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:

Own Your Lean Journey:


One of my favorite quotes by Taiichi Ohno came when he was scolding a supervisor for not coming up with his own ideas to solve the problem at hand. The supervisor was trying to do just as he was told. Ohno remarked;

“You are a fool if you do just as I say. You are a greater fool if you don’t do as I say. You should think for yourself and come up with better ideas than mine.”

If we are to heed Ohno’s words, he is asking us to “own” our lean journey and avoid copying Toyota because Toyota’s solutions are specific to Toyota’s problems. If we do not have Toyota’s problems, their solutions might not work. Even Toyota has evolved and adapted to continue being the leader of the automotive world.

In a similar vein Ohno said the following;

“Defend your own castle by yourself!” (Source: Tom Harada)

Ohno wants us to take charge and be in control of our own destiny. These are strong words for a Lean Leader. Ohno’s teachings and sayings are very similar to several of the Zen koans – not everything is straightforward, and they have rich and deep meaning. Ohno’s quotes remind me of a quote from Buddha;

“Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances. Find out for yourself what is true and virtuous.”

Buddha’s words add a deeper understanding to what Ohno said.

Final Words:

The essence of Ohno’s advice is about understanding our problem at hand and going outside our comfort zone. Being inside our comfort zone means that we are not venturing out on our own, we are copying what we have heard or seen. By understanding the problem at hand, we can propose countermeasures, experiment with ideas and break the mental models holding us back.

I will finish this off with a story about Buddha;

Buddha was teaching his disciples one morning.

A man came up to him and asked Buddha. “Does God exist?”

“He does,” Buddha responded.

About noon time, another man came to Buddha and asked, “Does God exist?”

“No, he does not,” Buddha replied.

Later that day, a third man came to Buddha and asked the same question, “Does God exist?”

“That is for you to decide,” was Buddha’s answer.

After the man left, Buddha’s disciples started questioning him. “Master, why did you give  such varying answers to the same question?”

Buddha smiled and replied, “Because they are all different people, and each one of them will reach God by his own path. The first man will believe what I say. The second will do everything he can to prove me wrong. The third will only believe in what he is allowed to choose for himself.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Aim for System Optimization with Kaizen.

Aim for System Optimization with Kaizen:


Kaizen is often translated as “Continuous Improvement” in Japanese and is identified as one of the core themes in lean. In today’s post I am looking at the question – can kaizen ever be bad for an organization?

In order to go deeper on this question, first we have to define kaizen as a focused improvement activity. The question at this point is whether we are optimizing the process. Merriam-Webster defines Optimization as;

Optimization – an act, process, or methodology of making something (as a design, system, or decision) as fully perfect, functional, or effective as possible.

In my opinion, kaizen does not mean to optimize the process to 100% perfection. My point of contention on this is that kaizen should not be about local optimization. Local optimization means to optimize a process so that it is fully optimized without taking the whole system into consideration. This leads to tremendous waste. The local improvement should not cause a problem to an upstream or downstream activity. My best analogy is to work out the upper body without taking the lower body into consideration. This leads to a disproportionately developed body. In a similar vein, Prof. Emiliani views kaizen as a non-zero-sum activity – “everybody wins’!

Let’s look at an example. As part of a kaizen event at a hospital, the intake staff was able to make the client intake process very efficient. They were able to show that their improvement activities resulted in a much shorter time for client intake and they were able to get more clients in through the door. However, this caused more problems at the downstream processes. The staff at these processes were not able to serve the higher number of clients adequately which resulted in higher customer dissatisfaction and staff burn-outs.

Kaizen is a gradual and small incremental change towards the ideal state. The key point here is “ideal state”. How would you define “ideal state”? The “ideal state” means the ideal situation for the organization as a whole. Taiichi Ohno, the creator of Toyota Production System, said that “No standard = no kaizen.” The standard defines the process at its current goal and has three elements;

  1. Takt time – the defined rate of production to meet customer demand
  2. Sequence of work – the defined sequence of work to ensure safety, quality and efficiency
  3. Standard Work in Process – the defined inventory required to ensure that the takt time goal is met

Toyota’s goal is to improve overall efficiency and not local efficiency. This defines the goal of kaizen. Break the current state and create the new standard – while keeping the overall efficiency in mind. Ohno’s favorite way to challenge the current standard is by asking to use fewer operators to achieve the same required output.

