On the way to the airport a few days ago a couple of thoughts occurred to me that I wanted to toss out there and see how you all responded. This is one of them.
What separates an expert from a master? Actually I need to ask in more prejudicial terms. Some people who are truly experts are also “stuck” in that they try to fit new things they encounter in to an analogy within their (vast) experience. When they find it, they apply the analogy and often come up with a pretty good solution. But they can have problems relating when the encounter something that doesn’t compare with anything they have seen before.
As an example, the classic elements of standard work are described as
- a repeating work sequence
- balanced to a takt time
- standard in-process stock
And, indeed, these things are the elements of standard work when there is a repeating work sequence and when there is a takt time.
Some experts at applying standard work, however, have a hard time seeing application outside of this scope. They know work needs to be standardized, but they continue to try to shoe horn what they see into this model.
Another, more general, lean manufacturing model is the notion that this is about manufacturing, or that it “doesn’t apply” to true job-shops or non-repetitive environments. But this, too, is just a limitation of an “analogy” model. It is the analogy that breaks down, not the concept.
In the analogy model, we try to educate by providing more analogies, more examples of different applications in order to expand the base for comparison.
And, to be honest, this works to a degree. Some people get it, others simply don’t want to expand their analogy base. They are the ones who say “This (model) does not apply to (whatever is their current paradigm) .
Indeed, people who are tightly holding the view that kaizen events led by trained specialists are the only way to drive improvement can easily be blind to the possibility that an organization that is successfully running daily kaizen is operating at a fundamentally different level. I have seen that as well. And I have seen the same excuses made to explain away the difference in performance. “It isn’t different;” “it doesn’t scale;” “it isn’t repeatable.” All of this is defending a mental model – a paradigm – an analogy.
On the other hand, I want to contend here that a true master is not one who has mastered a process, but rather one who has mastered the process of learning about a process.
At an organizational level, true continuous improvement starts to engage when “process” and “standard” become baselines to gain higher understanding. Rather than trying to audit and enforce compliance, they are genuinely curious about the reason why a process is not being carried out as it should. This thinking requires far more work because it is empowering – it simply does not allow playing victim to “they won’t.” It puts the spotlight right back on what can (or should) be learned from the experience.
Put another way, the “expert” knows.
The “master” knows that there is much to learn.