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:

Nature of Order for Conceptual Models:

251

I have recently been reading upon the renowned British-American architect and design theorist, Christopher Alexander.

Alexander is known for the idea of pattern languages. A pattern is a collection of a known problem discussed with a solution for the problem. As Alexander explains it:

Now, a pattern is an old idea. The new idea in the book was to organize implicit knowledge about how people solve recurring problems when they go about building things.

For example, if you are building a house you need to go from outside to inside and there are centuries of experiments on how to do this in a “just so” way. Sometimes the transition is marked not by just a door but by a change in elevation (steps, large, small, straight, or curved), or a shaded path, or through a court yard.

We wrote up this knowledge in the form of a pattern about entrance transitions.

I was very much inspired by what Alexander was pointing at. Alexander’s view is that a construction should always promote social interactions and thus life. He would ask the question, which building has more life? In a city or a village or even in your house, where do you see life? Is there a particular room that you really love in your house? Why do you like that room? Alexander was after this question. He and his team came up with 253 patterns that they observed by studying the world around them. They noticed that certain buildings and locations had more “life” than others. People were engaged in more interactions and they were enjoying being with one another. These buildings and locations add to the wholeness of the surrounding and also to the people themselves. They promote the nature of order.

For example, one of the patterns Alexander’s team came up with was “SMALL PUBLIC SQUARES” (Alexander’s team used capital letters to denote a pattern.) This pattern provides guidelines for the width of the public squares to less than 70 feet.

A town needs public squares; they are the largest, most public rooms, that the town has. But when they are too large, they look and feel deserted.

It is natural that every public street will swell out at those important nodes where there is the most activity. And it is only these widened, swollen, public squares which can accommodate the public gatherings, small crowds, festivities, bonfires, carnivals, speeches, dancing, shouting, mourning, which must have their place in the life of the town.

But for some reason there is a temptation to make these public squares too large. Time and again in modern cities, architects and planners build plazas that are too large. They look good on drawings; but in real life they end up desolate and dead.

Our observations suggest strongly that open places intended as public squares should be very small. As a general rule, we have found that they work best when they have a diameter of about 6o feet – -at this diameter people often go to them, they become favorite places, and people feel comfortable there. When the diameter gets above 70 feet, the squares begin to seem deserted and unpleasant.

They reasoned that a person’s face is still recognizable at 70 feet, and the voice can also be heard at this distance. In other words, any distance further than 70 feet reduces interactions, and thus does not promote “life”.

Conceptual Models:

I am not an architect by trade or by passion. However, I noticed that the ideas that Alexander was talking about has much wider use. His ideas were behind the wiki movement.

We generally construct conceptual models to explain how things work in our mind. For example, when we look at a car, we may construct a conceptual model in our mind to explain how the car works. It could be as simple as – put gasoline, and the engine runs making the car move. When we talk about problem solving and problem structuring, we are in many regards constructing a conceptual model in our mind.

Alexander stated:

One of the things we looked for was a profound impact on human life. We were able to judge patterns, and tried to judge them, according to the extent that when present in the environment we were confident that they really do make people more whole in themselves.

The allegory of “constructing a model” works well with Alexander’s ideas. Alexander would propose that one should not construct a building that does not add to the existing surroundings. Furthermore, it should add to the wholeness, and it should promote life via social interactions. I am sometimes guilty of coming to a problem with a preconceived bias and notion. When I am informed of a problem, I may construct the problem statement immediately. I come to the source with the problem model already constructed.  This hinders “life” and promotes “unwholeness”, as Alexander would say.

Similar to Marie Kondo’s question of “Does it spark joy?”, Alexander asks the question, “Does it promote life?” and “Does it add to the wholeness?”

Alexander defines wholeness as “the source of coherence in any part of the world.”

When you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent and more whole; and the thing which you make take its place in the web of nature as you make it.

When we are constructing a problem model, we should not come with the box already prepared. Instead, we should construct the box around the problem as we find it at the source, the gemba. We often talk about lean problems and six sigma problems. This is not the correct approach. We should construct the box around the problem making sure to match the conceptual surroundings. The model should add to the wholeness. This in my mind is regarding correspondence and coherence. The problem model should correspond to the reality, and should promote coherence to other ideas and models that we have in our epistemological toolbox. In other words, the problem model should make sense.

Each pattern is connected to certain larger patterns which come above it in the language; and to certain smaller patterns which come below it in the language.

No pattern is an island… Each pattern can exist in the world, only to the extent that it is supported by other patterns.

A thing is whole according to how free it is of inner contradictions. When it is at war with itself, and gives rise to forces which act to tear it down, it is unwhole.

In this post, we will look at one additional pattern that Alexander’s team came up with called “DIFFERENT CHAIRS” to discuss this further. This patterns adds further clarity to the multidimensional and multireality nature of complex problems.

People are different sizes; they sit in different ways. And yet there is a tendency in modern times to make all chairs alike. Never furnish any place with chairs that are identically the same. Choose a variety of different chairs, some big, some small, some softer than others, some rockers, some very old, some new, with arms, without arms, some wicker, some wood, some cloth.

