Should we Keep to the Middle?

By Ron Pereira Updated on January 13th, 2011

Here’s a list of principles worthy of our attention as we start the week.

  1. Carefully observe oneself and one’s situation, carefully observe others, and carefully observe one’s environment.
  2. Seize the initiative in whatever you undertake.
  3. Consider fully, act decisively.
  4. Know when to stop.
  5. Keep to the middle.

JudoThese are Jigoro Kano’s Five Principles of Judo as outlined by John Stevens in Budo Secrets.

While I’ve never studied Judo a day in my life, I do find myself attempting to follow most of these principles.  I don’t always succeed, but I try.

The one I’m most intrigued by, probably since I understand it the least is number 5 – keep to the middle. I can see how this would be valuable for someone practicing Judo. But I wonder what this means for those of us applying lean and six sigma in our organizations.

What do you think “keep to the middle” means? And should we follow this principle or go for broke and run out of bounds once in awhile?

  1. Pete Abilla

    July 20, 2008 - 11:09 pm

    “Keep to the Middle” has to do with power and control and how your stance can either maintain power and control or easily lose it. For example, stand in a fighting stance — whatever is a comfortable fighting position for you. Now, change your stance just slightly either to the right or left by bending your hips either forward, backward, or to one side. Do notice your power leaving you? Would a punch from that weakened position be as strong?

    A simple movement of even just one degree from the fighting stance of your martial art can literally mean losing the fight.

  2. Ron Pereira

    July 21, 2008 - 6:44 am

    Makes sense, Pete. Any ideas how this translates into the business world? Aside from two folks punching each other out of course!

  3. Quinn

    July 21, 2008 - 7:49 am

    Relating to Pete’s statement as you deviate from the middle your position is weakened, you could use Pete’s explanation and relate it to the Taguchi Loss Function. While the fighter may be still standing their position and power is weakened as they deviate from the middle, so to our products are weakened as we deviate from the target performance. As we allow variation to creep into our product we are opening ourselves up to be knocked down by our competitors.

    In marketing you could relate the idea of keeping to the middle to “brand imaging”, where your are not trying to stay within a physical dimension but within a perceived idea of what your business is. Some companies have successfully expanded their middle and been able to maintain a firm stance, while others have forgotten what business they are in deviated from their middle and fallen, knocked down by competitors and lost the fight or have faced long recoveries.

    Was this helpful or am I just way off on this one?

  4. Ron Pereira

    July 21, 2008 - 8:40 am

    I love it, Quinn. I think you are spot on and I didn’t even think to relate it to Taguchi’s loss function. Brilliant analogy.

  5. Pete Abilla

    July 21, 2008 - 10:02 am

    On a personal level, it really means staying centered and grounded — being grounded and centered is just plain good in any setting.

    To learn more about “being centered” — My post last night was inspired by your post: Maintain Forward Tension

  6. Ky Holland

    July 27, 2008 - 3:53 pm

    Agree with prior posts in all respects. When I read “keep to the middle” it brought to mind discussions about robustness and capacity for unexpected change and opportunity.

    In robustness, like the taguchi loss function, there is value in production and performance with a product/service/activity that is ‘in the middle’ of its robust design envelop. Design of Experiments work showed me the incredible power of finding that robust middle where product performance becomes almost immune from the effects of normal process variation and in fact the performance is even better than any any single variable optimization would have predicted. The robust middle is a place of power and intent that has the capacity for performance greater than individual capabilities and skills might otherwise provide.

    Likewise with having the capacity to respond to unexpected change and opportunity; if we are on the edge of our personal or process capability and then learn of something that demands our attention or resources we may find ourselves unable to respond or having to respond in a way that weakens us or undermines some other effort… staying to the middle means we can respond effectively and without necessarily damaging our other goals.


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