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:

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:

Herd Structures in ‘The Walking Dead’ – CAS Lessons:

zombie_PNG64

The Walking Dead is one of the top-rated TV shows currently. The show is about survival in a post-apocalyptic zombie world. The zombies are referred to as “walkers” in the show. I have written previously about The Walking Dead here. In today’s post, I want to briefly look at Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) in the show’s backdrop. A Complex Adaptive System is an open non-linear system with heterogenous and autonomous agents that have the ability to adapt to their environment through interactions between themselves and with their environment.

The simplest example to get a grasp of CAS is to look at an ant colony. Ants are simple creatures without a leader telling what each ant should do. Each ant’s behavior is constrained by a set of behavioral rules which determine how they will interact with each other and with their environment. The ant colony taken as a whole is a complex and intelligent system. Each ant works with local information, and interacts with other ants and the environment based on this information. The different tasks that the ants do are patrol, forage, maintain nest and perform midden work. The local information available to each ant is the pheromone scent from another ant. As a whole, their interactions result in a collective intelligence that sustains their colony. In presence of perturbations in their environment, the ants are able to switch to specific tasks to maintain their system. The ants decide the task based on the local information in the form of perturbation to their environment and their rate of interaction with other ants performing the specific tasks. The ants go up in the ranks eventually becoming a forager in the presence of need. A forager ant always stays a forager. The ant colony carries a large amount of “reserve ants” who do not perform any function. This reserve allows for specific task allocation as needed based on perturbations to their environment.

To further illustrate the “self-organizing” or pattern forming behavior of ants, let’s take for example, their foraging activity. The ants will set out from the colony in a random fashion looking for food. Once an ant finds food, it will bring it back to the nest leaving a pheromone trail on its way back. The other ants engaged in the foraging activity will follow the pheromone trail and bring back food while leaving their pheromone scent on the path. The pheromone scent will evaporate over a short amount of time. The ants that followed the shortest path would go back for more food and their pheromone trail will stay “fresh” while a longer path will not remain as “fresh” since the pheromone has more time to evaporate. This means that the path with the strongest pheromone trail is the shortest path to the food. The shortest path was a result of positive feedback loops from more and more ants leaving pheromone at a faster rate. Here the local information available to each ant is the rate of pheromone release from the other ants. The faster the rate, the stronger the trail. This generally corresponds to the shortest trail to the food source. Once the food source is consumed, another food source is identified and a new short path is established. This “algorithm” called as Ant Colony Optimization Algorithm is utilized by several transportation companies to find the shortest routes.

Foraging

In the show, The Walking Dead, a similar collective behavior is shown by the zombies. The zombies exhibit a herding behavior where a large number of zombies will move together as a herd in search for “food”. The zombies in The Walking Dead world are devoid of any intelligence and there is no one in charge similar to the ants. The zombies however do not have a nest. They just wander around. The zombies in the show are attracted by sound, movement and possibly absence of “zombie smell”. The zombies do not attack each other possibly due to the presence of “zombie smell”. In fact, in the show several characters were able to survive zombie attack by lathering themselves in the “zombie goo”.

The possible explanation for the formation of herd structures is the hardwired attribute that we all have – copying others. We tend to follow what others are doing when we are not sure what is happening. We go with the flow. A good example is the wave we do in a sports stadium. We could develop a model where a few zombies are attracted by a stimulus and they walk toward the stimulus. The other zombies simply follow them, and soon a large crowd forms due to the reinforced loops with more and more followers. This is similar to the positive reinforcing feedback of pheromone trail in the example of ants.

The show recently introduced an antagonist group called the “Whisperers”. The Whisperers worship the dead and adorn the zombie skins and walk amongst the zombies. They learned to control the herd and make them go where they want. The Whisperers themselves a CAS, adapted to survive by being with the walkers. Possibly, they are able to guide the walkers by first forming a small crowd themselves and then getting more walkers to join them as they move as a group. Since they have the “zombie smell” on them, the walkers do not attack them.

How Does Understanding CAS Help Us?

