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How military spoils and bloodied clothes help in defect reduction



A RUSSIAN “propaganda train” carrying the spoils of the Syrian war traveled 28,500 kilometers in different cities to show to the public seized weapons made in the United States, France, Israel and Italy. There were “[f]ive hundred exhibits of captured armored vehicles, artillery, firearms and improvised explosive devices…on show,” Euronews said in a Feb. 24, 2019 report.

“This train is going to show people what we are fighting against in the Syrian Arab Republic,” said one army major, Kalno Aleksandr, at Moscow’s Kazansky station. Those who came to see the train before it left appeared proud of what they had seen. “We see in the technology that we have been opposed by really serious weapons. We are glad that they are winning with honor, with dignity,” said one man, Kubrak Aleksei.

The show was also meant “to drum up support for Russia fighting in Syria” and hopes to recruit more men and women into the military.

Contrast this with the story of a French bishop in the 10th century, which Rolf Dobelli tells in his 2013 international bestseller The Art of Thinking Clearly. After a gruesome battle, the bishop “asked the princes and knights to assemble in a field. Meanwhile, priests, bishops and abbots gathered all the relics that they said could muster from the area and displayed them there.”

Unlike the Russian military, Dobelli’s bishop “called upon the nobles, in the presence of the relics, to renounce unbridled violence and attacks against the unarmed.” To dramatize the terror of war, the bishop “waved the bloody clothes and holy bones” of the clergy who suffered senseless deaths and appealed to the people to stop the killings.

These are two different stories that used displays of the spoils of war to support their respective position: the former, justifying a war; the latter, promoting peace. The technique of the Russian military showcasing the enemy weapons it seized and the French displaying the bloodied clothes and bones of those who perished have achieved their goal of supporting war and peace, respectively.

In business, and in many dynamic organizations like those I’ve seen in Japan, there are many examples of how this display of “spoils” could promote a different kind of war and, at the same time, secure peace and goodwill with customers. I’m talking about the continuous reduction, if not the elimination of product and service defects.

Enter sarashi. It’s a Japanese word introduced to me by Kenji Kitamura, retired executive vice president of Toyota Motor Philippines who is now a kaizen consultant based in Nagoya. Technically, sarashi has two different meanings. One, it is a kind of clothing material used as an undergarment for a kimono. The other, exposing something, usually product defects or “spoils” of production, to all workers and their managers to drum up support against the war on waste.

In the context of defect reduction or elimination, sarashi means creating and maintaining a strategic location inside the factory or office where management could show their employees the amount of product defects or service issues they’ve made carelessly or involuntarily and how they’re adversely affecting the company’s bottom line.

In several factories I’ve visited in Japan, defective objects, parts and even finished products have a “price tag,” which gives details on how they’re losing money every time defects are made. Really, the point of displaying defective products or any operational issue, like reporting on workers’ absenteeism and tardiness (on the bulletin board, for instance), is an important management strategy.

But no matter the amount of displays that management can do, it still boils down to the system. Remember the age-old adage that a bad system can beat a good manager every time? That’s why when there are problems that constitute defects, rework or repair, there’s no better way to address them but to evaluate or reevaluate the system.

The question is: How could the endless display of defects convince managers and their workers to solve their problems? Now that you know something about sarashi, you can reassess your defect rate by displaying actual spoils in any place where people could see them and watch their reaction to them.

Try it out. If you’ve already invested a lot of time, talent and treasure into producing something that appeals to your customer, then stand back and examine the result. Is your product or service free from defects and could be maintained in the short and long term?

As absurd as it may appear to some people, the best way to reduce, if not eliminate product defects is to display the actual “spoils of war” in the hope that it could touch on the emotional state of the people.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to [email protected] or via https://reyelbo.consulting

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