Kufu Eyes:

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I came across an interesting phrase recently. I was reading Kozo Saito’s paper, “Hitozukuri and Monozukuri”, and I saw the phrase “kufu eyes”. Kufu is a Japanese word that means “to seek a way out of a dilemma.” This is very well explained in K. T. Suzuki’s wonderful book, “Zen and Japaense Culture.” Suzuki talks about kufu in three sections of the book, and each time he adds a little more detail.

“Kufu is not just thinking with the head, but the state when the whole body is involved and applied to the solving of a problem.”

 “Kufu means ‘employing oneself assiduously to discover the way to the objective.’ One may say that this is literally groping in the dark, there is nothing definite indicated… I am afraid this is as far as any master of Zen or swordsmanship can go with his disciples. He leads them until no more leading is possible, and the rest is left to their own devices. If it is a matter of intellection, the way to the goal may be ‘definitely’ prescribed… The students must resort to something very much deeper than mere intellection – something which they cannot obtain from another.”

‘‘The term kufu is the most significant word used in connection with Zen and also in the fields of mental and spiritual discipline. Generally, it means ‘to seek the way out of a dilemma’ or ‘to struggle to pass through a blind alley.’ A dilemma or a blind alley may sound somewhat intellectual, but the fact is that this is where the intellect can go no further, having come to its limit, but an inner urge still pushes one somehow to go beyond. As the intellect is powerless, we may enlist the aid of the will; but mere will, however pressing, is unable to break through the impasse. The will is closer to fundamentals than the intellect, but it is still on the surface of consciousness. One must go deeper yet, but how? This how is kufu. No teaching, no help from the outside is of any use. The solution must come from the most inner part of oneself. One must keep knocking at the door until all that makes one feel an individual being crumbles away. That is, when the ego finally surrenders itself, it finds itself. Here is a newborn baby. Kufu is a sort of spiritual birth pang. The whole being is involved. There are physicians and psychologists who offer a synthetic medicinal substance to relieve one of this pang. But we must remember that, while man is partially mechanistic or biochemical, this does not by any means exhaust his being; he still retains something that can never be reached by medicine. This is where his spirituality lies, and it is kufu that finally wakes us to our spirituality.’’

In his paper, Saito talked about kufu eyes to explain the process of having a curious scientific mind. Kufu eyes looks at the whole and uses personal intuition than just the analytical thinking process. Kufu eyes pushes you to think further perhaps through thought experiments, and to experiment to truly understand the whole picture. One interesting note I would like to make here is of the great American philosopher Dan Dennett’s “intuition pumps.” An intuition pump is a thought experiment structured to allow the thinker to use their intuition to develop an answer to a problem. Just like a mechanical device, if you can model your thought in a thought experiment, you can push on different buttons and pull on different levers and see what happens.

With kufu eyes, you can observe to gain insight. Siato talked about Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System, to explain the concept of kufu eyes further:

… learning engineering and science is not enough. There is a third element: professional intuition, probably the most important, yet most difficult to master, but required for the engineering problem solving process. Taichi Ohno, one of the pioneers who developed Toyota Production System, once declared that the essence of TPS is to develop the well trained ‘‘eyes’’ that can see waste which is invisible to the untrained.

Taiichi Ohno took the task of catching up to the American market when the Japanese worker was assumed to be only 1/8th productive as his American counterpart. The most recent development in manufacturing at that time was the idea of mass manufacturing, which is essentially a push system that led to lots of inventory. Toyota could not afford to carry a lot of inventory. The thinking in those days was to combine similar equipment together and perform operations in isolation. Ohno rearranged the entire layout of the plant he was in charge of, so that the equipment was set to follow the process. The practice at that time was to have one operator manning one piece of equipment. Ohno had one operator man multiple equipment at a time. This led to autonomation or Jidoka. To control the amount of parts produced, Ohno came up with the idea of Kanban. Looking back, Ohno definitely had to employ himself assiduously to discover the way to his objective. He could not just rely on his analytical mind, it was more complex than that. His thinking is clearly stated when he said that efficiency must be improved at every step and at the same time, for the plant as a whole. This is the big picture view that is needed in kufu.

