Awareness of a Problem Does Not Mean Much

Reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb has been thought provoking. It is a book about the impact of the highly improbable events on our lives and on history, and why humans do not forsee such Black Swan events. There are many ideas in this book that are important to anyone whose business it is to use data to make predictions. Six Sigma BBs and Lean Six Sigma gurus take particular note.
The following quote in regards to the centuries it took for the medical profession to embrace skepticism and evidence-based methods struck me as relevant to Lean implementations:
That awareness of a problem does not mean much – particularly when you have special interests and self-serving institutions in play.

The importance of having functioning and goal-aligned teams in place and a process for building consensus (if not actual consensus itself) before making changes (which you are predicting will be improvements) using particular solutions and tools be they Lean or otherwise.
I was taught very early on by my Japanese teachers that “mondai ishiki” or problem awareness is very central to the kaizen mindset. Problem awareness, or the awareness of the problem does not mean much if the people who are aware of it have special interests or motives that prevent you from solving this problem. My Japanese teachers, who were steeped in the culture of consensus, did not teach me this part, so I’ve had to learn it the hard way. This is the classic problem Lean managers and Lean engineers are faced with: the manager who is benefiting from the status quo and who is rewarded for maintaining it.
Taleb makes the point that “we must become profoundly skeptical and evidence-based.” This is very reminiscent of Dr. Deming’s notion of profound knowledge, and of course his evidence-based and experimental and experiential approach. There is an interesting distinction here between profound knowledge and profound skepticism. Taleb makes the point that what you don’t know is more important than what you know, the data that you don’t take into account is what will surprise you with a so called Black Swan event.
And still 200 pages to go…

1 Comment

  1. Chris Nicholls

    September 12, 2007 - 4:11 am

    Hi Jon
    Thanks for the recent postings, now about Mr Taleb, he seems like a very learned man. My father would always say to me “It’s not what you know it’s what you don’t know that holds you back”. He was only a working class man with little learning. I guess he believed his comment was common sense.
    Best Regards