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Cultivating Intuition at the Gemba

by Ernie Richardson & Tracey Richardson
January 28, 2019

Cultivating Intuition at the Gemba

by Ernie Richardson & Tracey Richardson
January 28, 2019 | Comments (4)

Recently Mike Orzen and I (Tracey) wrote a Post about the importance of developing your five senses when going to the Gemba—of tapping into the full spectrum of “sense” so as to grasp a deeper awareness of the work environment around us and to recognize the deep connection our senses create to it. To this thought we would actually include the value of intuition.

Now, our trainers would never allow us to totally put all our eggs in the intuition basket; but we suspect that if challenged they would concede that using gut feelings and other criteria that is not precisely defined can still be extremely useful to confirm assumptions and hypotheses. You don’t always need scientific proof to confirm matters in our personal life. If for example I see clouds, the temperature drops, the wind increases and I smell moisture in the air, I don’t necessarily have to go much further than to know there is a high probability it is going to rain.  But our intuition started well before that based on past experiences.

Most of us accept the common definition of intuition as: a) the ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning, or b) a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.

So how does this thinking or feeling play out in our work life? Sometimes it means sensing that it will rain by filling in the gaps of what you can observe. Sometimes it could be misconstrued as our opinion or assumption, or as what some call “tribal knowledge”. Is this bad? It doesn’t have to be, it depends on how deep your awareness is to what is currently happening versus what should be happening and the measuring in between; also, how we confirm the instinctive feeling we have.

"We encourage each person to learn to trust their intuition enough to see through the process each day to ensure the purpose and accountability for standards and why we have them is known and bought into, not just a suggestion to do."When we go to see at the Gemba we always try to understand the purpose of why we are there. We believe that the intent of our work goes well beyond just a stroll through the area to be seen, or a visit to a KPI board as a leader or influencer. We are there to develop the awareness or intuition in ourselves, and then to condition the people we work for (servant leadership context) to also develop the ability to use their intuition to sense problems before they happen. This is another way of saying to be more leading than lagging with problems.

Something that Ernie learned from his trainer that he teaches within our Gemba course is an intuitive knack called “seeing through the process”. He refers to it as a form of intuition. The counterintuitive part is that the thinking behind it resides in strong standardization (i.e. making precise elements of work clearly visible and know by all). It’s about being sufficiently present at the process (and this does not have to be manufacturing) daily to know the correct motions/movements of the person doing the work.

For example, if a process has 10 major steps designed into it, it should have key points and reasons as well. Oftentimes when we develop these standards, the purpose isn’t always explained or the person trained as robustly as they should. And so the person doing the work develops an “invisible bypass” if they don’t “feel” compelled to follow a step (back to lack of purpose or accountability explained).

This is where intuition, i.e. relying on knowledge that may exist tacitly or which cannot be precisely defined, comes in. It has been said that a reflection of your culture is what people do when you are not looking. It can also be said to be a reflection of how well your people buy in to what they are engaged in versus what they are being told to do. So if you happen to be at the process and recognize a person going through their work steps and they “hesitate” with a step, or possibly stop themselves because they are aware that isn’t the step they are just not following; then you should be in tune enough with the process to see that if we wouldn’t have been at the Gemba what steps would have been taken to create the output—versus what the standard asks for. Intuitively you can sense that a person may be accustomed to doing one thing and change their actions if a leader or influencer is present. They may bypass a lift assist device and just lift the item themselves because its quicker. And it’s up to us to see the hesitation or change of motion they may be used to doing. This could be happening in any number of subtle ways that are hard to detect.

When people are aware that there is a need for clarification on purpose, or that there could be a better way if we gather all the process owners to revise the standard, that provides the foundation for improvement. As a leader we need to learn to intuitively see through the processes we are responsible for and develop that shared wisdom with others. 

We believe that between standardization and developing the five senses that our intuitive thinking can lead us to confirming with facts and data, versus just going with that “feeling” that we have a strong belief about that may lead us in a different direction, but using it to drive us toward improved awareness of processes, KPI’s, measurements, visualization and standardization for what the customer needs and what the market may need us to be thinking about in an innovative way.  

As we mentioned our trainers would never let us put all our stock in our intuitive thinking. They conditioned us to water that seed of experience and use it not to just fire-fight but rather be more predictive and value add with our time and how we taught others. We encourage each person to learn to trust their intuition enough to see through the process each day to ensure the purpose and accountability for standards and why we have them is known and bought into, not just a suggestion to do. 

Join Tracey and Ernie Richardson for a Hoshin Learning Session at the 2019 Lean Summit

Keywords:  fundamentals,  gemba,  leadership,  mindfulness,  trust
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Rob January 28, 2019

Really enjoyed this post. Have been struggling for some time on how to balance these natural processes driven by risk & reward looping into abstact creative thinking versus our structured methods which address bias and allow for baselines. It's really tricky but often find the most connection with team members when we both share what we are experiencing and really thinking in the present.

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Tracey Richardson January 29, 2019

Thanks Rob very true, its always good to be at the gemba present with the process owner(s) asking questions about current state and ideal.  thanks for sharing!! Tracey

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John Shook January 29, 2019

Valuable observations, Tracey & Ernie - thank you. I'll make brief mention in a Post tomorrow of the fact that something we can call "instinct" surely plays a role in how we work, and - to your point - is something that can be cultivated. 

And, speaking of instinct, Tracey, are you Team Instinct? :-)

 

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Tracey Richardson January 29, 2019

Yes it can be cultivated each day developing that awareness around us in many ways, learning through a different lens.  

Yes Im Team Mystic and Instinct both powers "grin".  See you next month!  Thanks John!  Tracey

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