In my mind, this alludes to the multiple perspectives that we should consider. Problem structuring is extremely difficult (and sometimes not possible) for complex problems mainly because of the numerous connected parts, numerous perspectives and due to the fact that there are portions of a complex phenomenon that we are not able to completely grasp. We should always welcome multiple perspectives. The great American Systems Thinker, Russell Ackoff said:

Effective research is not disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or multidisciplinary; it is transdisciplinary.

In our case, we can paraphrase this and say that effective construction of a conceptual model is transdisciplinary.

The same idea of conceptual model is applicable in Systems Thinking. A “system” is also a conceptual model. This is very well articulated by Weber Ulrich:

‘Systems’ are essentially conceptual constructs rather than real-world entities. Systems concepts and other constructs help us describe and understand the complex realities of realworld situations, including natural, technical, social, psychological or any other aspects that might potentially or actually be relevant at any one time. 

Alexander proposed an 8-step approach for promoting “wholeness”. As we look at the steps, we can see that it requires deep questioning and thinking. How can we use this approach to promote constructing better conceptual models?

  1. At every step of the process—whether conceiving, designing, making, maintaining, or repairing—we must always be concerned with the whole within which we are making anything. We look at this wholeness, absorb it, try to feel its deep structure.
  2. We ask which kind of thing we can do next that will do the most to give this wholeness the most positive increase of life.
  3. As we ask this question, we necessarily direct ourselves to centers, the units of energy within the whole, and ask which one center could be created (or extended or intensified or even pruned) that will most increase the life of the whole.
  4. As we work to enhance this new living center, we do it in such a way as also to create or intensify (by the same action) the life of some larger center.
  5. Simultaneously we also make at least one center of the same size (next to the one we are concentrating on), and one or more smaller centers— increasing their life too.
  6. We check to see if what we have done has truly increased the life and feeling of the whole. If the feeling of the whole has not been deepened by the step we have just taken, we wipe it out. Otherwise we go on.
  7. We then repeat the entire process, starting at step 1 again, with the newly modified whole.
  8. We stop altogether when there is no further step we can take that intensifies the feeling of the whole.

Final Words:

The title of this post is adopted from the title of a Christopher Alexander book, “The Nature of Order”. I welcome the readers to take upon reading and learning his wonderful works. I will finish with the complete description of pattern 252, DIFFERENT CHAIRS:

251 - Diff Chairs

People are different sizes; they sit in different ways. And yet there is a tendency in modern times to make all chairs alike.

Of course, this tendency to make all chairs alike is fueled by the demands of prefabrication and the supposed economies of scale. Designers have for years been creating “perfect chairs” – chairs that can be manufactured cheaply in mass. These chairs are made to be comfortable for the average person. And the institutions that buy chairs have been persuaded that buying these chairs in bulk meets all their needs.

But what it means is that some people are chronically uncomfortable; and the variety of moods among people sitting gets entirely stifled.

Obviously, the “average chair” is good for some, but not for everyone. Short and tall people are likely to be uncomfortable. And although situations are roughly uniform – in a restaurant everyone is eating, in an office everyone is working at a table – even so, there are important distinctions: people sitting for different lengths of time; people sitting back and musing; people sitting aggressively forward in a hot discussion; people sitting formally, waiting for a few minutes. If the chairs are all the same, these differences are repressed, and some people are uncomfortable.

What is less obvious, and yet perhaps most important of all, is this: we project our moods and personalities into the chairs we sit in. In one mood a big fat chair is just right; in another mood, a rocking chair; for another, a stiff upright; and yet again, a stool or sofa. And, of course, it isn’t only that we like to switch according to our mood; one of them is our favorite chair, the one that makes us most secure and comfortable; and that again is different for each person. A setting that is full of chairs, all slightly different, immediately creates an atmosphere which supports rich experience; a setting which contains chairs that are all alike puts a subtle straight jacket on experience.

Therefore:

Never furnish any place with chairs that are identically the same. Choose a variety of different chairs, some big, some small, some softer than others, some rockers, some very old, some new, with arms, without arms, some wicker, some wood, some cloth.

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

Wittgenstein’s Ladder at the Gemba:

ladder

In today’s post, I am looking at Wittgenstein’s ladder at the gemba. Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of the most profound philosophers of the 20th century. His first book was Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in which he came up with the picture theory of language. He defined how language and reality relate to each other, and how limits of language corresponded to limits of knowledge to some extent.

Loosely put, the Tractatus explained how language can be used to directly depict reality. Language should mirror exactly the arrangement of objects, and their relationships to each other in the real world. Wittgenstein proposed that what can be said about the world makes sense only if there is a correspondence to the real world out there. Everything else is nonsense. This idea puts limits to how we use language. The real use of language is to describe reality. Anthony Quinton, the late British philosopher, explained the main concepts of Tractatus as:

Tractatus is a theory of declarative sentences, a theory of what can be put in a proposition and what cannot. Anything that can be said can be said clearly or not at all.