Saito combines the different ideas of total-unit, dedication to the team, holistic view, dialectic approach, and nonlinear thinking to explain kufu. Logic and words have limits. I am inspired by the phrase “kufu eyes”. To me, it means looking outward and inward, looking at the big picture, thinking inside and outside of the “box”, and always pushing to go to the edge of a problem. It means to look with the determination to gain insight. It also means to not fall for status-quo, and to always improve. It also means to go slow but deliberately. It means to not stop until you have solved the problem. And at the same not stop there but keep on improving. This is further explained by Suzuki.

This may be difficult , but when you go on exercising kufu toward the subject, you will after some time come to find this state of mind exercising kufu toward the subject, you will after some time come to find this state of mind actualized without noticing each step of progress. Nothing, however, can be accomplished hurriedly.

I will stop with a wonderful lesson from Suzuki’s book:

When we tie a cat, being afraid of its catching a bird, it keeps on struggling for freedom. But train the cat so that it would not mind the presence of a bird. The animal is now free and can go anywhere it likes. In a similar way, when the mind is tied up, it feels inhibited in every move it makes, and nothing will be accomplished with any sense of spontaneity.  Not only that, the work itself will be of a poor quality, or it may not be finished at all.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Hitozukuri:

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Hitozukuri:

Zenmind

In today’s post, I am looking at “hitozukuri” from the famous Toyota saying, “monozukuri wa hitozukuri.” This can be translated as “making things is about making (developing) people”. To me, this encapsulates the idea of a sociotechnical system. When organizations attempt to business process reengineer, there is a tendency to focus on improving processes only from the technical standpoint. Their focus is on – How to make the process flow better or how to make the operation faster by removing waste? Toyota does focus on this, but at the same time, they also focus on developing their people. Unfortunately, as the lessons from Toyota got copied, the emphasis became more on the tools and not on the people development.

While we can translate monozukuri as craftsmanship, it also represents the spirit of creativity, doing more with less and not wasting valuable resources. Japanese culture has a strong emphasis on harmony, and this can also be seen with monozukuri. Monozukuri is the art of making things in the most harmonious way possible, with minimal waste, and maximum aesthetics. At the same time, we can also look at hitozukuri as lifelong development. Kozo Saito, Director of the Institute of Research for Technology Development at the University of Kentucky, describes hitozukuri as:

Hitozukuri … stresses a life-long process of learning. Hitozukuri emphasizes several different steps of human development, whose original form was emphasized by Confucius in his famous six different human development stages. It goes: ‘‘when I (Confucius) was fifteen years old, I decided to study; at thirty I became independent; at forty I focused; at fifty I realized my mission in my life; at sixty I became able to listen to people without bias and prejudice; finally at seventy I attained the stage that my thinking and action are harmonized with nature. Hitozukuri is a continuous life-long process of human development.

Hitozukuri aligns with the second pillar of the Toyota Way – respect for people. As part of developing people, Toyota focuses on teaching them to see waste and come up with ways to fix the problems. They are challenged with improving their processes, and in the process improve and develop themselves. This is all done in an environment of mutual respect, again based on the concept of harmony.

The technical aspects of monozukuri resides in the simple and complicated domains of order. It is like saying, follow this recipe exactly, and you will make a delicious food item. The social aspects of hitozukuri resides in the complex domain. There is no one best way of “developing” a person. As the famous saying goes, humans do not come with manuals. One heuristic that Toyota uses is – do not tell exactly how to solve a problem. As part of their development, the trainee identifies a problem. The trainer challenges the trainee to start experimenting, identifying patterns and to come up with countermeasures. The trainer provides the various concepts to help the trainee understand the problem, and works with him to find the root cause(s) and thus potential solutions.

In the delightful book, “Not Always So”, about the great Zen Teacher Shunryu Suzuki, Jusan Kanei tells a beautiful anecdote. Kanei was struggling with sitting still for meditation. Suzuki Roshi sat next to him and without saying a word rested his hands on Kanei’s shoulder. Soon, Kanei’s breath softened and lengthened, and he was able to stay with his breath. Kanei later asked Suzuki Roshi what he was doing when he had his hands on Kanei’s shoulders, and Suzuki Roshi responded, “I’m meditating with you.” Suzuki Roshi did not say to do this or do that. His touch did not say “Go over there” or “Get over here”, “Straighten Up” or “Calm down.” Kanei stated that the touch said, “I’ll be here with you wherever you are.”

