Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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A #systemsthinking explanation of lack of respect for people (fundamental #lean pillar)

I have recently finished reading this excellent paper from Raul Espejo regarding the law of requisite variety: “Giving Requisite Variety to Strategic and Implementation Processes: Theory and Practice“. Espejo is a person to read if you’re interested in the Viable System Model (see corresponding articles on this blog and my delicious bookmarks on VSM) as created by Stafford Beer.

In this paper, Espejo make the stunning comment that (I quote, emphasis mine, excerpted from page 3):

“[…] many organisations are still driven by the hierarchical paradigm that assumes the distinctions made at the top are the only relevant ones, which implies that people at lower levels are there only to implement them, but not to make distinctions of their own. Therefore the assumption is that the complexity of a senior manager is much greater than that of a professional in the production line. Somehow it is assumed that people at the top have much bigger brains than those working at ‘lower’ levels. Since they don’t, the space of creative action at ‘lower levels has had to be reduced. The assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. This becomes manifest when power is exercised by enforcing distinctions made at corporate levels to construct a limited context of action for the majority in the organisation.”

The last emphasized sentence is insightful for me: “The assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy”. What is meant is that with top management having a mental model of having bigger brains than people at lower hierarchical levels, they take on more decisions than people below them. This mental model then hinders learning from the very people that top management would probably want to have bigger brain but that they prevent them from developing… Management complains about employees being cogs in the machine, but, because they think they are, they remove every opportunity for them to turn back to being human and use their brain, which makes them further into cogs.

Another case of espoused-theory vs. theory-in-use, I guess.

In Lean, we say that management should act as coaches to their reporting collaborators and don’t give them answers (we even encourage management to let their employees fail in order to learn). It may be slower on the short-term, but probably the best way to grow them and increase productivity and morale in the longer term.

How many times today have you solved someone else’s problem?

I hope you’ll solve less tomorrow…

Are You a Sheet or Shelf Thinker? #Lean and #Vanguard

Here is a nice article from Quality Digest author Tripp Babbitt: Are You a Sheet or Shelf Thinker?

I’m not an expert in the Vanguard method, though I recognize it’s an interesting approach and one that focuses on the real place (gemba).

What Tripp mentions in his article is that people trying to improve  should first go and see the place first before trying to do something. And most of all, not blindcopying tools used elsewhere.

What would be the consequences of using tools? Well, pick in the following list, but chances are that all apply:

  • the tool might not be adapted to the actual situation under consideration (from a systems thinking point of view, we would say it does not have “requisite variety”)
  • the tool didn’t grow out of the people’s mind in the actual place. As a consequence, their mind is not acquainted to it: this is how we tag people as being “change resistant”, when the change agent is in fact “people resistant” (or a tool head)
  • applying the tool steal the thinking and the corresponding learning of their own place of the people whom you’re about to subdue with it. What kind of respect in this?
  • trying to apply a tool to a situation which you’re not an expert of (because this actual situation is as different as the other one where you took the tool from just because people are different, along with the environment, organization, etc. Different variety, that is) will make you look arrogant and pretending you have the requisite variety (false, of course). Moreover, who said you had requisite variety with respect to the place you took the tool from? Where you an expert there anyway? If yes, you’re not an expert here. If no, that doesn’t make you an expert here and now either.

The Lean coach should make his own this quote from Socrates: “I know that I know nothing“.

Do you?


Learning courses for #SystemsThinking

March 10th, 2011 Posted in Systems Thinking Tags: , , ,

#Lean may very well increase your employees intelligence…

Reflecting on my previous quick post (I really need to add value instead of just repeating what I’ve read elsewhere…) I made the link between these five practices that help increasing one’s cognition, and Lean. The practices, should you not want to read the previous post, are:

  1. Seek Novelty
  2. Challenge Yourself
  3. Think Creatively
  4. Do Things The Hard Way
  5. Network

There’s Systems Thinking playing behind the scene here as I feel (like the referred blog post’s author Coert Visser) that they are all related to one another. Let me review each point in turn and discuss it from a Lean point of view.

