Respect and Yokai:


In today’s post I am looking at Respect and Yokai. “Yokai” is a catch-all word in Japanese which refers to supernatural beings. I have written several posts regarding respect for people [1]. Respect for people is an important concept in the Toyota Production System, and it goes beyond the superficial “let’s be nice to people”. As a Japanophile, I was very enthralled by the “Yokai” culture. One of the things I learned about yokai was the connection between respect and yokai. Yokai originated from Japanese folklore. Later on, yokai was used to represent creatures that originated from material things like an umbrella or a lantern. Yokai are generally mischievous and can be good or bad. Yokai filled the gap to explain the unexplainable or mysterious events. For example, “Tenjoname”, a yokai who likes to lick the ceilings can be used to explain the stains on the ceilings. The word “tenjoname” literally means “to lick the ceiling”. Tenjoname has a long tongue that can reach all the way up to the ceiling, and he comes out when there is nobody around and licks ceilings in buildings and this leaves stains on them.


The respect part in this post comes from the belief in the Japanese culture to use everything to its fullest value. If you have a lantern, and you throw it away to buy a new lantern, the discarded lantern can turn into a yokai, generally called as tsukumogami, and come back for “revenge” or “payback”. I found this to be a fascinating thought. One needs to respect one’s belongings. I can relate to this concept – as a kid, I was scolded by my parents if I left books on the floor. Leaving books on the floor can lead to one inadvertently stepping on them. Books represented wisdom and learning, and a lack of respect for books meant that I will not be able to learn from them.

Japan has limited natural resources and thus the concept of using things to its full value is a very important concept in Japanese culture. In this regard, one can see how being wasteful can extend to the idea of yokai. Being wasteful is bad, and disrespectful to the environment and your neighbors. In my eyes, this also extends to respect for people. In Japanese culture, it is said that at the end of life an item is “discarded” with respect. One may even go to a shrine to pay respect to the item before discarding it. The respect is not only for the item, but also for the numerous people who had a hand in creating that item. In today’s world of use-and-discard and buying the latest tech gadget, yokai reminds us to respect the planet and others.

I will finish by discussing my favorite yokai – kappa. “Kappa” is a yokai that is associated with water bodies like ponds or rivers. Kappa is depicted as a humanoid form generally the size of a child, with webbed feet and hands. Sometimes they are depicted as monkey-like or like frog-like. They have a saucer-like indentation on the head that has water in it. This is the source of their power and losing the water from its head can make them powerless. Even though they are small, they are very strong. Kappa was often used by elders to warn children to stay away from the river or pond.


The most interesting characteristic of kappa is that they are very polite. Thus, the way to capture or defeat a kappa is to bow your head down as a show of respect. The kappa will have to then bow their head back, and this will empty the water in their head thus making them powerless. Thus kappa is most likely the only evil being in any culture that can be defeated with respect and politeness.

Always keep on learning…

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more here.

In case you missed it, my last post was Kant and Respect for Humanity:


Respect for People in Light of Systems Thinking:


Respect for People is one of the two pillars in the Toyota Way and in today’s post I will be looking at Respect for People in the light of ideas from the late great Systems Thinker, Russell Ackoff. This post is inspired by Ackoff’s teachings.

Back in the old days (Renaissance period onwards – 1400’s) humans knew little and thought that they knew everything. There was a lot of stress on “Analysis” and “cause and effect” thinking. The thinking behind “Analysis” is that one learns a phenomenon by taking things apart. This was seen as the only way to understand the universe – by breaking down things and studying each part. This fostered the idea of cause and effect thinking. Every relationship was seen as a cause and an effect, in a linear fashion. In Ackoff’s words, this led to interesting doctrines;

The commitment to cause-and-effect thinking led to … if we want to explain a phenomenon, all we have to do is find its cause. To further explain that cause, we simply treat it as an effect and find its cause. But is there any end to this causal regression? If the universe can be completely understood, there had to be a first cause—and this was the official doctrine as to why God exists. God is the only thing in the universe that could not be explained because God was the first cause.

This type of linear thinking led us to thinking of the world as a clockwork machine. The Industrial Revolution introduced the machine age where work could be mechanized. Work was seen in a reductionist viewpoint as a simple transformation of matter through energy. Frederick Taylor, proponent of Scientific Management, introduced the ideas of improving efficiency through principles of Industrial Engineering. Work could now be broken down into basic elements – analysis, and each element can be focused on to improve it. The modern factory consisted of machines and humans engaged in these basic tasks in a clockwork fashion. In Ackoff’s words;

The machines and people were then aggregated into a network of elementary tasks dedicated to the production of a product—the modern factory. In the process of mechanizing work, however, we made people behave as though they were machines. We dehumanized work.

This goes against the idea of Respect for Humanity. Toyota teaches that its production system is a Thinking Production System, and that their operators are not just a pair of hands.

