Visit the genba

Photo by PhotoDune

Photo by PhotoDune

Genba (現場, also romanized as gemba) is a Japanese term meaning “the real place.”

Japanese detectives call the crime scene genba. Japanese TV reporters may say they are reporting from genba. In business, genba refers to the place where value is created; in manufacturing the genba is the factory floor. [Wikipedia]

Genba is where action happens. Being there is advantageous. At the genba we see and sense things that might be missed from a distance.

For instance, when my daughter, Lauren, and her family were moving from Florida to Dallas, Lauren made a preliminary trip to find a good middle school for her daughter, Marin.

The long-range goal was to get Marin into Dallas’ TAG School (talented and gifted), which U.S. News and World Reports consistently ranks as the #1 public high school in America. There are several DISD middle schools that feed into TAG, so the chances of getting into the elite school is enhanced by being a student at one of the feeder schools. But the acceptance rate is low. When Lauren visited, school was about to start.

During her trip, Lauren insisted on visiting Dealy school (one of the feeder schools). I suggested that we simply call the school and talk to someone, but Lauren wanted boots on ground, so we went to the genba. Although we didn’t have any appointments, Lauren – in her typical kind and determined manner – negotiated a meeting with the principal and several key teachers.

During the conversations we discovered that the entrance application was due the next day, and the only way to apply at that late date was to do so in person at the DISD headquarters in downtown Dallas. We made the trip downtown (another genba), and completed the application. In the following weeks Lauren continued to communicate with the teachers and administrators she had personally met at Dealy.

To make a long story short, Marin was accepted into Dealy and, two years later, into TAG.

I really don’t think these good things would have happened unless Lauren had insisted on visiting the physical campus – the real place.

Here’s a hard-to-believe example of someone not visiting a genba. In my undergraduate studies at U.T. Austin, my German teacher was a young man who was finishing his Ph.D. in German studies. I was shocked to learn that he had never visited Germany; he had never even traveled outside the United States. What was he thinking?

Visiting a genba takes extra effort and resources, but it is usually revealing and therefore rewarding. It provides a multi-sensory encounter with the place in space where something happens and we are able to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell reality.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


What? – The term genba refers to the physical place where something happens.
So what? – Often, it is advantageous to visit the genba.
Now what? – As an individual, develop a curiosity about places of origin; get out of your dog-runs and explore unfamiliar places where things happen. Learn to sense when an on-site visit would be beneficial.

Leaders – As a leader, define the genbas of your organization (you have many) and visit them. Remember, genba refers to a physical place. Where are your products and services made? Where are they delivered? Who are your stakeholders, and where are they?

5 most popular posts in 2015

blogging2.001Thank you for subscribing to my blog site. I hope my posts have been beneficial. I posted my first essay on December 10, 2014 and have posted once a week for the past 52 weeks. I started with 10 subscribers, I now have 3,500+

In my opinion, my five most important posts were:

My readers favored these five posts (based on comments and Facebook and Linkedin shares):

In the first quarter of 2016 I think you’ll like these topics:

  • Have a “Popeye moment”
  • Upgrade your conversations; talk about ideas
  • Don’t let emotions control your life
  • Cultivate your intellectual nutrient base
  • Balance breadth and depth

Don’t go to Abilene


The term Abilene Paradox was introduced by management expert Jerry B. Harvey in his article The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement.

The paradox refers to a situation in which a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of many individuals in the group. Involved is a breakdown of group communication because some members mistakenly believe that their own preferences are counter to the group’s, but they do not raise objections. [Wikipedia]

Here’s the story Harvey tells in his article to illustrate this phenomenon.

On a hot afternoon in Coleman, Texas, a family (husband, wife, daughter, and son-in-law) is enjoying a comfortable afternoon at home when the father suggests that they take a trip to Abilene (53 miles away) for dinner. The daughter says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The son-in-law, despite having reservations about the trip (the drive is long and hot), thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group, so he says, “Sounds good to me; does your mother want to go?” The mother says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. The food at the restaurant is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted and frustrated.

One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother says that, actually, she would have preferred to stay home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The son-in-law says, “I didn’t want to go but I thought everyone else wanted to.” The daughter confesses, “I just went along to keep everybody happy.” The father, who initiated the trip, then admits that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group is perplexed that they took a trip which none of them wanted. How did that happen?

Several years ago my family planned on “enjoying” the July 4th weekend by going to a public pool, slather on sunblock, lie out in 100 degree heat and sun, and sweat. Driving to our destination, my son-in-law had the emotional fortitude to say, “I really don’t enjoy doing that.” Following a moment of reflection, it occurred to me that neither do I. My wife volunteered, “I don’t like getting in the sun because I don’t want to get skin cancer.”

We were on our way to “Abilene.” I’m not sure who initially suggested the outing or why (perhaps one of us noticed that famous people seem to do it often so it must be fun), but after we honestly discussed the trip it was aborted.

The Abilene Paradox can be avoided. When a group is making a decision, each group member should be asked, “What are your true and unfiltered thoughts about this issue?” Or, if everyone is familiar with the term, just ask, “Are we going to Abilene?”

