In their place I have decided to study philosophy which may make you want to yawn… but I would be less than truthful if I didn’t admit to finding the topic fascinating.
Plus if you study people like Taiichi Ohno (chief architect of Toyota Production System) you will notice his teaching is rich with philosophical thought.
So tonight I want to share one of Plato’s famous allegories as I see a tremendous relationship between it and the many challenges we as continuous improvement practitioners face.
The gist of the allegory goes something like this.
Imagine a Cave
Plato asks us to imagine a cave. Inside the cave are people chained to the ground. These people cannot move and are only able to look forward at a wall. Directly behind them is a fire burning which subsequently shines light into the cave.
Shadows on the Wall
Now then, as people on the “outside” walk by the cave shadows are cast onto the walls. The cave inhabitants have seen the shadows all of their life and as such believe them to be reality.
In fact, they believe these shadows are all there is to life. And since the shadows are the only thing the cave inhabitants have ever seen who could really blame them.
Unshackling the Prisoner
Plato then asks us to imagine someone from the outside world entering the cave and unshackling one of the prisoners. The prisoner is then allowed to exit the cave. The bright light of the sun almost blinds the prisoner and they quickly run back into the cave completely shaken with fear.
Eventually, the curious prisoner ventures back outside and realizes that what he thought was reality was in fact only shadows on the wall. The person then attempts to explain this new amazing reality to the other cave inhabitants.
Sadly the other inhabitants don’t want to hear anything about some fantastic outside world. They have grown comfortable with their life and don’t appreciate this excited person’s attempt to destroy the only reality they have known.
What about You?
So, let me ask you a few questions. As you move forward with your life – personally and professionally – how many shadows are you mistaking for reality?
And as it pertains to continuous improvement how many cave inhabitants are battling you as you attempt to unshackle them and show them a new reality?
Group think and attitudes like “this is the way we have always done it” and “you wouldn’t understand… our business is different” may in fact be nothing more than shadows on the wall.
Our challenge, if we should choose to accept it, is to unshackle these modern day prisoners showing them a far more excellent reality.
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