Ackoff concludes that the idea of free will, introduction of the Uncertainty principle and Systems Thinking launched the Systems Age in the first half of Twentieth Century. In Systems Thinking, the approach of “Synthesis” was introduced. “Synthesis” uses the opposite approach to “Analysis”.” Synthesis” is the idea of putting things together to understand the system. In Ackoff’s words;

The first step of synthesis is to determine the larger system of which the system to be explained is a part. The second step is to try to understand the larger system as a whole. The third step is to disaggregate the understanding of the whole into an understanding of the part by identifying its role or function in the containing system.

If Analysis leads to Knowledge, Synthesis leads to Understanding! However, this also meant that we may never be able to understand the whole universe. The concept of Synthesis forces us to look at the impact of the environment and each factor and how they interact with each other. This was missing in Analysis. This idea led to the understanding that an organization is not a simple mechanistic clockwork where people are mere forms of “living machinery”. An organization in the light of Systems Thinking becomes a Social Technical system. Ackoff advises us;

Most managers are still acting as though the corporation is a mechanism or an organism, not a social system. Although we don’t normally treat machines as organisms, one legacy from the Machine Age is that we have a tendency to treat organisms as machines, and even social systems as machines. That has a very limited usefulness, but it is not nearly as useful as looking at a social system as a social system.

This provides further insight into the concept of Respect for People in my opinion. Respect for People is not thinking in terms of the Machine Age. It is about looking at the social system and seeing workers as people who can think and come up with better ways of doing things, and where the system gains from their input.

Final Words:

I encourage the readers to read or watch anything that is available from Russell Ackoff. I will finish off with a “Zen” story from Japan that talks about the harmony of the whole;

There’s a story about the famous rock garden at Ryōanji temple. The story goes that when the garden was finished, the designer showed it to the priest and asked him what he thought.

The priest was delighted. “It’s magnificent!” he said. “Especially that rock there!”

The garden designer immediately removed the rock. For him, the harmony of the whole was paramount.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Value of Silence.

The Value of Silence:


Today’s post is an introspective post for me. I will be looking at “silence”, its cultural implications in Japan, its use as a form of self-improvement and some stories about silence in the Toyota Production System. I was in a meeting recently, and during my self-reflection time at night, I observed that I did not learn or try to understand the perspective in the meeting. I was not listening because I was trying to prove my knowledge to the other side. I was not being silent or listening. Perhaps, I am a harsh critic of myself. But I have made up my mind that I will be practicing silence more.

One of my favorite sayings about silence is;

Knowledge speaks and wisdom listens.”

This is sometimes attributed to the great musician Jimi Hendrix. However, there is no proof that he did say this. There is a similar quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes;

“It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.”

I am an avid fan of Japanese Culture and interestingly, silence is an important facet in Japanese culture. It is said that it is tough to negotiate with Japanese businessmen since they employ long periods of silence that others are not used to. In the West, silence is generally unbearable. It is viewed as a break in communication. In Japanese culture, silence is viewed as a communicative act. Silence can be effectively utilized in negotiations since it can make the other side nervous. In the Japanese culture, however, silence has several positive attributes which includes being respectful and polite, and avoiding confrontation.

I am looking at silence in four regards as a practice of self-improvement;

  • Respect for others:

Stephen Covey said “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” He identified this as the fifth habit of his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In Zen, there is a great lesson that you are given two ears and one mouth, and that their use must be in the same ratio – listen two times more than you speak.

  • Self Reflection:

Engaging in silence is a pre-requisite for self-reflection. This allows the mental fog to clear out and the mind to organize better. Think of silence as an act of clearing up space in your mind to allow deep-felt thoughts to come in.

  • Teaching:

Being silent sometimes prompts the other side to keep on talking and perhaps encourage them to come out of their comfort zone. This can have the effect of being a good sounding board for their ideas. This is similar to the Socratic teaching method of asking questions. But in this case, remaining silent allows the other side to focus on their thoughts more and find the solutions to the problems at hand.

  • Effectively Communicating:

This may seem counterintuitive, but engaging in silence can improve your communication. In Japanese calligraphy, the empty space is as important as the written words. This empty space is quite similar to the “negative space” in design. It is the valleys that point our attention at the hills. The same is applicable for the use of effective silence in communication.

Silence in the Toyota Literature:

There are two instances I have seen where “silence” jumped out at me. The first one was in Masaaki Sato’s “Toyota Leaders”, where Sato talked about the ex-President and Chairman of Toyota. Eiji was a person who employed silence in his communication; he considered each question seriously and provided responses after much thought. EIji is hailed by Forbes as the creator of the Modern Version of Toyota. EIji was also a strong supporter of Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System, and his “out of the ordinary” methods.

The second instance is from the book “Just-In-Time For Today and Tomorrow”, co-authored by Taiichi Ohno. In the book, Ohno talked about how the other employees were against his methods that would later become the Toyota Production System. All the hate and resentment were absorbed by his two managers, Eiji Toyoda and Saito Naichi. They both allowed Ohno to continue with his methods and to find ways of reducing manufacturing costs. Ohno referred to their relationship as a silent relationship of mutual trust. They both did not question Ohno and in turn Ohno did not ask for their approvals.

