This quote from Jalal ad-Din Rumi, a Perzian philosopher and poet that lived from 1207 – 1273, describes what is at the heart of eastern religion. In Buddhism it is called Dharmakaya, the field of emptiness where all things are exactly ‘as it is’. No ideas, no concepts, no right, no wrong. In this place we are able to truly see what is really there. We leave all our preconceptions, judgments and biases behind and open ourselves for what is and towards each other. And every time we meet, we recognize our shared values and connect with each other more strongly.

Somewhere beyond right and wrong resonates throughout the Lean system in Genchi Genbutsu and is at the center of Lean Product and Process Development. To truly understand, we must go beyond our current understanding, refrain from wishful thinking and ‘go and see for ourselves’ to collect data first hand.

There is a garden, I will meet you there holds another Lean principle. I once heard a remark from a Toyota Chief Engineer when asked the question: ‘What makes a good car?” After a long silence, he said: ’a lot of conflict’. During a good development process, people repeatedly run into conflicting opinions, disagreements in understanding and disputes about the next step to take. For a good development process, these conflicts need to be visible and people need to be able to openly engage with each other in these conflicts, free of judgment and personal interest. Patric Lensioni in his theory of team work calls this “to engage in positive conflict”. This means to disagree and discuss issues, while remaining connected with each other. In Lean Product and Process Development we need to provide a place where we can engage in positive conflict.

To engage in a positive conflict while remaining positively connected is not an easy thing for us to do.

Recent neuroscientific evidence indicates a strong relation between being in agreement and having positive feelings towards each other. When people are in agreement with each other we can see on MRI-scans increased activity in brain areas associated with emotions and reward. The same activity is also seen when people are in a positive relation with each other. The more people are in agreement the stronger the relation is they build together. However when opinions start to divert the activity in these areas diminishes, and people report a reduced relation. To maintain in a positive relation people are therefore highly motivated to prevent any disagreements and work hard to prevent or avoid conflicts. Not seldom do people keep their divergent thoughts to themselves in order to maintain in a good relation to each other.

Thus for people to engage in positive conflict, we need to help them and create a situation where the relation is not at stake during the interaction. We need to meet on common ground and see things for what they are, free from personal judgment. Within Lean thinking common ground can be reached by focusing on the process. When something goes wrong or there is an issue, focus has to be on the process not on the person. In this sense, blame is for the process not for the people. One might even say that the current process allows this mistake to happen and the person making that mistake is the unlucky victim of this yet imperfect process. From this perspective it becomes possible to look at the process together, without judgment towards each other. People are now able to engage in conflict about how the process is laid out, without jeopardizing the relationship between each other.

In Lean Process and Product Development we also have to go beyond opinions, interpretations and sometimes wishful thinking. To be able to engage in positive conflict within development we must create a safe place for people to interact with each other. The Lean Product and Process Development translation of Genchi Genbutsu bring us to this place. Genchi Genbutsu in Lean Product and Process Development means to go beyond interpretations and opinions, and to collect the information we need first hand in order to gain further understanding. Whenever we stumble upon a difference in opinion, we ask ourselves “what knowledge to we need to better understand this subject?” Through research we can then generate this knowledge, increase our understanding and solve the dispute. From this perspective a conflict is a valuable tool to improve our understanding and strengthen their relation. It is like it is in academia: we engage in a fierce discussion, generate the knowledge to fill the missing pieces and afterwards have a drink together to celebrate the intellectual challenge we had together”. Thus gathering the needed knowledge to see the world exactly ‘as it is’ provides this place beyond right and wrong where people can meet.

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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. P.M. Lencioni, 2006.
The influential mind, T.Sharot, 2017.