5 Steps to Developing a Thinking Organization

By Ron Pereira Updated on January 13th, 2011

Scott recently asked:

Ron, you mention “thinking production system” instead of Toyota. How do you learn to “think” better? What’s your recommendation for that? I agree with your premise but in my experience, learning to think better is not trivial.

Learning to ThinkI agree, Scott. It is not a trivial matter in the least. As such, I look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts on the matter.

In order to begin the conversation, I will offer my thoughts on how we, as business leaders, might transform our organizations into thinking institutions.

1. Ask Lots of Questions

There is a reason Socrates gave so few answers… he was too busy asking questions! But there is tremendous wisdom in following the so-called Socratic method.

You see, when someone asks you a question they often have an answer already in mind. All they are doing, in many cases, by asking you is seeking validation.

So, the next time someone asks you a question a simple, yet powerful, reply may be, “What do you think?”

2. Genchi Genbutsu

The words genchi genbutsu literally mean to go and see at the actual place. In other words, when there is a quality problem in the assembly cell don’t stand in a conference room to talk about it. Go to the assembly cell and see the problem first hand.

3. Stand in the Circle

The story goes that Taiichi Ohno, one of the chief architects of the Toyota Production System, used to take new managers to the production line. Once there, Ohno would take a piece of chalk and draw a circle on the ground. He’d then ask the new manager to stand in the circle for a pre-determined length of time (i.e. several hours) and document opportunities for improvement.

We too should go to the gemba (place the work is done) and stand in the circle from time to time. You may be amazed what you see (and think).

4. Ask why, a lot

If you see a problem start asking why… you may identify the root cause of the issue straight away.

Then, when you think you may have come to the root cause implement a counter-measure and see what happens. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, adjust/act. You know, PDCA.

5. Read, a lot

If you don’t like to read… well buy some audio books! But in order to think we also have to learn. And the fact you are reading this sentence is evidence you are probably in good shape with this point.

So your challenge is to get others in your organization reading as well. The easiest way? Give them a book and ask them to read it or send them a link to this post… with close to 300 articles and over 1000 comments there is plenty to read here.

Let’s hear from you

Over the past few months you, the fine readers of LSS Academy, have blown me away with your excellent comments and feedback.

So, what do you think? I just bet you have some excellent ideas on how to go about developing a thinking organization. Pray tell.

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  1. Paul Cary

    June 12, 2008 - 5:19 am

    Thinking comes from observing, applying, repeating, doing, reinforcing, challenging, day in and day out and over time employees will start to think about eliminating waste as natural as when they drive a car. In a mature “Lean Environment” lean thinking should be as natural as breathing.

  2. Bob Delaney

    June 12, 2008 - 7:01 am

    The key is to never be satisfied with the way things are. If on time performance is 100%, shorten lead-times. If quality is good, make it better. If we become satisfied with status quo thinking stops. Great article. Thanks for making me “think.”

  3. Marty Vincent

    June 12, 2008 - 10:53 am

    I have had good results in getting people to think by listening to what they have to say and being genuinely interested – that, combined with good questions always leads to creative results.

  4. Ron Pereira

    June 12, 2008 - 1:22 pm

    All excellent comments Paul, Bob, and Marty. Thank you.

  5. Scott Edwards

    June 12, 2008 - 10:47 pm

    Great post and wonderful insight. I will definitely use this. For additional structure on the topic of honing our thinking skills I also recommend the TOC Thinking Processes espoused by Eli Goldratt and the TOC world. Washington State University’s Engineering program has some good classes on these subjects that I highly recommend if you really want to dive deep into it, especially the Constraints Management course (EM526). It’s offered online for better convenience. More info here: http://www.vancouver.wsu.edu/fac/holt/em526/

  6. Lester Sutherland

    June 17, 2008 - 8:29 am

    I agree with your comments on thinking, but Toyota is a “Learning Organization”. All their people are encouraged to think, but also to learn and spread the learning through standards that are the best known to date and are open to improvement by thinking people. For example if their is a better way to fold shirts they write it down and teach it. If a better too can be developed to fold shirts they would standardize it and perhaps even make a video.


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