Gemba Panta Rei

This is the second of three contributions to John Hunter‘s Annual Management Blog Review.

You just heard a consultant use a Japanese term you are not familiar with, say “Kamishibai” or “Yokoten,” and you google it in search of its meaning. More often than not, the clearest, most detailed explanation comes up in the form of a post in Jon Miller’s Gemba Panta Rei blog. I have been a fan of his writings ever since I noticed this. Jon was born and raised in Japan, and attended Japanese schools as a child; as a result, he is fully bicultural with the US, which gives him a unique perspective on Lean and the Toyota Production System.

Advertised on the home page is Jon’s remarkable translation of Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management. As Jon explains in his introduction, “Our philosophy was to translate both Ohno’s meaning and style, and sacrifice neither of these to polish the English expression. […] In the process of translation and editing, our goal was to cut out nothing, and add as little as possible in order to maintain the flow of Ohno’s speech and thought.” I agree, and tried to work the same way when translating Pascal Dennis’s Getting the Right Things Done into French. Ohno’s language is vivid and laced with untranslatable puns. Rather than omitting the plays on words or looking for some, inevitably lame, English-language equivalent, Jon quotes the original and explains it in a footnote. The improved accuracy is well worth the breaks in the flow that this causes.

Oddly, the best information in Gamba Panta Rei is easier to find through Google than on the blog’s home page, where I couldn’t find a search box. After pulling down the Archives menu, I still couldn’t tell where I would find the posts about Kamishibai or Yokoten. Also, while the blog still has recent articles with substantive discussions of topics that Jon finds challenging or interesting, they are now commingled with a good 50% of material that is direct, commercial promotion of the Kaizen Institute, the company that acquired Jon’s original Gemba Research, and of which he is now the CEO. So, if you want Jon’s insights but not a sales pitch, google the topic.