As one who studied martial arts over the years, I became used to the concept of a kata. Students learn the basic movements of the martial art by following a routine called a kata. When students first learn a kata, their movements are clumsy and lack finesse and power but as the student progresses up the belts from white to yellow, green, blue, brown and eventually to black belt, the movements become more and more refined. Power is generated with less effort. The student’s movements take on a grace and elegance. The student learns from a master and as the student practices, the movements become natural and fluid.
The purpose of the kata is to teach the student the behaviors so they become automatic, so that you don’t need to think about them. They become second nature.
For those of you who saw “The Karate Kid”, you’ll remember the famous wax on, wax off. The same concepts are true for the problem solving kata. When we first learn the scientific method of problem solving it seems unnatural and our attempts to use it are clumsy. People often complain it takes them longer to solve problems using this new routine and why can’t we go back to the old way of just putting a temporary fix on problems and moving on rather than trying to get to root cause and experiment. Thus the need for a qualified teacher, a master who can coach, mentor and guide the student in the use of the new kata. This is a key role for Leaders to take on.
It takes time to learn the new kata and it takes time to learn to teach the kata. Just like the students working towards their black belts, there are years of practice and repetition required to gain mastery of the behavior until it becomes second nature. Along the way, the martial arts students learn discipline, concentration, body movement and physical fitness leading to improvements in body, mind and spirit.
Along the Lean journey as we learn the problem solving kata we learn discipline, concentration, and thinking to solve many problems the organization has been facing leading to improvements for the people, customers and organization.
There are many parallels between the martial arts and problem solving; one of the most important is the concept of a kata with standardized movement and routine being foundational to both.