If a Lion Could Talk:

EPSON MFP image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Low problem consciousness among the employees:

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

3) Inadequate Visual Control Tools:

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

4) Lack of established standards for the visual controls:

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

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

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

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

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

Always keep on learning…

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

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_Wittgenstein

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Philosophical-Investigations-Ludwig-Wittgenstein/dp/1405159286

[3] https://www.amazon.com/Control-Systems-Innovations-Advanced-Companie/dp/1563271435

[4] Lion drawing by Audrey Jose

Ehipassiko – Come and See:

Einstein Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always keep on learning…

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

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Driving-Honda-Inside-Innovative-Company/dp/1591847974/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1492015964&sr=1-1

[2] “Kalama Sutta: The Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry”, translated from the Pali by Soma Thera. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/soma/wheel008.html.

Popper’s Circle:

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

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

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

  1. Problem
  2. Attempted solutions
  3. Elimination

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

Popper had strong words about observation;

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

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

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

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

Always keep on learning…

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

 

 

The Effectiveness of Automation:

robot-arm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always keep on learning…

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

Practicing Lean, a review:

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

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

The sixteen authors are;

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

One of quotes attributed to Napoleon Hill is;

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

This quote captures the essence of the book.

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

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

-Harish

Entropy in the Manufacturing World:

ukiyoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone laughed. Suzuki laughed.

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

Always keep on learning…

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

Minimal Critical Specification:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will finish with a Zen story;

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

“Where are you going?” asked the one.

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

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

The children met again the following morning.

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

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

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

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

The next day the children met a third time.

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

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

 Always keep on learning…

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

The Incomplete Solution:

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The world of Systems is very wide and deep. This article does not claim to be perfect and all encompassing. The goal of this article is to emphasize that solutions based on incomplete models lead to incomplete solutions. I am not calling it incorrect solution- just incomplete solution. Every problem model is a mental construct. Unfortunately, this means that the problem “reality” and the problem “model” are not identical. The mental construct of the problem model depends very much on the person constructing the model. This is impacted by his mental models, heuristics, knowledge, wisdom and biases. This leads to what I am calling “the Incomplete Solution.

The system model must be as close to the actual system as possible. The problem model must be as close to the actual problem as possible. However, this cannot be done. Thus the problem model is an incomplete construct.  Furthermore, the solution must match the problem construct. Thus the solution derived from the incomplete problem model is also incomplete.  

The concept that a model of the system is required before regulating it comes from Conant and Ashby who said;

“Every good regulator must be a model of that system.”

They identified that any regulator that is maximally both successful and simple must be isomorphic with the system being regulated. Making a model is thus necessary. Daniel L. Scholten has stated this in terms of problem and solution as;

“Every Good Solution Must be a Model of the Problem it Solves.”

And

“Every Good Key Must Be A Model Of The Lock It Opens.”

However, humans are terrible at creating accurate models of systems due to limitations of the mental capabilities. This idea was put forward by Herb Simon, the great American thinker who won Nobel Prize for Economics in 1978, with the concept of “Bounded Rationality”. Wikipedia currently defines “Bounded Rationality” as the idea that when individuals make decisions, their rationality is limited by the tractability of the decision problem, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the time available to make the decision. The complete knowledge of all the details, and the consequences of the actions cannot be known. This indicates that a mental construct of a system is incomplete.

This concept is further echoed by the American statistician George Box who stated in the proceedings of a 1978 statistics workshop;

“All models are wrong but some are useful”.

And

“Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.”

The notion of “cause and effect” is paramount in the problem solving process. However, this idea cannot be as simple as that. One can use the idea of “cause and effect” to determine the complexity of the system. In an ordered system, the cause and effect is direct, and thus a problem statement is very straightforward. For example, turning the switch does not turn the light on, because the bulb is burned out. Replacing the bulb thus solves the problem.

In a complicated system, there are more layers and the cause and effect relationship is not straightforward. However, with the help of experts and solid problem solving processes, a good solution can be found. There will be several solutions that can work. The ordered and complicated systems use the approach of hard systems. They are deterministic in nature. An example of the complicated system might be the entire electrical wiring in a house. The cause and effect relationship may not be direct for inexperienced, but it can be established. In some regards, in the manufacturing world the processes are dealt as ordered or complicated, and there is a desire for high predictability from their operations.