The world is all that is the case. The state of affairs around us, the simple facts, are the world for us. Wittgenstein is talking about what we can and cannot sensibly  talk about.

The world consists of facts. Facts are arrangement of objects. Objects must be simple. These ideas appear as dogmatic assertions. Language has to have a definite sense and it can have a definite sense only if it is of a certain structure. And therefore the world must be of that certain structure in order to be capable of being represented in the language.

One of the metaphors, Wittgenstein used in the Tractatus is the idea of a ladder. This has come to be known as “Wittgenstein’s Ladder.”

Wittgenstein said:

My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.   

This is a fascinating idea because Wittgenstein is cautioning against doctrines as the eternal rules to abide by. If the concepts that Wittgenstein explained in the Tractatus are true, then the assertion of his ideas being true would contradict the ideas themselves. Wittgenstein uses the metaphor of a ladder to have the reader climb to a higher level of understanding and then asks the reader to kick the ladder away.

Let’s see how Wittgenstein’s ladder relates to Lean/Toyota Production System. Taiichi Ohno developed TPS as a production system through decades of trial and error methods. The solutions Ohno came up with were specific to the problems Toyota had at that time. We should learn about these different tools and understand the problems they are trying to solve. We should not exactly copy the tools that Toyota uses just because Toyota is using them. Even within Toyota, each plant is unique and doesn’t use a specific set of tools. As one Toyota veteran put it, Toyota Production System and Toyota’s Production System are different. What each plant does is unique and based on the complexity of problems it has.

There are several doctrines that are set forth by the experts. Let’s look at two examples – zero inventories and one-piece flow. Taiichi Ohno himself tried to correct these two misrepresentations/misunderstandings.

Ohno called the Zero Inventory idea nonsense:

To be sure, if we completely eliminate inventories, we will have shortages of goods and other problems. In fact, reducing inventories to zero is nonsense.

The goal of Toyota Production System is to level the flows of production and goods… In every plant and retail outlet, we strive to have the needed goods arrive in the needed quantities in the needed time. In no way is the Toyota Production System a zero-inventory system.

Similarly, Ohno also cautioned about implementing one-piece flow without thinking and looking at your production system.

The essence of Toyota Production System is found in the saying, “Can we realistically reduce one more?” and then after that “one more?”

The removal of parts or operators is about identifying waste and ways to improve human capital through problem solving. The idea is to develop people and not think only about developing parts. Kaizen is a philosophy of personal improvement (improving oneself) through process improvements. Kaizen begets more kaizen.

Final Words:

The problem with doctrines is that we build a religion out of them. 

Ask yourself – What is the problem that I am trying to solve? Toyota’s solutions work for Toyota’s problems. We should climb the TPS/Lean ladder (understand the ideas) and then throw away the ladder of doctrines. We should solve our problems using solutions that match our problems.

Always keep on learning…

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

Ubuntu At the Gemba:

Ubuntu

“My humanity is tied to yours. I am because you are.” 

In today’s post I will be looking at the African philosophical concept of Ubuntu. The word “Ubuntu” is best explained by the Nguni aphorism – Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu, which means “a person is a person because of or through others.” Ubuntu is a key African philosophy and can be translated as humanity. It emphasizes the group solidarity, sharing, caring and the idea of working together for the betterment of everybody. Ubuntu has many derivatives in Bantu languages and this concept is spread across the many nations in Africa.

Ubuntu is the humanness in us. It is said that a solitary human being is a contradiction. We remain humans as part of a community. We get better through the betterment of our community. Our strength comes from being part of a community. To quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. 

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity. 

An interesting part about African philosophy is that most of it was not written down. The ideas were transmitted through oral traditions, which depended upon having strong communal roots. Some of the key ideas that are part of the Ubuntu philosophy are:

  • Always aim for the betterment of the community over self.
  • When we treat others with dignity, all of us are able to perform and contribute better.
  • The strength of the community lies in the interconnectedness of the members.
  • The survival of one person is dependent upon the survival of the community.
  • Ubuntu philosophy aims for harmony and consensus in decision making.
  • Ubuntu requires us to be open and make ourselves available to others.
  • Ubuntu requires us to coach and mentor those younger than us. This also helps us become better at what we do.
  • Respect and dignity, as part of ubuntu, ensure that we provide an environment where everybody is able to contribute and bring value.
  • Ubuntu is a philosophy focused on people, and promotes working together as a team towards the common goal. At the same time, it promotes healthy competition and challenges people to keep growing.
  • Ubuntu points out that aiming for individual goals over common goals is not good. System optimization is the end goal.
  • Ubuntu facilitates a need to have a strong communication system.
  • As a management system, Ubuntu puts the focus on local conditions and context. How does what we do impact those around us? How does what we do impact our environment? How does what we do impact our society?
  • Another key concept is the Ubuntu philosophy is forgiveness or short memory of hate!

