Random Thoughts

Phone Pole

You may be interested in these random thoughts. In the past, these might have become the source material for a book or book chapters.

On criticism: The Lean community may never realize that criticism is rooted in attachment to progressive management, not hostility towards it, and that analyzing and criticizing someone’s work is not an ad hominem attack.

Leadership behaviors: The continuing faith that the Lean community has on changing top leaders’ behaviors, from the old way of leading to the new Lean way of leading, is worrisome. Will people ever think to explore the domain that Taiichi Ohno considered most important: preconceptions?

Leadership’s role in the culture of continuous improvement begins with leadership: Historically, a mindset of continuous improvement falls most heavily upon the shoulders of someone whose educational or practical background involves deep experiences with experimentation. That means engineers, artists, and scientists, or people from other disciplines who have an intense curiosity to “try it and see.” This mindset can lead to a culture of continuous improvement if such persons rise to the top of an organization. Yet, most of these “experimenters” enjoy their work and dislike the role of leadership and management (too much nonsense, not enough opportunity to experiment), so they do not aspire to the highest levels of organizations. That leaves top leadership positions open to people who have more interest in a culture of status quo than a culture of continuous improvement. A culture of continuous improvement, being foreign to them and not having much interest in it themselves, they instead push CI onto people at lower levels (as we know). Status quo leaders vastly outnumber the “try it and see” experimenters. So, a culture of continuous improvement does not necessarily begin with leadership. It begins with the mindset of “try it and see.”

On technology: Machine technology and how people normally think about technology is overrated, which in turn underrates human thought and creativity as a means for solving existential problems with technologies other than machines. Shingijutsu means “new technology.” TPS/TW (a.k.a. Lean) is a technology because it is based on the application of scientific thinking to practical problems in business. What is the benefit? It is to change people’s preconceptions about what technology is, and to recognize that machine technology and management technology share equal footing in problem-solving.

On failure. Taiichi Ohno recognized the likelihood of failure. He said: “Companies make a big mistake in implementing the Toyota production system thinking that it is just a production method. The Toyota production method won’t work unless it is used as an overall management system… those who decide to implement the Toyota production system must be fully committed. If you try to adopt only the ‘good parts’, you’ll fail.” (NPS: New Production System, by I. Shinohara, Productivity Press,1988, p. 153 and 155). It is obvious upon cursory inspection that most companies have adopted only the “good parts,” and thus, by Ohno’s definition, have failed. If Lean is defined as something different than TMS, then perhaps it (Lean transformation), unlike anything else in existence, is not subject to failure. The argument either way — that 0 percent fail or 95 percent fail — ignores the fact that the knowledge accumulated over the last 40 years has not appreciably helped reduce people’s struggles. That is because the understanding of the problem remains at the surface-level and does not address what is happening at deeper levels. It is ironic that those who promote problem-solving wish to avoid relevant new information that will help solve the problem.

Lousy training programs and senseless complaints about them: I understand the problem, but I do not understand the complaint. Substanceless and flimsy training programs have been around for more than a century. As long as people need an income to live, this form of entrepreneurship will continue to thrive and the marketplace readily accepts it as needed and willingly pays for it. Credentialing of participants adds value (more line items on the resume) and helps keep their employer at bay from getting laid off or helps find a new job. Fluff sells (lower cognitive load than thinking) much to the eternal chagrin of the substance-sellers. The sellers of substance could join forces to gain noticeable, if not dominant, presence in the marketplace, but it seems unlikely that they would get along or be willing to hand over the keys to their kingdom.

On the generational learning process and progress: It seems to take about 30 years of work experience for people to fully realize things are not quite right (i.e., “The more things change, the more they stay the same”). It takes a long time to realize this given the interconnected nature of things. By then they are near retirement and lack the motivation to drive needed change, or just quit, and then the next generation comes in and repeats the 30 year learning cycle process.

