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Sakichi Toyoda and the Five Whys Root Cause Analysis

Sakichi Toyoda and the Five Whys

Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Motor Company, is considered one of the greatest if not the greatest inventor of Japan and the father of Japanese Industrialization. His impact on the world should not be underestimated. As with most historical figures, our tasks are different because we live in a different world. However we can learn from the thinking of this great man. Toyoda invented the Five Whys question asking method for discovering the root cause of events, particularly failure. The idea is to get at root causes rather than symptoms so that improvements rather than merely temporary fixes can be made to a system.

Root Cause Discovery is Difficult

Getting at root causes is not easy, and the method is not foolproof, but it is a profound and useful tool. Root cause analysis is a fundamental feature of innovative systems otherwise the changes to the system will be cosmetic, or worse will cause the system to further degrade.

Example of Root Cause 5 Whys Analysis

My car will not start. (the problem) - Why? - The battery is dead. (first why) - Why? - The alternator is not functioning. (second why) - Why? - The alternator belt has broken. (third why) - Why? - The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and has never been replaced. (fourth why) - Why? - I have not been maintaining my car according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)

The Five Whys at Lanna Innovation

At Lanna Innovation, we also ask the five whys, but not only in events of failure in terms of production, but failure in terms of a clash of understandings and in disagreements. Why do we disagree? What is the failure of perception or the failure of conception taking place? Understanding root causes is key to communication and product development processes as well as engineering quality control.

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The Art of Asking

Time and Value

I have recently received a few unsolicited email requests from people whom I don't know. Now, I am actually happy to help other people, but I have to weigh this desire to be helpful with the actual value it will create in the universe as a whole, not simply to unknown individuals requesting something. Time is inelastic and I have a limited amount. The older I become the more I desire to help others and the more picky I become in providing my time.

Priorities and Protocols

Priorities are going to be something along the lines of how much value is created for others, not just the individual doing the asking. In addition, the way that the request is made does have some value, since it is after all a favor that is being asked and a little bit of gratitude goes a long way (while fawning flattery is a sure sign of someone who just doesn't get how to ask for things and what it means to be appropriately grateful). That said, there are a few suggestions which can help provide both:


Introduce yourself. This sounds basic, but it is amazing how I get emails from people I don't know (or don't remember I know) who don't actually clarify how we know each other or how the individual found me.

The Connection

Part of the introduction is about how we have something in common. This can be anything from where we went to school, to how we share similar interests. If you found me via my blog or other websites, or friend-of-a-friend on Facebook or Linked-In, then surely this should be stated. Even the path via Google or Twitter can be interesting. I have made good friends and found vendors and clients this way. One part of connections is a referral. However, this can be a two-edged sword (or rather the proper metaphor, a sword that cuts both ways). For example, if someone whom I have had bad experiences with is making the recommendation, then there is actually a negative connotation. This recently happened and while it is unlikely the individual innocently making a request knew of previous less-than-pleasant experiences with the recommending party, it should be kept in mind and a question about "how they know you" should be made previous to using that name in an attempt at contact. When in doubt, simply don't use the recommending person's name.


This is the heart of the matter. Can you ask specifically for something? Generic advice, while a somewhat flattering request, in my experience is usually the most ignored kind of advice. Why should someone waste a lot of time trying to comb through their memory assembling something along these lines? Ridiculous, actually. But this kind of question is asked all the time. The art of asking has a lot to do with what constitutes a good question. Ask thoughtful questions and it is much more likely that one will receive thoughtful answers.

Result of Assistance

This is the potential result of assistance, namely value. But again, value to an individual ("I need this... so I can...") is much less interesting to me (if I don't know you), than the potential greater result of how others will benefit. Again, be specific, not general. Gratitude should not be the result of assistance "I will be grateful if you..."--that is a result of doing a favor in general--but some concrete potential outcome.

Don't Ask

If you need something from me that I am not obligated to provide, you don't know me, and the only value will be to you, then don't ask. This is the attitude of a person who simply wants others to help them out with no real thought. If time were infinite, then this kind of a request might make sense. But it is not, and the time available needs to be put to use helping those for whom the assistance is more urgent and has real value beyond the individuals themselves, namely those helping others.

Small Courtesies

Now that said, of course the small courtesies of in-person interaction such as "can you help direct me to the nearest gas station," etc. do not apply here. That is simply being neighborly. The same would apply to social networking and the like, such as Twitter, etc. After all, asking a question can be a way of making friends, I understand all of this. It is the random request, without introduction or a clearly stated objective, one which is usually a part of a broadcast of emails to many such individuals which is simply inappropriate.

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Strange Days – Magic, Superstition

Magic or Superstition

Living in Thailand means being surrounded by ghosts, magic incantations, and spiritual seers. The longer one lives here the more the beliefs and their apparent reality prey upon the mind. Lord Ganesh

Good Luck, Bad Luck

Good luck is not just about avoiding the bad, but mitigating the bad. Only extreme religions think in terms of the war of good against evil, and an actual winning of that war. This is what plagues Judaism, Christianity and Islam to a large degree, as well as, or especially, the superstitions of the religious fundamentalists of each of these and other religions.

A bus, sweeping out of a side-street ... caught a cyclist, knocked him off and crushed his machine ... the bus driver rushed over to congratulate the cyclist on his lucky escape. Both men were delighted and left smiling. - Norman Lewis, A Dragon Apparent, Indochina, 1950

Narrow escapes are good luck, not bad luck.


Buddhism on the other hand--as it currently exists in Southeast Asia--is certainly ceremonial and intertwined with various animist beliefs and practices. At the same time, it is the worship of a man's wisdom, that is the ultimate reality of the world and life. Oneness

Syncretic - Animism, Ancestor Worship

In Southeast Asia one finds a bewildering array of practices, syncretic to the bone. I for one hope it is never all sorted out. That would be a tyranny akin to the mad vision of countless missionaries in the desire to convert, and thereby conquer yet again, in the name of a misbegotten god.

And so...

My own strange, small events are certainly no evidence, but I will say this: Two days, separated by a third, the first is a single buddha offering of 10 Baht, and then a day of immediate success (as well as the wizened, enigmatic smile of the ancient hawker of the offering). The next day, the same offering attached firmly to the motorbike, I promptly run over a cat (which clearly was not a cat, as how could it have continued its dash across the street and down the soi if it was run over by yours truly), and didn't crash, amazingly. And then cross a road in a very naughty way with the same motorbike, directly in front of an officer of the law who clearly saw me. But he also saw the prophylactic karmic device which indicated I had already made sufficient offerings. I was not pursued. Strange days in a strange part of the world. I hope the adventure never ends. yellow gaze

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The Next 40 Years

This is the sort of post that generally makes me laugh out loud. No one can predict anything like 40 years out. I myself routinely mock anyone who tries to do such a thing. However... However, it is possible to draw out trend lines, even though we can be certain they will shift. And in these trend lines, like so many fate lines creased within our palms, like so many tea leaves, we can see a vision of a changed future. It is this act of imagination, along certain known trajectories, which can bring insight.

Two Phenomena

Today we can discuss two phenomena, and connect them in a tenuous relationship known as cause-and-effect. But it is not the clear-cut cause-and-effect which we are used to. Rather it is ground of the possibility cause and potentia effect we are dealing with. Two phenomena: - The aging institution and the seemingly contradictory role of education and research - The seemingly contradictory role that asymmetric development has introduced to the old canard of East vs. West

Education vs. Research

Recently Mark Taylor, one of the foremost Moral philosophers of the United States, took on US Higher Education calling graduate programs the "Detroit of higher learning". His incisive diagnosis of the problem was unfortunately not matched by a suggested course of treatment which was yet again a "reorganization" of the faculty. Don Tapscott also noted the demise of the University, for different reasons, pedagogical. Interestingly the very institution which legitimates itself through the unholy science can be easily demolished scientifically by that very science, namely that learning is not taking place and more importantly, need not.


The fact of the matter is that the faculty themselves, if the meaning of the word can be used in such a distorted and perverse way, do their own "reorganization", which is yet again a gridlocked, politically charged, interminable process where the education mission is largely subverted by the desires for research and the powerless scholarly, non-research mission is sacrificed yet again. This of course is likely the fated outcome in any case, with one of the founding twins murdering the other again and again. Batur Volcano and Lake

Seven Years within the Beast

There once was a professor who learned how to get grants, and to publish papers. And this is what that professor did. Of course it was graduate students, paid at below living wage rates who did the work. But at the end of all those tax dollars, all those papers, all those frequent flyer miles, what was accomplished? A resounding nothing. Certainly some activity was undertaken, calories burned, but approximately 99% of the resources were truly wasted. This professor is celebrated as a success because of the ability to publish papers and to divert public tax dollars into the coffers of the university. This is how the university defines success. Did education take place? Well yes, to some degree which the professors' students learned how to do the same thing, divert public monies and produce nothing.

21st Century Dialectics

As we know from Rüdiger Bittner's critique (much less global warming), the lovely progression of the Hegelian spirit never quite makes it to self-understanding as there is a defect along the pathways of thought. Arguably this is good for the species in terms of survival, and bad for the planet and many other species (not including the ones who have and can adapt to modern human "civilization" such as domesticated animals and cockroaches). With the Aufhebung a quizzical and remote improbability, what we are really faced with is entrenched rebellion or "mere" revolution. Perhaps it is really a triumphant revolution which best sows the seeds of its own dissolution, though of course the time involved would have to be considered inhumane in many cases.

