High Level Ignorance

There are important concepts that we learn as children, initially through recitation,
and later backfill with deeper meaning: things like the Pledge of Allegiance or the Ten Commandments.  As adults, however, we often regress to the recitation level, invoking some semi-autonomous region in our brains to mouth the words without considering their meaning.  In promoting TPS, I find that this is the case for the “7 Wastes.”  With some variation, people rattle them off like the lyrics to a familiar song.

“Oh, please,” manager B tells me, “no more of the 7 wastes, we’ve been over that so many times, everybody knows them.”  I look around his workplace and ask myself, “If everybody knows them, why are they doing nothing about them?”

“We’ve found the ‘low-hanging’ fruit”  manager B goes on, “We’re looking for higher level opportunities.”

These kinds of remarks are troubling because of the shallow manager understanding they indicate.

I respond to the manager, “As you develop your employees’ problem-solving capabilities, it’s all low-hanging fruit.”

Shirking his shoulders, he replies, “I don’t see that happening here.  We taught them the ‘5S’s and the 7 Wastes’, but that didn’t make any real difference.”

“Why?” I ask.

The truth comes out: “These are low level employees,“ he responds in a manner that suggests he feels he’s made a prima facie case.

“So you don’t think they are capable of identifying waste in their jobs?” I ask.

“No,” he repeats, “most of them are just too low level.  They’re good workers, but that’s it.”

“Are you familiar with the 8th Waste?” I inquire.

“Yes indeed I am,” manager B responds, “Under-utilized talent,” adding “and that’s why our engineers are working on high level projects rather than low level ideas.

**

I’m reminded constantly of Shigeo Shingo’s remark that “waste elimination is not the problem, the problem is waste identification.”  Traditional managers penchant to chase the big solutions obscures their view of the vast opportunities available in identifying and removing the ‘little problems.’  They don’t see the floor, and worse, they don’t understand how valuable their employees’ knowledge and experience can be.  Discussions like the one above are circular, when the manager is predisposed to view the workplace as an intelligence and capability hierarchy.

Manager B and I were poles apart on the meaning of the 8th waste.  His “levels of ability” interpretation was perverse, not to be altered through a discussion with me.   I thought to myself, “I know a new definition for the 8th waste: “High Level Ignorance.”

O.L.D. 

Want to see some great examples of employee brilliance, creativity and passion.  Visit the “Lean Lounge” at our September 25-26 Conference in Worcester, Massachusetts, where representatives from 14 different manufacturing, healthcare and service organizations will share their improvements and lessons learned on their Lean Journeys.

2 thoughts on “High Level Ignorance

  1. I found your comments a little humorous. As a non-management employee in manufacturing for over 25 years, I’m amazed at the number of times I’ve seen management “tripping over dollars as they try to pick up pennies”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s