Be a Samurai Warrior at the Gemba:


There is a great Japanese notion about the Samurai Warrior. I first came across this in Norman Bodek’s preface to “Kanban and Just-in-Time at Toyota”. The main idea is that a Samurai warrior never stops perfecting his style. This is akin to a manager who should never stop improving his managerial ability. The Samurai warrior also never stops polishing his sword. This is akin to the manager constantly trying to improve the process and the product.

This got me thinking about Miyamoto Musashi. Miyamoto Musashi (1564 – 1645) was a great swordsman and a great artist from Japan. He is most commonly known as the author of the great book – “The Book of Five Rings. He was said to be undefeated in duels. His book is still considered to be a great book on strategy similar to the Art of War. His book consists of five different themes (earth, water, fire, wind and void). In this post, I will talk about five of his sayings from the Book of Five Rings that resonated the most with me.

  • If you practice diligently day and night in the strategy, your spirit will naturally broaden. Thus you will come to comprehend large scale strategy and the strategy of one on one combat. (Book of Earth)

Musashi is talking about the small picture and the big picture view here. In the book, the strategy refers to the use of the long sword. He advises the student to practice every day and to be fluent in both large scale strategy and small scale strategy.

In a similar vein, Musashi states the following in the Book of Water:

In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things. It is important in strategy to know the enemy’s sword and not to be distracted by insignificant movements of his sword. (Book of Water)

The key points I am taking away to use are diligent practice in order to broaden your spirit. This allows you to see the big picture vs. the small picture, and strengthens your ability to look at the small details and not lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Musashi also said, “Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things.”

  • The teacher is as a needle, the disciple is as thread. You must practice constantly.(Book of Earth)

In Lean we say that the Teacher has not taught, if the student has not learned. Musashi requires the student to follow the teacher as a thread follows the needle. This is such a powerful analogy.

  • Really skilful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy.(Book of Wind)

When you look at successful people, they make you go, “How does he/she do it?” Continuous learning and practice makes you better at what you do and allows you to become so skilful that you are able to flow gracefully. Business does not equate to busyness. Being busy and getting things done are two different things.

  • You should not have any special fondness for a particular weapon, or anything else, for that matter. Too much is the same as not enough. (Book of Earth)

Musashi cautions us against having a favorite tool. This is akin to the saying; if you have a hammer everything you see is a nail. One should use the right tool for the right problem. To use the right tool, one should understand what the problem is. Do not become over-reliant on a favored approach or process.

  • There is rhythm in everything; however, the rhythm in strategy, in particular, cannot be mastered without a great deal of hard practice. (Book of Earth)

There is a constant theme in the book about being fluid. Musashi talks about having a rhythm in what you do. This is a toyotayesque approach of production leveling and takt time. Musashi also rightfully points out that the rhythm cannot be achieved without a great deal of practice.

Final Words:

Musashi’s book succinctly sums up the idea of constant practice and constant learning. I encourage the reader to read the Book of Five Rings. It is full of great nuggets that are applicable at the Gemba. I also encourage the reader to be a Samurai warrior at the Gemba – never stop practicing your style (always keep on improving) and never stop polishing your sword (always keep on learning).

I will finish off with a Zen Story that talks about working smarter and not harder:

A young man went to a famous teacher and asked, “I am devoted to your way of thinking. I am willing to work hard under you. How long will it take me to reach enlightenment?”

“Ten years”, the teacher replied.

“Ten years!”, the young man remarked. “But I want to reach enlightenment faster. I will work harder and devote ten or more hours a day. How long will it take me then?”

The teacher sipped his tea, thought for a bit and said. “Twenty years.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Cpk/Ppk and Percent Conforming.


Ten Things I Learned from The Walking Dead


The Walking Dead is one of the most successful TV shows in America. The story follows Rick Grimes and his group of friends and family in a Zombie apocalypse. I got hooked onto it last year and binge watched all the available seasons on Netflix with my wife. I have come to realize that The Walking Dead can teach you one or two things about Management. Here is my list of 10 things I learned from The Walking Dead. I am hopeful that you can also learn to survive the “problems apocalypse” in your work or life.

  • Observe and let the patterns emerge:

The whole world is falling apart. Nobody knows what to do. Everybody is turning into zombies. It is chaos everywhere. Have you felt that sometimes at work everything is falling apart? There is one problem after the other. What is going on?

You have to let the patterns emerge to start making sense of things. At first Rick and his group thought that you have to be bitten for a person to become a zombie. It was later learned that any person once he dies becomes a zombie. Similarly, they learned that a zombie can be “killed” by destroying its brain. The group has learned to observe and let the patterns emerge! Once the patterns emerge, you can start creating basic rules to survive.

  • This too shall pass:

Rick and his group have learned the important lesson – this too shall pass. If you see a horde of zombies coming your way or if you are surrounded by zombies, panicking will not help. Understand that the problem seems insurmountable at the time, but the problem too shall pass. Each problem is an opportunity that you can learn from.