The 4-hour rule. The rule states that all executives should spend the first four hours of their day “on the line” performing some kind of value-creating activity, after which they spend four hours per day doing executive work and fulfilling other leadership responsibilities. This crazy idea makes sense when we admit that most leaders spend large portions of their day doing non-value-creating work – if not actually creating waste, unevenness, and unreasonableness. The 4-hour rule puts executives close to the actual work and delivers an immediate 50 percent reduction in bad management ideas, wasteful organizational politicking, delayed management decisions, and so on. And it compels executives to quickly make needed changes that will make work easier for teams. Give it a try.

Sorting out confusion over the origin of A3 reports: A3 reports were first developed at Toyota in the late 1970s. Kaizen pre-dates A3s by ~90 years with Sakichi Toyoda’s invention of looms and the trial-and-error method of improving looms. This is outlined in the 1987 book, Toyota: A History of the First 50 Years (pp. 23-28). Ohno describes the use of “basic form of kaizen” in use in the 1940s in the (ill-titled) 2019 book, The Birth of Lean (Chapter 1). Kaizen as a method based on industrial engineering became more formalized via technical training by Shigeo Shingo in the early 1950s and improved upon by Toyota people and Toyota-affiliated subcontractors thereafter. Kaizen was fundamental to the creation of TPS. A3 was developed for improving the effectiveness of knowledge work.

Doing a 5 Whys well is not easy: As Mr. Ohno said of the 5 Whys, “It’s hard to do, even if it looks easy.” For many years I gave 5 Whys assignments to my students, and out of a class of 20 students only 3-5 produced good 5 Whys analyses. It does require practice — a lot of practice — because people are so used to jumping to answers they lack the ability to reason through causality in a rigorous stepwise fashion.

On leadership development: It is remarkable how enduring behaviors-based leadership training is, despite being outdated, incredibly weak on causality, and producing little in the way of useful results.

On business schools: Most business school professors are constitutionally incapable of delivering a pedagogy consisting of critical inquiry and asking tough questions because the metaphysical aspects of business are central, if not the entire substance, of business school teaching. Their role is that of a cheerleader for business, as opposed to engineering school, for example, where no such role exists and the teaching focus is facts. Business schools’ mindless boosterism and success orientation comprehensively disables critical inquiry and the asking of tough questions.

On economists: I have never been enamored with economists generally, and academic economists in particular, for these 12 reasons: 1) Many of their observations or declarations come a decade or more after the phenomenon became obvious. 2) Many economists are tradition-bound and cling to Zombie (discredited) economic ideas which severely undercuts their claim of economics as a science (despite all the math). 3) Frequent misattribution of cause-and-effect. 4) They fail to recognize and comprehend the great innovation that is TPS (flow production), imagining TPS (assuming they have heard of it) to be exactly the same as batch-and-queue production in terms of leadership, worker engagement, method, costs, and outcomes. 5) Economists have outsized influence on federal policy. 6) They do not understand how classical and neoclassical economics disrespects people (e.g., negative externalities, prospectively). 7) Build-up of inventories is seen as a positive sign of economic activity (despite decoupling supply from demand, which increases costs for everyone). 8) Satisfaction with an economy operating at a two-sigma level of quality. 9) Use of the supernatural (“invisible hand”) as a foundation for theory and to dismiss mistakes or attribute success. 10) Stubborn adherence to 18th and 19th century economic thinking which prevents needed human progress in the 21st century. 11) Their indifference to varied management and leadership methods in determining micro- and macro-economic outcomes. 12) Economists do not suffer professionally or personally when their policy prescriptions result in consequences that are unfavorable for workers (unemployment) or society (recession).

Lean management is not common sense: Lean management is abnormal, or unnatural, to the settled common sense of top leaders. Consequently, there is great opportunity to learn from leaders; to engage the analytic — the sources and methods of multi-generational dysfunction, the transitory nature of process improvement, deconstructing the common sense of classical management, and the consequences of unnecessary struggles in relation to the human work experience and survival.

Going to the CEOs genba: People far below the CEO level cannot go to CEOs genba. Why? Because the CEOs genba is defined by their right and privilege to do as they please.

