Aristotle’s Kitchen & why none of us really understands lean (#41)

This blog should bring a little comfort to lean thinkers, but first let me explain the re-enacted picture above. Having put down my bottle of beer I placed a palm either side of my head and tried to explain:

“the more I understand about lean, the more I get a clearer peripheral sense of everything that I don’t understand”

She looked at me sceptically and said, warily, “go on

“So, the benefit is that even though I don’t know what I don’t know, I get a clearer sense of the scale & general nature of the opportunity that I have to learn”

Her scepticism didn’t abate after this Rumsfeld style cryptic answer.

“It’s like a glimpse of future insights available to you if you stay the course”

She looked at me like this wasn’t my first beer of the night.

To be fair, it’s not often I stand in a friends kitchen on New Years Eve, clutching a bottle of beer having a surprisingly heavy discussion with a complete stranger. She’d poked me in the ribs about being involved in lean and I’d replied by telling her about rejoicing in the incompleteness of your knowledge.

I gave up at that point but subsequently remembered a drawing that, 6 months earlier, a new friend Mike had sketched out on a Welsh restaurant napkin. I emailed Mike a couple of days later and he gave the explanation below (picture drawn by me). I find that it sums up nicely where I am in my search to get better:


"We were talking about epistemology, i think.

My Philosophy professor used a simple drawing of a circle to illustrate Aristotle’s idea that the more you know the more you know you don’t know.

The circle contains all you know.

The perimeter of the circle is the boundary of your knowledge, in other words the things you know you don’t know.

Beyond the perimeter are the things you don’t know you don’t know.

As you learn more the area of the circle (its contents) expands.

As the area expands then so does the perimeter. The circumference of the circle represents the things you now know you don’t know.

Simples. It’s not a theory, as such, just an elegant illustration of an idea.

Aristotle was a numpty otherwise"

Thanks Mike. The key point: The size of the circle has no upper limit, there will always be stuff outside of the circle. So, none of us will ever understand enough about lean. Liberating yes…

…now, try certifying that


PS – The comforting bit: as long as your circle is getting bigger, it’ll be ok. You know it’s getting bigger if you’re recognising more lean stuff that you don’t understand.


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