As I was researching and learning about Ubuntu, I could not help but compare it against the concept of “Respect for Humanity” in Toyota Production System.  I see many parallels between the two concepts. Respect for Humanity (People) is one of the two pillars of the Toyota Way. The other pillar being Continuous Improvement. Japan is an island with limited resources, and the concept of harmony is valued in the Japanese culture. Toyota Production System and Lean are famous for its many tools. Tools are easy to identify since they have physical attributes like kanban, Visual work place, standard work etc. However, respect for people was not understood or looked at by the Toyota outsiders. Most of the Japanese literature about Toyota Production System mentioned Respect for Humanity (people) while it took a while for the western authors to start discussing Respect for Humanity.

Toyota’s view of Respect for People is to ensure that its employees feel that they are bringing value and worth to the organization. Fujio Cho, the pioneer of the Toyota Way 2001, expressed Respect for People as:

Creating a labor environment “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 has built up a system of respect for human, putting emphasis on the points as follows: (1) elimination of waste movements by workers; (2) consideration for workers’ safety; and (3) self-display of workers’ capabilities by entrusting them with greater responsibility and authority.

Final Words:

Paul Bate, Emeritus Professor of Health Services Management in University College London, said:

Nothing exists, and therefore can be understood, in isolation from its context, for it is context that gives meaning to what we think and we do.

Our context is in the interconnectedness that we share with our fellow beings. It is what gives meaning to us. In this regard, Ubuntu sheds light on us as humans. Respect for people begins by developing them and providing them an opportunity to grow so that they can help with the common goal and causes.

I will finish with the great Nelson Mandela’s explanation of Ubuntu:

A traveler through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is:

Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?

Always keep on learning…

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

Clausewitz at the Gemba:

vonClausewitz

In today’s post, I will be looking at Clausewitz’s concept of “friction”. Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) was a Prussian general and military philosopher. Clausewitz is considered to be one of the best classical strategy thinkers and is well known for his unfinished work, “On War.” The book was published posthumously by his wife Marie von Brühl in 1832.

War is never a pleasant business and it takes a terrible toll on people. The accumulated effect of factors, such as danger, physical exertion, intelligence or lack thereof, and influence of environment and weather, all depending on chance and probability, are the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper. Friction, Clausewitz noted, was what separated war in reality from war on paper. Friction, as the name implies, hindered proper and smooth execution of strategy and clouded the rational thinking of agents. He wrote:

War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty.

Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war.

Friction is the only conception which, in a general way, corresponds to that which distinguishes real war from war on paper. The military machine, the army and all belonging to it, is in fact simple; and appears, on this account, easy to manage. But let us reflect that no part of it is in one piece, that it is composed entirely of individuals, each of which keeps up its own friction in all directions.

Clausewitz viewed friction as impeding our rational abilities to make decisions. He cleverly stated, “the light of reason is refracted in a manner quite different from that which is normal in academic speculation… the ordinary man can never achieve a state of perfect unconcern in which his mind can work with normal flexibility.” In a tense situation, as most often the case is in combat, the “freshness” or usefulness of the available information is quickly decaying and reliability of the information is also in question.

Friction is what happens when reality differs from your model. Although Clausewitz’s concept of friction contains other elements, I am interested in is the friction coming from ambiguous information. Uncertainty and information are related to each other. In fact, one is the absence of the other. The only way to reduce uncertainty (be certain) is to have the required information that counters the uncertainty. To quote Wikipedia, Uncertainty refers to epistemic situations involving imperfect or unknown information. If we have full information then we don’t have uncertainty. It’s a zero-sum game.

We have two options to deal with the uncertainty due to informational friction:

  1. Reduce uncertainty by making useful information readily available to required agents when needed and where needed
  2. Come up with ways to tolerate uncertainty when we are not able to reduce it further.

As Moshe Rubinstein points out in his wonderful book, Tools for Thinking and Problem Solving, uncertainty is reduced only by acquisition of information and you need to ask three questions, in the order specified, when acquiring information.

  1. Is the information relevant? (is it current, and is the context applicable?)
  2. Is the information credible? (is it accurate?)
  3. Is the information worth the cost?

How should we proceed to minimize the friction?

