Join the Henjin Crew

Henjin Crew
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Henjin (変人) – pronounced “hēn-jeen” – is the Japanese word for “eccentric,” “crank,” or “oddball.”

A Toyota kaizen man said:

“People who generally follow and promote TPS are ‘eccentrics’ [‘henjin’ in original]… Generally speaking, those who adopt and promote TPS are unconventional people.” Indeed, TPS people, bothered by abnormalities, are henjin. He went on to say:

  • Once you begin [kaizen] you are unstoppable
  • Affinity for change
  • Relentless identification of abnormalities and immediate rectification
  • Full-fledged kaizen persons get angry at their half-hearted measures

The “Henjin Crew” are people who don’t just think kaizen, they do kaizen. They are a kaizen work crew made up of “eccentrics,” “cranks,” and “oddballs.”

• • • • • • • • • • •

A previous blog post, “Ninjutsu Management,” Taiichi Ohno said that training is worthless unless it “brings out human ingenuity.”

In the 15 years I spent in industry, I participated in 21 different corporate training courses comprising over 400 hours, equivalent to 50 days of training. None of that training brought out human ingenuity. The training followed the conventional forms of knowledge transfer or management skills development.

Then, in a fateful week in July 1994, I participated in my first Shingijutsu kaizen. Wow! Those 5 days brought out human ingenuity in a way that I had never experienced in any corporate training. It was transformative.

I had the good fortune to experience something very similar 20 years earlier. When as a teenager in the mid-1970s, I set out to build custom racing bicycle frames. I had to think and be really creative because I did not have much to work with, unlike most others who set out to build bicycle frames. Using my ingenuity to do what seemed impossible was a fun and exhilarating experience. And I succeeded.

Framebuilding Kaizen 1

There are two key elements necessary to bringing out human ingenuity:

  • Having a significant challenge (sometimes known as a “problem to solve,” but better understood as abnormalities to correct in relation to some normal condition such as flow).
  • Making things with your hands.

Business has no shortage of significant challenges, but problems are most often solved according to the dictum, “What’s next is most likely to be determined by what is” (Douglas Dowd, Sociologist, 1919-2017). In other words, no breakthrough; just routine problem-solving in line with past problem-solving. That is not good enough because it does not bring out human ingenuity and produces no breakthroughs.

Work is often just work; the rote performance of tasks. It does not bring out human ingenuity in most employees. So what do they do to satisfy their interests and desires? They seek to express their ingenuity and creativity at home through their hobbies. Humans love to make things and they have a lot of fun doing it.

There are scores of indoor and outdoor hobbies. Most people’s hobbies involve making things with their hands. Some people make things with their imagination, such as when reading a novel. Either way, some form of human ingenuity or creativity comes into play.

Unfortunately, Lean tools training and the common use of Lean tools does not bring out human ingenuity. Generally, the use of Lean tools reflects the simple act of conforming to bureaucratic requirements for routine problem-solving, absent any big challenge or the hands-on human ingenuity that leads to breakthroughs.

So, I urge you to learn more about Toyota-style kaizen and become a henjin — an “eccentric,” “crank,” or “oddball” — a kaizen person. Join the henjin crew and turn kaizen into a fun and exhilarating workplace hobby!

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