What Would You Do If You Had No __?

One my favorite phrases used by my Japanese teachers’ was “__ ga nakattara dosuru?” or “What would you do if you had no__?” When I heard this I knew we were in for some fun – of watching someone stretch their mind.
“What would you do if you had no__?” was their way of challenging the thinking of the engineer or kaizen team member who had proposed a “catalog solution” to a problem, or to a manger who whose thinking had stopped at the solution that used the wallet but not wits. My teachers had been well taught by Taiichi Ohno, who wrote “Your wits don’t work until you feel the squeeze.”
Rather than saying “That is a bad idea” to a catalog solution and shutting people down, “What would you do if you had no__?” shifts their perspective. This is very important because it is hard to perform step one of the “10 commandments” of kaizen and abandon fixed ideas. Outside perspectives are a valuable part of improving through cross-functional teams, but we need to develop the skill to seek and challenge assumptions on our own as well.
For example if you said to a team planning a factory layout that involved heavy industrial machinery or involved changing of heavy dies “What would you do if you had no cranes?” this could be terribly frustrating, but at the same time very liberating. At Boeing something very similar to this happened with the innovative way wings to the airplane are built and attached. Many die changes have been reduced from hours to minutes, thanks in part to this question.
Maybe it’s something in how the brain works. Just as one of your senses such as hearing can become keener when you lose your sense of sight, constraining your thinking in one area must free you to be open to other possibilities and think more creatively.
When doing kaizen it is a good idea to shut off certain options. “Outsourcing” should not be a solution to a process problem. “Bigger batches” is to be avoided. “Add more conveyor” is right out. You have to do this based on reason, rules and principles. Luckily the TPS is built around these rules and principles (e.g. make only what sells) which take the form of tools and systems (e.g. kanban) when exposed to real-life processes.
The limiting of options actually results in a wider variety of options being considered. Limit your options to expand your options. That is sort of zen, but very true in the case of 3P (Production Preparation Process). By asking “What would you do if you had no conveyors?” or “What would you do if you had not 6-axis machines?” the team is forced to dream up seven or more process methods options, rather than pick equipment from catalogs based on known technologies.
When people learn to see a different solution by stepping away from the catalog solution and reexamining the problem through the prism of rules and principles that govern Lean, a simple yet brilliant approach often emerges. I have experienced this often and it is like watching someone who pokes a finger at the sky see their finger make a hole in the blue and white wall paper of heaven.

3 Comments

  1. Jaoma

    April 20, 2007 - 6:30 am

    Jon, you’re a cool dude. The “wallpaper of heaven” metaphor is etched into my brain and will be standard fare for all my future students (as will the issuance of your book). Really glad you do what you do man — Party on Garth!
    P.S. Good luck with book sales. I’ll be telling everyone I can about it.

  2. Sawsan

    April 30, 2007 - 4:52 am

    please, could you tell me the 10 commandments ?

  3. Jon Miller

    April 30, 2007 - 8:29 am

    The wording can differ, and I’ve seen different versions of the 10 but here are the ones we use:
    1. Abandon fixed ideas
    2. Think of ways to make it possible (rather why the idea won’t work)
    3. Don’t make excuses (if you focus on processes rather than people, you will not make excuses)
    4. Go for the simple solution, no the perfect one
    5. Correct mistakes right away
    6. Use your wits, not your wallet
    7. Problems are opportunities
    8. Repeat “Why?” five times
    9. Seek ideas from many people
    10. Improvement never ends