  1. We should try to get the total picture, an understanding of the forest before we get lost in the trees. This helps us in realizing where our epistemic boundaries might be, and where we need to improve our learning.
  2. We should have the courage to ask questions and cast doubts on our world views. Even with our belief system, we can ask whether it is relevant and credible. We should try to ask – what is wrong with this picture? What am I missing?
  3. We should always keep on learning. We should not shy away from “hard projects.” We should see the challenges as learning experiences.
  4. We should know and be ready to have our plan fail. We should understand what the “levers” are in our plan. What happens when we push on one lever versus pulling on another? We should have models with the understanding that they are not perfect but they help us understand things better. We should rely on heuristics and flexible rules of thumbs. They are more flexible when things go wrong.
  5. We should reframe our understanding from a different perspective. We can try to draw things out or write about it or even talk about it to your spouse or family. Different viewpoints should be welcomed. We should generate multiple analogies and stories to help tell our side of the story. These will only help in further our understanding.
  6. When we make decisions under uncertainty and risk, each action can result in multiple outcomes, and most of the times, these are unpredictable and can have large-scale consequences. We should engage in fast and safe-to-fail experiments and have strong feedback loops to change course and adapt as needed.
  7. We should have stable substructures when things fail. This allows us to go back to a previous “safe point” rather than go back all the way to the start.
  8. We should go to gemba to grasp the actual conditions and understand the context. Our ability to solve a problem is inversely proportional to the distance from the gemba.
  9. We should take time, as permissible, to detail out our plan, but we should be ready to implement it fast. Plan like a tortoise and run like a hare.
  10. We should go to the top to take a wide perspective, and then come down to have boots on ground. We should take time to reflect on what went wrong and what went right, and what our impact was on ourselves and others. This is the spirit of Hansei in Toyota Production System.

Final Words:

Although not all of us are engaged in a war at the gemba, we can learn from Clausewitz about the friction from uncertainty, which impedes us on a daily basis. Clausewitz first used the term “friction” in a letter he wrote to his future wife, Marie von Brühl, in 1806. He described friction as the effect that reality has on ideas and intentions in war. Clausewitz was a man ahead of his time, and from his works we can see elements of systems thinking and complexity science.

We propose to consider first the single elements of our subject, then each branch or part, and, last of all, the whole, in all its relations—therefore to advance from the simple to the complex. But it is necessary for us to commence with a glance at the nature of the whole, because it is particularly necessary that in the consideration of any of the parts the whole should be kept constantly in view. The parts can only be studied in the context of the whole, as a “gestalt.

Clausewitz realized that each war is unique and thus what may have worked in the past may not work this time. He said:

Further, every war is rich in particular facts; while, at the same time, each is an unexplored sea, full of rocks, which the general may have a suspicion of, but which he has never seen with his eye, and round which, moreover, he must steer in the night. If a contrary wind also springs up, that is, if any great accidental event declares itself adverse to him, then the most consummate skill, presence of mind and energy, are required; whilst to those who only look on from a distance, all seems to proceed with the utmost ease.

Clausewitz encourages us to get out of our comfort zone, and gain as much variety of experience as we can. The variety of states in the environment always is larger than the variety of states we can hold. He continues to advise the following to reduce the impact of friction:

The knowledge of this friction is a chief part of that so often talked of, experience in war, which is required in a good general. Certainly, he is not the best general in whose mind it assumes the greatest dimensions, who is the most overawed by it (this includes that class of over-anxious generals, of whom there are so many amongst the experienced); but a general must be aware of it that he may overcome it, where that is possible; and that he may not expect a degree of precision in results which is impossible on account of this very friction. Besides, it can never be learnt theoretically; and if it could, there would still be wanting that experience of judgment which is called tact, and which is always more necessary in a field full of innumerable small and diversified objects, than in great and decisive cases, when one’s own judgment may be aided by consultation with others. Just as the man of the world, through tact of judgment which has become habit, speaks, acts, and moves only as suits the occasion, so the officer, experienced in war, will always, in great and small matters, at every pulsation of war as we may say, decide and determine suitably to the occasion. Through this experience and practice, the idea comes to his mind of itself, that so and so will not suit. And thus, he will not easily place himself in a position by which he is compromised, which, if it often occurs in war, shakes all the foundations of confidence, and becomes extremely dangerous.

US President Dwight Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” The act of planning helps us to conceptualize our future state. We should strive to minimize the internal friction, and we should be open to keep learning, experimenting, and adapting as needed to reach our future state. We should keep on keeping on:

“Perseverance in the chosen course is the essential counter-weight, provided that no compelling reasons intervene to the contrary. Moreover, there is hardly a worthwhile enterprise in war whose execution does not call for infinite effort, trouble, and privation; and as man under pressure tends to give in to physical and intellectual weakness, only great strength of will can lead to the objective. It is steadfastness that will earn the admiration of the world and of posterity.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Exploring The Ashby Space:

Nietzsche’s Overman at the Gemba:

Overman

In today’s post, I am looking at Nietzsche’s philosophy of Übermensch. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche is probably one of the most misunderstood and misquoted philosophers. The idea of Übermensch is sometimes mistranslated as Superman. A better translation is “Overman”. The German term “mensch” means “human being” and is gender neutral. Nietzsche spoke about overman first in his book, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” In the prologue of this book, Nietzsche through Zarathustra asks:

I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?

Nietzsche provides further clarification that, “Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Übermensch – a rope over an abyss.Übermensch is an idea that represents a being who has overcome himself and his human nature – one who can break away from the bondage of ideals and create new ones in place of the old stale ones.

