Posted by: Knightbird | November 8, 2011

Learning to See-The Ohno Circle

I have had the Ohno Circle explained to me a few times, and read stories of it’s use. Recently I had reason to think about the actual learning process that is supposed to occur in the Ohno Circle. I have not read this anywhere else, but it makes sense to me so I share it with you.

The concept of Mindfulness is pervasive in Eastern Tradition. The Buddha taught mindfulness and incorporated into the religion he founded. Other Eastern Tradition uses meditation as a similar part of their religious construct. I have been exploring mindfulness as a possible tool to help heal our patients in the Chugach region. As I read the literature on mindfulness, I have been struck by some similarities to the practice of lean thinking. Thus, my observations about the Ohno Circle.

Jan Chozen Bays wrote “Mindfulness is awareness without judgment or criticism. The last element is key. When we are mindful, we are not comparing or judging. We are simply witnessing the many sensations, thoughts and emotions that come up as we engage in the ordinary activities of daily life.”

In the Ohno Circle, we are supposed to be learning to see what is around us, in the present. We must become aware of ourselves and our surroundings in a non-judgmental no critical way. We must reflect very deeply on our work and surroundings in order to see what can be improved. We should witness what is happening and how our co-workers engage in the activities of the work place. How many times do we fail to see the realities of the work place because we are not truly seeing? And how many times do we fail to improve or sustain improvement because we fail to see deeply?

One aspect of Lean that is becoming more important in my practice of it is the teaching of lean to others. I find that so many others who try lean are only looking for the savings: eliminating positions, saving cash, decreasing inventory and improving cash flow. They are not thinking in the here and now. They are pursuing some plan that they have of the future-a promotion, a bonus or praise from their superiors. They are making judgments about the present in hopes that they can change the future in ways that make sense to them–focused on money.

Learning mindfulness before pursuing Lean may help us become present in the here and now, without preconception or judgment, allowing us to truly and deeply see  well enough to help us implement Lean the proper way. Respecting our Customers and Improving Continuously. I will write more about this thought in future blogs.



  1. How true. Lean is about closing knowledge gaps and therefore learning. Patrick your preaching to the choir here! Thanks for the re-confirmation!

  2. This is very insightful, Patrick. I hadn’t thought about the Ohno Circle in this way. It was taught to me (and as you read about it, often) as a way to identify waste and problems (judgement). I like your description of the broader value of doing this.

  3. Patrick

    You nailed the biggest issue with getting Lean to take hold attitude. For Lean to work you have to stop assuming their is someone to blame and start assuming that there is something to fix (there always is). When you stop and take the time to observe what is going on you can find dozens of things to fix by actually identifying and fixixng problems trhough action instead og blaming people who had to work with the problem.

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