We are not ants and certainly not zombies (at least not yet). But there are several lessons we can get from understanding CAS. We all belong to a CAS at work, and in our community. The underlying principle of CAS is that we live in a complex world where we can understand the world only in the context of our environment and our local interactions with our neighbors and with the environment. Every project we are involved in is new and not identical to any previous project. This could be the nature of the project itself, or the team members or the deadlines or the client. Every part of the project can introduce a new variation that we did not know of. Given below are some lessons from CAS.

  1. Observe and understand patterns:

Complex Adaptive Systems present patterns due to the agents’ interactions. You have to observe and understand the different patterns around you. How do others interact with each other? Can you identify new patterns forming in the presence of new information or perturbations in your environment? Improve your observation skills to understand how patterns form around you. Look and see who the “influencers” are in your team.

  1. Understand the positive and negative feedback loops:

Observe and understand the positive and negative feedback loops that exist around. A pattern forms based on these loops. The awareness of the positive and negative loops will help us nurture the required loops.

  1. Be humble:

Complexity is all around us and this means that we lack understanding. We cannot foresee or predict how things will turn out every time. Complex systems are dispositional, to quote Dave Snowden. They may exhibit tendencies but we cannot completely understand how things work in a complex system. Edicts and rules do not always work and they can have unintended consequences. Every event is possibly a new event and this means that although you can have insights from your past experiences, you cannot control the outcomes. You cannot simply copy and paste because the context in the current system is different.

  1. Get multiple perspectives always (reality is multidimensional and constructed):

Get multiple perspectives. To quote the great American organizational theorist, Russell Ackoff, “Reality is multidimensional.” To add to this, it is also constructed. The multiple perspectives help us to understand things a little better and provide a new perspective that we were lacking. Systems are also constructed and can change how it appears depending on your perspective.

  1. Go inside and outside the system:

We cannot try to understand a system by staying outside it all of the time. Similarly, we cannot understand a system by staying inside it all of the time. Go to the Gemba (the actual workplace) to grasp the situation to better understand what is going on. Come away from it to reflect. We can understand a system only in the context of the environment and the interactions going on.

  1. Have variety:

Similar to #4, variety is your friend in a complex system. Variety leads to better interactions that will help us with developing new patterns. If everybody was the same then we would be reinforcing the same idea that would lack the requisite variety to counter the variety present in our environment. Our environment is not homogenous.

  1. Aim for Effectiveness and not Efficiency:

In complex systems, we should aim for effectiveness. Here, the famous Toyota heuristic, “Go slow to go fast” is applicable. Since each event is novel, we cannot aim for efficiency always.

  1. Use Heuristics and not Rules:

Heuristics are flexible and while rules are rigid. Rules are based on past experiences and lack the variety needed in the current context. Heuristics allow flexing allowing for the agents to change tactics as needed.

  1. Experiment frequently with safe to fail small experiments:

As part of prodding the environment, we should engage in frequent and small safe to fail experiments.  This helps us improve our understanding.

  1. Understand that complexity is always nonlinear, thus keep an eye out for emerging patterns:

Complexity is nonlinear and this means that a small change can have an unforeseen and large outcome. Thus, we should observe for any emerging patterns and determine our next steps. Move towards what we have identified as “good” and move away from what we have deemed as “bad”. Patterns always emerge bottom-up. We may not be able to design the patterns, but we may be able to recognize the patterns being developed and potentially influence them.

Final Words:

My post has been a very simple look at CAS. There are lot more attributes to CAS that are worth pursuing and learning. Complexity Explorer from Santa Fe institute is a great place to start. I will finish with a great quote from the retired United States Army four-star general Stanley McChrystal, from his book, Team of Teams:

“The temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organization, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing. A gardening approach to leadership is anything but passive. The leader acts as an “Eyes-On, Hands-Off” enabler who creates and maintains an ecosystem in which the organization operates.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Conceptual Metaphors in Lean:

The Best Attribute to Have at the Gemba:

blindmen and elephant

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

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

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

dress

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

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

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

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

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

I will finish with a story about context:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always keep on learning…

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

[1] http://sidneydekker.com/

Meditations at the Gemba:

Aurelius

In today’s post, I am looking at Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations” and how it relates to us today. Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 AD, was a follower of Stoicism, a type of philosophy that extols a way of life based on moral virtue. It emphasizes logic and rationality, and views man as a microcosm corresponding to the macrocosm of the universe. Man has to use his reason to discern the universal order present in nature and he is obligated to live his life in accordance with nature [1].  I have identified 10 lessons from “Meditations” that I hope will be valuable to the lean leader. I have used the translation of “Meditations” by George Long for my notes[2].

