In part one of this three-part series, we established a very powerful – and, to some, even slightly disturbing – premise about the human condition: the world is not necessarily how we perceive it to be. In part two, we’ll look deeper into the underlying biological factors that cause our cognitive biases. We’ll conclude by exploring how the traditional practice of Go and See helps us to overcome some, but not all, of our errors in judgment. In doing so, we will introduce the Go See DaT technique, which builds on the concept of Go and See to create a simple and practical approach for validating our grasp on the current condition.
The 10% Myth
It’s a commonly-held belief that we humans use only 10% of our brains. It’s an attractive notion, isn’t it? It suggests that we have an ability to tap in to a huge well of unrealized cognitive potential if we simply engage the other 90%. The problem is that scientific research has proven the 10% myth to be just that . . . a myth. Recent advances in brain imaging techniques allow scientists to visualize and identify specific regions within the brain that are active while performing various cognitive tasks. If we look at the sum total of our brain activity that is required over the course of a given day, it’s likely that we make use of all 100% of our brain – either consciously or subconsciously – at one point or another. However, it is important to note that the 10% myth is also not entirely untrue. Although we need – and put to use – each and every part of our brains, that does not mean that all 100% is active 100% of the time.
The brain regions that are recruited to perform a task vary greatly depending on the type and difficulty of the thinking required. For example, mentally demanding tasks, like learning a new skill or attempting to multi-task, produce more activity in more regions of the brain than relatively passive tasks, like listening to music or watching television. The increased activity, however, does not come without a price: thinking consumes energy, and lots of it.
Despite accounting for only 3% of the body’s mass, the brain is responsible for more than 20% of the body’s total energy demand. The more brain activity that is required for a task, the more energy that is consumed. Thus, we have developed a set of pre-programmed mental shortcuts, called heuristics, to limit the energy brain-drain while still enabling us to react quickly to our changing environments. The consequence, however, is that our intuitive patterns of thought do not recruit the regions of the brain responsible for deeper thinking, leaving us prone to the types of errors discussed part one. In this sense, we hold ourselves beholden to the 10% myth. Overcoming our cognitive biases during the problem solving process, therefore, requires that we deliberately take the steps necessary to engage the regions of our brains that constitute the other 90%.
Because our natural tendency is to avoid deep thought, we must deliberately place ourselves in situations that engage deeper regions of our brains when grasping the current condition. The following steps provide a practical approach to maximizing cognitive activity that builds upon the traditional practice of Go and See, which we will call the Go See DaT – Draw and Teach – technique.
Step 1 of the Go See DaT Technique: Go and See
By itself, the traditional Go and See approach provides a solid foundation for assessing the current condition. Because as much as half of the human brain is involved in processing visual information, going and seeing is a cognitively intensive function that engages many regions of the brain. However, without the proper precautions to avoid our cognitive biases, what we see may not match the actual situation on the gemba. Always remember the following:
- Go with an open mind. As we touched upon in part one, we are quick to make up our minds and tend to seek out only information that confirms our views. However, when we ignore all other possibilities, we approach the problem from a very narrow perspective. To better understand how limited we are by a narrow point of view, click here. Our perspective affects what we see to an astonishing extent. Broadening our field of view requires that we go to the point of origin with a perspective to learn, not to confirm. We must forget our preconceived notions and assume that we know very little about the problem at hand. Assess the situation based only on the factual information that is available, i.e. what can be directly observed or measured. Test the depth of understanding by assessing all of the factual information that is available, giving equal consideration to both supporting and refuting evidence.
- See, don’t remember. Our brains have a limited ability to recall detailed information from memory. Research shows that, even for simple or familiar objects, we can only recall a finite number of the associated details. Our brains are designed for storage efficiency and tend to overlook detailed information in favor of seeing the bigger picture. Because, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details, when we rely on memory to grasp the current condition, we tend to define the scope of our problems much too broadly (at best) or define the wrong problem completely (at worst). Sound familiar?
To improve our grasp of the details in the current condition, we can take a page out of the playbook or Mr. Taiichi Ohno, father of the Toyota Production System, and practice standing in the circle. See the process first-hand and directly observe the signs and symptoms of the problem. Break the process into multiple pieces to observe, if necessary. Use simple data collection techniques to record where, when or how often symptoms occur. Watch multiple iterations of the process, each time focusing in on the problem in greater detail. Continue until you have narrowed the problem down to the smallest possible scope.
In part three, we’ll continue the development of the Go See DaT technique and will discuss how the simple acts of drawing and teaching can guard us against the negative effects of our intuitive thought processes.