Seeing Problems for What they Are, Or Lean Insights from G.K. Chesterton

By Jon Miller Published on October 25th, 2007

G.K. Chesterton was an extremely clever early 20th century writer who used many twists of phrase to make his points. His style of thinking and the points he makes at times makes me wonder if members of the Toyoda family read and were influence by his thought. Chesterton said:

“An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.”

So true yet so hard to see things this way when you are in the middle of such an “adventure wrongly considered.” This is like the Lean notion that “problems are opportunities” or Toyota’s famous saying that “no problem” is a problem. We need to see problems for what they are, the exposed potential for making things better. It’s all a matter of perspective and positive expectation. He also said:
“How you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.”
Hansei and “fall down seven times, get up eight” are both things I learned in Japan. But even when facing our adventures rightly considered, we as change agents and reformers need to be humble in our efforts to point out what is wrong, in seeing opportunity-problems everywhere. As Chesterton tells us:
“The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”
We need to acknowledge the good and worthwhile things, rather than get caught up in a fervor to make radical changes in the name of improvement. Sometimes what is needed is kaizen (continuous improvement) rather than kaikaku (radical change or reform). In the spirit of experimentation and PDCA, Chesterton says:
“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”
Another quote of Chesterton’s which I like, and very true to the spirit of Lean:
“The simplification of anything is always sensational.”
And most certainly fitting is the Toyota notion of continuously improving towards the ideal, in Chesterton’s words:

“Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision, instead we are always changing the vision.”

We should be made the wiser for these words.

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