Critical Thinking

For several years now, One Write has sent teams to the annual Continuous Improvement Conference sponsored by the Printing Industry of America. This year we traveled to St. Louis and for three days we learned how other companies have used lean ideas to strengthen their organizations.

Bruce Hamilton is President of Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership and producer of the world famous video “Toast Kaisen.” He is always one of our favorite speakers, and he did not disappoint us. With very funny examples and illustrations, Bruce talked about how we might overcome organizational barriers to change for the better. He offered twelve ideas which showed great respect for employees and associates while being less serious about the structure: “Don’t fight the current organization, just ‘fail to take it seriously’.”

The centerpiece of the conference was a Keynote Address by Mike Rother, author of the book Toyota Kata. Mike urged us to think less about the traditional tools of Continuous Improvement and more about encouraging the patterns of thinking that gave rise to those tools.

He was referring to the notion of Critical Thinking and how that type of problem-solving is to be part of every employee’s job description if we want to optimize our outcomes.

Mike believes that the usefulness of Action Item lists is limited as it isolates parts of the process and treats them as something to be remedied quickly or worked around. The real benefit comes when we understand the entirety of the current condition (the “problem” as well as the environment in which it exists), and can also accurately describe the ideal condition to which we aspire. Only then can we discuss what an appropriate target condition (something part way to the ideal) would be and design a measurable change in the process to get there. This is how real continuous improvement is realized.

One Write’s team returned home with many new ideas and high hopes to be able to share them. Time will tell if we are able to make them part of a better future for us all. 

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