In a complex system, there are several interwoven parts that make the cause and effect relationships murky. There are definitely no linear cause and effect relationships. Here the hard systems approach cannot be used. Moreover, the problem(s) in a complex system might be messes. One problem is most likely linked to other problems. Russell Ackoff, the great American Systems Thinker called this a mess. Ackoff said;

Managers are not confronted with problems that are independent of each other, but with dynamic situations that consists of complex systems of changing problems that interact with each other. I call such situations messes. Problems are abstractions extracted from messes by analysis; they are to messes as atoms are to tables and charts … Managers do not solve problems, they manage messes.

Thus focusing on one problem may not show the whole picture. There can be hidden portions not visible to the team. For instance in Soft Systems Methodology, Peter Checkland advises not forming the problem statement until the rich picture is understood. Analysis, in soft systems approaches should consist of building up the richest possible picture of the problem situation rather than trying to capture it in system models. (Source: Systems Thinking, Mike Jackson.)

In ordered and complicated systems, the incomplete solutions may be adequate. In complex systems, this can have unintended consequences. Hard systems are based on a paradigm for optimization where as soft systems embrace a paradigm of learning. A good reference quote for this concept is – “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” by Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Final Words:

Incomplete solutions may be adequate in systems where the cause and effect relationships are linear and direct. However, in systems where the cause and effect relationships are murky and non-linear, the incomplete solutions can have unintended consequences and moreover, this detrimental impact may not be understood even in hindsight. Some of the ways we can improve our system models are;

  • Involve the people close to the system,
  • Go to the Gemba,
  • Encourage opposing and diverse worldviews and perspectives,
  • Understand that the solutions are incomplete, and thus never “done”,
  • Build in feedback systems,
  • Encourage diversity,
  • Understand long term thinking,
  • Complexity of the solution must match the complexity of the problem. Using a simple checklist or more training as the solution for a complex problem will not work.
  • Do not go for shortcuts and fast solutions (silver bullets). In some regards, this also explains why silver bullets do not exist. Simply copying and pasting methods (lean, six sigma etc.) without understanding your systems and the problems do not work. It can actually cause more harm in the long run.
  • Understand the cause and effect relationships,
  • Stay curious and always keep on learning.

The corollary to the incomplete solution is that – there is almost always a better solution than the one on hand. Thus there is always room for improvement.

I will finish off with one of my favorite Zen koans that looks at the dynamic nature of perspectives;

Two monks were watching a flag flapping in the wind. One said to the other, “The flag is moving.”

The other replied, “The wind is moving.”

Huineng overheard this. He said, “Not the flag, not the wind; mind is moving.”

Koans are beautiful because they raise questions in your mind when you hear them. There are no correct or wrong answers to the questions. They are meant to make you think. In this koan, the question might be – what did Huineng mean by the mind is moving? Perhaps Huineng is saying that the two monks’ minds are like the wind and the flag – not settled. The monks are fighting over who is right or wrong. The monks, who should be able to control their minds and focus on a still mind, are letting their minds flutter in the wind like the flag. The reality is that there is flag, there is wind, and the flag is moving.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Three Reminders for 2017.

Three Reminders for 2017:

whch-horse

As 2017 is unfolding, I wanted to write a post to remind myself of three pieces of advices for this year. They are from Epictetus (55-135 AD), Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 AD) and George Pólya (1887-1985). Epictetus and Aurelius are two famous Stoic philosophers of the past, and Pólya is a famous Hungarian mathematician.

1) Epictetus:

Epictetus spent his youth as a slave which laid the backdrop for his stoicism. His original name is unknown. The name “Epictetus” in Greek means “acquired”. Epictetus himself has not written any books, however his follower, Arrian, wrote down his teachings. One of the most famous quotes attributed to him is;

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

Epictetus’ famous work, The Enchiridion (Translated by Elizabeth Carter), starts off as;

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.”

In the same book, Epictetus continues;

“With every accident, ask yourself what abilities you have for making a proper use of it.”

My thoughts:

The above quotes gel together to form an important lesson. Not all of my ventures are going to be successful this year. There may be several setbacks. However, all setbacks are experiences to learn from. They provide lessons that I can only learn from the school of life. They increase my knowledge and prepare me for the next harder setback. My triumphs are built on the setbacks I faced before. The setbacks provide an opportunity for reflection. To loosely paraphrase a lesson from Information Theory, failures have more information content. They provide a reason to challenge our hypothesis. Successes do not necessarily challenge us to take a second look at our hypothesis. We thus learn more from failures. The point is to not look for failures, but to keep an open mind. This is a great lesson to remember as a new year starts.

2) Marcus Aurelius:

Marcus Aurelius, on the other hand, was a Roman Emperor. His famous work is “Meditations”.  My lesson from this book, translated by Maxwell Staniforth, is as follows;

“Were you to live three thousand years, or even thirty thousand, remember that the sole life which a man can lose is that which he is living at the moment; and furthermore he can have no other life except the one he loses. This means that the longest life and the shortest amount to the same thing. For the passing minute is every man’s equal possession, but what has once gone by is not ours.”