Management’s Role:

What is Management’s role in all of this? Management has to lay the framework for everything to function properly. Dr. Deming, the pioneer of continuous improvement activities, says the following;

It is management’s job to direct the efforts of all components toward the aim of the system. The first step is clarification: everyone in the organization must understand the aim of the system, and how to direct his efforts toward it. Everyone must understand the danger and loss to whole organization from a team that seeks to become a selfish, independent, profit center.

Source: The New Economics, Dr. Deming.

Final Words:

It is important to view the improvement activities from a big picture standpoint. Viewing kaizen from a system standpoint is essential. I have always been curious about how the small incremental improvement activities would make a big difference in the end.  I will finish this post talking about the 800 year old Bronze statue of St. Peter holding the keys to Heaven in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

St Peter

It looks like St. Peter is wearing shoes on his right foot and sandals on the left foot. Over eight centuries, pilgrims have been touching his right foot that is more accessible (it sticks out more) and asking for blessings. No one has been rubbing on the foot or sanding it down.  There has been no complaint of vandalism or apparent damage to the statue. The simple act of touching and kissing over time worn the bronze statue down – that St. Peter lost all his toes on his right foot. It is said that the Church started requesting visitors to start touching the left foot more. It appears that the left foot has got a lot of catching up to do.


Always keep on learning…

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

In case you missed it, my last post was Seneca’s “On Shortness of Life”.

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.

Changing the Game – An Olympic Story:


It is the Olympics season right now. One of my favorite stories about the Olympics is about an underdog from Oregon, USA named Dick Fosbury. Fosbury won the gold medal for the High Jump in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. In those days, there were only a few different styles used for jumping. The main one was called the “Western Roll” where the athlete jumps forward with his face downward. Another style was called the “Scissors”, the oldest style of High Jump. This is where the athlete ran toward the bar and moved the legs in a “scissor” fashion to clear the bar. Fosbury chose the Scissors to be his style. His High School coach asked him to stop using the Scissors and to use the “Western Roll”. The Western Roll was the norm in those days and was used by the star athletes. Fosbury found no success with this. He was called the worst High Jumper in his school. He was getting frustrated, and intuitively he came up with a style that was not seen before. Rather than running straight and rolling “forward”, he ran in at an angle and jumped “backwards” which allowed him to move the bottom part of his body away from the bar. In his words;

“I take off on my right, or outside, foot rather than my left foot. Then I turn my back to the bar, arch my back over the bar and then kick my legs out to clear the bar.”


He was able to jump higher and higher with his method. The coach was not sure about the method, and even questioned whether the method was legal. He cautioned Fosbury that he was going to hurt his back. In those days, the athletes jumped into a big pile of saw dust. As luck would have it, Fosbury’s school installed a soft spongy landing pad at that time enabling him to perfect his style.

Fosbury went on to compete in the 1968 Olympics. As 80,000 spectators watched closely, Fosbury rocked back and forth, talking to himself and gaining confidence. It was also interesting to note that Fosbury wore different colored shoes. Fosbury slowly started running toward the bar and did what became to be known as the “Fosbury Flop”. He cleared 7 feet 4 1/4 inches to win the gold medal. His method was counterintuitive at that time. U.S. Olympic Coach Pat Jordan considered the Fosbury Flop to be dangerous and warned that it would “wipe out an entire generation of high jumpers because they will all have broken necks”. But the method was proven to be quite effective and the world of High Jump changed after that. Everybody started imitating him and improving their performance. Today the Fosbury Flop is considered to be the norm. All world record holders since 1980 used the Fosbury Flop to achieve their best performances.

Looking back, the scientists are able to explain that the Fosbury Flop is the ideal method for the high jump. The athlete is able to manipulate his center of gravity through this method to perform much higher (no pun intended) than any other method. Although Fosbury had an Engineering background, he came upon the method by accident. He was making the method work with his tall stature. His frustration with the standard methods of the day led him to find a new method.

Corollary in the Lean World:

The best form of kaizen happens when you are extremely dissatisfied with the current set of standards or if you are extremely lazy and want to find a better way of doing things. The spirit of kaizen is simply the thinking that there is always a better way of doing things. Fosbury was extremely dissatisfied with the methods in his days. In his words;

My assignment was to get over that damn bar. I was bound and determined not to quit. But I had to do something different.”

