What Are Your Lean Precepts?

A multi-ethnic group of elementary age children are standing together in formation during their karate class.

At Gemba Academy, we are not shy about using Japanese words when it helps to keep the lesson clear and concise. For others, less is more when it comes to using Japanese terminology as part of lean practice. Whatever words are used, the influence of Japanese thought in lean management is undeniable. A good example is how elements of martial arts like karate or judo, for better or worse, are part of lean.

The term sensei is used in the lean parlance not to mean “school teacher” but rather “master” as one would refer to a seasoned martial arts instructor or a senior craftsman. These instructors do not solve problems for their students or give answers, but instead give them kata, patterns of movement, behavior or thought, to practice. In martial these are blocking or striking motions to practice again and again until the student is able to automatically make the right defensive or attacking motion when the situation calls for it. The term kata has come into common use in lean to mean the series of open-ended problem solving questions. Originating in six sigma but increasingly common in lean, expert practitioners seek to earn their Black belt, as do martial artists. The belts are earned after years of practicing the kata, upon examination by the sensei of how the student’s knowledge and practical ability. Some companies have even adopted the term dojo for their internal lean learning centers where people learn and practice under guidance of a sensei.

In light of this it is surprising that companies have not adopted what is called a “dojo-kun”. These are most commonly found in Japan, but also in any dojo that views purpose of their particular martial art as more than sport, fitness or a self-defense instruction business. The word “kun” means lesson, command, rules, doctrine or precepts. What is a precept? The fact that many people can’t answer this question speaks to the lack of emphasis on morals in business and in society. Precepts are general rules intended to regulate behavior or thought, most often in a moral and ethical direction. At that deepest level, lean is about precepts, or the molding of behavior and thought.

Here are the five precepts you will find posted inside a Shotokan Karate dojo, with explanations.

I – Strive to build good character. The purpose of karate is not simply to become a better fighter but to become a more kind, honest, and just person who contributes positively to society. This is the first and foremost precept.

I – Stay on the path of truthfulness and honesty. Be sincere, trustworthy and reliable.  Avoid lying, do what you say you will do.

I – Strengthen the will to strive. Success comes through effort. Develop the spirit or will to try hard and give it your best.

I – Be respectful of courtesy. Politeness and courtesy are viewed in Japanese society as the indication of a person’s character and also as a reflection on the orderliness of society.

I – Keep a cool head. Be slow to anger. Use karate to protect others, but apologize or run rather than starting a fight and getting people hurt. Don’t strike first.

The karate sensei who incorporates these five precepts into each interaction with students will make an impact far beyond the physical.

In lean we talk a lot about respect for people. How many leaders start a lean transformation in order to develop better people, rather than to win a fight? How many of us practice lean in order to improve our character? To become more honest and sincere? To strengthen our will to strive and resilience? To become more polite and civil? To seek peace rather than aggression? Without precepts, or general rules to guide behavior and thought, lean becomes just a set of kata without heart. What are your lean precepts?

1 Comment

  1. Stuart Morris

    September 12, 2016 - 9:33 am

    It is not about the words it is about the actions. Whether you use the Japanese terms (which I steer away from) or use plain English (or whatever language is prevalent) it will all fall down if people don’t buy in and take part. If you say you will do something do it, if you say you will stop doing something stop and if you offer to change the way you do something then change but the main thing is be seen doing it and foster further participation.