Stand in this circle

I wanted to share this story I came across during my study of Toyota manufacturing techniques.

Taiichi Ohno would take his pupils to the shop floor, draw a circle on the shop floor and then have them stand in the circle. He would then leave and come back in couple of hours and ask the student what they had observed. If he wasn’t satisfied with the student’s response, he would leave again and have them repeat the two hours.


This story speaks to the importance of observing with your own eyes and being connected with the place where the actions happens (see Go to the gemba).

Think about what Ohno and his team could observe standing in the circle that they would have never seen in their offices.

I continue to love the lean way of thinking.


Go to the gemba

Lean thinking sprung forth out of the Japanese automotive industry (specifically Toyota). War torn Japan had to make more with less and lean thinking was the answer.

One of my favorite phrases from lean methods is “gemba.” It means “the real place.” In lean terminology, “going to the gemba” means going to the place where the action happens – the shop floor, the call center, the engineer’s cubicle.

It is important for leaders to see problems with their own eyes. Going to the gemba ties back to empathy and design thinking beautifully. But just like all of these ideas, thoughts, principles, they can be applied to life.

Going to the gemba in your life means engaging with people – talking with your spouse about difficult things, going to your kid’s soccer game, walking along side a co-worker as he or she goes through something trying.

When you go to the gemba in life, you leave the “office” of your life and head down to the “shop floor.”

Go to the gemba.

Lean wins. Every. time.

Lean is all about eliminating waste. The concept can be applied to manufacturing, product development, startups and leadership, just to name a few.

Since waste can never be completely eliminated, it gives us a true north to always strive for.

Don’t confuse lean for economy. It could even mean the opposite. Lean simply means that every interaction, every test, every item shipped serves some purpose. All is done by design.

Lean wins because it’s intentional. It’s purposeful. If your competition isn’t learning from their mistakes, they are not practicing lean methodology. If you are not learning from short words you had with your spouse or kids, if you are not getting your ideas in front of your customers before it’s to late to make changes, if you are not giving the members of your team meaningful opportunities to take risks, you are not practicing the lean way.

I am convinced that as we have more choices as consumers, businesses will have to be “lean.” We won’t stand for waste. Those that make the most of our feedback – the insights to be gain from empathizing with us – will win. Every. time.