Important Lessons in Kaizen from A Different Kind of Map

Can you guess what the small squares on this map indicate? This is an image that has been distributed on science news websites during the past week. The picture has been cropped to hide some information. This map and the tiny squares offer a lot of hope for our future. They also illustrate several important kaizen principles. Take a moment to think about what these squares could be before scrolling down the page or reading the next few paragraphs.

These tiny squares on the map are in very large in life size. These squares represent the surface are of the planet required to supply our power needs by energy from the sun. How does this map illustrate lessons in kaizen?

Get rid of fixed ideas and paradigms. Our energy comes from oil, coal, hydro and those green energy sources aren’t technologically feasible. That’s an old fixed idea. While it may have been true in the past, whenever we try to renew ourselves and do kaizen we need to challenge existing paradigms.

Visualize the ideal situation. Free, unlimited, universal, clean energy. Wouldn’t that be great? We’ll, it’s just 8 minutes away and shiny.

Go get the facts. This map is a good visualization of the facts. I haven’t “gone to see” for myself, so it could be just processed information and not facts. It did come off the internet after all… but for the sake of this illustration, and assuming they are facts, the map points us towards a possible way to bust paradigms and achieve the ideal.

Reduce waste. What is it about our current solution or process that is wasteful. Try until you can remove as many of those as you can and the result is kaizen (continuous improvement). There is still a lot we can do with kaizen in every field including energy. Sometimes it’s kaikaku (revolution) when you invent or enable a totally new process or technology, such as shifting from non-renewable to renewable energy.

Think of ways to make it possible. Don’t make excuses why it can’t be done. Whether it is converting from non-renewable fossil fuels to renewable clean energy or simply changing how we work from individual work to team work, the people who have a stake in the status quo will fight change and give every reason why the idea won’t work, why the ideal will never be reached. If we believe in the ideal, we should listen to these objections but not accept them as truth, only problems to be solved. If we had believed even half of the powers-that-be and their reasons for why it could not be done, humanity would never have made any progress.

Take responsibility for your own area.
Again this map is a good example of this concept of zone control and responsibility for improving one’s own area. The squares on the map show each region or country how much surface area is needed to generate enough power through solar energy.

Get input and ideas from many people. But it will be easier said than done. Unless you live in a benevolent dictatorship, massive efforts to install solar panels can be met with NIMBY (not in my back yard) sentiments as well as lobbying from interest groups, or simply stagnation due to bureaucratic process and government waste. People need to get engage in giving ideas on how to make it happen (not excuses).
I am not saying that solar is the answer. I’m in favor of less energy waste and making use of whatever free energy resources we have whether it be wind, algae, solar or other. We need a combination of kaizen and kaikaku and this map is encouraging for both.

5 Comments

  1. Mike

    September 1, 2009 - 6:36 am

    Free? In no way would solar energy be free. Sure, the light from the sun is free, but the infrastructure needed to capture, store, and use that energy would most definitely not be.
    In the A3 spirit–do we truly understand the problem? Is there a REAL, not imagined problem? What are we trying to accomplish with this solution? What are all the ramifications of this solution? How much land is required to support the current system? Where’s the data on our current state?

  2. Jon Miller

    September 1, 2009 - 8:52 am

    Hi Mike
    You raise some good questions. True, everything has a cost, and although solar may be virtually limitless and totally free as a source of energy, capturing, converting and transmitting it does have a cost. I would say again, “no excuses” and let’s figure out how to make those costs get lower and lower towards the idea – totally free – since the fossil fuels are neither free to extract, clean nor unlimited.
    I think the people who have been studying energy and climate change do understand the problem pretty thoroughly and there is plenty of data on the current state. It wasn’t my goal to rehash that debate or to go through a full problem solving process. Is there a real problem? The consensus in the world scientific community says “yes” and like many big problems its made of many small ones.
    How much land is required to support the current solution? That’s not the point of this map. Even if the current solution used zero land, it is not sustainable or affordable. The map is not comparing land surface area required, it is showing how much land it would be needed to power the world with solar alone.

  3. Mike

    September 2, 2009 - 10:19 am

    Beware of consensus. Just because a lot of people believe something to be true doesn’t make it so. Remember, the plural of anecdote is not data.

  4. Jon Miller

    September 3, 2009 - 12:59 am

    Well Mike, the jury may be out or it may not. Moving towards renewable sources seems like a good target in either case.

  5. Isaac D. Curtis

    September 4, 2009 - 1:05 pm

    Excellent post, Jon