Lean Manufacturing

Undivided Wholeness in Flowing Movement

By Jon Miller Published on October 31st, 2006

Scientist, philosopher and author David Bohm presents challenging ideas on the nature of reality. They are challenging not in that they are difficult (if you are patient with the Calculus) but in that they challenge how we perceive, think and believe.
David Bohm makes a case in the book Wholeness and the Implicate Order for reality and knowledge being a process, rather than a thing. In the same way, kaizen is a process and not a thing. High performance is a process and not a thing. Operational Excellence is a process and not a thing.
Quantum theory states that we are part of what we observe and that by observing it we change it. In a similar way we are also a part of the business system that we try to describe, either because we work within it or because we have some indirect, long-term influence as producers or consumers. Making a link from macroeconomics to quantum physics may be a stretch, but stretching is good for you.
After arguing that the prevailing scientific worldview is one that results in fragmentation, and that our language itself causes this fragmentation, Bohm argues for viewing the implicate order of reality in what he calls the Undivided Wholeness in Flowing Movement. I think this is a beautiful phrase, even if “undivided wholeness” seems a bit redundant.
Undivided Wholeness in Flowing Movement for business means that we are all part of a more rational way of doing business that exists a priori, whatever name we choose to give it. Whether we like it or not we are all part of the great supply and demand chain ecosystem. Attempting to observe just a part of it and give it defintion, such as “what happens in a factory” or even in an extended customer-supplier value stream, is limited at best and fragmented at worst, resulting in dangerous local optimization that can not only damage our businesses but destroy our planet.
A term like Undivided Wholeness of Flowing Movement is certainly less precise than the current buzzwords for effective management (ryhmes with “bean”). It is not precisely limited or distinguished, but you can also say it is not fragmented. Flow is an undeniable condition of nature. We are happiest when money, blood, air, electricity, ideas, etc. are in flowing movement.
Bohm makes effective use of the analogy of seeing through a lens versus seeing a hologram or arguing for an undivided wholeness:
As Galileo noted the distinction between a viscous medium and a vacuum and saw that physical law should refer primarily to the order of motion of an object in a vacuum, so we might now note the distinction between a lens and a hologram and consider the possibility that physical law should refer primarily to an order of undivided wholeness of the content of a description similar to that indicated by the hologram rather than to an order of analysis of such content into separate parts indicated by a lens.
As Bohm noted the above, so we can note that what we observe in the work that is done in a business, and rules of the Toyota Production System should recognized to the whole rather than the separate parts. Everything is connected, as part of the implicate order. Lasting success in business is impossible if you go against the order of things. One piece flow and the connecting of processes one-to-one makes sense across an entire value chain, even when at very local levels it may not appear to do so. This appearance of local efficiency is due to the limitations of our measurement systems (traditional accounting) or the fragmented value systems we hold that place economic value on extreme local level phenomena.
Business should take a holistic approach. This means thinking beyond what is good for the shareholders (the explicate order) to what is good for the broader set of stakeholders that includes, employees, the community and the environment (the implicate order). When the pursuit of operational excellence is driven primarily for the profit that goes to a few executives or traders of stock at the expense of the wider community, this divides the flowing movement of the whole. Rather than doing whatever it takes to get the result you want, keep doing the right thing and things will turn out right.
To those rolling their eyes at these diversions from the practical lessons of TPS, the good news: tomorrow is November.

  1. Jon Nett

    November 1, 2006 - 1:51 pm

    The theory that we should take a holistic approach to gemba management reminds me of Taguchi’s theory that the cost of poor quality should be seen as the cost to society as a whole rather than just the local costs of non-conformance. For example if a part meets the given specs, but wears quickly, it has to be replaced often, which costs the customer in replacement parts. This can be taken a step further as a cost to society as a whole as more resources (water, coal, landfill space for waste, etc) have to be used to make the replacement parts. It makes since that this theory was derived in post-war Japan, where such resources were very limited.

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