The perils of being success-oriented: In business, leaders are success-oriented — which means they ignore failures. This shows that management has yet to be understood on a scientific basis, despite 100-plus years of effort to advance progressive management thinking and practice. Unfortunately, the hypocrisy has long been obvious within Lean-world, where successes continue to be highlighted and failures ignored — thus sacrificing needed learning for the short-term gain of getting more people interested in Lean and getting more organizations to adopt Lean. The decades-long lack of interest in failure among the top Lean promoters is a glaring breach of authority and responsibility.

Misunderstanding Just-in-Time: The mistakes that the media makes when it talks about JIT are surprisingly accurate at representing the general misunderstandings of JIT. Yet among business leaders, it is remarkable that JIT remains misunderstood for more than 100 years (there were early examples of JIT in old Detroit). It is clear that JIT does not matter to them. The question is: Why? It is likely a combination of facts such as: 1) JIT is irrelevant in market economies; 2) Increases in inventories are seen by economists, business leaders, and governments as evidence of economic growth; 3) Quality, customer value, and customer satisfaction, respect for suppliers, etc., is more rhetoric than reality; 4) Trade and transport systems were developed for batch-and-queue production and thus favor it in terms of volume, pricing, etc; 5) Companies can easily achieve excellent financial results without JIT; 6) The strong preference in classical management is to hide problems rather than surface problems as JIT does. And so on. In short, the need does not exist for business leaders to understand JIT — not yet, anyway.

Why top leaders dislike details about the work you do: If you are a lower-level person, mired in details, and have stood up in front of top executives, you probably found that they had little interest in details. Why do leaders dislike details? Details, in some way or another, infringe on leaders’ status, rights, or privileges (sometimes, all three). Details shift lower-level burdens to upper levels, clouds decision-making, and increases the risk of exposing incompetence.

On the status in of leaders hierarchical organizations: If you are impressed by someone’s status, you are unlikely to have a clear understanding of a leaders’ way of thinking, their basis for decision-making, and their behaviors.

On toxic corporate cultures: Most top leaders take palliative measures that are intended to reduce the effect of toxic corporate culture, but they are unwilling to address its causes — in part due to the fact that they view such cultures as beneficial in terms of separating the people who are winners from losers in competitive business and hierarchical (status-driven, political) environments. And of course, toxic culture is an integral part of classical management which is not going away.

How people comprehend machines: For thousands of years, machines have widely been seen as something amazing and suprahuman. Machines have a strong spiritual effect on people and thus capture their interest and attention. The spiritual effect is not isolated to one part of the brain. Additionally, machines are seen as reliable physical assets, while people are not usually seen as assets; they are generally seen as unreliable and as liabilities, to eventually be displaced by machines. People, on the other hand, are not typically seen as amazing. The spiritual effect is typically small or nonexistent, except for certain individuals — people like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk come to mind. Like priests, they are seen as able to single-handedly conjure up magic, in large part due to their ability to envision and produce amazing machines. As such, they are revered as heroic, god-like figures. The average team member at work is not seen in that same way. This is all driven by preconceptions, formed prior to experience and in the absence of reasoning. This is strongly tied to traditions, which people put great energy into sustaining. Leaders, in particular, love machines more than people. Consequently, reversing the view of people and machines is no easy task.

On Lean transformation: The trial-and-error method is a good strategy for a lot of problems, but time has proven it is not a good strategy for generating larger numbers of Lean transformations. Solutions lie first in gaining a shared understanding of the current state of leadership, which my work has sought to illuminate.

Why workers blame leaders for problems: CEOs get blamed because they most clearly represent the system, and they have far more power than others to keep the system as-is or change the system — either in ways favorable to themselves other people, or both (note also that many people blame politicians instead or CEOs, or for the decisions that CEOs make such as offshoring work). When a military or commercial ship runs aground the captain of the ship is held responsible, not just personally but for the system failure that occurred under their command. It is fair to view CEOs in the same way, because both lives, livelihoods, and property depend on CEOs decisions. Following this logic, most of my early writings held CEOs responsible. But my writings in recent years focus squarely on the system: the Institution of Leadership and the System of Profound Privilege.

