Lifelong Learning, Shoji Shiba makes inaugural presentation at LFM-SDM seminar series for support staff

Shoji ShibaShoji ShibaCara BarberShoji Shiba

Shoji Shiba makes inaugural presentation at LFM-SDM seminar series for support staff

By Lois Slavin
August 26, 2002

How can learning to swim with the fish enable companies to successfully approach the dilemmas we all face? Staff members of the Leaders for Manufacturing (LFM) program and System Design and Management (SDM) programs recently found out when LFM Visiting Professor Shoji Shiba gave the inaugural presentation at LFM-SDM’s Lifelong Learning Seminar Series for support staff.

The series was developed by LFM-SDM’s Lifelong Learning Committee, a new group whose membership consists primarily of support staff. The series provides a way for faculty to share stories of their personal lives and development and gives them an opportunity to talk about what makes them feel passionate about their areas of research. In addition to providing a vehicle for knowledge transfer, the series helps to build and strengthen the relationships among staff and faculty who work together to serve LFM-SDM.

LFM-SDM Administrative Assistant Cara Barber (pictured at far left) suggested Shiba as a guest presenter. “The students had been saying such great things about him, I felt like I was missing out. It was a treat to hear Shoji speak,” said Cara. “I appreciate the fact we are surrounded by great innovators who are willing to take time out of their busy schedules to share some of their wisdom with the staff. Thank you, Shoji, for setting the example!”

Professor Shiba, who has been teaching in LFM since fall 1991, began with an overview of his background, noting that his focus as a student was in statistics and fisheries. He is renowned for his work in using intuition to create hypotheses that can then be proven by logic. Not surprisingly, the major metaphor that he has used in developing his thinking and consequently in consulting and teaching with global organizations is a fishbowl – and the notion of swimming with the fish.

To demonstrate, Shiba drew a fishbowl, showing a fish inside and a researcher outside, observing. “The traditional researcher is objective, observing from the outside and trying to understand. This is a good way to create objective measures to test a hypothesis.”

He then drew a picture of himself jumping into the fish bowl, explaining that his focus involves not proving a hypothesis, but creating one. “To create a new hypothesis requires a different approach, for which intuition is needed instead of logic,” he told the group. “You need to jump into the fishbowl and swim with the fish – with the customer – so you can experience that view and intuit a hypothesis. It is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover, so you need to jump both inside and outside the fishbowl. This approach is my way of life.”

Shiba then discussed the evolution of his thinking and his career, outlining his initial research in comparing labor management practices in power companies in India, Japan, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, which then expanded to the U.S. and Canada in 1969-1971.

In 1986, when he was a scholar at the International Institute for Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria, Shiba was invited by Hungary’s Minister of Industry to introduce Total Quality Management techniques to that country. He worked with Hungarian executives to help them develop a Hungarian, as opposed to a Japanese or American, version of quality. He emphasized that there was no teacher or student, but that the whole group would study and learn together. Hungary is now one of the small European countries that uses quality most effectively.

The country has since created the IIASA Shiba Award, which is similar to Japan’s Deming prize. Shiba donated all of the money that the Hungarian government paid him to introduce quality to help fund the award.

In 1990, Shiba was invited to work at MIT by Professor Emeritus Tom Lee. He began by teaching quality in LFM. He noted that there are three differences between early and contemporary LFM students:

  • Students used to work in breakout rooms until midnight on weekends and all day on weekends. Now they don’t. The reason? The advent of the Internet and affordable PCs, which facilitates virtual teamwork.
  • Students are less arrogant and competitive. Shiba shared three logos he used in early classes, each representing verboten behaviors: NIH (Not Invented Here); IAKI (I Already Know It) and PITM (Prove It To Me). He noted that students are more open today and these signs are no longer necessary. He hypothesized that globalization and the notion that ‘we’re all in this together’ are the reasons for this change.
  • Students are arriving with greater awareness, knowledge of, and skills in TQM. This indicates a greater diffusion of TQM through industry.

Shiba then told the staff about co-founding the Center for Quality of Management (CQM) and studying and learning with CEOs about how to bring TQM to the U.S. – among those executives were Alex D’Arbeloff and Ray Stata. Currently, there are 117 member companies of CQM, including two winners of the Baldrige award, the U.S. prize for quality. In addition to that, there are now CQM chapters throughout the U.S., as well as in Europe and China.

Shiba also discussed the evolution of management styles, from strict process control to incremental process improvement to breakthrough management. He noted that perceiving change involves dealing with image data, not language; focusing on the symbol; and looking at the periphery. He then illustrated this using slides of paintings by Norman Rockwell and other artists and showing how the methodology can be used with corporate information published by Boeing.

LFM Fellows Program Coordinator Nancy Young organized the session. “Choosing Shoji as our first speaker set the standard,” said Nancy. “He practices what he preaches – ‘Know the customer.’ As a result, he did not talk down to us or talk over our heads. His talk made me want to know more about him and his work. I — and I think I can speak for the other attendees — feel that Shoji’s talk was a smash hit and that the honor was all ours.”