Discover the Spirit of Self Reliance

Discover the Spirit of Self Reliance

In this preview from The Future of the Workplace, Norman Bodek, the Grandfather of Lean, shares what he learned from some of the greatest business minds in the world.

Bill Fox

Norman Bodek: Was the Founder of Productivity Press and PCS Press. He published over 250 books and was the author of eight books. A Miraculous Life and CEO Coaching were his most recent books.


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How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?

Norman: The key to this question is what I received from two people, Takashi Harada, inventor of the Harada Method, and Venu Srinivasan, chairman of TVS Motor—a $7 billion company in India.

Achieving Self-reliance and Professional Excellence

The Harada Method is a systematic system that allows individuals to take responsibility for defining their own path to achieving self-reliance and professional excellence.

The Harada Method, which I teach and co-wrote a book with Takashi Harada, asks people to pick a very strong goal that excites them and motivates them to be successful in life. It asks people to state their purposes, what they value for themselves and others, to pick a goal to attain those purposes, to carefully analyze their strengths and weaknesses, to select the tasks and routines to help them attain that goal and to monitor their daily progression working with a coach.

It is a systematic system that allows individuals to take responsibility for defining their own path to achieving self-reliance and professional excellence. The subtitle of my Harada book is “The Spirit of Self-Reliance.” That’s what the Harada Method does. It gets you to pick a goal so that you can become self-reliant in your life. You pick a goal to be a master at something that serves other people’s needs.

People come to work and often do boring and repetitive things. Give them a chance to be self-reliant and to align their goals with their work, and you will see a workplace where everyone thrives and finds meaning and where change and innovation will naturally happen.

Most employees are completely dependent upon their employers making virtually all the decisions as if the employer knows better. Often, they don’t, for the person that does the job really knows it the best.

Helping People Become Self-reliant

Venu Srinivasan’s TVS Motor manufactures motorcycles and automotive parts. In 1996, Venu started Srinivasan Services Trust (SST) to share his success with others. Now after 20 years, SST has uplifted over 1.2 million people, in India, out of poverty.

The key to SST’s success is helping people to become self-reliant.

SST’s consultants go into an impoverished village and normally gather 15 to 16 women together, to form self-help groups—most of the women are unable to read or write.

I went to India to one of these villages and saw women in four groups of 15 each make chapatti flatbread. The women own collectively the factory, take a weekly salary, and give out a bonus at the end of the year. They make thousands of chapattis daily and sell them to the surrounding companies and villages. Instead of living in shacks without running water, they now own their own brick/cement houses with all of the modern conveniences.

In the past, I owned Productivity Inc. with 127 people publishing newsletters, books, and running conferences, seminars, study missions to Japan, and consulting in JIT (just-in-time) methods. Often the staff would come to me with questions; I foolishly always gave them an answer as if I was the only person intelligent enough to do it. Of course, now a little older and a little wiser, I should always have turned around and asked them to come up with a solution to their question.

Taiichi Ohno, VP of Toyota, and Dr. Shigeo Shingo, two of my authors, created the Toyota Production System (Lean), and both were masters of this. Each had a different management style: Ohno would command you. He’d go to you and say, “Look, you have six people working in your area. Do it with four.” Then he’d walk away. He’d never tell them how to do it. He would just demand the impossible. Ohno just demanded people to do the impossible because he never knew if they could do it or not, but he knew if he didn’t ask, they’d never do it. He was probably the best manufacturing manager of the last 100 years. Often, managers tell people the what and the how to do things not allowing them to be creative.

Dr. Shingo would turn to the people, managers, and engineers and say to them very simply, “How can you improve the value-adding ratio on this process?” When people are asked, they do come up with amazing answers. Dr. Shingo was a great master and teacher. He could solve probably any manufacturing problem presented to him. But, he would turn to the people, managers, and engineers and say to them very simply, “How can you improve the value-adding ratio on this process?” That was his main question, “How can you improve the value adding of what you do?” Then he would let people come up with the answers. When people are asked, they do come up with amazing things.

