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Virtue and Law


Since I wrote about Confucius, I will touch on one more point.

After the death of Confucius, the students eventually grouped into two.

The first group focused on “Virtue.”

The second group focused on “Law.”


Let’s suppose the following;

Virtue is about humaneness, justice, discipline, wisdom, and trust.

Law is about standards and rules.


TPS is about the “Law.” Although many pay attention to the “Virtue” side of the system, the “Law” generates extra power. This extra power is reused with the “Virtue.” Without the "Law," they will not have enough power for "virtue."

Saints do not manage TPS. The ordinary people run it. The wasteless, variation-less system created by wholistic laws allows people to act virtuously.


After the death of Confucius, his students spread across ancient China. Eventually, they formed two groups. The first group focused on “Virtue.” The other focused on the “Law.” Historically speaking, the “Law” group became powerful first. The Qin dynasty hired the “Law” group, eventually controlled China, and became the First Emperor. Yet, the law of the Qin was stringent, which drove the people to rebel. After the First Emperor’s death, the country returned to war. The winner of the war became the Han dynasty. They picked the “Virtue” group. The Han dynasty became one of the longest dynasties in China. So should we say that the winner is the “Virtue”? Hard to say. The history of Han is filled with nasty stories and chaos. If we have to pick the winner, it will be the fake practitioners【小人】. The weakness of the virtue approach was that it could not differentiate from the traditional customs.


The lesson I learned from this is that law without virtue is hell, and virtue without the law is chaos. The harsh laws of the Qin caused the rebellion. In contrast, traditional bad habits controlled virtue in the Han.


This crash of virtue and law is happening in daily operations.

There was a 5S violation. Immediately, the factory started to discuss the need for 5S training or more on discipline. But we looked into the violation itself—the operator located the material in a different location to follow the standardized work. It was not a violation. The 5S was not following the standardized work. The law of the organization was wrong. I often ran into such disciplines on other topics like quality, maintenance, logistics etc. More than likely, I found laws that are unfollowable or non-exist.

There are also opposite cases. An operator asked for an absence because of personal difficulty. According to the rules, the reason was not acceptable. The HR said this is not acceptable. But the supervisor permitted to take the day off. The supervisor knew this operator was not the type who asked for an absence for no special reason. Later, this operator became a Kaizen monster. A similar situation happened elsewhere. The supervisor here shouted over the phone that absence is not acceptable. The operator was yelled during the personally difficult moment. The operator left the company.

It is easy to blame the difference in the personalities. Yet, that might not be the right thinking. The first supervisor lives in the Kaizen system. The Kaizen has generated satisfactory results. The management fully respected the people’s importance, so they reallocated freed workers. Some worked on Kaizen, some on training, and some worked at lines with increasing demand. When there was this personal difficulty, the system could cover it. The other supervisor was living in the chaos of waste. Was it possible to protect the personal difficulties? He doesn’t know. His day-to-day is like a gamble. He only knows that headcount is like chips; the more he has, the more chances he gets. He doesn’t know how much waste or work exists inside the headcount. He yelled because that was the only thing he knew.


TPS is operated by ordinary people, not by saints or 【君子】. We should develop ourselves to become 【君子】. And during the process of learning, we will face difficulties and mistakes. We need to approach those with virtue. But that virtue does not come by magic or personality. It comes from Kaizen & standardized work. The virtue generated from adding cost will disappear quickly with a change in the economy. Kaizen & standardized work, or the law, is the only way to protect and promote virtue.

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