Learning To Sensei: LEAN.org

John Shook’s latest column on LEI’s site is about coaching and whether it is better to give them the answers or just ask questions.

Asking questions in a way that actually teaches is a skill that we, as a “lean” community do not foster very well. Certainly in U.S. corporate culture, we are expected to be the experts, and to have the answers. John’s post is summed up well by his last paragraph:

Learning to Sensei: A prerequisite for the apprentice sensei who is learning to not give solutions is to grasp for himself the fact that he doesn’t actually know the solution. Once you grasped that, then it’s very easy to not give “the answer” you simply don’t really have an answer to give. But, while it is not necessary for you to give or even possess “the solution”, you do have an important obligation, which is to give the question or learning assignment in a way that will lead to the learning, with learning as the goal. Once that is accomplished, all sorts of “solutions” will fall out. Then you can experience the joy, liberation, and humility that come with admitting you don’t know.

You can read the whole thing here:

LEAN.org – Lean Enterprise Institute: Coaching and Questions; Questions and Coaching

Now, as an additional value-add…

This really falls under the general notion of “Socratic teaching.” One of the best overviews of what this is really about is Rick Garlikov’s classic piece where he recounts his experiment with teaching through questions. If you don’t think this can work for difficult topics, then I suggest you read his account of using only questions to teach binary arithmetic to a typical class of third graders. If he can teach 8 year olds to understand that 0110 + 0011 = 1001, then surely we can get adults through understanding why takt time is important for management.

“What are you trying to do?”

“How will you know you have done it?”

5 Replies to “Learning To Sensei: LEAN.org”

  1. Good posting and the article linked to the posting from lean.org was outstanding. I think this may be a critical piece to the complaints I hear from many lean implementers regarding the culture of their facility not supporting lean initiatives.

  2. Great article.!!!

    I work for a small (150 employees) manufacturing company. It was started in 1970 and is still run by one man (Ray) and his son. The company got where it is today because Ray knew the answers to problems. And Ray implemented the solutions.

    And here I am, the new Lean Manager, who is trying to teach the workers to find the solutions. I’m not saying that Ray is an obstacle to this approach, but he and his son always “know the answer”. And while they listen to others ideas they are constantly wiggling in their seats and bouncing their knee.

    I need them in the meeting so that the employees know we are serious about Lean. And so far Ray and his son support Lean.

    Hey.!!! Of course I sent Ray and his son the article. And I’ll be teaching management more about this in the future……

  3. As lean practitioners I think there is a tendency to identify problems in an area and introduce tools to help fix them (Kanban, 5S, Standard Work). We give people the solutions but have we helped them learn? The quote “The only way to learn is to question” is right on the money. That is the critical piece I see missing in most approaches to implementing lean. Until we as lean practitioners learn that lesson we will always be complaining about the culture not accepting our lean initiatives.

    That’s how I see the article helping the lean community. Teaching through questioning will help the people we are working with see the value in lean because they are providing all the answers, we just need to ask the right questions.

    1. Brian –
      I agree.
      My greatest single “ah ha!” moment came when I realized the true sensei was not interested in my answers, rather he was teaching me the questions.

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