Sensei and Sensibility

Please excuse the pun. I’m increasingly convinced that awareness and sensibility outweigh knowledge and capability when it comes to being a Lean leader or teacher of kaizen. Taiichi Ohno called for a “revolution of awareness” and I believe his habit of making people stand in the circle was aimed at developing the sensibility of the managers at Toyota more than anything else.
In a Lean working environment, the problem awareness of a leader or teacher should be acute. The smallest item out of place in your workplace should bother you. With “safety first” in mind, you will see signs of danger or near-misses everywhere. With a firm mental image of the ideal condition, and open eyes directed at the gemba, gaps should be visible everywhere.
Too many times we expect our teachers to point out the solution to a problem or to simply walk us through the problem solving process. We want to share the burden of our problems and we want the problem to go away. We reach into the tool box and begin hammering away at whatever sticks out. This will drive the problem underground for a while.
The first step in problem solving is to grasp the problem fully by getting the facts. Getting the facts requires perception and awareness at the earliest opportunity, by the person closest to the point of occurrence. This behavior must be modeled by leadership so that in their absence the rest of the organization behaves in this fashion.
Sensibility requires a combination of perceptions and awareness. This is the difference between teaching Lean tools and teaching Lean thinking. It’s not the years of experience or knowledge that sets the sensei apart from the Lean expert, it’s sensibility.

1 Comment

  1. Rick Foreman

    November 30, 2007 - 11:30 am

    Simple but great observation concerning what true lean is all about in my opinion. My experience would say that lean thinking is embedded in a culture more succinctly through leading lean instead of just teaching lean. The ability to grasp the root of a situation and work within a team environment to implement a “real” improvement is paramount to changing the behavior within an organization.
    Great post!