Rice on the Brain

The Man

who is kind of the source for what people turned into “Lean,” wrote a great bit on how what we plan based on calculations can often go astray when people and nature are involved:

Ohno, founder of Toyota Prodution System

“…we had quite a surplus of rice. Since having too much rice was a problem, and rice production needed to be decrease, a policy of acreage reduction was introduced. …the government paid rice farmers to plant things like reeds in their rice paddies so rice will not grow there. … However, even after converting rice paddies, there was still too much rice, so acreage had to be reduced."

(simple math really, reduce acreage by 10% for 10% less rice)

This meant that the Government instructed the farmers not to use, for example, 10% of the rice paddy acreage. The farmers were expected to produce 10% less rice, but the productivity of the remaining acreage actually increased by 10%, and the actual production of rice did not change.
They said “we did not reduce enough acreage,” but they must have used pure mathematical calculations and ignored the idea of productivity.”

Say we increase flow, but it increases costs somewhere else, is that good?

              The Only Measures that Matter are System-Wide

              • Improve parts without taking into consideration the whole and you increase rather than decrease costs and variation in quality.
                  • Math is important to develop a theory
                  • But it is only in the testing of that theory that turns in into knowing
                  • That is the difference between abstractions like Math and Statistics
                  • And science, like Physics, and Analytical Statistics
                  • They are tested in the real world.
                  • You need theories, they are essential. But they are not real things.

                As George Box said, "All models are wrong, some are useful."

                So how many times has a boss asked you to "improve by 10%." That might look good on his spreadsheet profit, but how? And what if you could do better?

                How many times have you gotten a smart idea, that made sense to you, that you loved, you felt passionately this would solve everything, then told everyone to run out and do it, before testing it?​

                About the Author

                Dan Strongin works with medium to small companies, helping them master the art and science of managing.