Seek Novelty

By constantly trying to improve the company, Lean managers strive to maintain a state of permanent change. That is, a state where nothing stays as it is forever and people need to improve constantly, thus change and fin new ways of doing things. Novelty can be found in, for instance, the 5M:

  • Methods: innovate new ways of building the widgets your company sells
  • Man: rotate or change job to discover new places in the company
  • Materials: seek new ways of using your materials, or new materials altogether to improve your widgets (or reduce your costs)
  • Machines: innovate with your machine usage: error-proof devices (poka yoke), automatic unloading (hanedashi), arranging machines into cells, etc.
  • Mother Nature: how can you innovate with the constraints of your envionment to be more efficient? Or innovate in ways to preserve the environment?

Well, you can extend the 5M to 8M if you like, you get the point.

Challenge Yourself

Lean is continuous improvement and this rythms with constant challenge: how to reach that next better point from where you are? I don’t have much to say as this is rather obvious…

Think Creatively

Again, this is what a sensei requests from employees, for instance in A3 problem solving. From Toyota Kata, one knows that constant questioning is required: what’s the problem? why is this a problem? How do you know? What could another solution be? How will you check the results? How will you “sell” your proposal to colleagues (nemawashi)?

Some of the harder problems would probably mandates to think out of the box (as Einstein said, one cannot solve the problems with the same state of mind that created them).

Do Things The Hard Way

This means, do your homework. Don’t rely on others to do it for you or rely on devices to do it for you. If TPS is not hard way, I don’t know what it is! 🙂


Well, I can see two networking tools in Lean: A3 and Hoshin Kanri: they make you meet others, discuss the topics with them, have creative and hard discussions and so exchange possibly differing points of views. A good way to maintain brain plasticity, for sure.


It is said that Lean takes ordinary people to achieve extraodinary results by making them constantly improve the processes they work in. Now, studies have shown that it also turns these ordinary people into extraodinary ones.

Given the flow of past Toyota employees moving to the Lean consulting business, I tend to believe there might be some truth in these studies.

Reblog: @DoingWhatWorks : Five principles for increasing cognitive ability

March 8th, 2011 Posted in Solution Focus Tags: , , ,

Some great findings by Coert Visser: DOING WHAT WORKS: Five principles for increasing cognitive ability.

This is to announce a great article about the fact that cognotive ability can indeed be increased and is not fixed as it was supposed to be until now. The way to improve your cognition would be to:

  1. Seek Novelty
  2. Challenge Yourself
  3. Think Creatively
  4. Do Things The Hard Way
  5. Network

(see linked article to know more: very thorough!)

Reblog: #SOLUTIONFOCUSED CHANGE: The word ‘talent’

Here is an excellent and well researched blog article: SOLUTION FOCUSED CHANGE: The word ‘talent’. There are reports on the fact that talent and intelligence may be grown and that confidence in this growing possibility actually make it more effective.

This is in line with other work on systems thinking and systemic therapy (from Palo Alto’s mental research institute and the work of, for instance, Gregory Bateson and Paul Watzlawick).

Of course, Solution Focus is an approach with roots in these works, so the article on this blog should not come as a surprise :-). I’m currently reading that book, by the way and created the corresponding category on the blog, because I think I’m going to invest more time in this!

What also strikes me is the link with experience. Aren’t we in the field of Constructionism? Isn’t it what the Thinking Production System (aka Toyota production System, TPS or Lean) is also all about?

  • Plan an experiment to learn something
  • Do
  • Check the result and seek to understand the results
  • Act / Adjust as a consequence

So, not only did Taiichi Ohno enforced doing and having experiences, he also enforced thinking out the results to ensure learning did occur (this is hansei in japanese). In effect, this probably raised intelligence of workers and he didn’t know it at that time (though he probably knew that people not doing things were indeed dumb, given the low opinion he had about most managers! 😉

May certainty help #PDCA and #Lean?

January 27th, 2011 Posted in Lean, Systems Thinking Tags: , , , , , ,

It occurred to me that uncertainty may hinder continuous improvement because it prevents action.

Consequently, people who are somewhat certain of their opinions are more willing to act and thus experiment and learn which are two root causes of improvement.

Of course, that implies that certain people are also willing to admit their errors when they act and things don’t happen as they expected. This is the purpose of Checking one’s actions and Adjusting if things went wrong (as in Shewhart/Deming‘s Plan-Do-Check-Adjust PDCA). (When things go well, it’s then time to turn the action into a new standard and diffuse it to whoever might benefit from it – in Lean, this is yokoten.)

Socrates said that you need to act to know if you’re right or not, for if you don’t act you’ll never know.

So, make up your mind, decide and act!

But always remember that you should be knowing just one thing: that you never know (until you act!)

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