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Taiichi Ohno’s “Workplace management” Opening chapter 2


Continuing from my previous post, how would I translate 【君子】 and 【小人】?

I would translate those as follows;

【君子】; True leader with virtue. A person of noble character, cultured with morality. Faithful practitioners.

【小人】; A person without morality or noble character. Fake practitioners.

Why did I translate in such a way? Because the comparison of these two was the central theme of Confucius. There are numerous comparisons between the two inside the Analects. Confucius’s work is about the fight against fake religion.

Sounds familiar? Taiichi Ohno’s battle overlaps the work of Confucius. First, internally. And then externally. It is not surprising to think that Ohno respected Confucius as a role model in philosophy and change. And, Ohno never said he is par to Confucius or the 【君子】. Instead, he admits that he makes mistakes, which is normal. The Analects is the self-reflection guide for us.

Final, TPS twist. 【小人】is pronounced as “Shoujin” in Japanese. The third “Shoujin” of TPS. My coach will say, “Don’t be satisfied with “Shoujin-ka”【省人化】. Always think about “Shoujin-ka”【少人化】. Never develop a “Shoujin.” 【小人】 ”


Confucius was the gentleman who developed Confucianism, but he did not invent it from scratch. Before Confucius, ancient China had tribal cults and Shamans who practiced some part of what we know as Confucianism today. Confucius rationalized such cults and organized them into a religion. (In TPS words, he did the Seiri (Organize the logic).) The core philosophy of his thoughts was on Kou 【孝】, respecting your parents and family’s ancestral spirit. He started to organize the ceremonies and teachings around this philosophy. As Confucius developed the religion, he began to conflict with fake and copycats. The imitator might copy the rituals without the philosophies. Words spread without actions and practice. To fully implement the ideal of Confucius, the leaders of the country have to perform virtue-centric politics. To reach the ideal state, Confucius started to differentiate between true practitioners and fake. The words he used were 【君子】 and 【小人】.


Comprehending these words as criticism might be too shallow an understanding. Why? Because Confucius never said that someone is born to be a 【君子】or 【小人】. His lessons were to practice good actions with virtue to become a 【君子】. (If this saying were to practice daily zen, it would connect to Kaizen. But that is Buddism, not Confucianism.) And he asked to self-reflect on the actions taken. One of Confucius’s students noted, “I reflect on three things daily. Did I faithfully think about somebody else? Did I trust my colleagues and friends? Did I accurately communicate what I learned from Confucius?” The comparisons of the two words are great reflection tools.


And there is a Toyota Production System twist. 【小人】is pronounced as “Shoujin” in Japanese. “Shoujin” appears twice in TPS. First is “Shoujin【省人】,” meaning the reduction of manpower. The second is “Shoujin【少人】,” meaning flexible manpower. How was this third “Shoujin【小人】” used? The original meanings from Confucius are still relevant. It is intended to highlight those actions which copy the tools without the philosophy. The classic one is Kanban. Ohno wrote about the six rules of Kanban, but they were frequently violated. The most important rule is that this is a tool for Kaizen, but many ignore it. And there is one more meaning that my coach used as part of “Shoujin【小人】.” That is “to think.” “Good thinking, good product.” This has been the slogan of Toyota for decades. TPS is a system that drives people to think about problems and improvements. Any change in the system which eliminates the necessity to think is evil in this philosophy. This is a different kind of “Kou【考】,” not the Kou 【孝】from Confucius.

This is the reason why my coach used the “Shoujin” in the following way;

“Don’t be satisfied with “Shoujin-ka”【省人化】. Always think about “Shoujin-ka”【少人化】. Never develop a “Shoujin.” 【小人】 ”

It was his philosophy about how to manage mechanisms & systems.

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