1) Make Time for Contemplation:

“We ought to remember not only that our life is daily wasting away and a smaller part of it is left, but also that if a man should live longer, it is quite uncertain whether his mind will stay strong enough to understand things, and retain the power of contemplation to strive after knowledge of the divine and human.”

Marcus believes in making time for contemplation. He encourages us to “retire” into ourselves to recharge on a frequent basis. This is similar to the concept of “Hansei” in Lean. He continues;

“It is in your power, whenever you shall choose, to retire into yourself.”

Marcus talks of cleansing your soul so that you are free of discontentment and this allows you to return to the “stale things” with a refreshed mind. He reminds the reader that things cannot touch your soul since they are external to you, and that our perturbations come from our own opinions and viewpoints. This too shall pass.

2) Observe the Small Things in the Light of the Big Picture:

“We ought to observe also that even the small characteristics of things produced according to nature have something in them pleasing and attractive.”

Marcus believed that everything must be aligned with nature. Even the smallest detail has its own charm and beauty in the big picture. Marcus talks about the example of the cracks in the surface of a loaf of bread. In his eyes, they are beautiful even though they were not designed or intentionally added by the baker. They are visually appealing and stimulate the appetite. Observing small details in relation to the bigger picture is a beautiful thought. On the contrary, small characteristics are not pleasing and attractive when they are not according to nature. This is an important lesson for us at the Gemba – Why is the operator reaching out to get his retracted tool every time? Small characteristics not according to nature indicate all of the wasteful motions which can have a negative impact on a rational natural process.

3) Labor Not Unwillingly:

“Labor not unwillingly, nor without regard to the common interest, nor without due consideration, nor with distraction”.

When we do something, do we pay attention to the purpose? How many times do we catch ourselves doing things without thought, just to realize that we have wasted away a whole weekend. Does my action do anything to improve the common betterment of my organization, my family, or my neighborhood?

Marcus continues;

“On every occasion a man should ask himself, ‘Is this one of the unnecessary things?’”

Tim Ferriss talks about a Not-To-Do list [3], which is a list of things not to be done instead of a list of thing that needs to be done. This different approach trains our minds to pay attention to the habits that secretly steal valuable time away from us.

Marcus also advises us to “Do every act with a purpose.”

4) Don’t Jump to Conclusions:

“Honor the faculty which produces opinion. On this faculty it entirely depends whether there exists in your ruling part any opinion inconsistent with nature and the constitution of a rational being. And this faculty urges freedom from hasty judgment.”

Marcus clearly explains why we should not jump to conclusions. We need to recognize the faculty to ensure that the opinion is consistent with nature (virtuous) and rational.

Marcus continues;

“Make for yourself a definition or description of every object presented to you, so as to see distinctly what it is in its own naked substance, complete, and entire.”

Marcus is advising us to use a methodical approach to give us a rational and virtuous opinion when a situation presents itself to us the next time at the Gemba.

5) Be Virtuous:

“Whatever you do, do it as befits that character of goodness in the sense in which a man is rightfully supposed to be good. Hold this rule in every act.”

Virtue is a key theme in Stoicism. Virtue is getting the human mind aligned with nature.

Marcus continues;

“To a rational being the act that is according to nature is according to reason.”

The natural life is one controlled by reason. Stoics believe that happiness is found in virtue. How would you apply this in your organization? Are people happy in your organization? Does your organization provide happiness to your neighborhood? For example, one of Toyota’s Guiding Principles is –  “Dedicate our business to providing clean and safe products and to enhancing the quality of life everywhere through all of our activities.”

