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.”


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This entry was posted in old lean dude on September 12 , 2012.