Posted by: knightbird | January 25, 2016

Thinking Like A Kid

This is the title of a radio talk program that will air on a local Anchorage station soon. I had a number of immediate thoughts in the context of Lean Thinking. Here they are.

In our business lives, we learn the organizational routines for the business we belong to. It reminds me of a bumper sticker that made the rounds in Alaska years ago: “We don’t care how they do it outside.” We believe we have a culture that is better than everyone else, and in business that culture is expressed through organizational routine (Nelson and Winter) and another phrase that means something similar, habit. (Duhigg, The Power of Habit). In brain science, they divide the brain into conscious, subconscious and unconscious. There are far more thoughts being processed in the sub and un conscious brains, especially those related to routines we have learned. So many of our actions take place without conscious thought. We struggle to learn routines, but once learned, they are so incredibly enduring.

Protective factors in businesses circle around the existing culture. You will hear things like “That’s not the way we do things around here.” Or “Why change a good thing.” And so many routines in an organization just happen because of the person we hire. The new hire either adds new routines, or learns what exists and takes advantage of them. What do I mean by this?

In every organization that is not learning Lean, severe bottlenecks exist. A process is dysfunctional and takes a long time for work to clear each step. A crisis is noted, which means someone wants something and they are either not getting what they wanted or it’s taking too long to get. Enter a “Cape.” You know, “Here I am so save the day” kind of person. The understand the organizational routine and have devised a workaround. You don’t know how they get things done, but they do and you don’t care because they eliminate problems for you. The Cape uses their thinking power to learn “fixes” that aren’t really fixes, but workarounds. They don’t care about the impact of their workaround on the system because they get a lot of praise and possible promotions and pay raises because they are “Problem Solvers.”

Kids haven’t developed many routines or habits. In fact, we spend a lot of time to teach them routine and good habits. We put them on a “Schedule” as babies. We teach them how to tie their shoes, cross the street properly and how to play games. We introduce a kid to our culture of how to live, and they take to it quickly, for the most part. And they are stuck with that culture for the rest of their lives, or until they expend the energy and learn how to change it. Our brain is an amazing instrument, with myelin sheaths that channel learned behaviors, at a certain point, without thinking. You can see this in athletes who have spend thousands and thousands of hours on one act. Take a jump shot in basketball. Why does it go in the basket? Because our brain has learned how to judge direction and distance then directs our body to perform a learned action quickly. When you are teaching a kid to shoot a jump shot, their first attempts are uncoordinated and awkward. Through practice, it improves. If they reach the pros, they perform that act unconsciously and with great skill. In the face of considerable opposition.

So thinking like a kid in lean is to clear your minds as best you can and start to look at what you do by dismissing the routines and habits you already have. Lean does this in a scientific method. First you have to understand what you do by using process maps, 5S, spaghetti diagrams and the other tools of lean. This is the role played by parents who are teaching you their culture, and it may or may not be a good culture to learn. But it’s the only one you have. When you understand what you do through habit and routine, then you can start to change it, and that takes thinking like a kid. You basically need to reprogram your subconscious and unconscious brains with the one tool you do have, your conscious brain. If you are going to take the time to learn new habits, you should learn the ones that help you achieve more of what you want.

Thinking like a kid means so many things to so many people. But to me, it’s a period of time where we learn to see the world so we can survive in it. We have lots of help interpreting that world, including learning language, recognition of threats and building skills. Gosh, that should like Lean Thinking. We learn a new language, develop a new culture for survival and accomplishment and build skills to compete and secure the things we need to for survival.

And there is, as well, the wonder of a whole new world to kids that captivates us. They are seeing the world through a new lens with wonder and amazement, but they don’t’ know it. They haven’t formed the judgments that color their perception yet. So we can think like kids by removing our judgments and focus on what helps us best survive, and perhaps thrive.


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