The Zeigarnik Effect and Lean

Have you heard of the Zeigarnik Effect?  If you have, you’re probably among the few of us that can appreciate how the Zeigarnik effect can affect our thinking processes.  What application could this possibly have with lean?    Consider that the human brain views an unanswered question the same as an incomplete task.  The brain must satisfy it’s innate desire to answer the question.  Lean is not a solution but rather a journey that continues to identify and stimulate ideas that lead to more unresolved opportunities.

The Zeigarnik effect is easier to demonstrate by way of example.  How many times have you been in a conversation while trying to recall someone’s name?  Failing to remember, you keep asking yourself, “What was that person’s name”?  Suddenly, after a few hours or even days later, the name comes to you out of nowhere.  The “Aha, that’s it” moment arrives.  Our subconscious mind continues to work on the problem, searching for a resolution, while we’re busy doing other things.

Is it possible to harness the power of the Zeigarnik effect in lean manufacturing?  Do we attempt to resolve a condition by settling with a less than desirable solution or settling for the one that just seems to work?  With respect to lean, there are many questions that beg to be answered:

  • How can we make this process faster?
  • How can we cut the cycle time?
  • How can we reduce the number of steps to make these parts?
  • Why do we carry all this inventory?
  • Where are we most vulnerable
  • How can we improve the quality of this product?
  • What can we do to eliminate waste?
  • What would happen if …?
  • Why do we do this or that…?

We all understand the power of questions.  The news media and marketing experts are constantly confronting us with questions that need to be answered.  In the case of news media, they entice us to read the story or stay tuned.  In the case of marketing and advertising, they present their product or service solutions.  As lean practitioners, we are continually asking questions.

The evolution of lean thrives by asking the right questions.  Many of the lean tools in use today have been around for many years.  Even in organizations where lean is not a core focus, people are passively aware that lean exists.  They may also have acquired an unrealistic definition of what lean really is.  For companies that have yet to integrate lean practices, this preconceived notion of what lean is may actually hinder your efforts.  The team may be disengaged at the onset of any initiative because they think they know it already.

The prescription for maintaining momentum in your lean journey is simple:  Ask more questions than you hope to ever have answers for.  Engage your team by asking questions.  Although simply asking “Why?” can generate a lot of activity, we should be very specific with our questions.  Keep asking questions until the answers stop flowing.

As students in school, we expected the teachers to know the answers to the questions they were asking.  In a lean organization, even the teachers are students.  Are we asking the right questions?

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

A brief article that discusses the Zeigarnik Effect can be found at the following link  http://businessmindhacks.com/post/zeigarnik-effect-in-depth.

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