This is a beautiful story that encapsulates the idea of not telling people what to do, and instead develops the person. When you have to tell someone what to do, the responsibility of their actions become yours. You are also stealing their opportunity to learn from the experience. We learn more from failures than from successes.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Distrust Simplicity:

Distrust Simplicity:

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In today’s post, I will be looking at the famous quote from the famous English mathematician and philosopher, Alfred Whitehead.

Seek simplicity, and then distrust it.

This quote comes from his 1920 collection of lectures, The Concept of Nature. The quote is embedded in the paragraph below:

Nature appears as a complex system whose factors are dimly discerned by us. But, as I ask you, Is not this the very truth? Should we not distrust the jaunty assurance with which every age prides itself that it at last has hit upon the ultimate concepts in which all that happens can be formulated? The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanations of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, Seek simplicity and distrust it.

I like this idea a lot. We are all asked to keep things simple, and to not make things complicated. Whitehead is asking us to seek simplicity first, and then distrust it. Whitehead talks about “bifurcation of nature” – nature as we perceive it, and the nature as it is. Thus, our perception of reality is an abstraction or a simplification based on our perceptions. We need this abstraction to start understanding nature. However, once we start this understanding process, we should not stop. We should build upon it. This is the scientific method – plan the prototype, build it, assess the gap, and continue improving based on feedback.

As I was reading The Concept of Nature, several other concepts came to my mind. The first one was Occam’s razor – the idea that Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily. Seek the simplest explanation, when all things are equal. At the same time, we should keep Epicurus’ Principle of Multiple Explanations in mind – If more than one theory is consistent with the observations, keep all theories. I also feel that Whitehead was talking about systems and complexity. As complexity increases, our ability to fully understand the numerous relationships decreases. As the wonderful American Systems thinker Donella Meadows said:

We can’t impose our will on a system. We can listen to what the system tells us and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone.

Seeking simplicity is about the attempt to have a starting point to understand complexity. We should continue to evolve our understanding and not stop at the first abstraction we developed. One of the famous Zen story is about the teacher pointing his finger at the moon. I have talked about this here. We should not look at the finger and stop there. We should look at where the finger is pointing. The finger is the road sign and not the destination itself. The simplicity is a representation and not the real thing. We should immediately distrust it because it is a weak copy. Seeking simplicity is not a bad thing but stopping there is. Simplicity is our comfort zone, and Whitehead is asking us to distrust it so that can keep improving our situation – continuous improvement. Whitehead in his later 1929 book, The Function of Reason, states:

The higher forms of life are actively engaged in modifying their environment… (to) (i) to live, (ii) to live well, (iii) to live better.

Final Words:

In seeking simplicity, we are trying to be “less wrong”. In distrusting our simplified abstraction, we are seeking to be “more right”. I will finish with a Zen story.

A Zen master lay dying. His monks had all gathered around his bed, from the most senior to the most novice monk. The senior monk leaned over to ask the dying master if he had any final words of advice for his monks.

The old master slowly opened his eyes and in a weak voice whispered, “Tell them Truth is like a river.”

The senior monk passed on this bit of wisdom in turn to the monk next to him, and it circulated around the room from one monk to another.

When the words reached the youngest monk he asked, “What does he mean, ‘Truth is like a river?’”

The question was passed back around the room to the senior monk who leaned over the bed and asked, “Master, what do you mean, ‘Truth is like a river?’” Slowly the master opened his eyes and in a weak voice whispered, “OK, truth is not like a river.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Cannon’s Polarity Principle:

Cannon’s Polarity Principle:

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I recently read the wonderful book “On the Design of Stable Systems”, by Jerry Weinberg and Daniela Weinberg. I came across a principle that I had not heard of before called “Cannon’s Polarity Principle”. Cannon’s Polarity Principle can be stated as the strategy that a system can use to overcome noise by supplying its own opposing actions. If a system relies on an uncertain environment to supply the opposing factor to one of its regulatory mechanisms, that mechanism must have a much more refined model. By supplying its own opposing factor, it can get away with a much simpler model of the environment.

