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  • Writer's picturehidet77

Chie [Wisdom]


The Toyota way 2001 had two key points.

  • Respecting Humanity

  • “Chie” and Kaizen


The word “Chie” is typically translated as “Wisdom.”


Something bothered me with this word and its meaning.


The truth is that the Japanese changed the symbol after WWII, which also miss guided us. And then, did we lose some nuances in that transition?


1️⃣ Meaning of “Chie”

2️⃣ Training of “Chie;” A Buddhism philosophy

3️⃣ Ohno’s thinking “Chie Competition”



1️⃣ Meaning of “Chie”


“Chie.” Very commonly used phrase in Japan. It appeared on Toyota way 2001 but was not translated into English. I don’t know why that happened.


“Chie” uses the following symbols.

知 = Knowledge

恵 = Gifted. Blessing.

So the meaning is a body of knowledge blessed?

The meaning annoyed me since I believe Kaizen is an activity for everyone. Why is the word “Chie” listed with Kaizen? Is Kaizen only for those with blessed knowledge?


Then, I learned that the symbol for “Chie” has changed.


The original symbols were 智慧.

智 = Knowledge (知) on the top. The bottom is the sun or the day (日).

慧 = top part is (彗), which means comet or broom (a comet was called the broom star). The bottom is the heart (心).

The original “Chie” was a combination of “Daily application of knowledge” and “A spark, like a comet, of an idea” or “broomed (clean or organized) heart.”

These concepts are very aligned with the word “Kaizen.” Kaizen is the daily application of ideas. It is about “brooming” or cleaning the Muda (Waste). It is based on such “Chie.”


The key learning here is that a word can change over time. Just because someone is from the same culture, our perception might change according to the change in the meaning of the word. This “Chie” is the perfect example. “Chie” for Taiichi Ohno & first-generation students differs from what I learned in school. We need to be careful.


2️⃣ Training of “Chie;” A Buddhism philosophy


The word “Chie” originates from Buddhism.

It is about the capability to capture the world as is and identify the truth. But more than the meaning, there is something essential. In Buddhism, training aims to develop this “Chie.” Buddhism guides us to six types of training; 1. To provide [Fuse], 2. To follow the rules [Jikai], 3. To be patient [Ninniku], 4. To work hard [Shoujin], 5. To be calm [Zenjyou], and 6. To identify the truth [Chie]. Whatever the training method, Buddhism believes that anybody can reach the truth through training.


This perception of Buddhism that wisdom can be gained by daily learning is the core of this use of “Chie.” It is not about how much you know today. It is not gifted knowledge. It is something we gain through daily exercises.


3️⃣ Ohno’s thinking “Chie Competition”


Taiichi Ohno excitingly uses this “Chie.”

In his book, “Workplace management,” there is a chapter called “Work Is a Competition of Wits with Subordinates.” He sees that there is a daily competition between the boss and the subordinates on wisdom. This relates to my experience with the coach. Once in a while, on infrequent occasions, there is a Kaizen that did better than he thought. He will make a big smile but never praises. And tries to come up with better ideas. Then he whispers,” I need to Shoujin more.” He mentions the fourth training of Buddhism. As Ohno mentioned in his book, there is no need for the coach to win all the time. Instead, the coach must respect both pearls of wisdom, the wisdom of the student and the coach. And, when the coach fails, it is still okay. Honestly, the occasional loss of the coach highly motivates the student. Creating such an open competition of wisdom is essential.

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