  • Learn to adapt/ keep learning new things to survive:

Rick’s group contains people from different walks of life. Glenn, a major character was a pizza delivery boy prior to the zombie apocalypse. Glenn learned the superior zombie survival skills to emerge as a leader in his group. Rick’s group had to learn to adapt to live in the new world. They had to always keep learning new things to survive, such as fighting, using guns, hunting etc. Similarly, to overcome stagnation apocalypse at your work or in life, you have to keep learning new things.

As Dr. Deming may or may not have said:

“It is not necessary to adapt/change. Survival is not mandatory.”

  • Teamwork:

The only way Rick’s group is able to keep on surviving is because of only one thing – teamwork. Each person in his group is important. They have appointed Rick as their leader, and they work together to survive. Rick’s group goes out from their haven to the outside world in order to scavenge food and necessities to survive. They risk their lives to do this, and they are able to do it only because of teamwork. Nobody tries to sub-optimize. They know that it is not about one person, and that it is about the group. Anybody trying to look out only for themselves gets killed. It is about system optimization!

  • Rotate/follow-up:

Even if you are good at what you do, you need to rotate your job. You need experts but your team thrives from cross-training. Especially on an assembly line, rotation of the job is important to stay alert. If you are not on the assembly line, request review of what you do. You will learn more that way. Give and take feedback! Remember this, when you are on a watch for zombies, always rotate for survival.

  • Ground Yourself:

Life can be stressful. Your work can be stressful. It is easy to lose hope. You need to learn to manage stress. Find joy in the little things of life. You have to learn methods to ground yourself back to your place of confidence and serenity. The lesson of grounding yourself is very important in martial arts disciplines such as Aikido. Rick’s group has enemies in both zombies and remaining predatory human survivors. Rick’s group knows that losing your cool can get yourself killed.

  • There is almost always a way:

No matter how unsolvable a problem is, there is always a way. Sometimes, there is more than one way. Rick’s group has been in several situations where they felt like there is no way out. But always they found a way out.

Something that I have always wondered while watching the show is– why not climb a tree to escape from the zombies? Zombies do not climb trees.

  • Make sure everybody knows the plan:

One thing that Rick is really good at is that he lets his group know what the plan is. This is important in order to survive. Rick has laid down the rules, and everybody is happy to adhere to the rules. In the show, whenever the leader does not share his plans (e.g. the governor, a negative character in the show) it always ends up bad for his group. When everybody is working towards the common goal, you reach your goal faster, better and cheaper. You need to let your team know the what, the why, the who, the when and the how. Keep your communication lines open and your plans transparent.

  • Develop your people:

Rick is wise to know that you need to develop your people. Almost all the members in his group started off as scared and unsure. For example Carol, a strong character and care taker in his group, was initially portrayed as meek and defenseless. Carol has become a resourceful and strong leader in her own right. She provides counsel to Rick with difficult decisions and protects the group from outside dangers.

Rick helped develop his group members to be strong and able to handle themselves in an emergency. Rick has developed his group with a strong purpose – survival of the entire group. Rick is able to let others lead when required. Rick knows that he cannot survive without his group.

  • Don’t rest on your laurels:

This is most likely the largest of Rick’s pet peeves. He hates the idea of being complacent. His group has been through a lot, but he does not want them to drop their guard. One misstep can lead to a big loss. He is keen on growing themselves and being ready for what comes next. Today’s success does not guarantee tomorrow’s success.

Always keep on learning, and remember to run for the tree when the zombies come…

8 Things I learned from Spock


Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is no more. The character of Spock from Star Trek has had a huge impact on many peoples’ lives. Leonard Nimoy will be deeply missed.

Here are 8 things that I learned from Spock.

1) If you do not have enough information, say that you do not have enough information or that your hypothesis is based on the limited information. As a Science Officer, he very well knew that he had to give the best possible opinion at all times. But he was open about his lack of information to form an effective hypothesis. For example, Spock would respond “I simply do not have enough data to form an opinion”, to Kirk’s “Opinion, Mr. Spock?” question. Kirk would then follow up with “Speculation, Mr. Spock.”.

2) Do not mix emotions with your hypothesis. In other words, try to eliminate or minimize confirmation bias. This was what separated Spock from Bones in the show.

3) Always have an open mind. Spoke always remarked “Fascinating” anytime he came across something new. This also tells us to minimize our confirmation bias.

4) Look for patterns to form your hypothesis. After all, that is the role of a Science Officer.

5) Try to think rationally. Spock put a lot of emphasis on logic.

6) Always be abreast with the latest in your field. This was essential for Spock as a Science Officer. Always keep on learning.

7) Things are not always black and white. Spock learned this from Kirk. Kirk was always willing to challenge the status quo.

8) Improbable things can happen. As Spock said “It would be illogical to assume all conditions remain stable.” With enough iterations, even highly unlikely events can happen.

Thank you and Good Bye, dear Leonard Nimoy.

Keep on learning…