6) Pursuit of Rationality:

“Always hasten by the short way: and the short way is the natural one. Say and do everything in conformity with sound reason. For such a rule frees a man from trouble and strife and artifice and ostentatious display.”

Marcus is advising that the easy way is not necessarily the shortest way. The path chosen with sound reason, in alignment with nature is the short one. In the first manual of Toyota Production System, there was a concept that was introduced as the “pursuit of rationality”. Marcus has explained this really well. It is not always about efficiency, but about effectiveness. We should pay more attention to effectiveness than efficiency.

7) Staying Calm:

“You can pass your life in a calm flow of happiness, if you can take the right way, and think and act in the right way. The two things common to the soul of God and to the soul of man, and to the soul of every rational being, are not be hindered in their purpose by another; and to holds good the disposition of justice and the practice of it, and in this to let your desire find its satisfaction.”

Stoics are expected to remain calm in all situations, like an emotionless being. This is not exactly true. Stoics are expected to express emotions like being startled by a loud sound, but they are not to dwell on the emotion. They find calmness and happiness when they do not let the opinions and emotions control them. They do not get distracted by the acts of others or by things that are beyond their control, as long as they stay on their path. This is similar to the Serenity Prayer[4].

Marcus continues;

“I do my duty. Other things do not trouble me, for they are either things without life or things without reason, or things that have wandered and know not the way.”

“No man can hinder you from living according to reason of your own nature; nothing will happen to you contrary to the reason of the universal nature.”

Things can go against your way on a frequent basis at the Gemba. To be a good leader, heed Marcus’ advice.

8) Holistic View:

“Consider frequently the connection of all things in the universe and their relation to one another.”

 “All parts in the universe are interwoven with one another, and the bond is sacred. Nothing is unconnected with some other thing.”

“Observe the continuous spinning of the thread and the single texture of the web.”

Marcus believed in the grand scheme of things and the natural order. He advises us to look at everything from a systems standpoint. Everything is connected to one another. Changing one thing here can cause changes at another end, and sometimes we cannot anticipate the extent of the consequences.

“That which is not good for the swarm, is not good for the single bee.”

He also advises us to look at the optimization from a system standpoint and not from a local optimization standpoint.

9) Respect:

“He who acts unjustly acts irreverently. For since the universal nature has made rational animals for the sake of one another, to help one another according to their worth, but in no way to injure one another.”

“First, do nothing thoughtlessly or without a purpose. Secondly, see that your acts are directed to a social end.”

Being rational in Stoicism means to work towards a  common good in accordance with nature. This also indicates that you should allow everybody to reach their greatest potential, which is the rational thing to do. Harmony is a key theme in Stoicism, and this means being harmonious with nature as well as with other human beings. There is a lot of similarities between the concept of “Wa” in the Japanese culture. I have talked about it here [5].

Marcus also talked about being willing to request help from others.

“Be not ashamed to take help… Stand erect or be helped to stand erect.”

10) Change Must Happen:

“Is anyone afraid of change? Why, what can be done without change?”

Marcus advises us that change is inevitable. Marcus continues;

“Life is more like wrestling than dancing, in that it should stand ready and firm to meet onsets, however unexpected.”

We must be ready to wrestle while being rational. We should pursue rationality, engage in contemplation on a regular basis, do things that are only just, and be prepared.

Final Words:

Marcus Aurelius did not write “Meditations” in the hopes that it would be read by generations to come. He wrote these passages as part of his journal. The book does not have any particular organized structure to it. It is also strange that the title that Marcus gave to the book did not mean “Meditations”. In Greek, it meant “To Himself”. The title was given by an anonymous person much later.

My favorite section from the book also captures the essence of the book:

“Where every act must be performed in accord with the reason which is common to gods and men, we have nothing to fear; when we can profit by activity which is successful and in harmony with our nature, need suspect no harm.

