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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: We look at single variable explanations in isolation to get us the quick fix

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, April 9, 2012 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

The best way I can explain this is with an analogy to physical health.  We know what it takes to be healthy–exercise and eating right.  Yet America, as the wealthiest in the world, is one of the unhealthiest.  Obesity runs rampant and the large majority of Americans are overweight and out of shape.  We could ask the same question.  Why are we letting our future deteriorate without doing anything about it?  But we are doing a lot.  The wellness industry and diet industry and diet drug industry are investing  tens of billions of dollars if not trillions.  But we cannot spend our way, or quick fix our way, or tell people the right thing to do our way to general health in the population.  Americans have to want it and have the discipline to do what is necessary on a sustained daily basis.  That takes a level of leadership and social support that is beyond the capacity of most families and locales.  Corporations are no more capable of influencing a learning culture then the U.S. government is in influencing physical health.  A part of the problem for health is fast food–cheap and convenient.   A part of the problem for corporations is fast bucks–get them quick and cheap.


Peter Senge explained it as a lack of systems thinking–his fifth discipline.  We look at single variable explanations in isolation to get us the quick fix.  Cut costs through layoffs is a quick fix with a single variable cause and effect.  Similarly training black belts to go out and find the money is a quick fix.  Systems thinking which leads to seeing the complex interactions of social, psychological and technical variables is hard enough to comprehend let alone to use as a basis for management.  So Motorola’s original deep thinking about Toyota Quality Management leading to six sigma quality, becomes train six sigma black belts to do projects worth $200,000 each.  Toyota’s systems thinking becomes copying pieces in isolation–kanban, andon, and the bold even “install” work teams.  Every decision to implement is an isolated decision based on one variable at a time,  or a bunch of single variables in parallel.  Changing the culture so individuals everywhere have the tools, mindset, and passion to continually improve the processes and themselves is actually something we know how to do. We know it takes time, strong mentor-apprentice relationships, a certain type of leadership, continual social support, and that it is always very fragile.  But that it not acceptable in a fast food age of quick fixes.

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