Systems Thinking – Hansei / Time to Think

Knowledge workers think for a living, but in America, with our Taylor based management system, we’re driven by tasks and overburdened. So, when do we find time to think? I often cite Peter Senge’s book the Fifth Discipline. In the opening chapter he cites a conversation with a colleague that talks about the differences between Japan and America’s relationship with time.

In Japan they respect thinking and they see time as a friend. And they use the time constructively. In America, overburdened, we see time counting down as the enemy and we hurry through activities and hurry through our days.

In Japan if someone approaches somebody sitting quietly at their desk they assume they are thinking and they go away so they don’t interrupt the flow of thought. Because they respect time and it’s not an enemy, they move gracefully from desk to meeting place and it’s an appropriate venue to be interrupted and have a conversation in transition.

We scurry from meeting to meeting and deflect conversations in a sense of self-importance, so when people see us quietly sitting at our desk they think “oh good, I’ve caught him or her” and interrupt our thinking.

The Japanese thinking includes a concept called Hansei, which is generally translated as reflection, but is really a critical self analysis — looking at their own behaviors, thoughts, and actions; and determining if any of them should be improved.

For us that’s a foreign concept, no pun intended, because we live in an environment that still uses fear as a management tool. It makes us defensive. And, when we’re defensive it makes us focus on external factors.

The Japanese system is based upon Deming’s theories. It promotes thinking and reflection. Those are the basis of learning. And what is more important in a knowledge worker environment than learning? Think about it…if you can find the time.


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