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What Kids and a Puddle Can Teach Us about Adult Behaviors

I dropped my son off at his elementary school this morning. The spot where they line up was flooded with a giant puddle that was a few inches deep. Interestingly, there were a few different responses to this unusual situation. Some kids just got in line behind it and paid little attention to the standing water. Some kids moved up and explored along its edge. Some of the more adventurous ones, primarily those with boots on, walked into the puddle.

There were also a few people at the extremes. One boy found it amusing to kick giant waves of water at the people standing along its edge. Needless to say, the other students weren’t thrilled about this. But there was also one girl was at the opposite end of the spectrum. When a teacher came out to try to clear the drain, she was interested in helping solve the problem. She assisted the teacher in locating the drainage grate and watched with great interest as it was removed and the puddle started to recede.

The kids’ variety of responses was not all that different from how adults react when presented with a problem. Some ignore it and some dabble in figuring out what’s going on.

The boy represents the slice of people who create more chaos when a problem occurs. These are the ones who complain about having to work on it. They are the ones who continue to work without addressing the problem. There are the ones that actively pass on poor quality. Just like with the boy, this group tends to garner a lot of attention.

The girl, on the other hand, represented what we want in a continuous improvement culture. We want people who are interested in getting to a solution. We want people who will find a mentor if they don’t know how to do something. We want people who don’t accept problems as the new status quo. Unlike the boy causing the problems, this girl went relatively unnoticed by the other students.

The take away I got from this observation was not necessarily about problem-solving. It was about human nature. The behaviors that you want to cultivate in your organization may be contrary to what people have been doing for decades. You can’t expect people to cast aside all that conditioning without a concerted effort to change their attitudes.

It is also interesting to note which of the people were most noticeable. The problem boy grabbed people’s attention. It isn’t a big deal in the schoolyard, but in the workplace, the time these people consume costs a lot of money and add to frustration.

Let’s wrap up by applying the lessons from this observation to your Lean strategy. My recommendation is that you start small when you push for major change. Create rituals for people to follow when specific situations present themselves. For example, create a specific drill for when an andon cord is pulled. Have people fill out startup checklists before they begin their work. Make returning tools to their correct location every single time a part of the job. Over time the repetitiveness of these rituals will start shaping behaviors, which will in turn, form the attitudes and values that are the bedrock of a continuous improvement culture. 


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