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Labor Day Special


Since it’s “Labor Day” in the USA, this post is about “Work.”


“Work” in Japanese is ‘働.’


This symbol was made in Japan. This symbol is used in the TPS concept, Jidouka. 【自働化】


The symbol has three components.

By combining the three, we can read in many ways.


  1. Typical understanding: Human heavy power.

  2. Ohno’s explanation: adding human wisdom to movements

  3. Another explanation: Human repeat power.


Chinese symbols are beautiful and valuable. Each symbol has a meaning. By looking at it, there is a story.


Once in a while, when the Japanese learned these symbols and faced a situation in which they felt that a concept did not have a proper symbol, they invented one.


“Work【働】” is one.


This symbol has three components.


The first part represents humans in many symbols.








The second part represents “heavy.”









The final part represents “power” or “force.”







If I understood the components, we could see what the Japanese felt about work.

It is about humans doing something with heavy stuff with power.


Taiichi Ohno provided a different interpretation.

He focused on the last two components. It is the symbol of movement. 【動】

Since work 【働】 is the combination of human 【イ】 and movement 【動】, work means to add human wisdom to movements. This is where Ohno differentiates between automation 【自動】 and autonomation 【自働】. Moving by itself, typically faster, does not make sense. Moving with human wisdom is necessary. Wisdom means quality, “Just In Time,” Kaizen, etc. Work means working with quality, flexibility, and efficiency, not just moving. Giving a meaning or value to every movement is Jidou-ka.


Then, I just realized that the second part had more meaning.

The second part 【重】 can also be translated as “repeat,” “build-up,” or “over-lap.”


I thought about this at individual and team levels.


At an individual level, 【重】 is used frequently with repeated effort. In TPS, this symbol is used to “ask the “why” repeatedly.” 「なぜを重ねる」Or “repeat the Kaizen.” 「改善を重ねる」 Maybe “repeat” might not be a perfect translation since the nuance does not mean to repeat the same thing. It means each trial to reach a higher level.


At the team level, 【重】 means overlap or teamwork. For this, I thought about Andon or the support. The layers of management respond to the Andon calls of the frontline. Without such “layers,” the system will not function. These substantial layers are the source of Kaizen and the development of people.


So, if I take this interpretation, work means the “repeated or the layers of human power to accomplish something.”



What is the meaning of “work” in your culture?

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