Lean’s Unnoticed Waste

It is astonishing what an effort it seems to be for many people to put their brains definitely and systematically to work

–Thomas Alva Edison

Lean pioneer Dr. Shigeo Shingo, often referred to as the Thomas Edison of Japan, wisely said, “The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.” Lean practitioners define waste as any activity that consumes time, resources or space but does not add value to the product or service. Lean organizes them into seven different types—over-production, waiting, transportation, inventory, motion, over-processing and defects. However, learning from Dr. Shingo, we should ask, is there another waste that we fail to recognize?

I want to put forth the case for an eighth waste—The Mind. Not the untapped human potential, such as skills, talent, or creativity that some Lean practitioners advocate as the eighth waste. I am referring to the waste created when we don’t use the powerful thinking capability of the mind. This wasting of the mind prevents many organizations to realize the full potential of Lean. Not tapping the mind to solve problems and make decisions effectively is wasteful and can result in significant costs and missed opportunities.

We might expect that the ability to think clearly and effectively is second nature once we learn the ropes and understand how things work. Unfortunately, this is not true. In Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, he explains that our minds use two modes of thought: System 1, which provides us with automatic, instant, intuitive and involuntary impressions, intentions and feelings; and System 2 representing reason and the more controlled, effortful and analytical of our thoughts.

Most people will use System 1 thinking wherever possible to minimize effort. Unfortunately, effective, complex problem solving and decision making requires System 2 thinking. Using System 1 in place of System 2 for complex situations can result in tremendous waste and lost opportunities. Indeed we might argue that poor quality, intuitive System 1 thinking might account for the majority of the poor problem solving and decision making we see in organizations today. Yet many companies have benefited from eliminating the wasting of the mind through the disciplined application of clear (System 2) thinking.

For example, during a critical product launch for a client at automotive OEM, Johnson Controls (JCI), the JCI team immediately started troubleshooting product rejects using a systematic approach (Kepner-Tregoe Problem Analysis). Within an hour, cause was determined. JCI estimates that they avoided a possible loss of $50,000 in annual revenue.

At UBE Chemical in Thailand, timely use of systematic troubleshooting in a chemical leak situation enabled the plant to avoid an unplanned shutdown and address quality issues, saving around US$100,000. Using the KT Problem Analysis process, the maintenance team focused on relevant data about the leak, eliminating irrelevant possible causes and accelerating time to find true cause.

In summary, I would put forth the proposition that companies recognize an eighth waste—the wasting of the Mind’s thinking capability. It is time to change the commonly known mnemonics (TIMWOOD) of Lean’s Seven Wastes to (TIMMWOOD).


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