Steven Wolff, with GEI Partners, says, “To harvest the collective wisdom of a group, you need two things: mindful presence and a sense of safety.” He explains that mindful presence is “being aware of what’s going on and inquiring into it.” A sense of safety ensures that if I express my candid thoughts, I won’t be sanctioned.

If your group is unfamiliar with the concept and you sense that everyone’s “getting in the car to go to Abilene,” speak up and voice your concern. Don’t hesitate to rock the boat.


What? – A group of people may collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of many of the individuals in the group.
So what? – This group dysfunctionality is frustrating, counterproductive, and a waste of time and resources. It can easily be avoided.
Now what? – As an individual, have the emotional fortitude to speak up when you sense that you and others are falling prey to this syndrome. Discuss this principle among members of groups that you are involved in: family, clubs, associations.

Leaders – Discuss this principle with your team; adopt “rules of engagement” that will eliminate the Abilene Paradox.

Harvey, J. B. (1974). “The Abilene paradox: the management of agreement”. Organizational Dynamics 3: 63–80



Don’t allow painful experiences to inordinately affect your life

overreactThe hot-stove effect was first proffered by humorist Mark Twain: “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again and that is well but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”

Throughout life, be careful not to overreact to painful experiences. Failures, embarrassing moments, and hurtful events, if not properly processed, can have an inordinate impact on our lives and dissuade us from “jumping on the stove” again.

Carefully study and analyze experiences and put them into proper perspective. Even positive experiences, if not properly processed, can lead to unhealthy conclusions.

For example:

  • You may abandon a helpful technology because your first experience with it was distasteful.
  • Some divorcees feign the thought of marrying again because of the hurt they sustained in a former marriage.
  • Not being accepted into your school of our choice may discourage you from pursuing formal education.

I have been a public speaker and teacher for 30 years, but two embarrassing moments in my early years might have derailed this aspect of my career.

When I was eight years old I was asked (with no prior notice) to stand in front of my Sunday School class and pray aloud. I froze…awkward silence ensued…kids giggled…I was embarrassed.

But the following week, one of my teachers took the time to meet with me. He spoke words of comfort and encouragement, helped me compose a written prayer, coached me as I practiced reading it aloud in the same room where the nightmare took place, and arranged for me to speak the prayer in the same Sunday School Class the next Sunday. All went well and I fully recovered from the debacle.

In high school, I was vice president of my senior class. Once, when speaking before the student body, I planned on using the phrase “hook, line, and sinker,” as in, “he was so naive that he swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.” But in my speech the phrase came out “sink, line and hooker.”

My classmates were unmerciful. Unfortunately, no one helped me process what had happened; fortunately, I thought carefully about the incident by myself and decided that though it was a bad experience, it need not be a life-changing one.

A wonderful way to love others is to recognize when they may be susceptible to the hot-stove effect and take the initiative to help them process the incident and put it into proper perspective. I will be forever grateful for my Sunday School teacher (I cannot even remember his name); he might have salvaged my future career.


What? – We often misinterpret and overreact to painful experiences.
So what? – You may suffer from the hot-stove effect, but you can recover.
Now what? – Individually, identify and study your life-wounds – both small and large – to see if you have overreacted to them. Based on a more accurate assessment, adjust your thinking and behavior. Look for opportunities to help other people negotiate their burned paws.

Leaders – Consider how your organization may be suffering from the hot-stove effect. A good place to start is to analyze past failures and trauma.

Be content with less stuff

Resist materialism and consumerism

enough2Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. If you have them you have to take care of them. There is great freedom in simplicity of living. It is those who have enough but not too much who are the happiest.

We are constantly accosted by materialism, commercialism, and consumerism. Unless resisted, these powerful and not-so-subtle ideologies can lead to an insatiable desire for more stuff.

Madison Avenue has colluded with manufacturers and distributors to establish an elaborate network of products, suppliers, and salespersons to feed our addiction. The advertising industry is determined to blur the lines between perception and reality and between what we need and what they want us to want.

Few people have ever considered the alternative – that it’s possible, and even advantageous, to own a fixed number of items. At some point in our lives, we must resist the urge to accumulate more stuff and become content with what we have.

A firm answer to just one question will help establish a balanced perspective on material possessions, and it will help bring clarity, control, and peace to our lives.

When is enough, enough?

Everyone needs an answer to that question. Everyone needs to complete this statement and hold firm to the commitment: “I have ____ possessions, and that’s enough.”

Years ago, after careful and deliberate thought, I decided: “I have 100 possessions, and that’s enough.”

The impact of this decision has been significant and liberating.

  • I have developed an immunity to the marketing and advertising that permeates our culture.
  • I’m better off financially.
  • I have more time to spend on important matters.
  • I worry less.
  • Best of all, I enjoy the wonderful, formerly elusive feeling of contentment.

If you decide to walk down this path, start by focusing only on your possessions – don’t worry about how much stuff other people have. And, only count your personal possessions; don’t include household items such as furniture and appliances.

Hopefully, once this philosophy of restraint affects one aspect of your life (personal), it will spread to other areas.