“I knew all too well how they worried about me and what I was doing. Yet they never said “Do This!” or “Do that!” For my part, I never had to say “I’d like to do this” or “Please let me do that.”I just did everything I thought had to be done. Had I asked permission, my resolve would have weakened because of the pressure to prove what I was doing. Had either side said anything, the relationship would have collapsed.”

Final Words:

This post was written as a reminder to myself to use silence more. I will finish with a great Zen story on silence;

There once was a monastery that was very strict. Following a vow of silence, no one was allowed to speak at all. But there was one exception to this rule. Every ten years, the monks were permitted to speak just two words. After spending his first ten years at the monastery, one monk went to the head monk. “It has been ten years,” said the head monk. “What are the two words you would like to speak?”

“Bed… hard…” said the monk.

“I see,” replied the head monk.

Ten years later, the monk returned to the head monk’s office. “It has been ten more years,” said the head monk. “What are the two words you would like to speak?”

“Food… stinks…” said the monk.

“I see,” replied the head monk.

Yet another ten years passed and the monk once again met with the head monk who asked, “What are your two words now, after these ten years?”

“I… quit!” said the monk.

“Well, I can see why,” replied the head monk. “All you ever do is complain.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Spirit of Mottainai in Lean.

The Spirit of Mottainai in Lean:


In today’s post I will be looking at “Mottainai” and the many ways it relates to Lean. The Japanese word “Mottainai” is sometimes used in connection with “Muda”, the Japanese word for waste. Muda literally means “no (mu) value (da)”. Mottainai on the other hand is translated as “wastefulness”. This is a very loose translation. Mottainai literally means “absence of intrinsic value” (Mottai = intrinsic value, and Nai = absence of). The best explanation of the difference between the two is;

  • Muda – Storing rotten food in the refrigerator. There is no value or use.
  • Mottainai – Throwing away food that is still good. There is still some use left.

There are two meanings to Mottainai in the Japanese culture;

  1. Regret about not utilizing something. This can be a regret about not using resources, talent or even time.
  2. Gratitude about kindness or thoughtfulness from others.

In the first context, children are often scolded in Japan for not eating all of their food. The act of scolding children for not eating all of their food is a global phenomenon and the reason generally given is about the starving people in the other parts of the world. However in the backdrop of mottainai, the scolding is about the lack of respect to all of the people who worked hard to produce the food. In the second context there is a sense of humility. People say “mottainai” when they receive blessings or help from their superiors or elders. They are grateful for the blessings or the good wishes, and they are proclaiming that they will not let those blessings go to waste. I will look deeper at the concept of Mottainai as it relates to Lean or the Toyota Production System.

Lean Implementations:

One of the oldest and strongest religions in Japan is Shintoism. The concept of Mottainai has roots in Shintoism. Shintoism teaches that everything has a spirit or soul, including inanimate objects. The idea of Mottainai stems from the belief that it is wrong to not fully use the intrinsic value of a thing, and teaches reverence for your personal things like katana and tea pot. Ignoring this will bring the “wrath” of the spirit of that object.

Hajime Oba, a Toyota veteran was once asked why other organizations cannot replicate Toyota’s success. He responded with an analogy that it is like trying to create a Buddha image without having the spirit of Buddha inside. He said

“What they are doing is creating a Buddha Image and forgetting to put soul in it.”

Simply copying the tools of lean without understanding your problems is Mottainai. As a Lean Leader, your responsibility is to first understand the problems you are trying to solve. This understanding becomes the soul or spirit.

Respect for People:

Respect for People (RfP) is one of the two pillars in Toyota Way. RfP has a strong connection with Mottainai. The inspiration for this article came from an article I read by Toshihiko Irisumi at the Lean-In website. He wrote;

“The fact that women managers are extremely rare in Japanese corporations is a wasteful (“mottainai”) reality for both talented women and for the future of corporations.”

I found the particular use of the word “Mottainai” qute interesting. This is a strong admonition from Irisumi. In the same light, engaging operators in non-value added activities is Mottainai. In the same line of thought, not engaging in the improvement activities is not showing respect to your management. This is wasting their trust in you and calls for Mottainai. Respect for people goes both ways!


Tomo Sugiyama, in his book “The Improvement Book”, talks about an improvement activity being a “problem-free Engineering” activity. One of the examples he gives is “Air Free” Engineering. Sugiyama was a Production Manager at Yamaha Motors, and one day he started staring at the shelves on the floor. The shelves were storing items in a random order with no thought. There were signs on the floor stating “Don’t store air!” He pointed out that there was lot of wasted space on the shelves and based on his advice the operators rearranged the shelves and was able to generate about 35% more space. Sugiyama may have potentially gotten rid of unwanted shelves and saved production floor space as well. The prior state resulted in wasted space, time and motion looking for things. Thinking in terms of Mottainai leads to kaizen.

