How Would You Answer These Questions?

What standard do you hold yourself to when someone asks you questions about Lean management or Toyota management?  The standard could vary as widely for a person as it can from person-to-person. There are at least eight possible standards to choose from:

  • Say “I don’t know”
  • Guess at the answer
  • Say what you heard
  • Say what you read
  • Say what you did
  • Say whatever you wish to further your own interests
  • Obfuscate, mislead, or even lie
  • Carefully check facts to make sure you are as accurate as is humanly possible

If you are a professor, as I am, then you don’t have the range of choices that other people have – whether you are a promoter of Lean or a Lean practitioner. Professors truly have only one choice: answer questions factually, as best that they can. Professors hold themselves to a high standard as a result of the lengthy process they went through to obtain their terminal degree (i.e. lots of training in research, fact-finding, analysis, and criticism), as well as pride in one’s own work. Professors are also held to high standards by their peers and by their students. The former evaluate their work while the latter complete assignments that could reveal that the professor does not know the subject, is biased, or has a hidden agenda. 

When I am asked questions about Lean, TPS, and so on, I answer them based on my own experience as a practitioner, observer, teacher, researcher, and writer. Though, you’ll be happy to know, I answer questions in class in a much sweeter tone than the tone I use in my books and blog. And, as required by journal editorial guidelines, my academic research papers are written in a dispassionate tone. So, while my tone does vary, I strive for accuracy in the content of the answers, to the best of my ability, as I understand the subject at any given point in time. I believe almost everyone who knows my work recognizes this.

But, not everyone can or is willing to answer questions the way I do. So, below are some questions that I get from students in class, and two columns of answers. The “Your Possible Answer” column reflects common answers to the questions, while my answers are shown in the adjacent column.

I hope you recognize that the standard I work to reflects my education, training, and the constant demands of my profession (teaching and research in higher education). And it also reflects a personal standard when my name is associated with the information conveyed. The Table below is not meant to make a claim as to “who’s better,” but rather to illustrate how different personal or professional standards yield different answers. (Read more below the Table).

Questions Answers2

It seems my involvement with Lean causes some people a lot of difficulty because I do not simply “go along.” Given my professional work interests and personal interests, I can’t just “go along,” and there should not be a requirement for that. Instead, the Lean community should be more tolerant and more accepting of the facts, as the above Table illustrates.

And finally, hasn’t it been blindingly obvious, for a decade or more, that I have been willing to harm my interests in order to help others learn and improve? The prime motive for my work is service, self-sacrifice, to fellow human beings and the community. That is why teaching is one of the few “noble professions.”

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