Nietzsche came to the conclusion that humanity was getting stale by maintaining status quo through adhering to ideals based in the past. He also realized that the developments in science and technology, and the increase in collective intelligence was disrupting the “old” dogmatic ideals and the end result was going to be nihilism – a post-modern view that life is without meaning or purpose. Nietzsche famously exclaimed that; God is dead! He was not rejoicing in that epiphany. Nietzsche proposed the idea of Übermensch as a solution to this nihilistic crisis. Übermensch is not based on a divine realm. Instead Übermensch is a higher form on Earth. Overcoming the status quo and internal struggles with the ideals is how we can live our full potential in this earth and be Übermensch.

Nietzsche contrasted Übermensch with “Last Man”. The last man embraces status quo and lives in his/her comfort zone. The last man stays away from any struggle, internal or external. The last man goes with the flow as part of a herd. The last man never progresses, but stays where he is, clutching to the past.

Nietzsche used the metaphors of the camel, the lion and the child to detail the progress towards becoming an Übermensch. As the camel, we should seek out struggle, to gain knowledge and wisdom through experience. We should practice self-discipline and accept more duties to improve ourselves. As the lion, we should seek our independence from the ideals and dogmas. Nietzsche spoke of tackling the “Thou Shalt” dragon as the lion. The dragon has a thousand scales with the notation, “thou shalt”. Each scale represents a command, telling us to do something or not do something. As the lion, we should strongly say, “No.” Finally, as the child, we are free. Free to create a new reality and new values.

At the Gemba:

Several thoughts related to Übermensch  and Lean came to my mind. Toyota teaches us that we should always strive toward True North, our ideal state. We are never there, but we should always continue to improve and move towards True North. Complacency/the push to maintain status quo is the opposite of kaizen, as I noted in an earlier post.

I am reminded of a press article about Fujio Cho. In 2002, when Fujio Cho was the President of Toyota Motor Corporation, Toyota became the third largest automaker in the world and had 10.2% of share of world market. Cho unveiled a plan to be world’s largest automaker with 15% global market share. Akio Matsubara, Toyota’s managing director in charge of the corporate planning division, stated:

“The figure of 15 percent is a vision, not a target,” he said. “Now that we’ve achieved 10 percent, we want to bring 15 percent into view as our next dream. We don’t see any significance in becoming No. 1.”

The point of the 15 percent figure, he said, is to motivate Toyota employees to embrace changes to improve so they would not become complacent with the company’s success.

My favorite part of the article was Morgan Stanley Japan Ltd. auto analyst Noriaki Hirakata’s remarks about Fujio Cho. Toyota’s executives, he said, believe Toyota is “the best in the world, but they don’t want to be satisfied.”

It’s as if Cho’s motto has become “Beat Toyota,” Hirakata said.

I am also reminded of a story that the famous American Systems Thinker, Russel Ackoff shared. In 1951, he went to Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, as a consultant. While he was there, all the managers were summoned to an impromptu urgent meeting by the Vice President of Bell Labs. Nobody was sure what was going on. Everyone gathered in a room anxious to hear what the meeting was about. The Vice President walked in about 10 minutes late and looked very upset. He walked up to the podium and everyone became silent. The Vice President announced:

“Gentlemen, the telephone system of the United States was destroyed last night.”

He waited as everyone started talking and whispering that it was not true. The Vice President continued:

“The telephone system was destroyed last night and you had better believe it. If you don’t by noon, you are fired.”

The room was silent again. The Vice President then started out laughing, and everyone relaxed.

“What was that all about? Well, in the last issue of the Scientific American,” he said, “there was an article that said that these laboratories are the best industrially based scientific laboratories in the world. I agreed, but it got me thinking.”

The Vice President went to on to state that all of the notable inventions that Bell Lab had were invented prior to 1900. This included the dial, multiplexing, and coaxial cable. All these inventions were made prior to when any of the attendees were born. The Vice President pointed out that they were being complacent. They were treating the parts separately and not improving the system as a whole. His solution to the complacency? He challenged the team to assume that the telephone system was destroyed last night, and that they were going to reinvent and rebuilt it from scratch! One of the results of this was the push button style phones that reduced the time needed to dial a number by 12 seconds. This story reminds me of breaking down the existing ideals and challenging the currently held assumptions.

Nietzsche challenges us to overcome the routine monotonous ideas and beliefs. Instead of simply existing, going from one day to the next, we should challenge ourselves to be courageous and overcome our current selves. This includes destruction and construction of ideals and beliefs. We should be courageous to accept the internal struggle, when we go outside our comfort zone. The path to our better selves is not inside the comfort zone.

Similar to what Toyota did by challenging the prevalent mass production system and inventing a new style of production system, we should also challenge the currently held belief system. We should continue evolving toward our better selves. As Nietzsche said:

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.

