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Gwendolyn Galsworth

Lean

The Elephant on the Factory Floor

It’s the pet of the local team, and it’s called the past

Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2018 - 12:03

Have you heard this? “Just because this department is a bit dingy—and it’s sometimes harder than heck to get the scoop on things—doesn’t mean it’s a bad place. Good work happens here. In fact, we’ve been doing darn good work in this area long before you showed up with a bucket of hope called workplace visuality.”

There’s an elephant in the room at the start of any change process, the pet of the local team. The elephant is called the past. And the team is the tribe that owns it. The past is the tribal think. And that past predates your improvement initiative. It predates your plans. The past is a formidable force. Here’s another way to say this: Most human reason happens below the radar of awareness and is driven not so much by a desire to get good grades or win the Nobel Prize. Human reason is driven by the need to survive—and central to that is the need to belong.

What ties them together is this: A tribe absorbs individuals into its beliefs in order to ensure that all tribal members believe the same. Who we think we are, and who we think the other is. This is the way we structure our reality and our identity. We feel safe, and we want to protect our tribe, our family, our community, our team. Quietly, often without our even noticing, things that are “other” become things to fear or at least avoid. New ideas, in the context of the tribe, can face a tough road to acceptance. New ideas from outside, even more so. A premium is put on local contact, local customs, local anything.

One study asked a general population whether, if it had a fatal disease, would it prefer a life-saving diagnosis from a computer that was 1,000 miles away—or the exact same diagnosis from a computer in the town. A large majority preferred the same information from a machine that was local.

We are complex beings. We live in a complex world. It takes courage just to stick around. There are always loose ends and unresolved circumstances, and risk. There does not have to be fear. We move on. Over the years, I’ve pulled together a set of guidelines that has helped me introduce change quite successfully—and has helped others do the same.

River Tam: ‘Don’t meddle!’

I take my cue from River Tam, heroine of my favorite Sci-Fi movie of all time, Serenity.

• Don’t meddle. Let people be themselves. Take people as they are, not as you prefer them to be. People don’t mind change; they mind when you try to change them.
• Notice and promote differences. Do not standardize people.
• “No” is not a negative. It is an adventure.
• Tread carefully—and get your own support group.
• Engineer and celebrate early victories. Make much of small things. Get people used to the idea of noticing that minute changes move us forward. Get them used to celebrating that.
• Follow the methodology.
• Get physical.
• Let the flow do the work.

Here’s how the last three work together. First, when I teach visuality, I rely on the logic of the methodology. I always and faithfully go back to it—the step-by-step change mapped out in the visual conversion protocol. Second, because a visual change is a physical change, it engages muscles—and when our muscles are engaged, so are our minds. Third, this is not so much thinking as it is flow. And there is an incredible regulating power in flow. Don’t meddle. Use the methodology to engage a flow. Then let the flow do the work. Let the workplace speak!

First published on the Visual Thinking website.

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About The Author

Gwendolyn Galsworth’s picture

Gwendolyn Galsworth

Gwendolyn Galsworth, Ph.D., has been implementing visuality for more than 30 years. She’s focused on codifying the visual workplace concepts, principles, and technologies into a single, coherent sustainable framework of knowledge. Galsworth founded Visual Thinking Inc. in 1991, and in 2005 she launched The Visual-Lean Institute where in-house trainers and external consultants are trained and certified in the Institute’s nine core visual workplace methods. Two of the seven books Galsworth has written received the Shingo Research and Professional Publication Award.