This principle is one of those things that is profound yet very simple. The Weinbergs give the example of a sticky knob on a gas stove to explain this idea. If the knob is sticky then it is tricky to raise the flame to the precise point we would like it to be. Due to the “stickiness” we will try to apply much more force than needed and inadvertently overshoot, going past the desired point. The result is that the flame is at a much higher setting. When we try to turn the flame down we are still in the same situation and again go past the point where we would like to be.

What we can do instead is to use one hand to push against the direction we would like and then slowly try to turn the knob with our other hand. With this approach we can be much more refined and be at our desired position. By working “against” our own goal, we make precise adjustment possible in the face of an unknown, but small, amount of stickiness.

This got me thinking. There are several times where we apply opposing forces to slow us down, to take the time to reach the correct decision (precise adjustment). One of my favorite Toyotaism is – Go slow to go fast. This makes a lot of sense in the light of the Polarity Principle. Any time we are doing a root cause analysis, we are prone to a plethora of biases including confirmation bias – selectively looking for ideas that reinforce our thinking, and availability bias – latching on to the first idea because that was the immediate idea we came up with. These biases might make us jump to unwarranted conclusions to address symptoms, and not addressing the root problem(s). The Polarity Principle would advise us to slow down.

I will finish this short and sweet with an apt Zen saying:

The one who is good at shooting does not hit the center of the arrow.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Contextual Why:

A Fuzzy 2018 Wish:

2018

I wanted to write a good post for the New Year (2018). I have been thinking about a good “New Year’s” subject to write about for a while now. It is not easy to find topics to write about, and even if I find good topics, it has to pass my threshold level. As I was meditating on this, I came to think about procrastination and ambiguity. With these thoughts, I came to the topic for the post today. My post today is about the importance of “fuzzy concepts”. I am using the term fuzzy concept in a loose sense and will not go into depth or specifics.

We like to think in boxes or categories. It makes it easy for us to make inferences and aids in decision-making. “She is tall” or “He is short”; “this is hard” or “this is easy”. This is a reductionist approach and from a logic standpoint, this type of thinking is called “Boolean logic” and is based on a dichotomy of true or false (0 or 1). Something is either “X” or “not X”. This type of thinking has its merits sometimes.

In contrast, Fuzzy logic helps us in seeing the “in-between”. The fuzzy logic approach utilizes a spectrum viewpoint. It starts as 0 at one end and slowly increases bit by bit all the way to 1. We can express any point between 0 and 1 as a decimal value.

spectrum

In the picture above, the left most point is white (0), and as we go towards right it changes the color to black (1.0) at the extreme right. Any point in between is neither white nor black. It is just in-between and we can identify the gradient as a value between 0 and 1.

In this vein, if I am to get myself to write a post for the New Year, I could be either prepared and ready OR not prepared and ready. I could wait for a long time for the inspiration to strike or to have an epiphany that would add value to the post. From a Boolean standpoint, this is black and white thinking. I have to wait until I am fully ready (1) to write the post. If I am not ready (0), I should not write the post.

The fuzzy thinking is not recent. In fact, there is an old Greek paradox called Sorites paradox, which is attributed to Megarian logician Eubulides of Miletus. The word “Sorites” is derived from the Greek word soros, which means “heap”. The paradox is as follows – if you have a heap of sand, and you take away a grain, would that heap still be a heap? What would happen if you keep taking grains away? At what point does it cease being a heap? We can express this in the Boolean logic as:  (1) = Heap, and (0) = No Heap. However, if we use the fuzzy logic, we could define what a full heap means and what “no heap” means. Anything in between can be defined as a “partial heap”. Fuzzy logic helps us to add a matter of degree to any statement.