Everywhere and at all times it is in your power to accept reverently your present condition, to behave justly to those about you, and to exert your skill to control your thoughts, that nothing shall steal into them without being well examined.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Gemba Playlist:

[1] Ethics: The Study of Moral Values – Mortimer J Adler and Seymour Cain

[2]Marcus Aurelius and His Times by Walter J Black Inc.

[3] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/not-to-do-list-9-habits-stop-now-tim-ferriss

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_Prayer

[5] https://harishsnotebook.wordpress.com/2016/05/15/the-idea-of-wa-in-nemawashi/

Gemba Playlist:

playlist

I was talking to my manager last week and he mentioned about “walking the line” to do process audits. We both exclaimed, “Johnny Cash”. My manager commented that he can see a post in the works and smiled. So here I am.

In today’s post, I am suggesting 10 songs to keep in mind at the Gemba, and I am calling it the “Gemba Playlist”. You can click on the song titles to open it on YouTube.

The “Man in Black” [1] said it right. As a Lean Leader, you have to walk the line every day. Go to the Gemba and observe, and learn. This is a great opportunity to learn, and to develop oneself and others. Walking the line allows you to develop your observation muscles to see waste. The more you walk the line, the more you can see waste. And the more you see waste, the better you can improve the process and develop oneself and others. Go and walk the line!

One of the basic tenets of Toyota Production System is one-piece flow. The song from Johnny Cash (again) reminds us of following this. The production should follow one-piece flow – make it one piece at a time. This improves the flow, eliminates excess inventory, and improves quality. It is easier to correct the process since you get fast feedback from the next process if there is a problem. Great advice!

It appears that Johnny Cash is a Lean guy after all. His advice to Get Rhythm is an important one. You have to produce product based on takt time – a beat or cadence for the production based on customer demand. This ensures that we stay on top of producing exactly what is needed and nothing more. This brings me to the next song.

Henry Ford is attributed to have said that “you can have any color car you want…. as long as it is black”. A Lean Leader would say, “you can have it any way you want it.” This is because of “heijunka” or production leveling. It might be more efficient to make the same color or style car again and again. However, the customer may not want a black car. Utilizing the Toyota Production System principles allows you to say – you can have the product any way you want it. Heijunka ensures that you are flexible in meeting the variety of demands imposed by the customers by making product in the right mix daily.

Sammy Davis Jr. might be on to something here. A Lean Leader knows to resist placing the blame on the operator when there is a problem. You have to look at the process and see what might have happened. It is too easy to blame the operator. However, replacing the operator can still result in the same problem happening. The operator is doing what he or she thinks is rational at that time, based on all the information available. Start with the process when you are addressing a problem at the Gemba.

This needs to be mantra of every Lean Leader – I (We) can make it better. This is the idea of kaizen. You are responsible to make things better than yesterday, no matter how small or insignificant the improvement is. The small improvements add up, and they also change the mindset. There is always a better way of doing things. The title of the song captures the essence of continuous improvement.

Just-In-Time (JIT) is one of the two pillars of the Toyota house. I have written about this many times before. JIT is the brainchild of Kiichiro Toyoda, who founded the Toyota Motor Corporation. He came up with the idea of making the right parts at the right time, and in the right amount. The essence of JIT is to make product almost on time. Kiichiro called this the first principle of improving efficiency. He believed that JIT would eliminate all the excess inventory and also avoid a shortage of parts since only the right part in the right amount will be made with proper resource utilization.

No list is complete without a song from The Beatles. TPS is not about Superman or any other Super Action Hero. TPS is about teamwork and working together. One of the two pillars of Toyota Way – Respect for People, is based on Teamwork. TPS is everybody working together everyday for the common betterment. Yoshio Ishizaka, a Toyota veteran stated in his wonderful book, “The Toyota Way in Sales & Marketing”, Toyota realized that the starting point and the building block for its production system was the employees.

At the Gemba, there are always Things That Make You Go Hmmmm.Why is that operator reaching out for a tool every time? Why does this part always have a flash at this corner? Why is there a pool of oil here? Why do we have to record this information twice in different formats? Why am I entering this information when it can be accessed anytime? These things are good because they set you on the right journey – the journey to eliminate waste and improve your process.