I had a student who was in charge of Lean in a big hospital in Arkansas. I asked him to pay me something to train him over zoom.us. He told me he had no money in his budget and that he would have to ask the president of the hospital. I finally suggested he pay me $125 for an hourly session. My student said, “I’ll have to ask my president of the hospital!” He told the president that another sister hospital system in Indiana saved $1.5 million from my training.

The president, believe it or not, said, “Sorry, there is no money in the budget for you to be educated.”

It’s amazing that people are not empowered in any way to spend money on their own improvement or even for the benefit of the company. They have to always go ask for permission as if the senior knows more or is more capable. The whole idea of asking for permission is a system that seems to exist throughout America and the world.

But the great, great teachers have set up a system that doesn’t require permission. They trust people to make the right decisions for their organizations and themselves.

I published the book The Happiest Company to Work for. This book is about an amazing company called Mirai in Japan that runs on this principle: Everybody is a boss. Everybody makes their own decisions. If they made a mistake, they got $6.00 but were told never to make it again. That’s the simple way to approach it. It really gets people to be self-reliant and very careful at the same time. Mirai has never lost money and has more patents than any other company, of its size, in Japan.

How do we get an employee’s full attention and best performance?

Norman: One, go back to Ohno and what he said: Command people to do great things. Two, use Shingo’s method of asking questions. And third, praise, sincerely—specifically, the heck out of people.

Praising people is part of the Harada Method. Just praise them. Recognize their strengths, what they do well, reinforce them, and be a coach and support them.

Try to minimize all criticism. And don’t blame people for mistakes because everybody learns from their mistakes.

We go to industry, and we rip people apart. Everybody’s afraid to make mistakes because they’re going to get fired. Well, that’s crazy, that’s the way they learn! Stop this nonsense and then you’ll build up a dynamic workforce.

Mr. Kazuo Inamori was the founder of Kyocera—probably was the best top manager in Japan. He created a great corporate vision, purpose, and mission that I highly recommend you study. He also started KDDI, which is a very large wireless mobile company in Japan.

Bill, that is a great missing key in American corporations, the lack of a clear vision of how their organization will grow and how they serve the benefit of the world.

A few years ago, Inamori was asked by the Japanese government to take over and run Japan Airlines because they went bankrupt. Two years after he took over, they made over $800 million. He focused first on what was good for the employees, then got them to work their “tails off” to give great customer service, and then the result will be fantastic profits. He got everyone in the airline to believe in his philosophy and to focus on improving their “attitude,” increasing their “efforts,” and improving their “skills and capabilities.”

According to Kazuo Inamori, to have a wonderful life, one should embody and live by these ideals:

  • Everyone should notice the importance of having ideas and enthusiasm.
  • Think back to the origin of what went good or bad.
  • Become a gentle person with a big ambition.
  • Live nobly and continue to chase your dreams for the future.
  • Believing strongly inspires courage.
  • Always to be positive.
  • Be sure to pursue the infinite possibilities in which luck lives.
  • Work harder than ever to do one thing well harder than anyone else.
  • Ignite your heart.
  • Do not spare any effort.
  • Never give up with a fighting spirit.
  • Improve step by step giving the essential effort.
  • The effort not to lose to anyone.
  • Be sincere and correct.
  • Overcome failure and be honest with yourself.
  • To live with high goals.
  • Do always creative work.
  • Overcome calamity and difficulties believing in miracles.
  • Keep your heart pure.
  • Keep your heart filled with love.
  • Have an “Altruistic heart.”
  • Self-sacrifice—willing to act for the people of the world.
  • Will the universe to be harmonious.
  • It is a good idea to have the “wind” on your side.

Note: This is a preview of the full interview. The complete interview was selected by Apress for publication and continues in The Future of the Workplace.

A Tribute to Norman Bodek - Extraordinary People