Thursday, March 24, 2011

What is Kaizen Spirit?

By Pascal Dennis

Change is hard. Sustaining change, even harder.

We need an indomitable spirit -- which my senseis called "kaizen spirit"

Kaizen spirit comprises three things:

1. Cheerfulness -- the conviction that, no matter how tough things are today, tomorrow will be better.

In spite of everything, we'll keep improving and solve our most difficult problems.

2. Go see -- the desire to experience life first hand, to get out of the office and into the Gemba.

The willingness to work with front-line team members with humility and openness.

3. Get your hands dirty -- we roll up our sleeves and try stuff with our colleagues.

We practice our core techniques: problem solving, and pull in Lean tools as required.

We run experiments to prove cause and effect. Then we lock in countermeasures with standardized work & visual management -- and share what we've learned. 
Here's an assignment for ya'll: Draw a picture of kaizen spirit.
Have fun. And don't worry if you're "not an artist".
Arrows, boxes and stick figures work just fine.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hubris -- What's the Countermeasure?

By Pascal Dennis

Hubris is the ancient Greek word for arrogance, excessive pride or self-confidence. Hubris is arguably the most dangerous enemy of great companies.

What's the countermeasure?

Humility -- the extreme awareness of limits, of standards, of all that we are not.

Visual management, 5 S, standardized work and all the other elements of the Lean business system are designed to keep us humble.

Our old Toyota plant in Cambridge Ontario won many awards. "How could they give us an award?" we'd wonder. "We're so screwed up..."

We need great companies -- they show us what's possible. And great companies need humility -- for the same reason."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What is Hubris?

By Pascal Dennis

"The US Department of Transportation has completely cleared Toyota of any safety issues beyond those identified and dealt with before the safety crisis. Yet Toyota has recognized internal difficulties in both growing too fast and not listening to customers enough. What should we learn from the whole episode?"

An iconic company, synonymous with safety and quality, has been brought low by plaintiff lawyers and an opportunistic government.

My sense is Toyota's reputation will recover quicker than expected, whereas the government's has suffered yet another heavy blow. 

Harpers February 2011 issue has an interesting piece entitled "A Super Bowl Spot for Uncle Sam -- Can Madison Avenue Make Us Love Our Government?"   

Short answer: not if they keep doing this sort of thing...

In any event, I believe there are valuable lessons here. 

Hubris -- excessive pride or self-confidence, arrogance -- is a dangerous enemy.  

"He who the gods would destroy, they first hold high" Euripides tells us.  Has Toyota displayed signs of hubris the past decade?  Did hubris contribute to the breakdown in communication with regulators and in public relations, that Steven talks about?"

Toyota's business system, as I understand it, is designed to make problems visible -- problems in the Design, Make and Sell "loops" -- so that skilled problem solvers can:

a) get to root cause and fix it, and 
b) share the learning gained thereby.  
If so, somewhere the system indeed broke down.

My chums at the company's North American plants have often worried that "we're becoming just another North American car company."  They lament the increasing use of the "iron fist" of the North American management style.

Where there's smoke, there's fire -- or at least a flickering ember or two.

I don't want to be misunderstood.  I've no doubt Toyota will get to root cause & share the learning gained.  I'm confident Toyota will regain its lustre and become a paragon again.  But Toyota, and all great companies need eternal vigilance against their eternal antagonist.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japanese Disaster

Our hearts and thoughts go out to the Japanese people in their time of need after the terrible disaster they experienced in first the earthquake and then the tsunami. The images of that powerful wave of sea water rushing in and sweeping up everything in its path were overwhelming. The awesome destructive force of the tsunami was incomprehensible.

The Lean movement owes much of its roots to Toyota and to the Japanese people. Lean and Japan have always had a special bond.

As we were taught, Lean is based on a few key principles:

- Respect for Humanity

- Elimination of Waste

- Continuous Improvement

We urge you to join us and Lean Pathways in respecting our Lean roots by supporting the disaster relief effort in Japan by donating to the Red Cross Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami relief fund. You can access it through the attached link:  by going to the link on the Lean Systems home page.

Thanks for your support

Al & Pascal

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why is laughter important in business?

Because it makes things small and personal -- and thereby helps to dispel Big Company Disease.

Big companies take themselves seriously. Laughter punctures the balloon and drenches things in the light of sanity.

For organizations big & small, I'd say "embrace your inner smallness".

I give a talk called "Everything I Learned I Learned in a Greek Restaurant"
People seem to like it.

Greek restaurants are the epitome of small, fast and funny.

Small and fast always beats big and slow.

That's it.


Monday, March 7, 2011

What is Courage? How does it relate to True North?

The ancients defined Four Cardinal Virtues:

Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Courage.
Courage -- the capacity to overcome fear -- is the most admired.

In the book Getting the Right Things Done, I defined True North, our strategic and philosophical purpose, as follows:

"Something for the head, something for the heart..."

How does courage relate to True North?
Breakthrough -- transcendent, enduring achievement -- requires all the Cardinal Virtues, and courage most of all.

Courage, like True North, entails head and heart.

Courage without the head is simply foolhardiness.

Courage means you understand the risks, and do it anyway.

Is courage a virtue under any circumstance? I'd say not.

(Is a courageous terrorist admirable?)

Courage is admirable when exercised in the service of others -- of a greater good, of  True North.

In summary, achieving True North requires all the cardinal virtues and none more than courage.

In fact, all the virtues depend on courage.

Best regards,


Thursday, March 3, 2011

"How will you motivate your team, Pascal-san?"

This question has stayed me for 20 years.

How indeed, do we motivate people to do extraordinary things?

Many schools of thought.
The oldest, surely is the carrot and stick. "Do as I say or I'll do bad things to you..."

There's no denying that it works in certain scenarios.

But does the carrot and stick motivate creative work -- the kind needed for breakthrough?
Does the Steve Jobs motivate his designers thus?
No doubt there's an element of fear - "Don't want to disappoint Steve..."

But can fear alone motivate the Mac, MacPro, IPod, IPhone, IPad...?

I think not.

Transcendent achievement, in my experience, requires connection to a deeper purpose -- to a noble goal.

Jobs' celebrated hoshin -- Let's put a ding in the universe -- is a good example.

Jobs touches the heart (And our hearts go out to him and his family in this difficult time.)

In the book Getting the Right Things Done, I defined True North as follows:
"Something for the head, something for the heart..."
To overcome the inevitable hurtles, hassles and hammerheads we need courage -- and that only accrues when the head and heart are in sync.

More on courage is future blogs.

Best regards,