Why You Need A Tatakidai

When people say to me “We don’t need no more stinkin’ Japanese words in our Lean vocabulary,” I don’t argue. Most of us aren’t using all of the ones we’ve got anyway. Why acquire knowledge you don’t intend to use for good?
But I will humbly submit that there is one more that should be added to your list, even at the expense of bumping one other out of your Lean vocabulary list (kamishibai is a candidate for removal). The word is tatakidai (叩き台). Tatakidai literally means “beating board” or chopping block.
This is quite different from the English expression “to put one’s head on the chopping block” which implies taking a courageous or controversial position that opens you to criticism. On the contrary, using a tatakidai is a safe way to present an plan with the goal of building consensus for the idea.
The tatakidai may have come from the practice of the Japanese “banana bargain sale performance” (バナナの叩き売り) in which the seller / performer would beat the tatakidai rhythmically while entertaining the passers by. One way or another, whether the bananas were damaged or a bit overripe, the bananas were sold. The important thing is that people stop to watch, and many of them buy. Nobody says “Those bananas are too ripe! You shouldn’t sell them!” The banana seller drums his tatakidai until a price is agreed. The banana seller understands that management is performance art.
In business use a tatakidai is a springboard for discussion, an opening position, a draft proposal, if you will. A tatakidai is starting point for bringing about change. The Japanese have a word called nemawashi, coming from the idea of preparing the soil for transplanting a tree from one area to another, so that it will live. Nemawashi in business is preparing people’s minds to accept an idea. It is consensus building.
Working within the Toyota Production System or managing by the Toyota way, almost any idea would be considered a tatakidai since decisions are made slowly through consensus, rather than rapidly and top down. Practically we can use value stream maps as tatakidai, or starting points for discussion about what we need to change about our processes. The sketch of the material and information flow should build understanding and agreement on what the problem is.
The A3 report, the one page document that is named after the paper size, is another great tatakidai. We use it to enlist the help of stakeholders and others knowledgeable in the issue to grasp the situation correctly and describe the problem. Scientist, engineer, inventor and General Motors “boss” Charles Kettering said:
“A problem clearly stated is a problem half solved.”
A problem statement that has been beaten up on a tatakidai has a much greater chance of success. Even if not everyone agrees completely with every detail of the plan, reasonable people will go along with it when they have had their say in developing the idea from tatakidai to implementation plan.
For something as important as converting to a pull system, implementing Job Instruction or learning and practicing Lean, don’t put your head on the chopping block and risk a good thing being denied. Instead, pull out your tatakidai and let everyone beat on it until consensus is achieved so that action can be rapid and smooth. If you don’t like the word, make up your own. It’s only a tatakidai. The idea behind it is what is important.

1 Comment

  1. Dan Boos, President/Managing Principal

    August 31, 2007 - 6:47 am

    In consideration of ‘tatakidai” one must also take into account the cultural orientation of a business. Tatakidai and for that matter, “nemawashi” are Japanese concepts that are wholly consistent with naational culture that requires and embraces agreement and alignment more than most. This may be in part due to influences such as limited geography or a sophisticated tradition of respect for the group by the individual. Some have called this the “quiet way of doing business”. In the west, again maybe due to expansive geography, conforty has not been embraced as dearly as in the east and one could argue that the “loud way of doing business”, is most often practiced and rewarded. This becomes particularly evident when westerners attempt to do business with the Japanese. They do not understand that nemawashi is being practiced and that progress, though appearing to be slow, is quietly underway. There is significant value for the west to integrate concepts such as tatakidai and nemawashi into major change management efforts, particularly at he sponsor and change agent levels. The key word here is integrate. A western company will find it challenging to fully adopt such practices, particularly with a western workforce. Not that it can’t be done in large part as Toyota and Honda’s American operations have successfully demonstrated. But, then again, those are Japanese transplants with Japanese leadership employing Japanese shadow support to American managers. Finally, any major change initiative will benefit from clear communication of the mission and the time taken to perform nemawashi, thus tatakidai, may prevent a false start, re-work or even failure in implementing a change.