meaning from the many interactions based on our internal meaning-generating framework. Reality as we perceive it exists in a socially constructed realm and each one of us have our own take of this. There is no objective reality in practice, simply because we do not have direct access to it. Our meaning-generating framework is an emergent property of our brain that has to rely on our sensory organs to make sense of the sensory input coming in. The meaning-generating framework or schemata is ever-evolving and conditioned by our ongoing experiences.

From this standpoint, when we say that we are going to gemba, we need to realize that the gemba as we perceive it is not the same as the gemba perceived by the operator on the floor. Normally, in the manufacturing world, gemba refers to the production floor where the work is taking place. We go there with our preconceived ideas and notions. Thus, the first step is to realize that the gemba as we see it is not what we need to be seeing. The gemba that we need to visit and understand is that of the employee engaged in the actual work. Our role at the gemba is to develop the others and in the process develop ourselves. This circular nature of gemba, understanding and sharing our understanding; developing others and developing ourselves, is very cybernetic in nature. When we try to reflect on our understanding, we are also required to view it from the eyes of the operator who is doing the actual work. Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System explained these ideas really well.

Taiichi Ohno described the production floor as a “silent” space that always heightened human awareness and stimulated our imagination. Ohno advised:

When you give an order or an instruction to a subordinate, you have to think as if you were given the order or instructions yourself… You have to struggle together and think about the problem together.

Ohno advises that we should challenge our team members, and in the process challenge ourselves. We should be aware of what we are asking, and in fact we should be able to understand what is doable and what is not doable. If our team member says that the task is impossible, we should be able to counter that. Ohno says:

If you want your subordinate to feel so squeezed that they believe saying “It is impossible” is not an option, you must feel the squeeze and struggle just as hard with it yourself when you give your subordinate the problem.

Here the phrase “feel the squeeze” refers to the challenging process where the employee is pushed to see the problem and come up with a resolution. It is this challenging process that aids in the development of the employee. Ohno wants us to destroy our various preconceptions on a daily basis to further our understanding of gemba. He said:

Another way of stating the essence of the Toyota Production System is to say we are doomed to failure if we do not initiate a daily destruction of our various preconceptions.

Ohno challenged the then prevalent Ford’s Mass Production system with his ideas of a Limited Production system. He offers one more aspect of “whose gemba? thinking”. He noted:

The real waste is making products that don’t sell. Even quality products, if they don’t sell, must be discarded. This waste, in fact, is the most crucial because it is not just a loss to the company – it is a loss to society… The original concept behind Toyota Production System was the total elimination of waste. Carrying this to its logical conclusion, it follows that the function of industry is to accept orders not from an abstract clump known as “the masses,” but from individuals with unique preferences, and to produce similar items accordingly. Waste and high costs occur when we try to produce similar items in large quantities. It is cheaper by far to produce unique items one by one.

Final Words:

Being aware and recognizing that the we are in a social realm and that our perspective of reality is not the only one is of utmost importance. There are multiple perspectives of gemba, and the one that is most important is that of the actual employee most engaged with it. At the same time, we should engage with them in bettering their understanding of their gemba.

I will finish with a very insightful anecdote from the linguist Lera Boroditsky:

Kuuk Thaayore, are an Australian people living primarily in the settlement Pormpuraaw. Boroditsky talks about an experiment that she did with the Kuuk Thaayore. She gave them a set of photographs of her grandfather, ranging from youth to old age, and asked them to order them in the correct sequence. She repeated the test different times. Each time, the sequence of the order was correctly placed, however, the orientation was different. For most of the wester world, we would say that the correct order is from left to right, where the “left side” represents the young age, and as you move towards your right, the subject gets older and older. The Kuuk Thaayore oriented the photographs sometimes left to right, and sometimes top to bottom, and other times diagonally. Boroditsky realized that in their culture, their spacial meaning differs from us. She noted:

“their arrangements were not random: there was a pattern, just a different one from that of English speakers. Instead of arranging time from left to right, they arranged it from east to west. That is, when they were seated facing south, the cards went left to right. When they faced north, the cards went from right to left. When they faced east, the cards came toward the body and so on. This was true even though we never told any of our subjects which direction they faced.”

 If we were to see the orientation, we might say that the Kuuk Thaayore got it wrong. We might say that the correct order is always left to right. It does not matter if we are facing north or east or west, we would always place it left to right. Boroditsky says that perhaps we are so self-centered that we always assume that orientation is based on our self-reference whereas Kuuk Thaayore people are externally-centered that their orientation depends on whether they are facing north or east or west.

