There’s Nothing Fantastic About Being Good

I was recently flipping through one of my favorite lean books of all time, Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management (affliliate link).

I often grab this book, open it up, and randomly read a page much like I do with the Bible.

You see, for me, as with the Bible, there really is nothing but goodness in Ohno’s words. 

Take for example this bit of wisdom found on page 70.

In 1956 or 1957, I saw my first American factory, but saw that what they were doing was ordinary.  There was nothing fantastic about what they were doing. 

I was able to see factories of GM, Ford, and that when a production line has been rationalized there was nothing extraordinary about it.  The more rationalization efforts progress, the more it appears they were only doing things that are obvious, from the point of view of the third party. 

When something looks fantastic there must be something bad about it.  So if you tour a factory and think “Wow!” then this is not such a good factory.  When you see a factory and think “There is nothing worth seeing here,” they may in fact be doing a lot better.

Very interesting words.  Do you agree with them?

4 Comments

  1. Brian Buck

    September 14, 2010 - 11:15 am

    As a Lean thinker, I agree with Ohno’s comments.

    This reminds me of people having to be heroes. If someone needs to be a hero to work, then there is usually a problem.

    I do know MOST PEOPLE in the US may not agree. They like the WOW factor and some thrive from the rush of being a hero. Not standing out may make people feel threatened that they have no job security. This cultural difference takes a long time before it changes.

  2. Meredith S.

    September 14, 2010 - 12:03 pm

    Yes, I’ll agree with Brian. Heroics has no place in a well-controlled process. And furthermore, it’s bad for the workplace environment and morale, because usually it’s the same people over and over who are the heroes.

    It’s true that people who are heroes usually enjoy it, like being able to say they worked a weekend. However, to have gotten to that point means there are problems.

    I don’t know about looking “ordinary” vs. looking “fantastic.” I think a well-controlled process in a workplace looks *interesting* because the work is visible, and you can see the repeatability. And for nearly all but the most mature processes, you want to be able to see problem solving occurring on a regular basis. “Ordinary” sounds like an insult. After all, people aren’t robots.

  3. Andy W.

    September 14, 2010 - 2:25 pm

    I’m reminded of the most lean company that I’ve seen, exciting in what was missing, not what was present, and some others I’ve worked in… “Wow, that equipment is OLD! They’re still running things that way?”

  4. Wilson

    September 15, 2010 - 8:04 am

    Wow in my understanding means something that call my attention. Could be a simplest thing or a complex one as a device, process or similar. I am sure I am not as clever as Mr Ohno, and in a plant tour I always find out something I did not know.

    People in a plant are doing the best effort guided for someone trying to survive in this days. So, I do not think that not saying Wow could contribute to give them a positive feedback.

    I wish someday have the knowledge an vision of Mr Ohno for not saying Wow.