I say unto you: One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Solving a Lean Problem versus a Six Sigma Problem:

Solving a Lean Problem versus a Six Sigma Problem:

Model

I must confess upfront that the title of this post is misleading. Similar to the Spoon Boy in the movie, The Matrix, I will say – There is no Lean problem nor a Six Sigma problem. All these problems are our mental constructs of a perceived phenomenon. A problem statement is a model of the actual phenomenon that we believe is the problem. The problem statement is never the problem! It is a representation of the problem. We form the problem statement based on our vantage point, our mental models and biases. Such a constructed problem statement is thus incomplete and sometimes incorrect. We do not always ask for the problem statement to be reframed from the stakeholder’s viewpoint. A problem statement is an abstraction based on our understanding. Its usefulness lies in the abstraction. A good abstraction ignores and omits unwanted details, while a poor abstraction retains them or worse omits valid details. Our own cognitive background hinders our ability to frame the true nature of the problem. To give a good analogy, a problem statement is like choosing a cake slice. The cake slice represents the cake, however, you picked the slice you wanted, and you still left a large portion of the cake on the table, and nobody wants your slice once you have taken a bite out of it.

When we have to solve a problem, it puts tremendous cognitive stress on us. Our first instinct is to use what we know and what we feel comfortable with. Both Lean and Six Sigma use a structured framework that we feel might suit the purpose. However, depending upon what type of “problem” we are trying to solve, these frameworks may lack the variety they need to “solve” the problem. I have the used the quotation marks on purpose. For example, Six sigma relies on a strong cause-effect relationship, and are quite useful to address a simple or complicated problem. A simple problem is a problem where the cause-effect relationship is obvious, whereas a complicated problem may require an expert’s perspective and experience to analyze and understand the cause-effect relationship. However, when you are dealing with a complex problem, which is non-linear, the cause-effect relationship is not entirely evident, and the use of a hard-structured framework like Six sigma can actually cause more harm than benefit. All human-centered “systems” are complex systems. In fact, some might say that such systems do not even exist. To quote Peter Checkland, In a certain sense, human activity systems do not exist, only perceptions of them exist, perceptions which are associated with specific worldviews.

We all want and ask for simple solutions. However, simple solutions do not work for complex problems. The solutions must match the variety of the problem that is being resolved. This can sometimes be confusing since the complex problems may have some aspects that are ordered which give the illusion of simplicity. Complex problems do not stay static. They evolve with time, and thus we should not assume that the problem we are trying to address still has the same characteristics when they were identified.

How should one go from here to tackle complex problems?

  • Take time to understand the context. In the complex domain, context is the key. We need to take our time and have due diligence to understand the context. We should slow down to feel our way through the landscape in the complex domain. We should break our existing frameworks and create new ones.
  • Embrace diversity. Complex problems require multidisciplinary solutions. We need multiple perspectives and worldviews to improve our general comprehension of the problem. This also calls to challenge our assumptions. We should make our assumptions and agendas as explicit as possible. The different perspective allows for synthesizing a better understanding.
  • Similar to the second suggestion, learn from fields of study different from yours. Learn philosophy. Other fields give you additional variety that might come in handy.
  • Understand that our version of the problem statement is lacking, but still could be useful. It helps us to understand the problem better.
  • There is no one right answer to complex problems. Most solutions are good-enough for now. What worked yesterday may not work today since complex problems are dynamic.
  • Gain consensus and use scaffolding while working on the problem structure. Scaffolding are temporary structures that are removed once the actual construction is complete. Gaining consensus early on helps in aligning everybody.
  • Go to the source to gain a truer understanding. Genchi Genbutsu.
  • Have the stakeholders reframe the problem statement in their own words, and look for contradictions. Allow for further synthesis to resolve contradictions. The tension arising from the contradictions sometimes lead us to improving and refining our mental models.
  • Aim for common good and don’t pursue personal gains while tackling complex problems.
  • Establish communication lines and pay attention to feedback. Allow for local context while interpreting any new information.

Final Words:

I have written similar posts before. I invite the reader to check them out:

Lean, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints and the Mountain

Herd Structures in ‘The Walking Dead’ – CAS Lessons

A successful framework relies on a mechanism of feedback-induced iteration and keenness to learn. The iteration function is imperative because the problem structure itself is often incomplete and inadequate. We should resist the urge to solve a Six Sigma or a Lean problem. I will finish with a great paraphrased quote from the Systems Thinker, Michael Jackson (not the famous singer):

To deal with a significant problem, you have to analyze and structure it. This means, analyzing and structuring the problem itself, not the system that will solve it. Too often we push the problem into the background because we are in a hurry to proceed to a solution. If you read most texts thoughtfully, you will see that almost everything is about the solution; almost nothing is about the problem.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Lean Lessons:

Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Lean Lessons:

Merleau-Ponty

In today’s post, I am writing about three great Lean lessons inspired by the late French philosopher, Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Merleau-Ponty was a phenomenologist who believed that our conceptual framework is inherently flawed. He wanted to develop a framework that accurately reflected the nature of things it described. His insight was that we perceive things by interacting with them. The more we interact, the deeper our perception becomes, and the more we can enjoy the richness of the object we are interacting with. Merleau-Ponty believed that being in the world is the embodied experience of perception. The world does not present itself “all at once” to the perceiver. The perceiver has to go through an ongoing process of exploration and discovery and a deeper understanding emerges gradually through this ongoing process.