My Thoughts:

Far too often, we let the past dictate our present actions. Either we stay complacent and stay in our comfort zones by relying on our past victories; or we let our past failures control our actions and we remain in the comfort zone. Both these thought processes keep ourselves from taking risks or venturing outside our comfort zone. The past is past and the future is not yet here; what we truly have is the present moment. This Zen-like teaching is an important lesson for this year. We can only change the present moment by taking the right action. Of course, not all of our actions will lead to tremendous successes. This is covered under the first lesson above.

3) George Pólya:

George Pólya was born in Hungary and later came to America and taught at Stanford University.  One of the famous quotes attributed to him is;

“If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can’t solve: find it.”

This quote was written by the famous Mathematician John H Conway in the Foreword to a 2004 printing of Polya’s book “How to Solve It”.

My Thoughts:

“How to Solve It” is a gem of a book written in 1945 by Pólya. The above quote attributed to Pólya is a great lesson when we are trying to solve a problem and we get stuck. Pólya offers two different plans of action. One is to find a similar but easier problem to solve. He says;

If you cannot solve the proposed problem do not let this failure afflict you too much but try to find consolation with some easier success, try to solve first some related problem; then you may find courage to attack your original problem again. Do not forget that human superiority consists in going around an obstacle that cannot be overcome directly, in devising some suitable auxiliary problem when the original one appears insoluble.

The second plan of action he offers is called as the Inventor’s Paradox. Loosely put; to prove what you want, try proving more than what you want so that you get the flow of information to work properly. George says that “the more ambitious plan may have more chances of success”. This idea is quite paradoxical. He advises that going to a more general problem is going to create more questions that may be easier to answer than just one question. This approach may lend us a new view at the problem that will help us solve the more general problem along with the original problem.

The two plans lead us to step back from the current problem and look at the problem from a different light. Pólya points to us the importance of “some vision of things beyond those immediately present”.

Final words:

The three lessons above have a common theme – obstacles. We can be certain that this year will come with obstacles; it is up to us to decide how to treat them. I wish all of you a great year, one that will make you a better person.

I will finish off with a great lesson in Zen from the great Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. In his book, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”, Suzuki Roshi talks about the story of four horses. He recalls the story from Samyuktagama Sutra. It is said that there are four kinds of horses: excellent horses, good horses, poor horses and bad horses. The best horse will run as his master wishes before it sees the shadow of the whip. It can run fast and slow, right and left and always at the master’s will. The second best horse runs as well as the best horse and he does that just before the whip reaches its skin. The third best will run when it feels the pain on its body. Finally the fourth one will run after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones. You can imagine how difficult it is for the fourth one to learn how to run!

Almost all of us want to be the best horse. If that is not possible we want to be the second best horse, and so on. However, in Zen this is the wrong approach. When you are determined to practice zazen (a form of sitting meditation), it is valuable to be the worst one. In your imperfections you will find the basis for your firm, way-seeking mind. Suzuki Roshi continues that those who can sit perfectly physically usually takes the most amount of time to obtain the true way of Zen. But those who find great difficulties will find more meaning in it and thus obtain the actual feeling of Zen – the marrow of Zen. Thus the “worst one” may be the best student.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Clause for Santa – A Look at Bounded Rationality.

Clause for Santa – A Look at Bounded Rationality:

claus

It is Christmas time in 2016. My kids, ages 6 and 9, believe in Santa Claus. It bothers me that they believe in Santa Claus; mainly because it is not logical to believe in a magical being bringing materialistic presents and also because we, their parents, do not get credit for the presents they receive.

From my children’s perspective though, Santa does make sense. Think of it as a black box; they write what they want in a list, believe in Santa, and on Christmas day they find their toys under the Christmas tree. The output matches the input, repeatedly over the years. This passes the scientific evidence based sniff tests’ criteria. They also find additional evidence in the form of stories, movies, songs etc. of Santa Clause and his magical flying reindeers. From their standpoint, they have empirical evidence for making a decision to believe in Santa.

This line of thinking led me to reflect on “Bounded Rationality”. Bounded Rationality is a concept that was created by the great American thinker Herbert Simon. Herbert Simon won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1978 for his contributions.