Eighth Waste:

“Not utilizing others’ creativity” is often called the Eighth Waste in Lean. Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System, identified only seven wastes in manufacturing. The eighth waste was later added by Lean practitioners. The concept of Mottainai puts the right perspective on this and identifies it as a wasteful activity – wasting talent and time!

Final Words:

The concept of Mottainai gives food for thought for a Lean Leader. I will finish off with a story that first talked about Mottainai. This is a story from the 12th century about Minamoto no Yoshitsune in the Battle of Yashima between the Tiara Clan and the Minomoto Clan.

Yoshitsune was on his horse and being chased by the enemies.  Yoshitsune accidentally dropped his bow. His bow was a low quality bow.

“Don’t pick up the bow, let it be”, one of his friends called out. Yoshitsune did not heed his words and went to retrieve his bow.

The Minomoto clan was victorious in the battle. Yoshitsune’s friend admonished him again for going after the bow and used the term “Mottainai” to state that it was a wasteful activity that could had gotten him killed. Yoshitsune’s life was after all more valuable than the bow.

Yoshitsune responded back that if the enemy had seen that inferior quality bow, it would had disgraced his clan and given hope to his enemies.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Labor Day.

Labor Day:


America celebrates Labor Day on September 4th this year. The US Department of Labor website states;

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

It is interesting to look at why a date in September was chosen instead of a date in May for Labor Day. May 1st was already unofficially celebrated as “International Workers’ day” (May Day). A possible reason for choosing September has been cited as it being the end of summer.  Another reason has been cited as the day being in the middle of Independence Day (July) and Thanksgiving Day (November). Jonathan Cutler, associate professor of sociology at Wesleyan, gave another reason for not choosing May 1st as the day for Labor Day. On May 4, 1886, protesters in Chicago gathered to demand an 8-hour workday. Toward the end of the day, a peaceful demonstration devolved into violence when a bomb was hurled toward the police, killing one officer instantly and injuring others. The police responded by firing into the crowd, killing a still undetermined number of people. The goal of the rally was an 8-hour work day (40 hour week). The first Monday of September was chosen for Labor Day in by the then US President Grover Cleveland (1894) as an attempt to avoid the May date altogether. Cutler in an interview with NPR said;

“May Day has always been linked to the demand for less work and more pay [sic]; Labor Day celebrates the ‘dignity’ of work,”

The usage of “Dignity of work” is particularly interesting, and it connects with the concept of “Respect for People” in TPS.

Final Words:

Norman Bodek (the great publisher and previous owner of Productivity Press) tells a story of a man at an automotive plant. That man did nothing but put tires on the line for forty-three years. He would pick up a tire and put it on the hook to go to the assembly line. That was it. He did this same operation for forty three years. Norman stated;

“You can imagine the excitement of getting up in the morning to go to the plant and put tires on a hook for forty-three years… Work is seen as an evil necessary for survival. It does not have to be like that.”

Respect for People is about developing them so that they can increase the value of what they are doing. It is about letting them come up with ways to solve their problems, eliminate waste in what they are doing, and increasing their self worth. It is about the “dignity of work.” In Norman’s words again;

“The task of management is not to make the changes that are needed, but to establish a system that encourages all workers to become more involved in their work, and allows them to make those changes”

Given the chance to improve his work, it is highly unlikely that the man in the above story would want to continue simply putting the tires on the hook every day. It is likely that he was doing as he was told – nothing else. This story demonstrates a “missed opportunity” to demonstrate Respect for People.

I will finish off with a story from writer Paulo Coelho;

When he died, Juan found himself in an exquisite place, surrounded by all the comfort and beauty he had always dreamed of. A man dressed in white spoke to him:
‘You can have anything you want, any food, any pleasure, any diversion,’ he said.
Delighted, Juan did everything he had dreamed of doing while alive. Then, after many years of pleasure, he again searched out the man in white.
‘I’ve done everything I wanted to do. Now I need a job, so that I can feel useful,’ he said.
‘I’m sorry,’ replied the man in white. ‘But that is the one thing I can’t give you; there is no work here.’
‘How awful!’ said Juan angrily. ‘That means I’ll spend all eternity bored to death! I wish I was in Hell!’
The man in white came over to him and said softly:
‘And where exactly do you think you are, sir?’

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Own Your Lean Journey:

Seneca’s “On Shortness of Life”:

Time- Life is Long

Lucius Seneca (4 BC- AD 65) was a Roman Stoic philosopher and statesman. He was Emperor Nero’s tutor and unfortunately was forced by the emperor to take his own life. One of Seneca’s famous works is “On Shortness of Life”, a collection of letters and essays he wrote. Seneca’s ideas and thoughts on time gel very well with the concepts in Toyota Production System, and are still appropriate today.

