Not long ago, I became enamored with a Canadian television show entitled, “Canada’s Worst Drivers”. Although I thought it amusing, of greater interest to me were the behaviors of the drivers, especially considering the sound instruction they received by the experts on the course: predominantly, the idea that you must “look where you want to go.” In other words, if you look at a hazard, rather than where you want to go, your brain will fixate on the hazard, governing the behaviors of your body and taking you to an inevitable collision. This is referred to as target fixation.
I recently had a discussion with the Executive Director of the Shingo Institute, home of the prestigious Shingo Prize for Operational ExcellenceTM, named for Shigeo Shingo, an early pioneer in the lean / quality movement. However, before I elucidate on the content of our discussion, allow me to share how this discussion came to be.
I recently left a large pharmaceutical company based in Indiana and am now in the process of developing a consulting business focused on helping organizations increase value by tapping into latent talent on the production floor and from other areas. This is based on my own experience. My career spans nearly equal parts as a non-exempt working on the production floor, then graduating from college at the age of 37 and working in management / exempt roles the remainder of my career. I have long held that most organizations miss the opportunity to really build value by gleaning key insights from the folks where the rubber meets the road.
In my research to develop my business model, I stumbled across an interesting piece of information. An alleged Sidney Yoshida presented a paper at the “1989 2nd International Quality Symposium” in Mexico, entitled, “Quality Improvement and TQC Management at Calsonic in Japan and Overseas”. The study purports that in organizations, there is an “Iceberg of Awareness” or “Iceberg of Ignorance” that exists. It is allegedly documents the level of knowledge about problems existing within an organization are known at the following tiers of management as follows:
• Only 4% is known by senior leadership
• 9% is known by middle managers (sometimes shown as 17% and 18%)
• 74% is known by supervisors, and
• 100% is known by the front line (think non-exempt and individual contributors) and customers
I was intrigued with this and vaguely remembered seeing it in a presentation somewhere earlier in my career. However, through the process of being trained and effective as an investigator for root cause analysis, I’ve developed a healthy skepticism and rarely take things at face value. I determined I would research this article and verify, for myself, its findings. In my search I found literally tens of dozens of references to the ubiquitous Sidney Yoshida. I even found a major magazine referencing Mr. Yoshida, but in only one case could I find an actual citation.
In this age of technology and information it is nearly impossible not to find a document of a scholarly nature. Having exhausted all internet resources, I turned to academia, which has access to volumes of scholarly works in databases not available to the general public. I reached out to my alma mater, Utah State University, at the Huntsman College of Business and more specifically, the Partners in Business program. After initial searches were exhausted, I was referred to the Shingo Institute, associated with the Partners in Business program. The executive director of the Shingo Institute executed a query deeper into the available data bases: No Sidney Yoshida. No 2nd International Quality Symposium during 1989 in Mexico. No paper entitled, “Quality Improvement and TQC Management at Calsonic in Japan and Overseas.” That is not to say he, or it, does not exist. There is just no record of it. It is also important to note that the date, if it exists, was within only one organization and different plants within that organization. Hardly representative of the population, and therefore more anecdotal than anything.
If there is no record, then where did this information come from. Although there may be truth rooted in the “Iceberg of Ignorance” there is nothing supporting it. This in turn suggests the “Iceberg of Ignorance” is likely a myth that has been perpetuated via the internet by well meaning individuals and organizations, interested in using it to advance their position or agenda in business.
This is the conclusion Ken Snyder, MBA (Harvard Graduate School of Business), the Executive Director of the Shingo Institute, and I came to. Further, Ken said that over 30 years of assessing organizations pre and post bestowal of the Shingo Prize for Operational ExcellenceTM, there was nearly a 50/50 split of companies that sustained results and companies that did not. Both subsets of data indicated that they all had quality systems and other lean processes in place. Although not the same, they were all well thought out and relatively robust.
Why then, a 50 percent disparity between sustainability and the lack thereof? My guess, and Ken’s answer was simple: Culture. Culture defined by the Shingo Institute as, “the accumulation of behaviors of the people within the organization.” Without a culture that supports engagement at all levels, including the shop floor, where the rubber meets the road, no matter how robust your systems and processes, it is nearly impossible to sustain results for any extended period of time.
It seems that there is a plethora of consulting firms, businesses and publishers fixated on the target of the “Iceberg of Ignorance.” The real issue is defined by the empirical data collected by the Shingo Institute, regarding the correlation between culture and sustainable business results. At Leg Up Solutions, one of the things we do is help build a culture that enables and engages people at all levels of the organization, but with a particular focus on the front line of your work force, the shop floor, where the rubber meets the road, to glean their insights and translate those insights into value for the business.
Don’t get fixated on the wrong target. Look where you want to go.