Click here for more information about this topic and to see my list of 100 items.


What? – Most people have too much stuff, and it adversely affects their lives.
So what? – We can easily control how much stuff we possess.
Now what? – Think carefully about this topic and then complete (or ignore) this statement: “I have _____ possessions, and that’s enough.”

Leaders – Consider how materialism and consumerism may be adversely affecting your organization. Is there an inordinate emphasis on physical objects?

Comfort others

Close to Home

The mother asked, “Where have you been?” Her little girl replied, “On my way home I met a friend who was crying because she had broken her doll.”
“Oh,” said her mother, “then you stopped to help her fix the doll?”
“No,” replied the little girl, “I stopped to help her cry.”

Hurt and pain are inevitable. It’s not a matter of if we’re going to be hurt, but rather when and how we will deal with the pain.

Pain takes many forms. It can be physical (a sprained ankle), social (exclusion from a group), or emotional (embarrassment, disappointment). Some hurts may be perceived as relatively minor—“I was embarrassed at lunch today when I spilled ketchup on my shirt.” Others are major—“My father abandoned me.”

There’s only one antidote for hurt—comfort.

Here are some practical suggestions on how to comfort other people.

Learn to sense when someone is hurting and be willing and available to help her.

We’re often unaware when people are hurting. Sometimes circumstances will give us a clue (physical illness, death of a loved one, divorce or separation, loss of a job), but often it’s not so apparent. So be discerning and learn to recognize when people are in need of comforting

When you do sense that someone is hurting, are you willing to slow down and take the time to minister comfort or do you choose not to “go there”? You must be discerning, willing, and available.

When someone is hurting, if possible, enter her physical world.

While it is possible to comfort someone over the phone or in a letter, it is best done in person and preferably in the hurting person’s space. If your friend is hurting, instead of suggesting, “Susan, it sounds like we need to talk. Can you drop by my office this afternoon?” it’s better to offer, “Susan, it sounds like we need to talk. Can I come by your office this afternoon?”

Enter her mental and emotional world.

Humans live in at least three “worlds” simultaneously: physical, mental and emotional. While it’s easy to determine where someone is physically, it’s more difficult to determine where she is mentally and emotionally. But to comfort effectively it helps to understand what a person is thinking and feeling. Often, just asking directly – “How are you feeling? What are you thinking?” – is sufficient. At other times it takes more effort, particularly if the person is guarded and reticent to share.


A good comforter must be a good listener. Let the one who is hurt do most of the talking; if you talk too much you’ll inevitably engage in unproductive responses.

When someone needs comfort, avoid these unproductive responses.

  • Advice/instruction – “Let me give you some steps of action to solve the problem.” Or, “Maybe next time that happens you should…”
  • Logic/reasoning – “Let me analyze the situation and tell you why it happened.” Or, “I think the reason this happened was because…”
  • Pep talk – “You’re a winner! You’ll make it through these tough times!” Or, “I’m sure tomorrow will be a better day.”
  • Minimize – “Sure it hurts, but get it in perspective, there’s a lot going on that’s good.” Or, “Aren’t you being overly sensitive?”
  • Anger – “That makes me so mad! They shouldn’t get away with that!” Or, “I’m so upset that you keep getting yourself hurt.”
  • Martyr’s complex – “I had something similar happen to me.” Or, “After the kind of day I had, let me tell you what hurt really feels like.”
  • Personal fear/anxiety – “I’m afraid that what has happened to you is going to affect my life too.”
  • Silence/neglect – Not saying anything.
  • Fix it – “I can’t believe that salesman talked to you like that. I’m calling the store right now and talking to his boss.” Or, “Sorry you had a flat tire on that lonely road. Tomorrow I’ll get a set of new tires.”
  • Spiritualize – “Well, you know that God will work all of this out for your good.”

While some of these responses may be appropriate to share after the hurting person has been comforted, they don’t work as the initial response.

Learn the “vocabulary of comfort.”

Often, we don’t know what to say to someone who is hurting because we’ve never developed an appropriate vocabulary. We don’t need to say a lot, a few choice sentences are sufficient. Here are some suggestions.

  • I’m so sorry that you are hurting.
  • It saddens me that you’re hurting. I love you and care for you.
  • I’m committed to help you through this difficult time.
  • It saddens me that you felt _________ (embarrassed, rejected, belittled). I know that must have hurt.
  • I know that you’re hurting. I just wanted to come be with you.

When speaking words of comfort, it’s also important that our tone of voice complement what is being said. Our speech should be warm, sincere and gentle.

Use appropriate non-verbal gestures.

A warm embrace or gentle touch can express comfort. Tears shed for someone else can convey love beyond words.

Jess Moody says this about comfort, “Have you ever taken a real trip down inside the broken heart of a friend? To feel the sob of the soul – the raw, red crucible of emotional agony? To have this become almost as much yours as that of your soul-crushed neighbor? Then, to sit down with him – and silently weep? This is the beginning of compassion.”

We continually come in contact with people who are hurting. Let’s minister grace and healing to them through the simple but effective gift of comfort.