There are two concepts that stuck out to me in reading the collection “On Shortness of Life”, and these both have the underlying theme of “personal time”. The first concept is about learning the value of personal time. Seneca said;

  • I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself — as if nothing there is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap — in fact, almost without any value.
  • Nobody works out the value of time: men use it lavishly as if it cost nothing… We have to be more careful in preserving what will cease at an unknown point.

Along the same vein, the second concept is about productivity and improving productivity by spending your time wisely. People often complain about “not having enough time”. Seneca said;

  • It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.
  • Life is long if you know how to use it.

The Value of Time in the Toyota Production System:

One of the core themes in the Toyota Production System is time – respecting other’s time and reducing the time spent in getting the product in to the customer’s hands from the factory floor. In a similar vein to Seneca’s view on the value of time, Eiiji Toyoda, a strong supporter of Taiichi Ohno, said;

  • A person’s life is an accumulation of time – just one hour is equivalent to a person’s life. Employees provide their precious hours of life to the company, so we have to use it effectively; otherwise, we are wasting their life.

This is a strong statement as Michel pointed out in his post, and it exemplifies the idea of Respect for People. Respect for People is about respecting the person’s time – not allowing him to squander it away on non-value adding activities. Wasting others’ time is a cruel activity.

Taiichi Ohno has said the following about productivity;

Measure your performance based on productivity and not by how busy you are.

Ohno’s first challenge to anybody on the floor was to find a way to get the job done with fewer operators. I should point out that Ohno never wanted to get rid of the operators. His view was that every operation or process is full of waste and this leads to operators being engaged in non-value adding activities. Being busy and getting things done are not always the same.

Similar to Seneca, Ohno pushed the supervisors and operators to use their time well and find ways to eliminate waste. It was not about working longer or bringing in more people to get the job done. It was about eliminating the waste in the operation – thus increasing the value of the operation. Toyota challenged every employee to view their production system as the Thinking Production System. This challenges people to spend their time wisely and not squander it. It is about knowing how to wisely use time in your life.

These two ideas align very well with the two pillars of the Toyota Way;

  1. Respect for People – value other’s time
  2. Continuous Improvement – learning how to use time wisely

Final Words:

I will finish off with an Ohno story that clearly shows an appreciation for others’ time (source: Pascal Dennis);

Taiichi Ohno was visiting a supplier’s plant in the early 1950’s. He spent his time observing the operators on the floor. He observed one particular operator on a machine. The operator stood in front of the machine, watching it. Ohno observed him for a few cycles of the machine.

He then asked the operator, “How often does this machine break down?”

“Never”, the operator replied.

“So what do you do all day”, Ohno continued.

“Well, I watch this machine, Ohno-san”, was the response.

“So you watch this machine all day, and it never breaks down?”

“Yes”, the operator responded, “that is my job.”

“What a terrible waste of humanity”, Ohno exclaimed to himself.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Colors of Waste.

Naikan and Respect for People:


One of the important themes in Lean or Toyota Production System is “Hansei”. “Hansei” is translated as self-reflection and is a form of acknowledging that there is room for improvement. I have written about it here. Another term for self-reflection in Japanese is “Naikan”, which means “inside looking” or “introspection”. Naikan is also a form of meditation that was popularized by Ishin Yoshimoto, a Japanese businessman and a devout Buddhist of the Jodo Shinshu sect in Japan. He developed Naikan based on Mishirabe, an intense form of meditation. His goal was to make the practice suitable for the general populace.

Naikan is based on three questions;

  1. What have I received from others/a specific person?
  2. What have I given to others/a specific person?
  3. What troubles have I caused others/a specific person?

Yoshimoto purposefully eliminated the question – What troubles have others/a specific person caused me? The first question forces us to acknowledge that we have benefitted from others. The second question makes us aware of how we have responded. The third question makes us accountable for our actions.

Respect for Others:

Naikan increases our awareness of interconnectedness with others in this world. The theme of harmony and interconnectedness is very strong in Japanese culture. The heart of Naikan is to nurture gratitude and compassion – which aligns really well with the concept of Respect for People in lean. The biggest offense in lean is to waste others time through non-value adding activities. Our mindset puts us in the center of the world and creates stories where we are always right or why others cause problems. Naikan challenges this and gives us a chance to put on a “corrective lens”.

An Example:

At the end of each day, I can focus on a specific coworker X and ask the following questions;

  1. What have I received from X today? I can think about the interactions I had with X and the “things” either material or nonmaterial I received. There is no focus on judging the person. This is an opportunity to feel grateful.
  2. What have I given to X today? Again, the things can be either material or nonmaterial. I am not judging whether the things are good or bad. I am just creating an inventory of my contributions.
  3. What troubles have I caused X today? This is an opportunity for me to put myself in X’s shoes and examine my actions today.

With all three questions, I can now reflect on how I feel, and what I need to change or improve. This helps me to get out of the view of myself as a helpless victim, and appreciate others around me.

