Lean principle #2: Learning to see


“Learning to see” is the name of one of the most influential lean books (link to the Lean Enterprise Institute store here and the Amazon page here). Learning to see is also one of the most important things to do when working with lean, especially to introduce Lean concepts in a new place. It is impossible to overemphasize how important it is. People are used to see their work using standard batch-and-queue principles, ignoring wastes, believing that wastes are part of the process and therefore impossible to eliminate. People think they are unique (this is true) and lean can not work for them (this is false). That’s why they must learn to see.

The biggest problem here is that people only see what they are looking for. Our brain likes working like that. This is called selective attention (“selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information, whether deemed subjective or objective, while ignoring other perceivable information”, according to Wikipedia) and is one of the root causes of people not seeing evident problems and wastes in the process they work everyday. There is a classic and very popular video that illustrates this idea. It is called the gorilla test and was developed by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris in 1999:

I have used this video from the Quirkology webpage many times to help understand the same idea: you only see what you are looking for:

Learning to see means changing the way you see the world and this takes time. It’s not something you make with just one training session or a kaizen event. It takes patience and continuous work. However it is critical to make people aware that things can be different, especially process experts. Experts know almost everything from the process but they might also be missing critical information just because their brains consider it irrelevant. Learning to see is a critical step that increases the quality of Lean work and the sustainability of the solutions.

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