The fuzzy logic concept goes really well with continuous improvement philosophy and the thought that lean is a journey and not a destination. We will never be 100% complete with our improvement. We are always incomplete with our improvement, and it is okay that we are incomplete. We have to keep on improving. We do not have to wait until we have the perfect idea or the expensive machinery or tool to start improving our processes. We do not have to wait for others to start on the improvement journey. In a Zen-like fashion, wherever we are, there we are – the right place to start improving. We will always be between 0 and 1 in terms of perfection of the process. We will always be on the journey and never at the destination. Taiichi Ohno, the father of Toyota Production System, had a great saying that encapsulates the fuzzy concept – Don’t seek perfection. 60 percent is good enough!

I will finish with a story I read online from an anonymous source.

The family was driving to their destination for their holiday. The child asked his father, “Are we there yet?”

The father replied, “No son. We are always here.”

I wish all of my readers a Fuzzy 2018. You are exactly where you are to start exactly what you want to start. Wherever you are, there you are!

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was A Merry Happy Christmas and Attractors:

Shisa Kanko, a Different Kind of Checklist:

Shisa Kanko

Regular readers of my blog know that I am a keen Japanophile. I love learning new things about the cultural nuances of Japan. In today’s post I will be looking at “Shisa Kanko” translated as “point with finger and call”.

Perhaps, like many others, when I was the last one to leave my house, I always questioned myself whether I closed the garage door. A mental trick I came up with was to talk to myself aloud as I pressed on the Garage Remote, “I am pressing on the remote”, and as the door closed I would remark again to myself, “look, the garage door is closing”. This action of talking it aloud created a physical and memory record that I could refer to later and recall that I did close the garage door.

Shisa Kanko is a similar process of “checking off” that an action was completed. Shisa Kanko is the process of pointing to something and calling out what happened. This could be a visual indicator for the status of an operation and calling out the status. This idea is said to have originated by a steam-train engineer of the name Yasoichi Hori. Hori started to lose his eye sight and thus began to call out the status signal to the fireman riding with hm. This was an attempt by Hori to not go through a wrong signal by mistake. The fireman would then repeat the status signal back to him and confirm it. This practice was deemed important and was implemented as a practice for railway staff. The practice of Shisa Kanko was published in the Japanese railway manual in 1913.  You can read about the proper way to point and call at the old website of JICOSH (Japanese International Center for Occupational Safety and Health) [1].

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This activity involves pointing at target objects by stretching your arm and stating out loud, “Such and such is OK” at important points in the work in order to proceed with work safely and correctly.

Pointing and calling are methods for raising the consciousness level of workers and confirming that conditions are regular and clear, increasing the accuracy and safety of work. This method for ensuring safety is based on the philosophy of respecting human life and can be achieved only with the full participation of the workforce in practice activities across the whole of the workplace.

It is said that implementing the practice of Shisa Kanko can reduce mistakes by about 85% percent [2]. Shisa Kanko is a form of a checklist in some regards. By pointing and calling out, it is similar to the action of checking off on a checklist – “yup, this is done.” The physical and audible actions ensure that an important signal or action is not omitted. This is also an indicator to those around and provides an indication that an action was completed or the status of an operation. An example is the railway staff scanning to ensure that the tracks are free of debris before the train takes off. Instead of just scanning the tracks, the operator will point towards the track, making a sweeping action with the eyes following the hand. Once confirmed, the operator will announce that the track is clear.

Just like a checklist, the absence of Shisa Kanko will not always result in mistakes. However, the presence of Shisa Kanko will always aid in preventing mistakes. Thus it is a positive enabling constraint.

I will finish this post with a lesson from Buddha on learning to meditate;

Meditation can be a really hard skill to master and requires a lot of practice. Buddha’s advice is to make note of what is going on with your breath, similar to Shisa Kanko. Buddha’s lesson for mediation is “Anapanasati”. In Pali language “Ana” means “inhalation”, “pana” means “exhalation” and “sati” means “mindfulness”. Buddha is teaching us to be mindful of our breath going in (saying internally “in”), and going out (saying internally “out”). This practice of mindfulness, acknowledging the status of our breath, will allow us to be in control and in focus.

