Words of Taiichi Ohno Sensei, Part 3: The Top 8 Pearls of Wisdom on Kaizen

Taiichi Ohno loved wordplay. He would take a few choice Japanese words and pack in as much kaizen wisdom as he could. He chose his words carefully, even though in much of his writing he was informal and direct, and not highly articulate.
During the years when I was an interpreter for Ohno’s students, the members of the Toyota Autonomous Study Group who formed Shingijutsu consulting, I had many opportunities to hear Ohno’s pearls of wisdom second hand. These are what I conside the top 8 pearls of wisdom on kaizen from Ohno, as they were taught to me. Some require explanation, some don’t. They all deserve deep consideration and action.
Sanjutsu vs. Ninjutsu
This is one of those phrases that takes 2 seconds to say in Japanese and about 20 seconds in English to explain. Mr. Ohno was fond of Ninjas. Ninjutsu is the art of technique of ninjas, the Japanese black-clad spies of the samurai era who were known for being very clever and resourceful. Sanjutsu can mean arithmetic, calculation or a colloquial term Ohno used for cost accounting. Taiichi Ohno liked to say if you use ninjutsu (your wits and your training) you could double your throughput without doubling your resources, while traditional management based on calculation could not help you do this.
The production line that never stops is either excellent or terrible.
The explanation I received was that the line that never stops either has so many extra people, buffer inventory or other “slack” that the problems never come to the surface and it is a “terrible” line, or that all of the problems have been brought to the surface and kaizen has been done so that it is fool-proofed to the point where you could not stop it if you tried, and it is excellent. This is true not only for production lines but for any operation.
You are smart enough to make excuses, so use your smarts to take action.
Check is hansei.
The check step in the PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) cycle is reflection (hansei) and this is true of course when you were not able to achieve your target but even when you do achieve your target you must also do hansei and reflect on the reasons why you succeeded so that you can use what you learned from your success.
All decision must be based on “Will this actually reduce cost” and “Will this actually result in improved business performance”.
Education is teaching what one does not know and training is repeated physical practice of what one knows. We need not only education, we need also training.
Kaizen leaders and management need more than education (what and why) but also training (how). Even today we see too many executives who “support kaizen 100%” by dropping in at the end of the kaizen event or at review points in a kaizen project, but do not involve themselves for days hands-on in order to physically practice and learn the new way of thinking, managing and doing business.
Hearing one hundred times is not as good as seeing once. Seeing one hundred times is not as good as doing once.
This is similar to the English expression “a picture is worth a thousand words” but probably comes from the saying of Confucius “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
Understanding means taking action.

1 Comment

  1. Wesley Bushby

    December 9, 2009 - 7:07 am

    It was a good check and balance for me to see this.