The three lessons I have chosen are interrelated and are about perception. Lean teaches us the importance of Genchi Genbutsu or Go to See and Grasp the Situation. The following three ideas align really well with the idea of Genchi Genbutsu.

  • The philosopher is a perpetual beginner…

Merleau-Ponty’s point here is that a true philosopher does not take things for granted. I will replace the word “philosopher” with “Lean leader”. Thus, the Lean leader is a perpetual beginner. As Lean leaders, we are ready to learn everyday from the gemba. We are continually improving our perception from the gemba. We must resist the urge to feel that we have completed our learning and that there is nothing left to learn. To paraphrase Merleau-Ponty, we need to learn to see the world (and gemba) as something new every single day. We must start to “see” with a beginner’s mind to learn.

 

  • In order to see the world, we must break with our familiar acceptance of it:

Our ability to observe depends on our preconceived notions and biases. Understanding of a phenomenon lies under the surface in the nuances and the contradictions. Our familiarity based on our prior biases cloud our ability to “see”, and Merleau-Ponty advises us to break our familiar acceptance in order to see the world. We must put aside our assumptions and relearn to see the world with fresh eyes.

 

  • Nothing is more difficult than to know precisely what we see:

This idea to me is simply wonderful. When we are at the Gemba to see or observe, we jump to conclusions. We believe that we “see” the problem and know how to fix it. The act of observing and perceiving requires a vantage point. This vantage point comes with prejudices. We believe that what we see is quite simple and straightforward, and that we have a clear perspective. This actually hinders our ability to know and understand the phenomenon we are perceiving. From a philosophy standpoint, we believe that what we perceive is reality. This of course is incomplete and most of the time a faulty notion.

Final Words:

The three ideas of Merleau-Ponty advises us to go to the Gemba more and interact with it to improve our understanding. We should look at the real workplace with the eyes of a beginner, and keep interacting with an open mind without preconceived notions to learn. We should resist the urge to believe that we know precisely what we see.

Taiichi Ohno was famous for his Ohno circles. Taiichi Ohno drew chalk circles and made the supervisor or the engineer stand in the circle to observe an operation until he was able to “see” the waste that Ohno saw. Similar to Merleau-Ponty, Ohno also advises us to go and see without preconceived notions. Go and see a lot. This helps us to improve our perception. The more we do it, the better we get at it. And yet, we should strive to remain a perpetual beginner.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Toyota Physics:

Chekhov’s Gun at the Gemba:

chekhov

One of my favorite things to do when I learn a new and interesting information is to apply it into a different area to see if I can gain further insight. In today’s post, I am looking at Chekhov’s gun, named after the famous Russian author, Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), and how it relates to gemba. Anton Chekhov is regarded as a master short story writer. In the short story genre, there is a limited amount of resources to tell your story. Chekhov’s gun is a principle that states that everything should have a purpose. Checkhov said:

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

Chekhov also stated:

“One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.” [From Chekhov’s letter to Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev in 1889]. Here the “gun” is a monologue that Chekhov deemed superfluous and unrelated to the rest of the play.

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” [From Gurlyand’s Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No. 28, 11 July, p. 521]. Source: Wikipedia.

How does this relate to Gemba? Gemba is the actual place where you do your work. When you design the work station with the operator, you need to make sure that everything has a place and everything has a purpose. Do not introduce an item to the station that has no need to be there. Do not introduce a step or an action that does not add value. This idea also applies to the Motion Economy. Let’s look at some of the Industrial Engineering maxims from the Principles of Motion Economy that are akin to Chekhov’s gun:

  • There should be a definite and fixed place for all tools and materials.
  • Tools, materials, and controls should be located closely in and directly in front of the operator.
  • Materials and tools should be located to permit the best sequence of motions.
  • Two or more jobs should be worked upon at the same time or two or more operations should be carried out on a job simultaneously if possible.
  • Number of motions involved in completing a job should be minimized.

Chekhov’s gun is not necessarily talking about foreshadowing in a movie or a book. A gun should not be shown on the wall as a decoration. It needs to come into the story at some point to be value adding. The author should make use of every piece introduced into the story. Everything else can be removed. I loved this aspect of Chekhov’s gun. In many ways, as a lean practitioner, we are also doing the same. We are looking at an operation or a process, and we are trying to eliminate the unwanted steps/items/motions. When you work in a strictly regulated industry such as medical devices, the point about line clearance also comes up when you ponder about Chekhov’s gun. Line clearance refers to removal of materials, documentation, equipment etc. from the previous shop order/work order to prevent any inadvertent mix-ups that can be quite detrimental to the end user. Only keep things that are necessary at the station.

I will finish with a great lesson from Anton Chekhov that is very pertinent to improvement activities.

Instructing in cures, therapists always recommend that “each case be individualized.” If this advice is followed, one becomes persuaded that those means recommended in textbooks as the best, means perfectly appropriate for the template case, turn out to be completely unsuitable in individual cases.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Confirmation Paradox: