"What Do you See?" a deceptive lean question (#43)

…about sharpening your eyes but not in a random way.

The tweet above was from a photo I took whilst waiting for an old mentee to join me in a bar for an informal catch up. The question I posed to him, after we’d been talking facing the bar for a while, was:

“What do you see?”

A lot of lean thinkers seem to relish the challenge and scour the scene in search of breadcrumbs that’ll lead to a golden moment of insight. This misunderstands the point; that the answer to the question “What do you see?” is largely irrelevant.

The question is a Trojan horse designed to calibrate where the person is in their thinking way. Ask people how well developed their lean thinking is and they’ll struggle to articulate it, mainly because it’s a navel-gazingly tricky question requiring pin point self-awareness. In asking my mentee the question I was looking to see his development since we last spoke a year earlier. His answer was similar to those I got on Twitter. Some of them are below; all good, none “wrong”

“Cups too far from drinks. Would like to see a spaghetti diagram”

“First, I see The Botanist, an excellent gin. Next, I see clutter, with too many bottles and supplies stacked deep behind each other, forcing the user/ bartender into lots of extra time and motion. Extra moves will inevitably lead to broken bottles and various losses”

“Taps on the bar rather than eye level so you can actually make eye contact with the bartender”

“A lot of inventory; not all of which is organized. Most of the counter is filled with “stuff”, leaving little to work on. Not sure how big the bar is-it that’s a lot of glasses...”

“Plastic straws :-( and somebody's wallet/purse well camouflaged on the bar”

Sat there, looking at the bar, I was contemplating his answer in the following ways:

  • Had he even observed the bar at all before I asked the question i.e. is curiosity about the world a reflex for him yet? Good learning starts with a question.

  • Was he just filtering for gaps, things wrong. A point kaizen bias; looking for evidence of kaizen or opportunities to improve something.

  • Has he gone beyond this & considered the overall flow connecting the bar to the overall bar/restaurant operation.

  • Was his start point the Customer, Value & how it’s flowing to them (or not)

My favourite twitter answer and closest to my thinking was:

“No bar staff or customers. Must be a sh*te bar”


Ideally, he’d have asked me to clarify the question & then told me he couldn’t answer because there was no work going on (It was a quiet evening & no other customers except us)

My point: Be careful of the treasure hunt (see blog #35).

As an example, new converts to 5s thinking often go hardcore on the 2nd S and filter for things out of homes (with a sprinkling of the 3rd S) and don’t connect deeply to the work going on.

My advice is to keep observing the world around you AND self-critique what you focus on. This is why my twitter feed is 50% nonsense, trying to make sense of the world about me and learn. I’m just thinking out loud on twitter really.


PS - if we are treasure hunting I’m not sure why they need 5 same sized spirit measure cups for a bar that, by my estimation, can fit 3 people working comfortably at once.

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