Chicken?

A thoughtful comment to my last post reminded me of one my favorite Shigeo Shingo stories.  The writer, who will be at our upcoming conference, expressed concern that only persons who have already bought into continuous improvement tools and philosophy will be at the conference.  If you haven’t already read my response to him, you might want to check that out before continuing this post. (https://oldleandude.com/2011/09/21/overcoming-tdd/ and scroll down to the bottom)

Regarding acceptance of lean thinking, Dr. Shingo used a parable to make his point.  This one he named the “Story of the Chimpanzee”, but I’ve taken to calling it the “Story of the Chicken” for reasons that will become apparent in a moment.

According to Shingo, a science experiment was conducted to determine the relative learning rates of different animals.  Each animal was placed in a cage, just out of reach of a plate of food set outside the cage.  At the end of the cage opposite from the food, the cage door was left slightly ajar.  A time measurement was taken for each animal to determine how long each would take to find the unlatched door and retrieve the food.

A chimpanzee was the fastest to find a way to the food, making a hasty exit to his lunch.  Behind the chimp was a pig, who checking the cage perimeter, soon found the unlatched door.  Next came a dog, not as fast as the pig but nevertheless clever enough to discover the way out.  Other animals followed, learning the solution to the problem at different rates, but ultimately prevailing.  “Then,” Doctor Shingo said, “a chicken was placed in the cage.”  The chicken proceeded to the end of the cage nearest to the food and proceeded to peck in the direction of the food.  It never moved from that spot.

The moral to Shigeo Shingo’s parable is that we need to be patient, that people learn at different rates.  But we also need to be aware that occasionally there is a chicken.  Shingo, of course, was not alluding to any particular nationality or occupation (although he frequently liked to take aim at engineers) as he presented his learning experiment.  My mind, however, quickly wandered to several individuals in my organization, who had not yet bought into lean concepts or practices.  There was no clear demographic delineation for those slow learners.  A couple were in management, a few in overhead functions like quality, and more from the office and shop floor.  Some persons were new employees and others had been employees forever. Some were vocally opposed, while others were silent doubters. I took each of these persons as a challenge and used whatever opportunities available to influence their thinking.  [More about that in a later post.]

What I discovered over time – perhaps two years time – was that most of these early dissenters became interested, and some heavily involved, once they had seen results or had been personally impacted by a continuous improvement effort within their own workplace.  Shingo was right, they just learned at different rates.  The best news for me was that there were very few “chickens,” a cause for optimism.  If I had written off the slower adopters early along, I would have lost some of my best long-term improvement people.

Another quote from Dr. Shingo reminds us “95% of objection is cautionary.”  In other words don’t be surprised if everyone doesn’t fall in love with a lean tool or concept immediately.  If you take time to understand and answer their objections they will be inclined to give it try.

To carry Dr. Shingo’s parable forward, I’m hoping to see lots of chimps, plenty of pigs, many dogs, and perhaps even a few chicken at our October 5-6 conference.

How many chickens are there in your organization?  Let me hear from you.

O.L.D.

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