Buddha teaches about Anapanasati in the Anapanasati Sutta:

Breathing in long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in long’; or breathing out long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out long.’ Or breathing in short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in short’; or breathing out short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out short.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Concept of Constraints in Facing Problems:

[1] http://www.jniosh.go.jp/icpro/jicosh-old/english/zero-sai/eng/

[2] http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2008/10/21/reference/jr-gestures/#.WVujaemQzIU

Concept of Constraints in Facing Problems:

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In today’s post, I will be looking at the concept of constraints in facing problems. Please note that I did not state “solving problems”. This is because not all problems are solvable. There are certain problems, referred to as “wicked problems” or complex problems that are not solvable. These problems have different approaches and none of the approaches can solve the problems completely. Some of the alternatives are better than the others, but at the same time they may have their own unintended consequences. Some examples of this are global warming and poverty.

My post is related to the Manufacturing world. Generally in the manufacturing world, most of the problems are solvable. These problems have a clear cause and effect relationships. They can be solved by using the best practice or a good practice. The best practice is used for obvious problems, when the cause and effect relationship is very clear, and there is truly one real solution. A good practice is employed where the cause and effect relationship is evident only with the help of subject-matter-experts. These are called “complicated problems”. There are also complex problems where the cause and effect relationships are not evident. These may be understood only after-the-fact. An example for this is launching a new product and ensuring a successful launch. Most of the time, the failures are studied and the reasons for the failure are “determined” after the fact.

The first step in tackling these problems is to understand what type of problem it is. Sometimes, the method to solve a problem is prescribed before the problem is understood. Some of the methods assume that the problem has a linear cause and effect relationship. An example is 5 why. 5 why assumes that there is a linear relationship between cause and effect. This is evident in the question – “why did x happen?”  This works fine for the obvious problems. This may not work that well for complicated problems and never for a complex problem. One key thing to understand is that the problems can be composite problems, some aspects may be obvious while some aspects may be complicated. Using a prescribed method can be ineffective in these cases.

The concept of constraints is tightly related to the concept of variety. The best resource for this is Ross Ashby’s “An Introduction to Cybernetics” [1]. Ashby defined variety as the number of distinct elements in a set of distinguishable elements or as the logarithm to base 2 of the number of distinct elements. Thus, we can say that the variety of genders is 2 (male or female) or as 1 bit (based on the logarithm calculation). Ashby defined constraint as a relation between two sets. Constraint only exists when one set’s variety is lower than the other set’s variety. Ashby gives the axample of a school that only admits boys. Compared to the set of gender (boys and girls), the school’s variety is less (only boys). Thus the school has a constraint imposed on itself.

A great resource for this is Dave Snowden and his excellent Cynefin framework [2]. Snowden says that ontology precedes epistemology or in other words data precedes framework. The fundamental properties of the problem must be understood before choosing a “tool” to address the problem. Prescribing a standard tool to use in all situations is constraining oneself and this will lead to ineffective attempts at finding a solution. When the leader says we need to use lean or six sigma, this is an attempt to add constraints by removing variety. Toyota’s methodologies referred to as Toyota Production System, was developed for their problems. They identified the problems and then proceeded to find ways to address them. They did not have a framework to go by. They created the framework based on decades of experience and tweaking. Thus blindly copying their methodologies are applying constraints on yourself that may be unnecessary. As the size or scope of a project increases, it tends to increase the complexity of the project. Thus enterprise wide applications of “prescribed solutions” are not generally effective since the cause-effect relationships cannot be completely predicted leading to unintended consequences, inefficiency and ineffectiveness. On the other hand, Ashby advises to take note of any existing constraints in a system, and to take advantage of the constraints to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

A leader should thus first understand the problem to determine the approach to proceed. Sometimes, one may have to use a composite of tools. One needs to be open for modifications by having a closed loop(s) with a feedback mechanism so that the approach can be modified as needed. It is also advisable to use heuristics like genchi genbutsu since they are general guidelines or rules of thumb. This does not pose a constraint. Once a methodology is chosen, then a constraint is being applied since the available number of tools to use (variety) has now diminished.  This thinking in terms of constraints prevents the urge to treat everything as a nail when your preferred tool is a hammer.