I will finish off with a Zen story about respect;

 Wealthy patrons invited Ikkyu to a banquet. Ikkyu arrived dressed in his beggar’s robe. The host, not recognizing him, chased him away. Ikkyu went home, changed into his ceremonial robe of purple brocade, and returned.

With great respect, he was received into the banquet room.

There, he put his robe on the cushion, saying, “Evidently you invited the robe since you showed me away a little while ago,” and left.

You can learn more about Naikan here.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Changing the Game – An Olympic Story.

Respect for Humanity in the Light of Quality Control (QC):


In my last post, I talked about kaizen in the light of the Toyota Way. In today’s post, we will look at “Respect for People”, the second pillar of the Toyota Way, in the light of Quality Control. I was surprised to find that the theme of “Respect for Humanity” (another name for Respect for People) is a central theme for Quality Control. The Quality Engineer in me smiled happily when I started researching the subject of Respect for Humanity in the light of Quality Control.

The term “Quality Control” or QC does not have the same meaning outside of Japan. The terms Quality Assurance, Quality Control and Quality Management are often used interchangeably. Kaoru Ishikawa, the great Japanese Quality mind, defines QC as;

“To practice in Quality Control is to develop, design, produce and service a quality product which is most economical, most useful, and always satisfactory to the consumer.”

Japan started the QC movement with teachings from Dr. Deming and Juran. QC became the central theme of doing a business through the guidance of Kaoru Ishikawa. Ishikawa interpreted QC as a management system rather than a product control system. He made it about the entire organization. He also played a strong role in developing QC circles. QC circles are small groups of voluntary employees who meet outside of their work schedules to address a known process problem. The scope of QC circles soon included process improvement activities under the term “QC activities”.

Respect for Humanity – an Underlying Theme of QC:

Ishikawa identified the following as the “basic ideas” behind QC circle activities:

  • Contribute to the improvement and development of the enterprise.
  • Respect humanity and build a worthwhile-to-live-in, happy and bright workshop.
  • Exercise human capabilities fully and eventually draw out infinite possibilities.

Ishikawa emphasized this underlying theme in his 1981 book “What is Total Quality Control? The Japanese Way”. The following statements are from the book.

  • Not about Taylorism: “The Taylor method does not recognize the hidden abilities workers possess. It ignores humanity and treats workers like machines.”
  • Respect for Humanity: “The fundamental principle of successful management is to allow subordinates to make full use of their ability.”
  • Respect for Humanity: “The term humanity implies autonomy and spontaneity… People have their own wills, and do things voluntarily without being told by others. They use their heads and are always thinking. Management based on humanity is a system of management that lets the unlimited potential of human beings blossom.”
  • Professionalism: “In the United States and Western Europe, great emphasis is placed on professionalism and specialization… People possess far greater abilities than professionalism is willing to give credit for.”
  • Respect for Humanity: “It is a management system in which all employees participate, from the top down and from the bottom up, and humanity is fully respected.”

My Thoughts:

The two principles of “Respect for Humanity” in the Toyota Way are;

  • Respect, and
  • Teamwork

From the surface, this appears to be all about niceties and “lip service”. Toyota says that making product is achieved through developing people. The process of developing people is thus made into a value-adding activity. Respect for Humanity is when you ensure that the work done is only value-adding. Asking an operator to engage in wasteful activities is not engaging in Respect for Humanity. As John Shook put it – “Don’t waste the operator’s time and effort.”

Engaging in Respect for Humanity is engaging the operator in improving his process through developing him. Interestingly, Respect for Humanity is a two-way street. The operator should be looking at his process and improving it. He should also engage in developing people around him as well. Respect for Humanity is a nice mixture of self-development and mutual-development. It is about creating mutual understanding and mutual responsibility. Toyota calls their production system a “Thinking Production System” because they heavily involve people. Toyota garners their ideas from everyone, from the floor to the corner office.

My personal view is that “Respect for People” is akin to making soup. Hot, hearty and delicious soup is made with many ingredients. It takes energy. It needs participation from all the ingredients. It takes time. It is cooked slow and steady. Any of the ingredients by itself does not taste good. Soup is about the perfect mixture of all the ingredients. The end product is great and no one ingredient stands out. The individual succeeds when the team succeeds. The team grows when the individual grows.

I will finish this post with an old story about soup and participation – The Story of Stone Soup. I have one of the several versions below:

A weary, poor traveler arrived in a small village. He had no food or money and had not eaten in days. The one thing he did have was a cooking pot that he used on those rare occasions when he had something to cook.

The villagers were not willing to give him any food. They complained that they do not have any food at all to share, and that they were hungry themselves. He built a small cooking fire, placed his pot on it, and poured in some water. When a few villagers asked what he was doing, he replied that he was making Stone Soup which was an ancient tasty recipe passed down to him from his ancestors. He then dropped in a smooth, round stone he had in his pocket into the pot.

