School is a good start - the human side of lean

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

President of PCS Inc,

I believe that many companies are struggling today to find adequate and skilled workers. I put the blame on our current educational system designed for the age prior to computers and iPhones. 

When I was young, I am now 85, I was probably the worst student in grammar school. You could tell just by looking at my report card. I was the first to sit down during the spelling bees. I still don’t spell very well today. I had the worst handwriting – still hard for me to read my own notes. I have studied French, German, Spanish and Japanese but can only speak or read English. I only read three books before graduating high school: Huckleberry Finn, Pinocchio and You Can’t Go Home Again.

I still have a very poor memory from things I read or from movies or videos. Luckily, I can remember things I experience, things I do. When I was younger, maybe a good memory was necessary – I am not at all sure, since I did fairly well in life: starting and owning Productivity Press and Productivity Inc., I published hundreds of management books including the works of Dr. Shigeo Shingo and Taiichi Ohno and I have written a number of books including my latest book: The Harada Method.

The 9th grade in Junior High School was the worst of the worst. I would do my best to study my homework assignments, but when taking the tests at school – I just couldn’t remember the right answers. One day in history class, I was sitting in a quandary and a fellow student, Gary, came over to ask me what my problem was. I told him. He said that he had the same problem but solved it. I asked him what he did. “I go home, read the book and then write the important things on a small sheet of paper and put the paper into my shirt pocket and then I look at the sheet during the test.” A great idea, I thought, and I went home that night and did the exact same thing. Only problem was when I took the test the very next day, the teacher came over and took the sheet away from me and called me a “cheater” and told all the other teachers. If you look at my yearbook, you will see my name and picture and underneath was written by the English teacher, “Norman is the most likely student to get ahead for he needs one.”

Okay, maybe there was an excuse to have a good memory for some people back then, but today we have our computers, iPhones and the Internet, which replace the need to have a memory of “facts.” Today you need the ability to ask the computer the right questions. You need to know how to search the vast data bases of the Internet and you need the ability to apply that knowledge.

Today you need a skill. Even with my poor memory, I made a wonderful living and even taught college and I feel I was a very good teacher. Mrs. Sleeper, my 9th grade English teacher, would never believe it.

You need a skill. I don’t know how a child can graduate high school today without a skill to make a nice living. At a minimum, the students should know how to cook, how to cut wood and metal, do pottery, handle electricity, make repairs, do computer programming, know how to be a very good gardener or have one needed skill. Even my seniors at college were not adequately trained for the needs of industry.

We have to take a hard look at grammar school, at our entire educational system and start all over again.


“So happy to be at school again. Maybe someone

will tell me what Lean really means.”

Artist: Dan Williams