The next time you go to gemba, ask yourself “whose gemba is it anyway?”

Please maintain social distance and wear masks. Stay safe and Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Notes on The Good Regulator Theorem:

Shingo’s Whys:

Shigeo Shingo is one of my heroes in Industrial Engineering. He had a great mind that thrived on curiosity. In today’s post, I am looking at Shingo’s whys. This is in contrast to Taiichi Ohno’s 5Why method. Ohno’s 5Why method is one of the tools in Toyota Production System to get to the root cause. When you see a problem, you ask “why did that problem happen?” When you get an answer to that question, you then ask “Why did that problem#2 happen?” and so on until you get to the root cause. When you eliminate the root cause, the problem is solved. This approach assumes a direct and linear cause and effect relationship. And depending upon the user’s expertise and experience, you can get different results. A tool like 5Why is user-dependent and one-dimensional. It is appropriate for necessary causes; it may not be appropriate for sufficient causes. Its usefulness certainly diminishes as complexity increases.

Shingo’s Whys are not in relation to Ohno’s 5Whys, but another set of questions, 5W1H. The 5W1H questions are:

  1. Who
  2. What
  3. Where
  4. When
  5. Why
  6. How

These questions are the levers you can push to further our search for answers. It is said that the origin of these questions goes back to the great Aristotle (Source: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics as the Original Locus for the Septem CircumstantiaeMichael. C. Sloan). Another source where the idea of the 5W1H was stated clearly is from Thomas Aquinas:

For in acts we must take note of who did it, by what aids or instruments he did it (with), what he did, where he did it, why he did it, how and when he did it.

 The idea of 5W1H was also made famous by Rudyard Kipling:

I keep six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

The usefulness of this simple framework is also illustrated in the Job Methods program from the Training Within Industry initiative:

Shingo viewed these as the five elements of production. He noted them as:

  1. What? (object of production)
  2. Who? (subject of production)
  3. How? (method of operation)
  4. Where? (space of production)
  5. When? (time of production)
  6. Why? (applies to all the five elements noted above)

In a simple example of producing a medical swab, perhaps the five elements of production are:

  1. What is to be produced? – the medical swab
  2. Who is producing it? – machines or workers
  3. How are we producing it? – the different operations the process goes through from raw materials to the end sterile product
  4. Where are we producing it? – space utilization; this includes the storage area at incoming, the QC lab for inspection, the storage area for inventory, the clean room for actual production, and again the storage area at the end.
  5. When? – this includes the duration and timing.

Shingo teaches us to ask “Why” to each of the five elements of production (Shingo’s whys):

  1. Why do we need this object?
  2. Why do we require this subject?
  3. Why use this kind of method?
  4. Why this kind of space utilization?
  5. Why this kind of time?

He brilliantly explained:

The five elements of production just make up the status quo. If we want to improve the present situation, we must direct the question “why?” at each one of those elements repeatedly and relentlessly.

The obvious question this would lead to is whether we can ask a “Why?” question to the “Why?” itself. I will leave this question for the reader to ponder. The questioning with “why?” gets to the actual purpose behind the reasoning or rationale of a decision. It is an effective way to get to meta-analysis, a second-order activity.

Final Words:

Shigeo Shingo learned the ideas of making improvements from another giant, Lillian Gilbreth. Shingo learned from Ken’ichi Horigome, who learned from Jiro Kakuka. Jiro Kakuda learned the concepts and techniques of improvement at Gilbreth’s institute in the United States. Shingo wonderfully summarized the Gilbreth approach as (the emphasis is mine):

  1. Analyze the facts in detail
  2. Pursue work goals by asking the question “why?” at least three times
  3. Bear in mind that there are several means to any one goal
  4. Identify the “one best way” to perform the task in the present circumstances

A keen student of Toyota Production System can identify the inspirations of continuous improvement in the steps detailed above. I will finish with wonderful words of wisdom from Shingo.

Time is merely a shadow of motion. Supervisors frequently put pressure on plant workers to speed up their work, to get jobs done more quickly. Yet simply working faster – without improving the motions that take up the time – will not speed things up in the final analysis. Time is merely a shadow of motion, and no matter how much we may complaint about shadows, nothing will happen unless we deal with the substance – motion – that throws the shadow.

