A Kaizen Team’s Secret Ingredient: Negative People

By Jon Miller Published on July 22nd, 2007

Ron Pereira at the Lean Six Sigma Academy is blogging all week about kaizen. Hooray. He started early, advising us in his July 19th post to “snap out of it” whenever we have a negative mindset that make us say “the problem with that is…” during kaizen.
For many years Toyota people have said
“No problem” is a problem (困らない事は困った事だ)
so these negative people are a gift, are they not?
In fact, you could say that a kaizen team’s secret ingredient is negative people. You need more than just a group of can-do people, or like-minded individuals who are all gung-ho. There is something called “group think” which famously ended one incident rather badly at the Bay of Pigs. Negative people will look for flaws in your plan and point out the areas needing kaizen before you move forward too quickly.
There is a great book called Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono. The book encourages you to recognize that we all have different modes of thinking available to us, and although one mode may be dominant, we need all of these and that there is a proper way to use each of them. This book is a must read for kaizen facilitators or anyone interested in bringing about good change.
Introducing the Six Thinking Hats approach, and communicating openly with kaizen teams upfront that “there will be a time for black hat thinking” or negative and critical thinking, frees up the so-called negative people to do what comes natural to them. You can also encourage them to try on the other hats, yellow for positive, green for creative, white for factual, red for emotional / instinctive and blue for controlling / organizing.
It works really well if you have colored pens or objects of these colors during a meeting or a heated kaizen discussion, and ask people “which color of hat are you using?” so that we can positively acknowledge when we are being rational, emotional, negative or otherwise.
Here’s one more secret: there are no negative people in this world. There are only negative frames of mind. We can change our minds, attitudes, and beliefs, from the inside. This is personal kaizen.

  1. Rob

    July 23, 2007 - 11:37 pm

    Edward De Bono also used the IQ trap model. The IQ trap is where we select information that reinforces our argument which in turn supports our ideas. He explained how IQ is like a car engine, it is the potential but thinking is the skill of the driver that operates the engine. IQ does not mean that we think well, it is the potential to. Edward flips the IQ model by saying:
    A fine statement to print out and put on the wall during any kaizen event I think!

  2. Jon

    July 24, 2007 - 10:29 pm

    Hi Rob. The IQ trap is a great bit of information and explains why people make and repeat mistakes when they do not have the habit of going to the gemba to reflect on their results (hansei) based on facts. It’s easier to believe what we know than to seek out what we don’t.

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