Posted on September 9, 2015 · Posted in Leadership, Lean, Lean Thoughts
I’m not sure to whom credit for that statement belongs.  I suspect it is one that originates in the Japanese culture, part of their corporate wisdom.  In the world of Lean, the statement has always been understood to mean, “the (apparent) absence of a problem IS a problem.”  
The statement implies that we float in a virtual sea of problems and to say there is “no problem” is to lie; or, to be more Politically Correct, that we’re sweeping our problems under the rug.

Further implied in the statement is that, if we sweep our problems under the rug, if we hide them from others, we diminish, at least by one, the number of minds working to eliminate the problem.  How can that be good?

There is another quotation often cited in Lean: “A defect is a treasure.”  I have always found this statement to further illuminate the meaning of the first.

When I first tried to wrap my mind around how a defect could be something I treasured, I came to the realization that, once discovered the defect could be targeted and its source eliminated; that, until it was discovered, the defect could repeat over and over.  

However, once recognized and the problem’s root cause identified, many minds could be employed to eradicate the source all together.  Hence, finding that defect led to the elimination of all such defects, making the discovery of the defect a treasure.

These seeming contradictions are plentiful in Lean.  I have grown to enjoy them.  They force me to ponder their meaning and that makes me stronger in my pursuit of continuous improvement: not only of processes, but of myself.

Let me come full circle, though.  Isn’t the hiding of a problem something common in US business (and in personal lives, as well)?  Whether we want to present the image that “I’ve got things under control;” or, whether we’re trying to convey the image of our business (or our lives) being a smooth surface with no ripples, either is a lie.

Problems are a part of life.  To deny their existence; or, to present the image that “we’ve got our problems under control,” is to misrepresent the truth.  

As we tell our kids, when you don’t deal with a problem right away, it has a tendency to fester and grow worse.  If that’s true, aren’t we better off to admit our problems and seek help?

And, as leaders, don’t we create healthier, happier work places when workers can admit to problems they’re having and request help without recrimination?  I think so.  How about you?  What do you think?