Stay safe and Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Lillian Gilbreth’s Synthesist:

Lillian Gilbreth’s Synthesist:

Lillian Gilbreth is one of my heroes in Industrial Engineering. I have written about her here and here. In today’s post, I am looking at Gilbreth’s idea of an analyst and synthesist. The term “analyst” is in common vocabulary, whereas the term “synthesist” is not. Even Microsoft Word is identifying that the term “synthesist” is incorrect.

In any introduction class to systems thinking, we get introduced to the idea of analysis and synthesis. As Russell Ackoff, the giant in Systems Thinking, teaches us:

A system is a whole which consists of a set of two or more parts. Each part affects the behavior of the whole, depending on how it interacts with the other parts of the system. To understand a system, analysis says to take it apart. But when you take a system apart, it loses all of its essential properties. The discovery that you cannot understand the nature of a system by analysis forced us to realize that another type of thinking was required. Not surprisingly, it came to be called synthesis.

Analysis… reveals structure— how a system works. If you want to repair an automobile, you have to analyze it to find what part isn’t working. Synthesis reveals understanding—why it works the way it does. The automobile, for example, was originally developed for six passengers. But no amount of analysis will help you to find out why. The answer lies in the fact that cars were designed for the average American family, which happened to be 5.6 at the time.

Lillian Gilbreth also talked about analysis and synthesis, back in 1914, in her book, The Psychology of Management. Gilbreth discussed ideas from the British psychologist, James Sully.

Analysis is defined by Sully as follows: “Analysis” is “taking apart more complex processes in order to single out for special inspection their several constituent processes.” He divides elements of thought activity into two:

(a) analysis: abstraction, (b) synthesis: comparison.”

Gilbreth further clarified what an analyst does:

ANALYST’S WORK IS DIVISION. – It is the duty of the analyst to divide the work that he is set to study into the minutest divisions possible.

She went on to describe the qualifications of an analyst.

QUALIFICATIONS OF AN ANALYST. – To be most successful, an analyst should have ingenuity, patience, and that love of dividing a process into its component parts and studying each separate part that characterizes the analytic mind. The analyst must be capable of doing accurate work, and orderly work.

To get the most pleasure and profit from his work he should realize that his great, underlying purpose is to relieve the worker of unnecessary fatigue, to shorten his work period per day, and to increase the number of his days and years of higher earning power. With this realization will come an added interest in his subject.

Gilbreth defined the role of a synthesist as follows:

THE SYNTHESIST’S WORK IS SELECTION AND ADDITION. – The synthesist studies the individual results of the analyst’s work, and their inter-relation, and determines which of these should be combined, and in what manner, for the most economic result. His duty is to construct that combination of the elements which will be most efficient.

The qualifications of a synthesist was explained as:

QUALIFICATIONS OF THE SYNTHESIST. – The synthesist must have a constructive mind, for he determines the sequence of events as well as the method of attack. He must have the ability to see the completed whole which he is trying to make, and to regard the elements with which he works not only as units, but in relation to each other. He must feel that any combination is influenced not only by the elements that go into it, but by the inter-relation between these elements. This differs for different combinations as in a kaleidoscope.

The relationship between the analyst and synthesist was best explained by Gilbreth as:

If synthesis in Scientific Management were nothing more than combining all the elements that result from analysis into a whole, it would be valuable. Any process studied analytically will be performed more intelligently, even if there is no change in the method. But the most important part of the synthesist’s work is the actual elimination of elements which are useless, and the combination of the remaining elements in such a way, or sequence, or schedule, that a far better method than the one analyzed will result.

Final Words:

Lillian Gilbreth’s ideas, as the cliché goes, were truly ahead of her times. We have all benefited from her brilliance. Gilbreth viewed a synthesist as a conserver of a valuable elements as well as an inventor involved in invention of better methods of doing work, such as tools or equipment. She also said that a synthesist is a discoverer of laws because they have the ability to understand why the parts are working the way they are, in relation to one another. A systems thinker fuses analysis and synthesis. Moreover, a systems thinker should be able to find differences among apparently similar things and similarities among apparently different things.

I will finish with further ideas from the 18th century French Philosopher Victor Cousin:

The legitimacy of every synthesis is directly owing to the exactness of analysis; every system which is merely [sic] an hypothesis is a vain system; every synthesis which has not been preceded by analysis is a pure imagination: but at the same time every analysis which does not aspire to a synthesis which maybe equal to it, is an analysis which halts on the way.

On the one hand, synthesis without analysis gives a false science; on the other hand, analysis without synthesis gives an incomplete science.