He knew that there was a better way and he found it. He explained that it was an iterative process. Once the method was proven, everybody wanted to copy it. Fosbury continued;

That day I was not trying to change the world. I was just trying to get over the bar.”

This is an important lesson for the Lean Leaders.

In a similar vein, Toyota started the Toyota Production System as a means to catch up with Germany and America. After the Second World War, Toyota realized that the productivity of the Japanese workforce was much less than their German and American counterparts. They tried to learn the norms of the day by visiting foreign manufacturing plants. But they came up with counterintuitive ways to achieve their goal slowly and steadily. They rearranged their factories to achieve better flow. They limited their work-in-process. They reduced the lot sizes and found ways to perform quick changeovers. For the painting operation, Toyota started using a paint cartridge system so that they can maintain small lot sizes. Toyota’s methods gained the attention of the world through the oil crisis in the 1970’s. Their process, Toyota Production System, became their Fosbury Flop which everybody wanted to emulate.

You can watch the Fosbury Flop performed by Dick Fosbury below.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Buy the Mountain Side.

Buy the Mountain Side:


I enjoy learning about Japanese culture. I recently learned about the Horyuji Temple in Japan. The temple was founded in AD 607. This is said to be the oldest standing wooden structure in the world. This temple was completely restored over a span of 51 years by the Nishioka family and was completed by Tsunekazu Nishioka in 1985. In an interview given in 1985, the master carpenter Nishioka shared a great lesson.

When building a temple, don’t buy trees, buy a mountain side. He explained this as an unwritten principle given to him by his ancestors. He explained that a temple’s wood should come from a single location such that the wood can be positioned in the same orientation as the original trees – beams from the trees from north side of the mountain should go on the north side of the temple, and so on.

Each tree, shaped by its soil and decades of wind and rain, has a unique personality, artisans say. The builder, then, must understand and exploit these traits. Trees twisting slightly to the right should be used in conjunction with those twisting left, so that in the end the sum of the forces is zero.

This is a profound thought, and this applies to Teamwork. Everybody in a team works together and brings out the best in themselves and the team. Teamwork is a section of the “Respect for People” pillar of the Toyota Way 2001. In the Japanese culture, the sense of harmony is an important aspect. There is a strong effort to work together. Toyota was able to bring this regional attribute across the globe through Toyota Way 2001. Toyota strengthens their employee base through continuous mentoring and involvement. A team succeeds only when everyone understands the common goal and works collectively towards it. Toyota is able to achieve this and the end result is minimal resistance in their pursuit towards True North.

In an interview in 2007 with Yuki Funo, the chairman and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales USA, Funo also discussed the importance of teamwork with the supplier base. Toyota was entering into a new relationship with an axle supplier. The supplier was flabbergasted when Toyota awarded the contract to the supplier without any discussion about prices. The contract was awarded strictly based on the supplier’s processes and quality review. The supplier was not used to that.

“Toyota’s thinking based on the Toyota Way is teamwork with suppliers. This teamwork is going to be a long-lasting relationship. Price is only one element. Trust is a more important element. The relationship is a sharing concept, and should always be win-win. Price is important, too. But trust is perhaps more so.”

“In the church when you get married, the priest or minister doesn’t ask each partner how much each will get from the other in terms of money. You’re asked about how well you get along. What is your commitment to one another? Now, in real-life situations, some companies practice this, and some don’t.”

Final Words:

Tsunekazu Nishioka’s advice is perhaps the best advice I have heard about Teamwork – Everybody aligned in the right direction resulting in optimum results. There is a strong undercurrent of systems thinking in this. I will finish with a story I heard about 3 electricians who were working on the Apollo spacecraft:

A reporter was watching the three electricians work. He watched them intently for some time and asked each person what they were doing.

“I am inserting transistors in to circuits”, said the first person.

“I am soldering this wire”, said the second person.

“I am helping to put a man on the moon”, said the third person.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Hot Dog!

Hot Dog!

hot dog

One of my favorite quotes from Eiji Toyoda, former President of Toyota, is;

“Don’t think mechanically. Even a dry towel can produce water when ideas are conceived.”

Eiji was talking about Kaizen. Toyota talks about “There is always a better way”. This is the spirit of kaizen…reaching higher and challenging ourselves to find a better way in everything we do… every single day.