I will finish with a great story from the great Zen master Huangbo Xiyun;

Huangbo once addressed the assembly of gathered Zen students and said; “You are all partakers of brewer’s grain. If you go on studying Zen like that, you will never finish it. Do you know that in all the land of T’ang there is no Zen teacher?”
Then a monk came forward and said, “But surely there are those who teach disciples and preside over the assemblies. What about that?”
Huangbo said, “I do not say that there is no Zen, but that there is no Zen teacher…”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Jidoka, the Governing Principle for Built-in-Quality:

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Cybernetics-W-Ross-Ashby/dp/1614277656

[2] http://cognitive-edge.com/blog/part-two-origins-of-cynefin/

Jidoka, the Governing Principle for Built-in-Quality:

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Harold Dodge said – “You cannot inspect quality into a product; it must be built into it.[1] This is something that has stuck with me ever since I entered the work force. This means that quality must be viewed as an intrinsic attribute of a manufacturing process. The idea of quality being part of the process cannot be brought out by talking to the employees or with slogans or short lived programs. In order to have quality be a part of the process, it has to be a part of the process intrinsically!

I came across the concept of James Watts’ centrifugal governor. This is essentially a feedback system that controls the speed of an engine at a desired state. This is shown in the picture above. As the speed increases, it causes the “flyballs” to move away from each other due to the centrifugal force and this cause the arms to go up, which controls the valve to reduce the fuel intake. This is beautifully explained by Stafford Beer in his 1966 book, “Decision and Control” [2]. He states that with the centrifugal governor, the system is brought under control in the very act of going out of control. The regulation is intrinsic (it is part of the system).

When you think about it, Jidoka in TPS is doing exactly that. Jidoka is the governing principle in TPS to ensure built-in-quality. Jidoka was introduced as a concept by Sakichi Toyoda with his automatic loom that stopped when a thread was broken. Jidoka was explained by Toyota as autonomation or automation with human touch. In Toyota’s little green book, The Toyota Production System – Leaner Manufacturing for a Greener Planet, Jidoka is explained as;

Jidoka is a humanistic approach to configuring the human-machine interface. It liberates operators from the tyranny of the machine and leaves them free to concentrate on tasks that enable them to exercise skill and judgment.

Jidoka ensures that the machines are able to detect any abnormality and automatically stop whenever they occur. This concept of stopping production when there is an abnormality was implemented on the production lines with the use of andon cords. When an operator identifies a problem that cannot be solved within the allotted time, the operator can pull on the andon cord to stop the production line, thus making the problem immediately visible. This is a “human jidoka”. This prevents defective items from progressing down the assembly line causing larger issues and wasting time. It also leads to identifying opportunities for improvement with the product and/or the process as well as a valuable time to provide coaching for the employee.

The concept of Jidoka is an effort to make built-in-quality intrinsic to the manufacturing process. Allowing the operator to stop the entire production line is an act of giving autonomy to the operator. The quality is not being pushed top-down, but allowed to emerge bottom-up. This is an example of what Toyota calls as “Good Thinking leading to Good Products”.

In a similar vein, I wanted to draw comparisons to Zen. In Zen, there is a concept of “monkey mind”. This is the racing mind that does not allow one to sit down and meditate. Many different thoughts and emotions go through the mind when one is trying to have a quiet mind. Buddha taught disciples to focus on the breath as way to calm down the monkey mind. This is a really hard thing to do and requires a lot of practice. When the mind drifts off, it needs to be brought back. The Zen teachers teach us that the source of control is also the mind, the very same thing that causes the focus to be lost. Meditation is the art of coming back to the focus again and again. My favorite story on this is from the great teacher Yunmen Wenyan.

 Yunmen was asked by his student, “How can I control my mind to not lose focus when I am trying to meditate?”

Yunmen replied, “The coin that is lost in the river can only be found in the same river.”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Learning to See:

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Out-Crisis-Press-Edwards-Deming-ebook/dp/B00653KTES/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497211354&sr=1-1&keywords=9780262297189

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Decision-Control-Operational-Management-Cybernetics/dp/0471948381

Learning to See:

Rembrant van Rijn - The Mill (Detailed) - 1648

Today’s post is not based on LEI’s book “Learning to See” [1] but on the delightful book “Art in Focus” by Gene. A. Mittler (1986 edition) [2]. In Mittler’s words, the purpose of the book is to help you acquire knowledge and understanding you will need to make and support your own personal decisions about works of art. The name of the first chapter is “Learning to See”.  The book begins with the Taoist quote;

To look is one thing.

