Now and then, usually when coaching or teaching someone, I get what I think is a flash of insight. Then I realize that, no, there is nothing new here, it is just a different way to say the same thing. Still, sometimes finding a different way of expressing a concept helps people grasp it, so here is one I jotted down while I was working with a plant.
One of the myths of “lean production” is the idea that, at some point, you achieve stability in all of your processes.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Failure is a normal condition.
The question is not, whether or not you have process breakdowns.
The question is how you respond to them. Actually, a more fundamental question is whether you even recognize “process failure” that doesn’t knock you over. Our reflex is to try to build failure modes that allow things to continue without intervention. In other words, we inject the process with Novocain so we don’t feel the pain. That doesn’t stop us from hitting our thumb with the hammer, it just doesn’t hurt so much.
But think about it a different way.
“What failed today?”
“How do we fix that?”
Now you are on the continuous improvement journey. You are using the inevitable process failure as a valuable source of information, because it tells you something you didn’t know.
There is a huge, well established, body of theory in psychology and neuroscience that says that we learn best when three things happen:
- We have predicted, or at least visualized, some kind of result.
- We try to achieve that result, and are surprised by something unexpected.
- We struggle to understand what it is that we didn’t know.
In other words, when we (as humans) are confronted with an unexpected event, we are flooded with an emotional response that we would rather avoid. In simple terms, this translates to “we like to be right.” The easiest way to “be right” is to anticipate nothing.
This takes a lot of forms, usually sounding like excuses that explain why stability is impossible, so why bother trying?
Why indeed? Simple – if you ever want to get out of perpetual chaos, you first have to embrace the idea that you must try, and fail, before you even know what the real issues are.