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Taiichi Ohno's Quote

Once in a while, I ran into people who quote Taiichi Ohno saying the following:

“In a production plant operation, data are highly regarded — but I consider facts to be even more important.”

Ohno, Taiichi. Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production (p. 18). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

I was puzzled by this quote for a while. It didn’t sound like what I learned. I reread where the quote was from, but the translation didn't seem to convey the message correctly.

Here is how he wrote in Japanese:


1️⃣ Structure

When I dump this sentence into the Google translator, the following will be the output.

“When it comes to production sites, of course I place importance on “data,” but I place the greatest importance on “facts.”

Yes, this sounds close to how I read in Japanese. The Japanese sentence starts with “I (Taiichi Ohno).” And this “I” applies to both data and fact. Google Translate solved this issue by repeating the “I” twice, which is not in the original format. But by doing so, the structural meaning of this sentence became much closer to how we read it in Japanese. At least it is much better than how it is translated in the book since that version sounds like Ohno is comparing others and him. That is not the case. Taiichi Ohno thinks both data and facts are essential. And, he is not comparing with others here.

2️⃣ Sequence

One word that makes me think in this sentence is this word “いちばんに.” Google translated it as “greatest” and the book “more.” What puzzles me is that if he is comparing and trying to write which is more important, he should write “いちばん.” This conjunction “に” confuses me.

Another way to look at this word is that he is talking about the sequence rather than what is essential. Since he places the importance on data and fact, which does he check first? The phrase is more about sequence, not which is more important. This matches with what Ishikawa mentioned in “Fact Control.”

3️⃣ 重視: Importance, emphasis The selection of this word

The final focus is on the word “重視 (Jyuushi).” This word is translated as importance and emphasis. But there are some nuances.

Why did he select this word? If he just wanted to say “important,” then Japanese has a word called “重要.” As we read and understand his thinking, we learned he significantly focuses on “See【視】.” Ohno preferred this word to highlight the importance of action to see. If something is important, then we should see it. Not just hear, read, or other actions.

The first symbol, 【重】means “Heavy.” Somehow, this heavy converted to important.

But in Japan, the symbol has additional meanings.

One is to repeat or recur. For example, in the politest Japanese, we would repeat the symbol 重重 to mean “I repeat.” So, in this situation, the word could mean repeatedly seeing the facts and data. I should be seeing the facts and data back and forth. It is not one time seen; it is repeated until I fully understand.

Another meaning is to overlap or to pile up. Japanese Buddhist temples have a Five-storied pagoda, which is written as 【五重塔】. It is called that way since the floors are on top of each other. In this case, since Ohno mentioned facts first, we need to overlap facts, data, facts, data… This was the final paragraph of the chapter in which Ohno talks about the five whys. In the five why analysis, we collect the facts and data, which is repeated until we reach the root cause. And even if we think we reached the root cause, we need the data to prove that we have eliminated the root cause.

And, as I think about the meaning of this word, “Jyuushi,” I think about how we should design the Genba. Many factories have data boards. But those are posted far from the facts. In many cases, we have to memorize them. It is hard to “repeatedly” or “overlappingly” see the facts and data. And I am not simply talking about having a tablet. Many tablets might have data in hand, but it is still hard to see together with facts. There is no simple solution. It's a challenge for Kaizen.

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1 Comment

Rey Elbo
Rey Elbo
Mar 06

I'm taking it to mean that not all data are facts. That's because data can be massaged or altered to promote the interest of the massager. Even an accurate data that's more than 10 years old should be considered irrelevant to the current situation. Therefore, the key is to verify the accuracy and timeliness of data. If this is strictly followed, then your data become facts.

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