Taiichi Ohno

Gemba Keiei by Taiichi Ohno, Chapter 28: Wits Don’t Work Until You Feel the Squeeze

By Jon Miller Updated on January 5th, 2018

“When I’m sitting in the board room I have no idea what’s happening on the gemba.” Taiichi Ohno begins, and proceeds to tell the story of what would happen when he was sitting in another office, Production Control. When his eyes met the eyes of a female office worker she would always pick up the phone and make a telephone call.

“If the person on the other end of the phone was free that may be okay, but if they were working the call is a nuisance to them.” This office was a typical Japanese open office and the lady felt uncomfortable when her eyes met Taiichi Ohno’s eyes, so she picked up the phone to look busy. She was not only wasting her time, she was wasting someone else’s time on the other end of the line in an effort to look busy.

“The gemba is not the only production floor. When you observe what is happening in the office or any workplace you should notice a lot of things. A lot of managers just think it is their jobs to keep everyone from getting bored. As long as people aren’t bored, they won’t complain. They’re not thinking about ‘What should we be working on now?’ They don’t know how to use their wits to come up with good ideas.”

“I talked about the ‘game of wits’ earlier but your wits don’t work until you feel the squeeze. So think how you can put the squeeze on people.” When people are in difficult positions they will use their wits, because they must.

“How can you put the squeeze on people? You have to put the squeeze on yourself, and struggle together or you won’t use your own wits either.”

Taiichi Ohno says that his ‘game of wits’ is thinking of ways to make people feel the squeeze, make them feel desperate, so that they will be forced to use their wits and come up with good ideas. When managers don’t challenge their subordinates and make them feel desperate Ohno says it is often because the managers themselves don’t use their wits and have no solutions.

When their subordinates say “It can’t be done” in response to a challenge, these managers accept this answer. Ohno says you must make people feel that saying “It can’t be done” is not an option because the situation is that desperate. But as a manager you must also feel as desperate and use your wits and think about how to solve the problem.
“I suppose this means you have to become an attractive human being.” Since there are mostly men in automotive companies, Ohno says it’s a question of how to be a man that other men are drawn to. “Men think hard about how to attract the opposite sex, but rarely do men think about how to become attractive to other men, to become a man that other men will follow anywhere.”

At this point Ohno must have looked up from the manuscript he was writing, in between his work teaching kaizen and the Toyota Production System to Toyota Boshoku. He writes:

“The ladies at Toyota Boshoku are very charming and kind. At my age I don’t do what I do to draw the attention of these ladies. But it’s true that whether it’s men or women, when people are drawn to you they will volunteer to get things done for you.”

As a way to become an attractive person Ohno says it’s important to go to the gemba frequently to make people comfortable talking to you.

“It’s much better for the ladies to feel comfortable smiling at you when your eyes meet, rather than making a telephone call. So I guess I have to seriously think about what I have to do to keep her from picking up the phone.”

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