Research, the Enemy Within

In any case, what we can see is that Research has overturned Education and is indeed perceived as the engine (expensive though it may be) for a given segment of economic growth. Impoverished education is trotted out as an important need for funding, while those funds are funneled quickly enough to the research enterprise. Who can argue with these new inventions that crop up every so often? After all, don't the students get an education, get a degree, and then become qualified for work of some sort? Plus, there is the need to keep these people at the annoying ages of 18-22 somewhere, if not the military, is there not? Hatley Castle

Western Education in the East

The East has not missed the point that these trappings of civilization need to be adopted, if only to deprive the predatory West of a cultural rationale for invasion and colonization. As well, the population is led to believe that education as derived in the rarefied walls of such institutions has advantages both moral and economic. Cultural philistines are simply few and far between in a credulous culture which sees imitation as the means for reaching economic parity.

The Point

If this discussion appears a bit abstruse, allow me to slip into uncharacteristic clarity. It is the internal corruption of higher education, of research and its vampiric relationship to the educational enterprise itself, which provides the exact pathways to the overthrow of the West by the East and the return, after a brief (though spectacular) interlude preceded by the same dominance of East over West. The East understands the ceremonial necessities, and higher education is one of them. Let us hope they don't grow to actually believe it, and thereby sow the seeds of their own, future overthrow, sometime in the 22nd century.

2025 and 2050

Five years ago I plotted out the differential growth rates of the US and China and determined that with those rates that the Chinese economy would reach the size of the US economy around 2025. Hans Rosling has done a projection based on convergence of average income and health indicators and sees 2048 as the date at which both India and China will have reached parity and the shift in dominance will then be back with the East over the West in terms of wealth (and therefore power). Hans is unfortunately under the illusion that it is education which is the saving grace of civilization, rather than the slingshot to get us off the ground and begin to learn beyond the confines of the medieval institution which has long become corrupted and is now a leading cause of the downfall of whatever civilization might mean.

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On Reaching Middle Age – วัยกลางคน

I was reading an obituary on on Jim Carroll (Basketball Diaries) and it seemed a lot more personal and less like I was reading history. I think I've reached "middle age" (วัยกลาง). Was compelled to write this in my notebook:

Somehow I've muddled into middle age. Evidence: I read obituaries, become bored with anyone under 30, and after a long struggle nearly have control over my libido.

Enjoying the discoveries of middle age...

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I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

                - Percy Bysshe Shelley

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It's coming to America – poem by Leonard Cohen

It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
                              --Leonard Cohen With thanks to Frank Patrick's Focused Performance Blog

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The Six Mistakes of Man – Cicero

  • The delusion that personal gain is made by crushing others.
  • The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected.
  • Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it.
  • Refusing to set aside trivial preferences.
  • Neglecting development and refinement of the mind, and not acquiring the habit of reading and studying.
  • Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do. I've been living outside of the United States for eight months now. The first 3.5 months were in Victoria, BC, Canada. The last 4.5 months have been in Chiang Mai, Thailand. As someone adapting to different cultures on a 24/7/365 basis, the 2nd, 4th, and 6th of Cicero's Mistakes of Man are particularly apt. Some farang who have lived in Thailand for 3 or 5 years still appear to make these mistakes with regard to the local culture. It's comedic. Buddha save me from this fate...
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Habitum Alteram Naturam – Part 3

Simplicity and Complexity

Habits are simple, nature complex. This formulation is meant to help understand how to talk about and act regarding the future. Change is necessary, and it is even possible. How do we conceive of this possibility? How do we talk about it? The real question regarding talk, is to what degree is talking needed for change, that is action which creates change. Perhaps not at all. In fact, stopping talking can be such a powerful catalyst for change that perhaps the proliferation of social media inhibits needed change in our world. Action is the mediator between language and reality, not language the mediator between action and reality.

Possibility and Predictability

David Ben-Gurion wrote that "all experts are experts on what has happened." As we again try and focus our minds on the future, on possibility, is it possible to be an expert of the future? Again, the question of futurology and futurologists present itself. In a November 4, 2008 article published in the Bangkok Post, Uri Avnery wrote:

In a world in which a person like Barack Hussein Obama can appear from nowhere and advance within a few years to the highest levels of world politics, nothing is predictable--and therefore everything is possible.

Here we have an insight that at first appears quite promising in terms of pregnant with possibility. But there is a fundamental error here. Predictability is about knowing. We precisely cannot say that "everything is possible", since we don't know that. All we get from this formulation is that we cannot predict, we cannot say what is possible. We most certainly, therefore, cannot say that everything is possible. Here there is a breakdown in what we can know, not a fundamental freeing of our mind from predictability. The problem is a mistake in thinking that an epistemological failure (inability to predict) has ontological weight (making everything possible). This, then, is the problem of talk of the future freed from predictability. That is futurology loses its status as science, and attempts to don the robes of a prophetic voice, becoming a teller of stories, of possibilities.

The Return to the Present

Meditations on the future are simply not fruitful, unmoored as the futurology has become from its presumed foundations. Instead it is precisely the present which deserves the attention and intentions. The complexity of possibility can be captured in the simplicity of the present moment. It is through the intensity of the present moment which change can take place. It is in the present moment that new habits are formed, and nature changed.