An Electrically Delicious Lesson on Kaizen

What would you do if given a do-or-die mission to create a battery out of simple, non-toxic materials, from a sustainable source, without using specialized equipment, with the added requirements that said battery must prevent scurvy and be a delicious complement to a chilled cocktail?

We may think that challenges like the one above are impossible or absurd. Yet today we face such challenges as a matter of course: to design aesthetically pleasing processes or products, at ever lower costs while increasing quality and on-time delivery, with a focus on environmental sustainability and taking the human and social impact of our decisions into account.

Albert Einstein famously said, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” Therefore what we need is a different level of thinking. People often think this means a higher or more advanced level of thinking. However, what we really need is clarity and simplicity of purpose, utter dedication to solving the problem, and adherence to the scientific method. We call this spirit and practice continuous improvement kaizen.

Let’s say you are deserted on a tropical island. You need to keep your clock, LED rescue signal, or other essential piece of low-voltage survival electronics running. And you need to fend off scurvy while you await rescue. You would need to know something about science. You might even need to consult a sixth grader. Here is what they would teach you:

I visited the science fair of our elementary school last night. Coincidence or correlation, the skinny kids with glassed and bad hair had the best exhibits. The lime battery is a great example of the spirit of “just do it” kaizen. While impractical as a solution for sustainably powering our homes and industries, the lime battery does make us think about what is possible. It would certainly buy you some time with your low-voltage electronics on the deserted island, scurvy-free.

It has been said that lean management at its simplest is the application of the scientific method for continuous improvement of safety, quality, on-time delivery, profitability and employee satisfaction. When practicing lean management as the scientific method we need to do the following:

  1. Observe the facts of the situation until the problem is clearly defined
  2. Study the principles underlying the problem we are trying to solve
  3. Form a hypothesis on how the problem can be solved
  4. Design and perform an experiment to test the hypothesis and gather data
  5. Refine understanding and repeat the process until a practical solution is found

At its best kaizen, like science, is a lot of fun. At worst your experiment fails and you learn something. Even when experiments fail, you can sometimes squeeze some delicious juice out of the situation.

3 Comments

  1. John Santomer

    March 30, 2009 - 7:35 am

    This is a delicious lesson learned from failure indeed. But in the business sense, we can not tempt the stakeholders with a glass of lime juice as a consolation for failure. Even if the pros are clearly laid on the table and the risks are calculated and are covered. It is soo pitifull that most executives and stakeholders tend to “react” to stigma instead of being the inducers, sponsors and supporters of kaizen. Understandably, businesses especially in the current global financial crisis – corporations tend to lose more than “a glass of lime juice” for processes gone sour. Nonetheless, a very innovative thinker would view the situation as “a glass half full or half empty”. There are opportunities even in these times of financial crisis – it is just the stigma that can push corporations to be lean, mean and innovative on kaizen spirit.

  2. WERNER

    November 21, 2011 - 5:15 pm

    I HAVE CONNECTED 6 LIMES LIKE IN THE PICTURE AND GET NO RESULTS AT ALL AND I HAVE TRIED DIFFERENT NAILS,WIRE AND SEPARATION DISTANCE AND NOTHING.

  3. Anon

    November 21, 2011 - 5:26 pm

    If you are using alligator clips on copper wiring and nails made of iron, it should work. Try 4 limes instead of 6? Push the nails in far enough?