Kaizen and the Moisture Content of Fabrics

By Jon Miller Updated on May 24th, 2017

Fabric is one of the oldest technological artifacts of humanity. Water is essential to our survival and ubiquitous in our daily lives. So it is fitting that these two things come together in a metaphor about kaizen – changing things for the better.

The Wet Blanket
Our friend and contributor S.M. Junaid observed ten deadly hurdles to doing kaizen within in small and medium-sized companies. These he calls “wet blankets”. A wet blanket is typically a person who takes the fun out of a situation for others. Perhaps it came from the use of water-logged blankets to put out unwanted fires.

Junaid extends the wet blanket idiom to a set of expressions people use when they feel uncomfortable supporting or participating in change. Such people may purposely put “wet blankets” on the kaizen effort or try to persuade senior management that improvement efforts should be stopped.

Here are some examples of wet blankets that Junaid has heard:

1. We have tried it before and it didn’t work
2. Nobody else is doing it
3. Nobody is talking about it
4. It’s not acceptable to management
5. It’s not in the budget
6. You’re not the expert
7. Who do you think you are?
8. Let me think about it.
9. Do you know more than me?
10. This is not your concern

Junaid writes:

How will we move towards improvement with these 10 deadly hurdles? It is on your choice and devotion that you will only do your plain job or an effective job in your organization, without kaizen your job is not valuable for you and your organization in long-term basis.

My experience is that it is better to move slowly but continuously towards improvement, not strike or jump the hurdle as this may cause harm. The only a tool you have is determination. If you see any hurdle in your way slightly change your path but don’t stop moving forward. Cross the hurdle and again put your feet on track and move toward your destination.

Do kaizen again, again and again at last the wet blanket becomes dry.

The idea of the wet blanket reminded me of a couple of other expressions related to kaizen and the moisture content of fabrics.

The Dry Towel
After decades of kaizen, people at Toyota speak their efforts at cost reduction as being like “wringing the water from of a dry towel”. This is hard to do, unless you use that towel to go mop up moisture (problems) in a totally new area. There is still a lot of water on the floor even at Toyota, looking across the entire extended value stream from retail and distribution back through supply chain and design. In fact there is no reason whatsoever to limit the search for moisture to within the enterprise value stream. Many businesses who have developed kaizen capabilities, such as Toyota, Boeing and Group Health to name just a few, share these resources with not-for-profit and public sector causes. If you have a dry towel, know how to use it, and have time, go mop something up..

The Sponge
Although technically not a fabric but the porous and dried out bodies of sea animals, one of my sensei asked an American manager who was too smart for his own good to “become a sponge”. The message was to open up and absorb everything instead of being a wet blanket who questions everything intellectually and critically, finding fault.
“A sponge doesn’t have a brain! It doesn’t move! It just absorbs!” said the sensei, waving a soft porous block in emphasis.

The manager then pointed out that sensei was mixing metaphors between the sea animal and the household cleaning tool. This verbal judo only made the sensei’s demand more firmly that he be “brainless and motionless” for a spell.
Standing in the circle is not enough, it is necessary to enter the circle not as a damp cloth but as a dry sponge.

  1. John Santomer

    December 2, 2011 - 9:55 pm

    Dear Jon,
    Somehow, I’m seeing Gollum holding on to “Precious, my Precious” as if dear life is pouring out through his fingers. But hey, questions leading to 5 Why’s…why are we holding on, why do we not try, why cling to the old if even a fraction of improvement gives way to more opportunities, why can’t we give it a try (2nd, 3rd, 4th, nth times)?

  2. S.M.Junaid

    December 7, 2011 - 2:34 am

    Dear Jon,
    Great addition, if you are thirsty like dry sponge than you will absorb more knowledge from anybody and any where this is the central idea which I have learned from my experience.
    “Standing in the circle is not enough, it is necessary to enter the circle not as a damp cloth but as a dry sponge”
    These are the precious words for everybody’s participation in the circle of Kaizen and the path of lean manufacturing.

  3. Wesley Connell

    December 28, 2011 - 9:40 am

    Hi Jon,
    I really liked this post and how it quickly points out the questions asked by the wet blanket. I see these questions not only as an expression of the persons comfort level with change but as an opportunity to win over the hard converts. By examining the “endings” (from the transition leadership model) these wet blankets are experiencing, we can show whats in it for them and help them to bridge their fears. Converting these wet blankets, I feel, is the key to gaining buy-in from all the fence straddlers, maybe called moist towels, within the organization and transitioning them into sponges.

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