Leaders and revolutions: What Taiichi Ohno meant by a “revolution in consciousness” (TPS, pp. 14-15) was specifically in the context of the waste of overproduction and “and inventory of defectives,” with people “feeling more secure with a considerable amount of inventory,” and that “buying and hoarding are natural behaviors… Modern industry also seems stuck in this way of thinking.” Since this way of thinking is no longer practical in modern industry (meaning, post 1970s low-growth era), JIT is necessary. But JIT requires business leaders to undergo a “revolution in consciousness,” meaning, a change in preconceptions. So the definition is: A change in preconceptions. Frederick Winslow Taylor called it a “mental revolution.” Same idea. Same definition. Most leaders don’t like “revolutions” (or “transformation”).

Difference between assumption and preconception: The two words are often used as synonyms. I use “preconception” because it is not exactly the same as “assumption.” Preconceptions are formed prior to experience and in the absence of reasoning. An assumption is the act of assuming something. Typically, assumptions are something that is accepted as true without proof, often with forethought. Preconception is more specific because it has greater specificity of meaning: “prior to experience” and “absence of reasoning.”

The difference between core beliefs and preconceptions: Preconceptions is a better term than core beliefs. A preconception is an idea or opinion formed prior to experience and in the absence of reasoning. Preconception is neither subjective or objective. Belief is accepting something as true or that something exists, prior to or after experience. Belief is subjective.

On criticism, again: Ideals are hard to live up to. Nobody is perfect. Hypocrisy is part of being human. Training in scientific thinking, curiosity, having an open mind, etc., sometimes gets overridden by emotions. That is why asking critical questions about Lean management itself or the Lean movement often leads to a lot of trouble.

Kaizen consultants and respect for people: The kaizen consultants from Shingijutsu did not discard Respect for People, they applied it to managers who made excuses. The kaizen consultants had the experience, knowledge, and evidence to prove that management was grossly derelict in their duties and thus deserved the rough treatment when making excuses for wanting to maintain the status quo. Management’s negligence puts the company at risk and makes all employees at risk of becoming unemployed — that managers did not take their responsibility to stakeholders seriously. The kaizen consultants were not behaving that way for personal gain. Rather, it was to impress upon leaders that they faced an emergency situation that needed to be corrected immediately and that they must make efforts to never again become complacent. So their admonishment was in the context of making excuses and to invigorate managers to accept the spirit of challenge versus the spirit of privilege (and laziness) that company leaders had become accustomed to. Chihiro Nakao recalled what he would say to managers, “Throw this out! Get rid of this! Close the warehouse! I used to ‘fire’ everyone; now only once in a while when someone gives an excuse. I am strict on people to get them to advance to the next level.”

Artificial intelligence and human intelligence: The “dumbing down of human intelligence” due to AI seems inevitable. Countermeasures seem very challenging given that the owners of the machines might be quite satisfied with that outcome. Maybe the proverb in the future will be: “Prompt AI seven times, try an eighth time” — you know, until you get the answer you want. It is difficult to see how human and organizational learning will increase when AI is trained on past knowledge. It seems more likely that AI will keep us stuck in the past, until the day it can generate actual new knowledge. So far — and it is early in its development — AI seems to be a robust confirmation bias machine.

The “appeal to accomplishment” fallacy: There is much posturing in the Lean community among some influential Lean promoters and influencers comparing one’s experiences to another, with the longer resume being held up as proof of greater knowledge or understanding. The fallacious argument can be restated this way: He is a taller basketball player than me, therefore he is a better player. But the reality is that we play different positions and have different amounts and types of experience. Consequently, our worth as basketball players is not comparable. We do different things.

The “appeal to authority” fallacy: Some influential Lean promoters and influencers regularly invoke the appeal to authority fallacy, wherein the mere fact that an authority figure (such as a CEO) has a particular view means that view is correct. That kind of weak thinking exposes either stupidity or a hidden agenda.

Too much non-thinking: Nearly all of the popular books on Lean and TPS/TW are reportage, not analysis, and certainly not critical analysis.

