Don’t Be an Expert at the Gemba

Don’t Be an Expert at the Gemba

In today’s post I will be talking about being open-minded at the gemba. I heard a wise saying;

“Minds, like parachutes, only work when open.”

I am sometimes guilty assuming that I know completely about the matter at hand – that I am an expert. I would be at the gemba and instead of listening to the operator talk, I would be talking to the operator, and trying to find solutions on my own. This type of thinking results in three things;

  1. I am not respecting the operator or his expertise by not being open to his suggestions. The operator is truly the expert since he has been doing this, day in and day out.
  2. By rushing to solutions, I am wasting the opportunity to develop the operator. By providing the solutions, I am taking away the privilege for the operator to think and come up with solutions.
  3. I may not get his buy-in for what I am planning on implementing. Things will go back to the way they were once I leave that area.

Being an “expert” makes one close minded. It puts the blinders on for the person, and prevents them from seeing the whole. There is another side effect to being an “expert”. You become very comfortable at something and will not want to steer away from your comfort zone.

I have been reading books by Bruce Lee, the famed martial artist. Apart from being a great martial artist, Bruce was also a deep thinker. He talked about the great analogy of a cup that is applicable to this post:

“The usefulness of a cup is that it is empty.”

If a cup is not empty, it is not useful. The emptier the cup, the more useful it is!

Ohno and Experts:

Taiichi Ohno used to say that experts are not good for kaizen. “They would just get in the way”, he said. Ohno’s point about this statement is that experts would not be open to going outside their comfort zones, and they would not allow others to speak or be open to their ideas. KAIZEN™ needs for you to be outside of your comfort zones. Comfort zones are the playgrounds for status-quos. This is against the spirit of kaizen.

In Toyota, there is a great concept called “chie”. Chie stands for “wisdom of experience”. If experience equates to expertise, then chie equates to wisdom that comes from experience. Toyota views their production system as a “Thinking Production System”. Toyota’s goal is to increase chie of all their workers so that their thinking leads to improved processes and this ultimately improves Toyota altogether. This type of thinking is against “experts” on the floor. Experience may result in improved efficiency, however this does not equate to improved effectiveness.

Final Words:

This post is more a reminder for me to be open minded at the gemba, and to listen to the operator, and to encourage them to ask questions and come up with solutions. This allows for developing the operator. This also allows you to learn from the operator as well. I will finish off with a short story from Leo Tolstoy about someone who thought he was an expert:

There once were three hermits on a remote island. They were known in the region for performing miracles. They were very simple, and did not know complicated prayers. The only prayer they knew was “We are three, Thou art Thee, have mercy on us.” 

One day the local bishop came to hear about the three hermits and their prayer. He thought to himself that he should pay them a visit so that he can teach them prayers that were “more correct”.

He arrived at the island and taught them the “state of the art” prayers. The three hermits recited the prayers after the bishop. The bishop was quite pleased with himself. He bid them good bye and left. His boat was sailing away from the island. It was getting dark. The bishop looked back at the island, and saw a radiant light slowly approaching the boat from the direction of the island. To his surprise, he saw that the three hermits were holding hands and running towards the boat, over the water.

“Bishop, we have forgotten the prayers you taught us”, they said, and asked him if he would please repeat them.

The bishop shook his head in awe at the miracle he was witnessing. “Dear ones”, he replied humbly, “Please forgive me, and continue to live with your old prayer!”

Always keep on learning…

In case if you missed our last blog, it was on Qualities of a Lean Leader

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Acknowledgement: Harish Jose, Practitioner of making this better

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