“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.”, said Arthur Conan Doyle. There is a difference between seeing and observing. Observing with intent can lead to great discoveries.
I have led or participated in hundreds of kaizen workshops. The first step in almost all of them is to observe the work. We would go to the location the work was being done, and spend time observing. It was much more than just watching.
With practice and training you can learn how to observe work. To observe a manufacturing operation, I start with blank paper and write down all the motions the worker made. It would include each movement in the smallest detail, such as the estimated distances for each reach with their hand, or each step with their foot.
Depending on the cycle time of the process, observing and documenting the work could be done in minutes. If your observation was correct, then afterwards you could recreate the motions without equipment or material. You could demonstrate the work in a conference room.
This documented work became the baseline for improvement. Understanding the work unlocked the ability to discover improvements. It became possible to evaluate changes, evaluate combining and dividing the movements differently between different workers, and evaluate the elimination of wasted movements.
Observation is the key to discovery. We were trained to observe, and then we were trained to discover improvements. It sounds simple, but practice led to advanced skills.
What could you observe today that could potentially lead to a great discovery?
No one characteristic defines success, but we should consider expertise and character. Some people find success through their expertise. Others find success by utilizing great character and relying on others for expertise. Which do you utilize best?
This is obviously not a right or wrong question. We need both character and expertise to succeed. You alone can’t be successful. It requires the help of other people. Even when it feels like you are working on a project by yourself, you are probably getting help from sources such as books, videos, research data, or online searches. Many times we forget to be thankful for all that help.
Our work is impacted by our character. Our character is embedded in what we do. It exists the results of the work, and also in how the results impact others. The things we value will be visible in our output and our actions.
When we take time to reflect on our successes or our challenges, the scale between expertise and character can give us new insight. What would improve your results over the next week? Should you invest more time in your character or your expertise?
I grew up without seat belts, air bags, and bicycle helmets. Cars did not have backup cameras and sensors. In my youth, we were anything but safe. I rode my bike on busy streets with no bike path. I talked with strangers. I drank water directly from the garden hose. I built many unsafe and unstable tree houses. My friends and I used to play war games. We did not have paint ball guns. We used BB guns, and I am amazed no one lost an eye.
The world has changed since then. We have a new level of safety and comfort. That is great, but our life’s purpose is not safety and comfort.
Life is not without risk. Each day we face struggles that change us, and challenge us. We long to be safe, secure, and comfortable. Yet, we grow because of risk. We don’t improve through comfort. We improve through the trials of our lives.
Let’s examine purpose. First eliminate safety. Then eliminate comfort. Then eliminate the pursuit of personal possessions. Now define purpose. Hopefully you have uncovered more important pursuits.
Think about our daily routines. We want comfort, safety, and possessions that make life livable. Those things can be a goal, but each day we will grow if we include the pursuit of a bigger purpose. Get uncomfortable. You will survive.
Recently a friend of mine was worried that he was not going to meet important project requirements for his job. I helped him break down major tasks and had him define how much time each task needed. Our discussion took less than ten minutes. Afterwards, he was relieved that accomplishing the project on time seemed very achievable.
Then I suggested that he add the defined tasks to his schedule so he could make sure he allocated the time needed. Because for many people there is a gap between knowing what to do, and taking the time to do it.
He responded, “I don’t use a calendar to schedule my day! It takes too much time. I need to be flexible to work on whatever is most important at the moment.” It became evident why this important project with a fixed deadline caused my friend anxiety.
Last week, I was ill. I had caught a summer cold that took me out of commission for a couple of days. I needed to revise my work calendar. But because I had a plan, I knew what actions could be delayed and what needed to be done as scheduled. When a deadline can’t be moved, I like the necessary actions to be in my schedule.
I find it interesting that some people view a schedule as being too restrictive, and other people view a schedule as necessary to enable flexibility. The schedule is not the difference, it is how we use it.
Isn’t this true of all tools? A tool is only as good as our ability to use it!