According to the famous German Psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer, in the 1950s and 60s, the enlightenment notion of reasonableness reemerged in the form of the concept of “rationality”. Rationality refers to the optimization of some function. The optimization can be maximization or minimization. Simon determined that there is a limit to the “rationality” of humans, and his views were against the ideas of a fully rational man in neoclassical economics. Simon believed that we cannot be fully rational while making decisions, and that our rationality is bounded by our mental capabilities and mental models. In his words;

Bounded rationality refers to the individual collective rational choice that takes into account “the limits of human capability to calculate, the severe deficiencies of human knowledge about the consequences of choice, and the limits of human ability to adjudicate among multiple goals”.

 Bounded rationality does not, therefore, argue that decisions and the people taking them are inherently irrational, but that there are realistic limits on the ability of people to weigh complex options in a fully logical and objective way. Bounded rationality therefore concerns itself with the interaction between the human mind (with its prior knowledge, competing value systems and finite cognitive resources) and the social environment – the processes by which decisions are made and how these processes are shaped by the individual and their wider circumstances.

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Thus, we do not make the best choices because; we do not have all the information, we do not understand the consequences of all the options or because we do not take time to evaluate all the alternatives. Furthermore we do not always understand that our decision was based on an imperfect model. This leads to the next idea that Herb Simon created – “satisficing”. Satisficing is a word created from two words – satisfy and suffice. In other words, satisficing is the tendency for us to latch on to “good enough for now” solutions. Simon introduced a “stop rule” as part of satisficing criterion: “Stop searching as soon as you have found an alternative that meets your aspiration level.” He later modified it to be a dynamical rule such that the aspiration level or the current criterion is raised or lowered based on previous failures or successes. Gerd Gigerenzer strongly reminds us that Bounded Rationality does not mean optimizing under constraints (finding the best option under the constraints set by the situation) or irrationality (total absence of reasonableness).

In the 2001 book, “Bounded Rationality – The Adaptive Toolbox; edited by Gerd Gigerenzer and Reinhard Selten, there is a chapter dedicated to the role of culture in bounded rationality. This chapter discusses how sociocultural processes produce bounded rational algorithms. Both ethnographic data and computer modeling suggest that innate, individually adaptive processes, such as prestige-biased transmission and conformist transmission, will accumulate and stabilize cultural-evolutionary products that act as effective decision-making algorithms, without the individual participants understanding how or why the particular system works. Systems of divination provide interesting examples of how culture provides adaptive solutions.

One of the examples they cite is the complex system of bird omens amongst the Kantu of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) swidden farmers. Swidden agriculture is a technique of rotational farming. Each Kantu farmer relies on the type of bird and the type of call that the bird makes to choose the agricultural site. This creates a random distribution of the agricultural sites and ultimately helps the Kantu farmers, thus keeping their tradition alive. As a quick and thrifty heuristic, this cultural system suppresses errors that farmers make in judging the chances of a flood, and substitutes an operationally simple means for individuals to randomize their garden site selection. In addition, by randomizing each farmer’s decision independently, this belief system also reduces the chance of catastrophic failures across the entire group — it decreases the probability that many farmers will fail at the same time. All this only works because the Kantu believe that birds actually supply supernatural information that foretells the future and that they would be punished for not listening to it. How many of these cultural traditions do we still carry on in our work lives?

I found this quite interesting and maybe because it is Christmas time I could not help but draw comparisons to how we try to keep the idea of Santa alive for our kids. I thought I would dig into this deeper with my kids. I wanted to push my kids to go beyond their biases and heuristics and try to give them an opportunity to look for more information with regard to their belief in Santa. I started asking them questions in the hope that it would make them reevaluate their current decision to believe in Santa. With enough probing questions, surely they should be able to reevaluate their thinking.

I first asked them “Why do you believe in Santa?”

My youngest responded, “Believing in Santa makes him real”.

My middle child responded, “We saw him at the shopping mall parking lot loading presents in his car.”

My oldest responded with the following facts, “We get presents every year from him. We put out cookies and milk, and they are gone by Christmas day.”

Not giving up, I pushed, “If Santa gives presents to all the kids in the world, I never got any presents when I was a kid in India. Why is that?”

“You were a naughty child”, my youngest responded giggling.

“It takes a long time to get to India”, my middle child also gave her reasoning.

I thought I would give some stats with my questions, “There are about 1.9 billion kids in the world. How can Santa have toys for all of them?”

“That’s easy. Santa is super rich and can buy all the toys he wants” was the response.

“OK. How can he go around world giving toys to all the kids?”, I asked.

“He has magical reindeers” was the response.

Finally, I gave up. My attempts to crack their belief in Santa were failing. I then realized that perhaps it is not bad after all, and that my kids being kids is the most important thing of all. And it makes Christmas more magical for them.

There is always next year to try again!

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping in Systems?