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  • Writer's picturehidet77

Three Days.

Three days.

72 hours.

4320 minutes.

259,200 seconds.

This time in East Asia (or mainly in Japan) has some special meaning.

Here are some idioms.

🗓️ “Three-day monk. 【三日坊主】”

This means a “quitter.” Someone who promises to start something new but doesn’t last long. Someone who gets bored quickly. Someone who gives up. Someone challenging to stick with some things.

This phrase comes from the fact that some people became monks but returned to typical life quickly. This is because a monk's life is tough and full of training, early morning rituals, a no-meat diet, no alcohol, and no parties. Being a monk is about controlling earthly desires. Many tried but failed. Such failures made this idiom.

There is a background to this. In Japan, being a monk meant being safe from real-world connections. For example, many Samurai have sent one or more children to temples. This is because if someone attacked them, they would not kill those in temples. Someone in debt will become a monk to be freed from them. There was a temple that was used for divorce. In many cases, the objective of becoming a monk wasn’t necessarily tied to religion but rather personal conditions. This mismatch of objectives created “Three-day monk” conditions.

There are many places where standards do not stick, or Kaizen stops. Then, thinking about the environment or the objectives is essential, not blaming people for their mentality.

🗓️ “Three days. Three months. Three years. 【三日三月三年】”

This is a saying in arts. It means that if you can stand for three days, you can stand for three months, and if you can stand for three months, you can do it for three years.

There is a similar episode in Zen. A monk in India or China practiced Zen on a rock for three years (or more). These stories came to Japan, and we learned that it is crucial to continue something for at least three years to understand it.

There is a similar saying in TPS. “We can pretend to understand TPS with three hours of training. We can talk about TPS with three days of training. But to master it, three years is not enough.”

🗓️ “Observe someone cautiously when you don’t see them for over three days. 【刮目相看】”

This is a quote by Lü Meng (178-220) in Wu, China. He was a warrior of Wu but was not educated. His boss, Sun Quan, told the importance of education. Lü Meng ignored by saying he was busy. Then Sun Quan asked why he, as the lord, could make time to read while Lü Meng was busy. Lü Meng changed his mind.

After some time, a general of Wu, Lu Su, asked Lü Meng some questions, and he responded using the knowledge he had gained through his studies. When Lu Su teased Lü Meng, he responded, “Observe someone cautiously when you haven’t seen them for over three days. 【刮目相看】”

This is one of the most famous stories from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and it reminds me to be careful about development. The first is about evaluating the people. Am I being biased based on their past performance? Nothing is more frustrating for fast-growing people to be assessed based on the past. Such a wrong assessment will demotivate and stop someone from growing. The other note is whether I am developing as fast as Lü Meng. I reflect on what I learned over the last three days. Of course, this is somewhat fiction, and maybe three days is too short. And, “three days” might not be the original statement, an addition by the Japanese. But it is a good reminder to reflect. Also, Taiichi Ohno said to train someone to be a full-fledged operator in three days. There is something about these three days of development that we Japanese think about.

🗓️ “It takes three years for the top to know the lower level, but it only takes three days for the lower level to understand the top. 【上、三年にして下を知り下、三日にして上を知る】”

Who said this first is unknown, but it is popular in Japan. There are several versions of this quote. The version I like is the one by Teruo Yabe: “It takes three days for the lower level to understand the top. Even after three years, the top doesn’t understand the lower level.” Teruo Yabe is the leader of TESSEI, the bullet train's cleaning service company, which has been featured in many media outlets. His version of this quote is more powerful, knowing what he did. He created the so-called “Seven-minute miracle.”

The key to these quotes is a warning to leaders. It is easier to understand the boss from the lower level. In three days, something will happen so that the lower level can see if the boss sticks to what he said or if his actions contradict it. “We must focus on Genba.” A phrase mentioned in a Japanese company. The following day, the senior leader skips the Genba visit, saying, “I have an urgent meeting.” Urgent things do happen, but why he had to schedule when the genba visit was planned was a mystery. His action has sent a powerful message to the people.

There is nothing scientific about these three days. (If there is one, I would like to know.) It is just a long-time tradition in Japan.

Some lessons can be learned from this three-day thinking about the Kaizen activity. Many places give up before the third day and leave within three hours. Even if the idea is good, they give up too early. At the same time, don’t force a bad implementation for three days. The first three days of the change in standards and improvements should be expected to be tough. The key to success is to get more Kaizen and problem-solving done within those three days. It’s a good time for “Kuhu.”

How are you going to spend the next three days?

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