To see what you look at is another.

To understand what you see is a third.

To learn from what you understand is still something else:

To act on what you learn is all that matters.

I started reading this book by happenstance. I flipped through the book and found many interesting sections that were quite descriptive of what I had learned in Toyota Production System(TPS). In TPS, we are asked to go to the gemba and observe the production floor so that we can “learn to see” waste and take action. To my delight, Mittler talks about a “search strategy” that he uses for gaining observation from works of art, that is very well applicable for us. His strategy includes (paraphrased);

  1. Description: Through which you try to find out what is going on,
  2. Analysis: Through which you discover how the work is organized or put together
  3. Interpretation: Through which you try to determine the information communicated
  4. Judgment: Through which you make your own decision based on your interpretation

In chapter 2, Mittler continues;

Art objects are unique arrangements of the obvious and the not so obvious. In order to understand any art object, you must be willing to go beyond the obvious and examine the not so obvious as well.

In order to accomplish understanding the obvious and not so obvious, Mittler talks about the elements and principles of art. The elements are what make up the art. The six elements of art, as noted by Mittler are;

  1. Color
  2. Value (Non-color)
  3. Line
  4. Texture
  5. Shape/Form
  6. Space

The principles are on the other hand used to organize the elements together so that “the organized whole” is brought out. The seven principles of art, as noted by Mittler are;

  1. Balance
  2. Emphasis
  3. Harmony
  4. Variety
  5. Gradation
  6. Movement/Rhythm
  7. Proportion

Both the elements and the principles utilized in the art brings out “the Unity of the Work”. The Unity refers to the total effect of a work of art.

In a similar fashion, we could state that the elements at the gemba are the 6Ms (Man, Method, Machine, Measurement, Material and Mother Nature/Environment). The principles might be Just-in-Time, Jidoka, Heijunka, Standardized Work, Respect for People and Kaizen. Mittler notes that a skillful blend of elements and principles results in a unified design, a design in which all the parts hold together to produce the best possible effect. In a similar fashion, paraphrasing Taiichi Ohno [3], one can state that a skillful blend of elements and principles results in a total manufacturing technology that reaches the whole business organization and results in cost reductions and profit increases.

It is interesting to think that observing the activities in gemba to understand what gemba is saying, can be like observing a painting to understand the ideas communicated by the artist. It paints a pretty picture! I will finish with a Zen story related by William Scott Wilson, The One Taste of Truth: Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea, 2012 [4];

When the old warrior Hosokawa Shigeyuki (1434–1511) retired as daimyo or territorial lord of Sanuki Province, he became a Zen priest. One day he invited a visiting scholar-monk, Osen Kaisan (1429–93), to see a landscape-painting he himself had brushed in ink on a recent trip to Kumano and other scenic spots on the Kii Peninsula. When the scroll was opened, there was nothing but a long, blank sheet of paper. The monk Osen, struck by the emptiness of the “painting,” exclaimed:

Your brush is as tall as Mount Sumeru,
Black ink large enough to exhaust the great earth;
The white paper as vast as the Void that swallows up all illusions.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Respect and Yokai:

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Learning-See-Stream-Mapping-Eliminate/dp/0966784308/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496073986&sr=8-1&keywords=learning+to+see

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Art-Focus-Gene-Mittler/dp/002662270X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496074133&sr=8-1&keywords=art+in+focus+1986

[3] Toyota Production System – Beyond Large-Scale Production Page 71.

[4] https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AWTM1K6/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

If a Lion Could Talk:

EPSON MFP image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Low problem consciousness among the employees:

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

3) Inadequate Visual Control Tools:

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

4) Lack of established standards for the visual controls:

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

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

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

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

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

Always keep on learning…

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

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

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

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

[4] Lion drawing by Audrey Jose