On the failure to persuade: Over the last 50 years we have learned how inaccessible Toyota’s production system (and The Toyota Way) has been to generations of business leaders. And the premier consultants who have taught kaizen over that period of time have mostly failed to influence leaders. The “kaizen mind” remains elusive as ever. This is the current state. So, we must ask “Why?” It is worth noting that most of the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts (ethical trainings) are at odds with the common understanding and practice of business as it emerged from the late Middle Ages and as it exists today. While one is always hopeful that awakening will soon occur among business leaders, the Institution of Leadership remains poised to vigorously defend its sacred traditions.

Lessons not learned: Had efforts been made 35 or more years ago to understand the difficulties experienced by those associated with Scientific Management, the trajectory of Lean might have been much different in terms of gaining interest and support for progressive management, from worker to CEO.

More on leadership behaviors: It is remarkable that, after 100 years of academic and practitioner studies of leadership, all the eggs still remain in the “change a leader’s behavior so the rest of the organization will change too” basket. This approach has resulted in very little success over that long time span, whether it is within the Lean construct or external to it. If there is one lesson here, it is that there has been no change in thinking among those who profess the importance of changing one’s thinking. Nor is there any deepening of the understanding of the problem and, consequently, no leveraging of the capacity for insight and no new countermeasures to try. As Deming said: “Understanding comes from outside… Knowledge from outside gives us a view of what we’re doing, what we might do, a road to improvement, continual improvement… Far better, more trustworthy, is an outside view… It is only by that outside view that we get ahead.” Unfortunately, the inside Lean-world view remains orthodox while the heterodox outside view is suppressed or ignored, thus thwarting improvement.

The paradox of why some super-conservatives love Lean: Lean’s origins are the late 19th and early 20th century progressive era. So one would expect conservatives to strongly dislike Lean (progressive) management. One one hand, they see a need to preserve traditional social, economic, and political norms with respect to government and society. On the other hand they see a need to break the social, economic, and political status quo in private enterprise via Lean — “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People.” They do not want change driven by government. Instead, they want change driven by private enterprise. Thus, they hold two contradictory views and see that as rational and appropriate for the different realms of government and private enterprise.

On artificial intelligence: AI business judgment based on large language models will surely be based on classical management, not Lean, because the Lean literature is tiny compared to classical management (and related fields such as economics, politics, philosophy, history, etc.). AI output reflects the historical business judgment of human leaders. AI will simply confirm leaders’ biases that have long been in existence and thus maintain the leadership status quo.

On being exiled: Being exiled is a blessing because it allows one to objectively study and diagnose sickness and recommend improvements. It helpfully separates one from perpetual gaslighting and inspires thinking and imagination. As one admirer said: “You’re the only writer I know who is willing to kill the sacred cows (and BBQ them for dinner!). Not many people, even with academic freedom, are explaining management behaviour at such a deep level.”

Social media and Lean: Social tells you everything you need to know about Lean; people greatly prefer simple and success, and have little tolerance for that which is complex or which requires a lot of thinking (but which produces surprising discoveries and new learning). The business of Lean has taken careful note of that.

On futility. Why do people see leadership behaviors as the actual problem and not the apparent problem? Why is problem-solving stuck for several decades on leadership behaviors? Futility is not mandatory.

On teamwork: What happens when an American, a Brit, and two Frenchman get together? The American proclaims “Lean is a strategy!” The Brit, in the authoritative British accent says “Brilliant!” and repeats Lean s a strategy!” the the Frenchman. One Frenchman says “Sacré bleu!” The other Frenchman says “We have to write a book!” They do, and biases are confirmed worldwide.

A favorite quote: “Bob presents as contrarian, but is actually quite orthodox.”

On business and government: The more you apply business logic to the public good, the less effective government is.

On productivity: For centuries, economists have been in thrall with the the idea that productivity is the “primary determinant of long-term prosperity.” The pay little attention to the idea of social stability as a primary determinant of long-term prosperity.

Leanium: Leanium is a new element, one that contains only protons (positive spin) and neutrons (silence). Leanium is inert and does not interact with any electrons (criticism) external to its environment.

Seven Giant Problems: Lean world has long suffered from these seven giant problems: 1. Thinking small 2. Risk Aversion 3. Poor Teamwork 4. Ineffective strategy 5. Ineffective tactics 6. Ignorance 7. Lack of Investment to gain a much larger audience

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