Stay safe and Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Truths of Complexity:

The Cybernetics of Respect for People:

mask

In today’s post, I am looking at “Respect for People”, one of the two pillars of the Toyota Way in the light of ideas from Heinz von Foerster, the Socrates of Cybernetics. The readers of my blog know that I am a big fan of Heinz von Foerster. Von Foerster had a way with words. One of von Foerster’s favorite topics was ethics, which he taught and spoke about a lot.

“Whenever we speak about something that has to do with ethics, the other is involved. If I live alone in the jungle or in the desert, the problem of ethics does not exist. It only comes to exist through our being together. Only our togetherness, our being together, gives rise to the question, How do I behave toward the other so that we can really always be one?”

Von Foerster continues:

Ladies and gentlemen, this perception (second order cybernetics – observing oneself as the observer) represents a fundamental change not only in the way we conduct science, but also how we perceive of teaching, of learning, of the therapeutic process, of organizational management, and so on and so forth; and — I would say — of how we perceive relationships in our daily life.

One may see this fundamental epistemological change if one considers oneself first to be an independent observer who watches the world go by; or if one considers oneself to be a participant actor in the drama of mutual interaction, of the give and take in the circularity of human relations.

In the first case, because of my independence, I can tell others how to think and to act: “Thou shalt. . . .,” “Thou shalt not. . . .”: This is the origin of moral codes. In the second case, because of my interdependence, I can only tell to myself how to think and to act: “I shall. . . .,” “I shall not. . . .”

This is the origin of ethics.

Anytime there is another participant in what we are doing, ethics automatically comes into the relationship. We are cocreators or participants of a co-constructed social reality. Von Foerster came up with several imperatives, one of which is – “Act always so as to increase the number of choices.” He called this the ethical imperative. A good excuse to shun responsibility is to state, “I had no choice but to do X” or “I was doing as I was told.” From this standpoint, von Foerster says that we should always act to ensure that everybody has a choice.

Act always so as to increase the number of choices. The proposal especially addresses those who come with the excuse: “I had no choice,” and who then wash their hands in innocence, like Pontius Pilate.

Von Foerster expanded on this idea:

On the political stage we hear more and more the phrase of Pontius Pilate: “I have no choice but X.” In other words, “Don’t make me responsible for X, blame others.” This phrase apparently replaces: “Among the many choices I had, I decided on X.”

Von Foerster was able to connect this idea to constructivism and the importance of the observer. When we are telling an operator what to do when a problem arises, we are taking away the opportunity for the operator to learn to solve problems; we are not giving the operator the ability to expand their problem solving skills. When we are stipulating a purpose for another, we are standing outside, looking in objectively. Heinz von Foerster asks us to consider two questions:

  • Am I apart from the universe?

That is, whenever I look, I am looking as through a peephole upon an unfolding universe.

or

  • Am I a part of the universe?

That is, whenever I act, I am changing myself and the universe as well.

Von Foerster was a relative of the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein in his first book, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, said:

It is clear that ethics cannot be articulated.

Following the ideas from Wittgenstein, von Foerster advises us that ethics cannot be articulated. It must reside in in our actions. We have to communicate through our actions. Don’t trust the person who tells you what you want to hear. We should not be person who just tells people what they want to hear or how they should act. Inspired by von Foerster, I say – ‘If you want to show, then learn to act.’

“Respect for people/Humanity” is one of the two pillars of the Toyota Way. Toyota views this as important because they view people as a resource, and they believe that developing people comes first than developing products. People form the complex adaptive system that allows Toyota to continue to grow and adapt to the everchanging environment. Showing respect is about allowing the operator to make a choice and to take responsibility. If you tell them exactly what needs to be done, we are stipulating their purpose for them. What this means is that we are seeing them as a cog in the wheel, not as a cocreator of the social reality we are in. We cannot stipulate their purpose for them since we do not have access to their belief system, schema/mental model etc. Respect for people is a long-term strategy.

Alfred Korzybski, the Polish American semanticist said, “There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking.” We should act so as to give the ability for others to make a choice, to think, to improve their skillset in solving problems on their own.

Covid 19:

As we are going through the messiness and chaos of Covid 19, the question of ethics comes up. We keep hearing “Thou shalt not…” Are we seeing ethics in action? We have been advised recently by the CDC to wear face masks. The mask is not meant to completely protect the person wearing it. The mask is to prevent the potentially infected person from transmitting the virus to others. The wearing of a face mask is ethics in action. We are doing it for others.

Stay safe and Always keep on learning…

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

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)…

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: