Going to the place work is done – sometimes referred to as ‘genchi genbutsu’ – ‘go and see’ – is a core part of the Lean approach. There are numerous stories about Taiichi Ohno, one of the principle architects of the approach that became known as Lean, and many of these stories feature his preoccupation with going to see what actually happens, as opposed to what people think happens.
A fascinating book, ‘The Birth of Lean’, contains accounts of the development of Lean thinking. Two accounts relate to Ohno’s focus on looking. One illustration of this is the ‘Ohno Circle’. Taiichi Ohno would draw a circle on the floor of a production line floor, and invite his trainee to stand in the circle and….watch. This would go on for some time, until Ohno was satisfied that the person had seen all there was to see, or at least had learnt the method.
The same book has an anecdote about an irritable Ohno (he seems to have been an irascible character) being asked for advice on a problem by a junior colleague. Ohno inquired why he was being asked, given that the manager had seen the problem for himself and he, Ohno, had not. The message was clear – Ohno believed that the person who had seen the situation was in the best place to draw conclusions on the nature of the problem. For Ohno, however, this required the person to really see what was happening. He used an expression about people looking with ‘tinfoil eyes’, which was explained as meaning that it looked as if the person’s eyes were open, but without them seeing.
This cuts to the core of the issue – how do you see what is truly there, rather than what you expect to see? And once you have formed an opinion, how do you continue to gather information without your developing ideas censoring what you take from the later observations? Taking a mindful approach may be one possibility. Mindfulness is often thought of in the context of relaxation or of management of anxiety or depression – and it has an important role in these settings. These are more of an effect of a mindful approach, however – mindfulness involves ‘focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations‘. This approach, of being present in the moment, and being aware of what thoughts you have, without automatically accepting them as ‘correct’ strikes me as a good approach to take in observations.
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