I recently relistened to a Freaknomics podcast called “A Better Way to Eat”. In the podcast, the host Stephen Dubner talked with Takeru Kobeyashi, a Japanese competitive eater now living in America. When Kobi, as he is called by his fans, came into the field, the world record was 25 and 1/8th hot dogs in 12 minutes. Kobi blew the record out of water with his first appearance in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, held every July Fourth on Coney Island in New York. Kobi ate 50 hot dogs in the same amount of time, almost doubling the record. The contest has been going on for over 40 years and Kobi completely broke the paradigm. Many people were in denial and some even accused Kobi of doping.

In Dubner’s opinion, Kobi looked at the problem differently thus changing the field of competitive eating forever. The question that others were tackling was – how can I maximize the number of hot dogs I eat? The question that Kobi looked at was – how can I make one hot dog easier to eat?

Putting my Lean glasses on, this made me think about the mass production versus one-piece flow production paradigm. The thinking at that time was to simply eat more hot dogs without analyzing the process. Kobi, however focused on eating one hot dog and making that process easier. Kobi researched the sport and came up with several strategies that gave him a superior edge over the competition. Some of his strategies were to split the hot dog into two and eat with both hands; and the other was to dunk the bun into water, squeeze it into a ball and gulp it down. The splitting of the hot dog came to be known as the “Solomon Method” after the story of King Solomon who settled a maternity dispute by saying that he would cut a baby in half. Several competitors started copying Kobi’s strategies and were able to double their eating intake resulting in improved performances.

In the podcast, Kobi gave the following advice about breaking the more than 40 year old artificial barrier;

I think the thing about human beings is that they make a limit in their mind of what their potential is. They decide I’ve been told this, or this is what society tells me, or they’ve been made to believe something. If every human being actually threw away those thoughts and they actually did use that method of thinking to everything the potential of human beings is great, it’s huge, compared to what they actually think of themselves. That is a factor that…If everyone could use it for everything, everything could be much better.

Final Words:

There is a similar lesson from Jesse Itzler, author of Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet. The lesson is as follows;

When your mind is telling you you’re done, you’re really only 40 percent done.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Toyota, The Green Tomato.

Toyota, the Green Tomato:


Toyota is referred to as the #1 car manufacturer in the world today. Toyota sold 10.15 million vehicles worldwide in 2015 and remained the world’s top selling carmaker for the fourth straight year. I recently came across an interesting metaphor depicting Toyota that I have not heard used before. The book “Extreme Toyota” documented an interview with Jim Press, former President of Toyota Motor North America, in which he said that Toyota wants to be a green tomato. His point was as follows;

“Green tomatoes know their futures are still ahead of them, while red tomatoes quit growing”.

One of the authors of the book, Hirotaka Takeuchi, explained this further by saying that Toyota sees itself as always growing, and always incomplete. This way, Toyota accepts that there is room for improvement, and that “tomorrow will be better than today”.  Hirotaka used the working title of the book as “The Incomplete Company”.

The metaphor of a “green tomato” is beautifully deep and underlines the idea that being complacent is bad. Toyota has become the number one car company in the world. However, seeing itself as the top company is akin to being like the red ripe tomato which would soon fall off and rot. This same idea is repeated by the former President, Katsuaki Watanabe;

“At the very instant we become satisfied, at the very moment we think that the status quo is good enough, that’s when we start to decline.” He continued, “We’re still not there. There are a lot of things we need to do.”

Final Words:

Being complacent is being ignorant and being in denial. Being complacent urges you to remain in your comfort zone. Any new information that indicates that something is wrong does not get registered. As one of my wise friends once told me, once you are complacent, you get busy trying to put up the outward appearance that everything is fine. You create a picture in your mind that everything is great and you hold on to it. The more things that go wrong, the stronger you hold on to your ideal image and continue to be in denial. Be the green tomato, and think of yourself as “still a little more to go”.

I will finish this post with a great Zen Koan by the 1st century Zen master Linji Yixuan. He said;

“When you meet Buddha on the road, kill him”.

There is a little shock factor to this koan. But once you go deeper, there is a beautiful and profound lesson in this. The road is interpreted as your journey in search of enlightenment. The Buddha in the koan is our own idea of perfection and enlightenment. And if you think that you have attained enlightenment, you surely have not attained enlightenment. You have to “kill” that thought, and stay incomplete. Be like a green tomato.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Information at the Gemba.