There is No Honor in Muri

Unreasonableness is a six syllable, sixteen letter word. It’s a lot simpler to say muri in Japanese. Certainly less precious breath is wasted without the four extra syllables.
Muri arises when you try to fight variability at the surface level rather than at the systemic level. In other words, when you try to make a quick fix rather than a root cause countermeasure to variation, the result is muri and waste.

We ran into a specific example of this not long ago with a client with a seasonal business who needed to move assets in and out to match the peaks and valleys of demand. The systemic problem was a lack of even demand for their services. As a result their were either trying to do too much with too little resources, or they were spending management attention on ramping down to keep the costs low during slow times.

They recognized that this variation (mura) which they could not control in the short term and their response to it of trying to accordion their resources was not reasonable. It created waste. They will need to address their service mix and reconsider their target market in order to address this muri and waste.

Mu means “not” or “none” while “ri” means “reason” or “logic”. Muri is irrational, and it creates waste.

In the prevailing culture of management in the U.S. and particularly in entrepreneurial or innovative, product-driven companies, there is a celebration of heroic effort.

Overcoming adverse conditions to do the impossible is considered a good thing. Too often little consideration is being given as to the root cause of these impossible conditions. While this may be necessary in the early start up days, it is not a way to build a sustainable business in the long term. It is muri.

In the Toyota way of thinking, there is no honor in muri. Being busy is shameful. Slow down and do what is reasonable. Find out why you are so busy. It’s only rational.

2 Comments

  1. Erik

    July 19, 2007 - 10:21 am

    I like that you pointed out that heroic efforts to overcome impossible odds is celebrated in western management. I would say it’s coded into our very culture and perhaps even deeper. This is something that occurred to me a few years ago and I’ve reflected on this deeply since then.
    Think of almost any movie you’ve ever seen. (John Wayne Westerns, Die Hard, Superman, etc). In every one, the lone hero rides in with guns blazing to save the day against near impossible odds. How similar is this to what we often do in business? Either the cult of personality CEO hired as a “turn around expert” or just the daily “fire fighter” who expedites the order through the process and gets the order out on time (but over budget). Many businesses suffer from this “hero” culture.
    Taken a step further, if you think about it, a hero can’t exist without a crisis. Nobody ever made a movie about how Superman performed TPM on the train BEFORE the brakes failed and it became a runaway filled with orphans. So I wonder, does a hero culture purposely create mura and muri because it needs it to survive and feel that they are “doing a good job”?
    Lastly, if heros need crises, then crises need victims (the orphans or the women trapped in burning buildings). The problem I have here is that the victim mindset says, “I’m just an innocent bystander. I need saving.” If a victim assumes they were not part of the problem, this implies that they needn’t be part of the solution. After all, the hero will save the day. Again, this may be great in Hollywood, but dangerous in the gemba.

  2. Dan Markovitz

    July 21, 2007 - 5:58 am

    Your comments are dead-on. So many of my clients are proud of their ability to pull rabbits out of hats at the last minute.
    Whether it’s for a new product launch, putting on a conference, or just getting the new budget settled, they work late at night and on weekends to overcome obstacles and last minute problems. But if you constantly have to pull a rabbit out of a hat, you’re not doing your job right. And in the long run, it’s not sustainable: people will burn out because of the “muri.”