Taiichi Ohno, the father of TPS, is said to have drawn chalk circles on the floor and have the supervisor or engineer stand inside it to observe a process. The idea was to make them see the waste that he saw. This Christmas song has three questions that are very applicable at the Gemba.

  • Do you see what I see?
  • Do you hear what I hear?
  • Do you know what I know?

These questions are great starting points to train and develop a leader. Some sample questions might be  – Do you see the wastes that I see? Or Do you hear the abnormal sound coming from the machine? Following or shadowing a person and observing them at work is a great way to absorb his or her knowledge.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Rules of 3 and 5:

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

Practicing Lean, a review:

41q392ubbrl

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

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.

Don’t Be an Expert at the Gemba:

Expert

In today’s post I will be talking about being open-minded at the gemba. I heard a wise saying;

“Minds, like parachutes, only work when open.”

parachute

I am sometimes guilty assuming that I know completely about the matter at hand – that I am an expert. I would be at the gemba and instead of listening to the operator talk, I would be talking to the operator, and trying to find solutions on my own. This type of thinking results in three things;

  • I am not respecting the operator or his expertise by not being open to his suggestions. The operator is truly the expert since he has been doing this, day in and day out.
  • By rushing to solutions, I am wasting the opportunity to develop the operator. By providing the solutions, I am taking away the privilege for the operator to think and come up with solutions.
  • I may not get his buy-in for what I am planning on implementing. Things will go back to the way they were once I leave that area.

Being an “expert” makes one close minded. It puts the blinders on for the person, and prevents them from seeing the whole. There is another side effect to being an “expert”. You become very comfortable at something and will not want to steer away from your comfort zone.

I have been reading books by Bruce Lee, the famed martial artist. Apart from being a great martial artist, Bruce was also a deep thinker. He talked about the great analogy of a cup that is applicable to this post:

“The usefulness of a cup is that it is empty.”

If a cup is not empty, it is not useful. The emptier the cup, the more useful it is!

Ohno and Experts:

Taiichi Ohno used to say that experts are not good for kaizen. “They would just get in the way”, he said. Ohno’s point about this statement is that experts would not be open to going outside their comfort zones, and they would not allow others to speak or be open to their ideas. Kaizen needs for you to be outside of your comfort zones. Comfort zones are the playgrounds for status-quos. This is against the spirit of kaizen.

In Toyota, there is a great concept called “chie”. Chie stands for “wisdom of experience”. If experience equates to expertise, then chie equates to wisdom that comes from experience. Toyota views their production system as a “Thinking Production System”. Toyota’s goal is to increase chie of all their workers so that their thinking leads to improved processes and this ultimately improves Toyota altogether. This type of thinking is against “experts” on the floor. Experience may result in improved efficiency, however this does not equate to improved effectiveness.

Final Words:

This post is more a reminder for me to be open minded at the gemba, and to listen to the operator, and to encourage them to ask questions and come up with solutions. This allows for developing the operator. This also allows you to learn from the operator as well. I will finish off with a short story from Leo Tolstoy about someone who thought he was an expert:

There once were three hermits on a remote island. They were known in the region for performing miracles. They were very simple, and did not know complicated prayers. The only prayer they knew was “We are three, Thou art Thee, have mercy on us.” 

One day the local bishop came to hear about the three hermits and their prayer. He thought to himself that he should pay them a visit so that he can teach them prayers that were “more correct”.

He arrived at the island and taught them the “state of the art” prayers. The three hermits recited the prayers after the bishop. The bishop was quite pleased with himself. He bid them good bye and left. His boat was sailing away from the island. It was getting dark. The bishop looked back at the island, and saw a radiant light slowly approaching the boat from the direction of the island. To his surprise, he saw that the three hermits were holding hands and running towards the boat, over the water.

“Bishop, we have forgotten the prayers you taught us”, they said, and asked him if he would please repeat them.

The bishop shook his head in awe at the miracle he was witnessing. “Dear ones”, he replied humbly, “Please forgive me, and continue to live with your old prayer!”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Opposite of Kaizen.