As the soup warmed, the traveler told the villagers stories of his travels and the exciting things he’d seen. He tasted his soup and said it was coming along nicely, but a bit of salt would bring out the flavor. One curious villager went into her home and returned with some salt for the soup.

A few more villagers walking by stopped to see what was going on when they heard the traveler speaking. The traveler told more stories and said that a couple carrots or onion would be a nice addition to the already delicious soup. So, another villager figured he could give a few carrots and retrieved them from his cellar.

This continued on with the traveler casually asking for onions, seasoning, a bit of meat, celery, potatoes to bring out the full potential of the soup.

Finally, the soup was ready and the traveler shared the delicious soup with everybody. The villagers did not have anything to eat on their own, but when they combined everything they had, they all enjoyed a delicious meal.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was A Brief Look at Kaizen in the Light of the Toyota Way.

The Two Houses of Toyota (part 1):


Toyota is famous for manufacturing automobiles. You may not know that Toyota also builds residential houses. You can learn more about it here. I will not be talking about the real livable Toyota houses today. I will be talking about the “conceptual” Toyota houses.

A lean enthusiast is familiar with the Toyota Production House. The house has two pillars – Jidoka and Just-in-Time. In 2001, Toyota revealed their organization’s guiding principles known as the Toyota Way. The Toyota Way also has two pillars – Continuous Improvement and Respect for People. There are literally thousands of depictions of the Toyota houses available online. The majority of these were created by non-Toyota people. I wanted to use only the depictions from a Toyota website.

The first house is the “Toyota Production House”. The picture below is taken from a Toyota Europe Forklift brochure. The reader can click on the picture to open the link to the brochure.


The second house is the “Toyota Way” house. The house below is taken from the Toyota Italy website. The reader can click on the picture to open the link.


First Descriptions of the Pillars:

From what I could find, the two pillars of TPS were first described officially in the “The first book of Toyota Production System”, an internal document released in 1973. The two pillars were later described in Taiichi Ohno’s 1978 book – “Toyota Production System”. Detailed descriptions of Respect for People and Continuous Improvement can also be found in the “The first book of Toyota Production System.” However, the Toyota Way house was not described in these earlier documents as it is currently.

It is interesting to note that starting in 1945, Taiichi Ohno began developing the Toyota Production System, but did not have the system documented until later. Norman Bodek, in his Foreword to Taiichi Ohno’s book “Toyota Production System” speculated that Ohno had feared Americans would discover his ideas and use them against the Japanese.

Fujio Cho, who was one of the people behind “The first book of Toyota Production System”, co-authored the 1977 paper “Toyota production system and Kanban system, Materialization of just-in-time and respect-for-human system”. This paper is available here. The roots of Toyota Way can be found in the paper. The section below is taken from the paper, and it is evident that Fujio Cho, the main architect of the Toyota Way 2001, had been thinking about the strategy for Toyota Production System:

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

The Relationship Between the Two Houses:

Simon Dorrat, Manager of Toyota’s Business Intelligence function (2008 – 2013), has succinctly summed up the relationship between the two houses:

“The Toyota Production System is a practical expression of The Toyota Way – principles that guide everything we do in Toyota, based on Continuous Improvement and Respect for People.”

The Toyota Way 2001 represents the “What” and the “Why”, while the TPS House represents the “How”. In some ways this is akin to strategy and tactics.

Final Words – Even Ohno is fallible:

I will be exploring the pillars of the two Toyota houses in the future. I will finish this post with an Ohno story about Jidoka, one of the two pillars of the TPS house.

Even though Taiichi Ohno was a proponent of Genchi Genbutsu (Going to Gemba to learn actual facts), he was not infallible at this. Taiichi Ohno opened up in an interview with Michael Cusumano, author of the 1985 book – “The Japanese Automobile Industry – Technology and Management at Nissan and Toyota”. Ohno revealed that he had never tried to operate more than one machine at a time to see if it is easy or hard.

As part of implementing Jidoka at the Toyota automobile facility (Koroma plant), Ohno separated the operator’s work from the machine’s work. He treated the operator as being independent of the machine, and he had the operator work multiple machines simultaneously. The norm had been to have one operator dedicated to one machine only. The operator felt that he was creating value by simply watching the machine operate. Ohno understood that the operator is not adding value by watching over the machine. However, the operators hated operating several machines at once. Ohno admitted to Michael that he never felt the need to try operating several machines simultaneously to see how easy or hard it was. (Source: The Japanese Automobile Industry – Technology and Management at Nissan and Toyota, Michael Cusumano). Perhaps, it was because Ohno knew that the technique of one operator managing multiple machines was already successfully implemented at Toyoda Automatic Loom Works by Sakichi Toyoda, father of the founder of Toyota Motor Corporation. Ohno started at Toyota by working for the Loom Plant.

