In my last post, we explored “Being versus Doing” and the why and what of mindfulness. The why of mindfulness is to bring us into the focused present moment so we can really see the current condition and assess our gaps without bias. Shigeo Shingo said, “If we don’t understand what it is we don’t understand, we have no idea what to do about it.”
This is the true gap we should focus on as we begin to design and test countermeasures to our problems. Mindfulness mentally positions us to honor the PDCA process, validate our understanding, develop effective improvement, and change the way we understand and apply lean thinking.
The what of mindfulness is clarifying our understanding of the issues and processes we are talking about: a calm, focused state of mind where we are fully present and aware of what is here, right now. When we are in this state, the mind is nonjudgmental and accepting of the current situation. Acceptance does not mean approval; it means that we grasp the situation for what it truly is, take steps to improve the situation and close the gap.
Is This New-Age Hocus Pocus?
Mindfulness practice has been around for approximately 2,500 years and is attributed to the early teachings of the Buddha. That said, this is not a religion or a spiritual practice – it is a practical way of training your mind to slow down, focus, and think more clearly. It was brought to the general public’s attention in the 1970’s through the development of a research-based, stress-reduction program by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts. Kabat-Zinn combined modern medicine, scientific thinking, and mindfulness techniques to bring new therapies to stress reduction and illnesses including pain management, anxiety, brain function, and immune function. Mindfulness is real and scientifically proven to be effective
Here’s a very simple exercise you can do to begin to experience what mindfulness feels like: Use your phone’s timer to see if you can stick with this exercise for two minutes
- Begin by calming your mind by taking a few slow breaths in and out. Don't try to change your breathing by making it deeper, just slow it down.
- Next, focus on an object and attempt to remain focused on just that object for as long as possible. It’s OK to blink (and keep breathing)!
- Notice when your mind starts to wander off and begins to think about other things than the object you are looking at. It is normal and natural for the mind to wander.
- As you notice your mental focus has drifted, simply bring it back to the object. The longer you can remain focused, the more you begin to experience what mindfulness is all about.
This simple exercise is essentially about focusing, noticing, and refocusing the mind’s thoughts. Imagine the impact on your ability to focus calmly and clearly on challenging business problems, the voice of the customer, your value streams, and methods for creating flow, pull, standard work, and structured problem-solving.
Try another simple exercise – you can do it sitting, standing, or walking so it is perfect for working at the gemba during a Go & See activity, or while coaching someone on your team.
- Focus on your breathing. Notice where you physically feel the in breath and out breath (nose, throat, lungs, etc.).
- As you breathe in, think to yourself, “breathing in 1.” As you exhale, think to yourself, “Breathing out 1.” On the next breath cycle, “breathing in 2, breathing out 2.” And so on up to 10. Most people find they only need to do this to the count of five to focus the mind.
What to expect: this exercise takes your attention to a single focus: the sound, and physical sensation of your breathing. If you deliberately attempt to focus on your breath, you are doing this exercise correctly. There is no need to change your breath, simply watch it. Go as long as you want, most people find 2 to 3 minutes is adequate to focus the mind as they prepare to fully engage in Lean thinking!
Applying It to Lean Thinking, Being, and Doing
Let’s take a classic lean activity: go see, show respect, ask why. Applying mindful breathing, the scenario could play out as follows:
You practice the breathing exercise as you walk to the gemba to “go see.” As you enter the work area you are calm, relaxed, and focused. You slowly observe what is before you: people working, information being exchanged, value being created.
Do you see a smooth flow of value? What do you see? What don't you see?
You show respect by quietly observing and processing what you see and hear before engaging in a conversation, asking questions, or giving direction. You ask open-ended questions and listen with the intent of understanding rather than the intention of waiting for your turn to speak.
As the dialogue continues, you want to understand why something is the way it is or why a process is performed a certain way. When you respectfully ask “why?” you possess a sincere curiosity to understand the why, with no agenda to change anything. You let the facts stand for themselves. You have no preconceptions or disposition other than to deeply understand the facts of the current situation.
Right Practice – Right Kata
Without right practice, mindfulness will remain an intellectual idea and fail to become a practical skill. For mindfulness to become an unconscious competence (something you do without thinking about it), you need to practice a lot: the standard is daily as in “every day!” Creating a routine makes this work natural and automatic. Set up a recurring time to practice. Establish the same practice time to make it much easier to sustain. If you miss a day, jump right back in the next day. Make a commitment through your practice to be a better lean thinker, a better team member, a better leader.
Hansei is critical reflection, and a key element of learning. There can be no deep learning without reflecting on what you expected to happen, what did happen, and the contrast between those two data sets. Practice reflection as you apply mindfulness to your lean thinking to begin to transform your effectiveness as a lean practitioner.
Apply “plan” (at a recurring time) – “do” (through practice and routine) – “check” (by reflection) - adjust (by acting upon the data as evidence), and apply an experiment-based approach to learning how mindfulness can play a key role in your daily work. I wish you great success on your mindfulness journey.