Gemba Keiei, Chapter 2: If You Are Wrong, Admit It

In the second chapter Taiichi Ohno continues to gently lecture senior managers. He begins by answering the question of based on his earlier assumption “Why are we wrong half of the time?” by saying that our thinking is wrong. The word he uses to explain this is “misperception”, “delusion” or “illusion” as in “optical illusion”. Essentially, we are wrong when we believe in something that is wrong.

Here Ohno uses the example of two lines of equal length. Place horizontally and in parallel (as in the = sign) these lines are clearly the same length. Placed perpendicular (like the letter T upside-down) one line looks clearly longer.

Try it! It’s a great demonstration of how we can believe in something that is wrong (misperception).

So how can you tell by just looking when two are the same length and when one is longer? You can’t. Sometimes in this world it’s better to just try it. Take the line and move it and you will see. Take two matches and demonstrate this to your kaizen team and it will drive home the importance of the ‘just do it’ mentality.

Ohno says that these illusions or misconceptions are very common. When they are our ideas or beliefs rather than measurable lengths of match sticks, it is harder to work it out by explanation. You just have to try it and you will often find that the opposite of your belief is true, and that you are wrong.

If you give your troops ten commands and half of them are ‘misconceptions’ or wrong, then you have to do as Confucius says and ‘mend your ways’. Admit it. Give new orders. Save your troops. Win the war.

Ohno makes the point that the best way for workers on the Gemba to see that the current way of working is wrong (not as Lean as it could be) is to have them try many things hands on.

The following paragraph contains an important thought that is too often missing from kaizen efforts today. When you give the order for people to try something different, follow up. Go to Gemba and see if you were right or wrong. If it is not working, apologize and admit that you are wrong. That way, your workers will find it easier to admit that they are wrong. By seeing that their leaders are willing to correct their mistaken beliefs based on observed evidence, others will be more willing to try things and change their beliefs.

Ohno places the key to being able to persuade people to change on the freedom to admit that you are wrong half of the time. By being able to say “See, I was wrong. Now try something else” it actually encourages people to cooperate with you and help you. This is contrast to the traditional following of orders, right or wrong, which eventually erodes confidence and willingness to blindly follow.

Without misperceptions or wrong beliefs there would be no need for persuasion. Ohno observes that the more that someone is an intellectual, the more misperceptions he or she is likely to have. Although Ohno does not explain this belief, I would venture that it is because people who have amassed great amounts of knowledge have probably had less chance to go to Gemba and “try it out” to see if what they believe is actually true.

If you fancy yourself a Lean thinker go ahead and test your beliefs the next time you think you are right. If you are wrong, admit it. Make Mr. Ohno proud.