Ohno would later add in the interview that “Had I faced the Japan National Railways union or an American Union, I might have been murdered.” Ohno did have the support of the employee union at Toyota, as well as the upper management. Thus there was no immediate danger to Ohno’s life.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Wizard of Oz, Camel’s Nose and Being a Change Agent.

Want to Increase Productivity at Your Plant? Read This


In my last post on Respect for People, I talked about the myth of Sisyphus and respect for people. In today’s post I will talk about Dan Ariely’s study and what he says about ways to increase productivity.

What makes you tick? What would cause you to give your best? Dan Ariely, a professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, conducted a study in which he set out to understand how perceived meaning of a job impacted productivity. There were two study groups used for this study. Both groups consisted of 20 students from Harvard. The two groups were asked to build Bionicle Lego models and were offered pay for their work. The only condition was that the payment was made on a declining scale. The first model got $2.00. From then on each subsequent model was paid 11 cents less. This is a linear scale, and thus at the 19th model, the student would get paid 2 cents. From that point onwards, each model was paid 2 cents each. The intent of the study was to identify at what point is the student going to decline the payment and stop building.

The payment scale was the same for both groups. Group 1 was called “Meaningful”, and group 2 was called “Sisyphus”, after the myth of Sisyphus. The difference between the two groups was that for the second group, they were given only two Lego models. As they were working on one model, the other model that was already built was torn down in front of them by the experimenter. Thus, the study replicated the idea of the futile effort similar to Sisyphus. Sisyphus, a Greek mythological character was made to roll a rock up a hill. The rock would then roll down, and Sisyphus would have to then roll it up again. He was punished by having to repeat this for eternity. His story is the epitome of non-value added work. The students in Group 2 were made to feel like Sisyphus because the model they just built was being torn down in front of their eyes, and they had to build it up again.

Both groups had the same labor content, and the goal of the study was to find who was more productive. The productivity was measured by the amount of Lego Bionicle models they built. The results of the study showed that Group 1 (Meaningful) made 10.6 models on average, netting an average $14.40 earnings. Group 2 (Sisyphus) made only 7.2 models on average, netting an average $11.52 earnings. The experimenters argue that the subjects in the Sisyphus condition became disenchanted with their work and this impacted their productivity. In their words;

The background question, “Why am I doing this?”, is difficult to evade if an individual is in a situation where one’s work is repeatedly undone.

Respect for people & Continuous Improvement:

You feel good if you know what you are doing at work is meaningful. If the work is not meaningful, then you would soon feel burned out. Do you come later than usual to work? Do you leave earlier and earlier from work? Dan Ariely says that this could be an indication of you feeling that what you do at work is not adding any value. This is the spirit of Respect for People. Respect for People is creating an environment where your work is fully value added. Removing the elements of non-value added work is the spirit of Continuous Improvement. Thus, in my eyes, Continuous Improvement and Respect for People go hand in hand. This is the Toyota Way. I view Toyota Way as a synergy of Respect for People – creating an environment of value added work and Continuous Improvement – ensuring non-value added elements are eliminated.


Final words:

Dan Ariely’s study can be summarized in one sentence:

Create/increase the value of the job to increase productivity.

Aside from eliminating non-value added steps, train your employees on how the product is actually used in the field. I have seen organizations bring in end users to talk to the employees on the floor. Having a sense of purpose increases the value of the day to day monotonous work.

I will finish off with a story I read about perceived value.

His Holiness, the Pope is making a tour of the United States and of course has a very busy schedule that he’s trying his best to stick to. Unfortunately, things run a bit long at one stop and he has to make up time any way he can if he’s to be on time for the next gathering. So he dismisses the rest of the entourage and takes off in his Pope-mobile with just his driver.

They’re making good time on the back roads, but His Holiness is still worried they’re going to be late. He tells his driver to floor it, but the fella refuses to push it any further. After all, he had heard the police in those parts were tough on speeders and didn’t want to find out first-hand.

This angers His Holiness and he orders the driver to pull over. The Pope insists on doing the driving himself for he says no one will toss the Pope in jail. They take off in a cloud of dust, His Holiness at the wheel, his driver cowering in the back seat.

Not too much later, a State Trooper pulls them over. The young man strides up to the car all businesslike and mean. This lasts right up until he sees who’s driving. His face pasty-white, he heads back to his car to radio in for some advice.

“Uh, let me talk to the Chief … Hello, sir. Sorry to trouble you, but I have a bit of a problem. Just pulled over a speeder and it turns out he’s someone quite important. How should I handle this?”

“Depends on who you got, son. Let me guess, it’s the Mayor, right?”

“Uh, no sir, not the Mayor.”

“Bigger than that, eh? Not the Senator again!”

“Uh, no sir, wasn’t the Senator. Someone a lot more important.”

“Well, who you got, son? The President?”

“I don’t rightly know, sir. But whoever he is, he must be damned important because the Pope is his driver.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Ten Things I Learned from The Walking Dead.