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From Management’s Point of View ~ Deep Digging ~

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

November 9, 2022

One of the most important things about work is to consider fully and understand the true nature of the problem at hand. And while this is so important that it would be difficult to find anyone who doubts it, there are surprisingly few people who are capable of digging deeply and really thinking about this. At Toyota, they insist that everyone should repeat asking, “Why?” to the point that they have a catchphrase called “Five whys.” In my column this time, I have repeatedly emphasized “why” and summarized the following elements that I think are important when digging deeply for us as a company.

  • Clarifying Objectives and Means

    • I think that the most basic required skill in thinking about things is to be able to clarify the difference between objectives and means. For example, let’s say your boss has given you a directive to sell 100 units of Product A. Most people would assume that selling 100 units of Product A would be the objective, and would set about somehow selling those 100 units.

    • However, someone who can dig deep would want to understand whether those 100 units of Product A were to be sold in order to generate profit, or to free up warehousing space, or perhaps because a new model was about to be announced and inventory needed to be cleared out. If the purpose was to generate profit, it might be okay to sell Product B instead, which has a similar margin. If the idea was to free up warehousing space, perhaps Product C of a similar size could be sold. Or if the problem was that a new model was about to be announced, it might be acceptable to get rid of Product A even at a steep discount. By clearly understanding whether selling 100 units of Product A is an objective or a means to an end, the range of desirable methods and choices would differ. That is the significance of clarifying objectives and means.

  • Adopting a Humble Attitude

    • Most people will listen intently to someone who speaks with authority, for instance, a Nobel Prize winner. But would you listen with the same attitude to the exact same content presented by someone that you supervise? If it’s the same content, then there should also be the same willingness to listen. That kind of attitude is essential.

    • You should also ask yourself, “Do I think I already know the answer?” In most cases, even if you understand the problem superficially, you probably don’t understand the root causes. To gain a deeper understanding, it is important to ask yourself, “Do I really understand this?” and look at it from a variety of different angles.

  • Understanding the Differences between Head and Heart

    • People are happy to be praised, and listen in good spirits. When they receive criticism, on the other hand, particularly if it comes from a subordinate or a younger person, the heart naturally puts up resistance. It is necessary at these times to restrain the heart from its instinctive “That can’t be right!” opposition, thinking logically with the head and referring to higher values , asking oneself if it is really “something that is right” or “something that is important.” Having done so, if you understand the criticism to be “right on target,” it is important to accept it willingly regardless of the standing or job title of the person delivering it. At such times, I try to use my head to distance myself from negative emotions like opposition, anger, and shame, seeking to judge things objectively.

    • Conversely, when I talk to others, I speak logically while also using my heart. Being logically correct is not always the most important thing. I speak with rationality, but I also try to reach my listener’s heart by considering their standpoint and position, speaking passionately at times and calmly at others, letting my own heart be involved. Various situations can arise in which it is more important to communicate with the heart than to win an argument with logic.

  • Understanding the Difference between Quality and Quantity

    • Let’s take an example where a staff member consults with you about stress they are experiencing at work. If that person has been working 70-hour weeks, then it’s likely that the cause of the stress is quantitative. In that case, it would probably be necessary to take quantitative countermeasures such as reducing the number of tasks assigned to that person.

    • Alternatively, let’s say you look at the time sheet and see that the staff member has been working 40-hour weeks. In that case, there’s a strong possibility that the problem is qualitative rather than quantitative; perhaps their tasks are overly difficult, and they are stressed because they aren’t capable of completing them. Then it might well be necessary for the supervisor or someone with the requisite technical skills to provide qualitative support.

    • It can be seen that an identical problem (stress) could stem from either quality or quantity, and the solution would differ depending on which it was. We need to dig deep into the substance of the issue to figure that out.

  • Clarify Which Issues You Have Answers of and Others You Don’t.

    • For a simple problem, judgment can be made almost instantaneously as to whether or not that problem can be solved.

    • In the case of a complex problem, however, there are many other issues that simultaneously surround it. For instance, let’s say you are thinking that you would like to be the first in the world to manufacture Product A. Here, other questions arise:

      • Is our technology lacking?

      • Is our capital insufficient?

      • Is it difficult to secure resources?

      • Is there a shortage of workers?

      • Etc.

In looking at why you might not be able to manufacture the product, it will be necessary to break down the reasons into easily understandable components. Based on that, you would analyze what could be solved and what couldn’t (what is insufficient), and clearly pinpoint the reason(s) why not.

  • After clarifying the problem(s), you would want to think about whether you could reach the level of feasibility in the future. It is often said that our abilities should be projected into the future. There is no need to be pessimistic just because something cannot be done at present; if it can be achieved through effort, then it is only necessary to make that effort.

  • Clarifying Costs and Benefits

    • When objectives and means are clarified, the requisite costs will also become clear. If the costs of achieving the goals are greater than the benefits, then it might be better not to execute the plan in the first place. In order to effectively utilize the limited resources available to an enterprise, a cost-benefit analysis should always be undertaken before embarking on a project.

The foregoing items represent guidelines that I feel are needed to dig deep into the substance of the issue within our company. People are often described as being smart or not so smart, but the “deep digging” approach itself is not about ability or talent to begin with; it’s a habit of thinking. People who struggle with “deep digging” may not realize that they can gain a deeper understanding of things simply by learning the basics of thinking and making it a habit. You should make an effort to acquire the right habits instead of giving up because you don’t have much talent. In order for our staff to understand the importance of this, we are positioning the “deep digging” approach as an axis of our corporate philosophy. I thought that this approach might be helpful to some of the readers of my column, so I decided to share it this time.


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