Knowing When to Stop: More TPS & the Tao

By Jon Miller Updated on May 21st, 2017

There is no set path to a successful change. Although once we understand it, we see that the lean path is the simplest of things, nobody can grasp it. If our leaders could gain control of a surefire approach change management everything would come together and everyone would have understanding and relief. But instead we break apart our ways of changing and give it too many names. If we only knew when to stop talking, adding to, and dividing it up we would avoid so much waste. We could follow the path t change like a river to the sea.

If this sounds like bad college poetry or a bit of Eastern philosophy that’s because I’ve paraphrased of verse 32 of the Tao Te Ching. Traditionally it is translated in English as something like this, though interpretations vary:

The Tao has no true shape,
Although small, none can control it.
If a ruler could control the Tao
All things would follow in harmony with his desire
And sweet rain would fall, effortlessly slaking every thirst.

Once the whole is divided, the parts need names.
There are already enough names.
One must know when to stop.
Knowing when to stop averts trouble.
The Tao is as a river flowing home to the sea.

In the original:
樸雖小 天下莫能臣
侯王若能守之 萬物將自賓
天地相合 以降甘露
名亦既有 夫亦將知止
知止 可以不殆
譬道之在天下 猶川谷之於江海
There is an expression, “The best kaizen of all is to stop doing” whatever it is that you are trying to improve. It makes sense that rather than improve a process eliminating it altogether is a simpler way, when possible. Much of the reason we have waste is because we divide and separate processes that formerly were or should be connected.

Before we start into the next arbitrarily divided time period making efforts towards our time-bound and measurable goals, identified and named after some part of the whole, we should take a moment to reflect and ask ourselves, “Do I know when to stop?”

The Tao Te Ching is quite interesting to peruse for the student of lean and TPS. There are many points that appear to be deeply connected between the TPS and the Tao. On the other hand, the Tao is vague enough that a wide variety of fields from psychiatry to quantum physics see deep connections to the Tao. Have a look into this if you are curious, but know when to stop.

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