Warusa Kagen is a Revolution of Awareness

By Jon Miller Published on May 2nd, 2007

There is a Japanese term that I like but is sadly not used as often as others in the Lean community, and may be indicative of a lack of focus in this key area of awareness. It is warusa kagen (悪さかげん) and means “condition of badness” or “how bad things are” in the current condition. This is often expresses as the small abnormalities that are all around but unnoticed because they have not yet turned into larger problems.
There is the old rhyme:
“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost; For the want of a shoe the horse was lost; For the want of a horse the battle was lost; For the failure of battle the kingdom was lost; And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

Warusa kagen is an important notion not only when understanding the current condition and how bad it is and where the problems are prior to kaizen activity, but as a fundamental management mindset. Even when things appear to be running very smoothly, we need a critical eye for warusa kagen. Performing daily, weekly and monthly checks of various standards and procedures is one behavior that help to reinforce this mindset.
The awareness of warusa kagen reinforces the notion in kaizen that “now things are the worst ever” and that no matter how much improvement you have made, the condition of badness is severe. I think warusa kagen requires a revolution of awareness, to borrow a phrase from Taiichi Ohno. It requires a keen sense of an ideal process or condition, and how far removed from that condition the current condition really is.
Part of this revolution of awareness is learning to be very picky and demanding about cleanliness, organization, visual controls, smiles, adherence to standards in safety and work method. In the absence of these standards and visuals it can be very difficult to notice the many small things that contribute to “how bad things are” so problems are seen as big problem, and countermeasures become big, expensive, expert-driven ones.
Part of the value of 5S when used as an effective visual management tool is that it is an early warning sign of warusa kagen.
In most workplaces, it very easy to select a process at random and find 30 small problems in 30 minutes that require attention. Part of the aim of this stand in a circle exercise is to make people more aware and able to see the warusa kagen all around them.
Without the awareness of warusa kagen, there is the danger that we become accustomed to the ever so small increases in badness of the current condition. We relax when things have improved to a point, and let things slide, or look for “bigger fish to fry” because we are rewarded for fish fried, rather than problems prevented.
I don’t know if it’s true but they say that if you put a live frog in a pot of water and heat up the water slowly, it won’t jump out and you can cook it. The condition of badness is like the water. Don’t be the frog.

  1. Ron

    May 3, 2007 - 7:37 am

    OK, Jon, you probably know what I am going to ask next. What is the proper way for a man raised in Ohio and now Texas resident to pronounce this mouth full?

  2. Jon Miller

    May 3, 2007 - 1:22 pm

    Rhymes with “Tony La Russa noggin” without the Tony.

  3. Robert Thompson

    May 4, 2007 - 5:42 am

    Jon – I must say that I wasn’t familiar with this term, and never stop learning from this excellent blog. I think Ron over at Lean Six Sigma Academy said something similar in one of his recent posts. I regularly use the “old rhyme” you mention above to demonstrate cause and effect in my training sessions.

  4. azim

    April 23, 2009 - 8:18 am

    hello. i am from iran and healthcare management student. i want to know more about lean six sigma.if you have any article or another ting about it please send them to my mail. thank you.

  5. Jon Miller

    June 15, 2009 - 2:25 pm

    Hi Azim,
    I have e-mailed you some documents on lean healthcare. I recommend you search the internet for anything the NHS in the UK has done and published. There is a lot of information.
    Best of luck,

  6. linda

    September 15, 2009 - 6:46 am

    hello Tony, i appreciate your explanation about this term. I am a Chinese translator who is confused about various translation versions about this term in China, and I wonder if “semi-defect” is a proper counterpart or understanding for it. Look forward to your reply. Thanks. [email protected]

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