Owner, PCS Press

Welcome to our interview with Norman Bodek. Norman is the owner of PCS Press. Norman Bodek’s mission is to teach managers how to teach their employees how to be successful in life and also to teach teachers how to teach their students how to be successful in life.

Norman played a prime role in introducing Lean to the West. He started with Vern Buehler the Shingo Prize and is a Shingo Prize winner. He was a frequent keynote speaker on Quick and Kaizen, Lean manufacturing and the Harada Method. He has written hundreds of articles; and when he owned Productivity Press he published 100 Japanese management books in English, over 250 published books on productivity and quality, and has written seven books including his How to Do Kaizen and the Harada Method.

Welcome Norman, and thank you for contributing to the questions that are at the heart of Container13.

Interview Highlights

Check out the interview highlights from our conversation with Norman in 13 Forward-Thinking Insights for Busy Leaders:


Q1: How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives & finds meaning, and change & innovation happen naturally?

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.

The Harada Method is a systematic system that allows the individual to take responsibility for defining their own path in achieving self-reliance and professional excellence.Click To Tweet


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 provides the means for anyone to pick a goal, to carefully analyze their strengths and weaknesses, to pick the tasks and routines to help them attain that goal and to monitor daily progression. It is systematic system that allows the individual to take responsibility for defining their own path in achieving self-reliance and professional excellence.

The subtitle of my Harada book is called 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 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, 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.

The key to Srinivasan Services Trust's success is helping people to become self-reliant.Click To Tweet


Venu Srinivasan’s TVS Motor’s 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 1.2 Million people, in Indian, 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 gathers 15 to 16 women together, to form self-help groups – most of the women are unable to read or write.


I went to India last year 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. – Press with 127 people publishing newsletters, books and running conferences, seminars, study missions to Japan and consulting in JIT. 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.

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.Click To Tweet


Taiichi Ohno and Dr. Shigeo Shingo two of my authors, created the Toyota Production System, (Lean), 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.

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.Click To Tweet


Dr. Shingo, on the other hand, was a great master and teacher. He could solve probably any manufacturing problem presented to him. However, 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?” 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 answers.

I had a recent 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 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. 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 setup a system that doesn’t require permission. They trust people to make the right decisions for their organizations and themselves.

I published a 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. But, if they do make a mistake, they do pay for it in some way. They recognize that they can’t do 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, its size, in Japan.

Q2: How do we get an employee’s full attention and best performance?

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 the heck out of people.

Praising people is part of the Harada Method. Just praise them. Use B. F. Skinner’s approach; never punish, only praise. Skinner was a great behaviorist, and he believed in positive reinforcement. Just do that. Praise the heck out of people. Recognize their strengths, what they do well, and reinforce 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.  A few years ago, he was asked by the Japanese government to take over as president and chairman of Japan Airlines because they went bankrupt. Two years after he took over they made over $800 Million. All he did was get people to take responsibility for the company instead of the CEO. He just got them to live by positive values to serve their customers.

Kazuo Inamori

To have a wonderful life:

  • His leadership direction is based on everyone living a happy life
  • Everyone should notice the importance 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 the 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
Q3: What do people really lack and long for at work?

Everybody is different of course. It’s hard to generalize because many people just lack. They lack enough money, they lack comfort, and they lack understanding.

We end up trying to change others and change events. We can't. We're given a life and you have to learn to accept it and to be detached from it.Click To Tweet


We end up trying to change others and change events. We can’t. We’re given a life and you have to learn to accept it and to be detached from it. That’s pretty much the key. Our educational system is so bad; we don’t teach people how to pick a goal. We don’t teach people how to master something. How do you graduate high school without a skill to make a living? At a minimum, you should teach people how to be a plumber, a carpenter, how to cook, etc. Certain fundamental things that they can make a living at instead of going through school for 13 years and going to make a living at a fast food restaurant.

An interesting dichotomy in America with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Most people live in fear. Look, all of us live in fear because all of us are going to die, and we don’t know how to handle that. We’re not taught how to die, so we live with fear. I’m going to be 85 in a month and when I go I go. I’m not sure I like the idea but that’s the way it goes. There are great teachers to study to tell you how to get off. I recommend you study them.

But we now expect to be able to make meaning and impact in our work.

Q4: What is the most important question leaders should be asking employees?

Very simple. Number one, how can the organization serve you better? Number two, how do we give you the right tools? And number three, how do we give you the right opportunities so that you grow? Because if you grow, the company grows.

The other important thing is that we want to give people challenging work. We don’t do that. We try to simplify it. Canon is a beautiful example.

Canon had an assembly line to make their copiers, but then they went to conveyor belts. In a conveyer belt, you have a tact time of two minutes before the copier goes to the next person, each person doing the exact same thing over and over again.  It is a crime. Then Toyota taught them how to set up cells. Canon now has people capable of making an entire copier by themselves, installing and testing over 1,000 parts. It takes three hours to do it, and the copiers are superior in quality. One woman says that every time she completes a copier, she feels like she made a new baby.

Here’s another example. I went to Hitachi Metal once. There was one worker who took a piece of metal and placed it into a machine. The machine did something to the metal and the worker took it out and replaced it with another piece of metal.  As I watched he did it again and again.  It’s the simplest job I’ve ever seen. All of a sudden, he stopped and screamed at the top of his lungs! Slowly, he took a deep breath, picked up a part and put it back into the machine.

Then I go over away from him about 20 yards to see a woman carefully, with great focus, soldering a few wires onto a clock mechanism. I said to her, “Do you like your job!” She said with all sincerity, “I love what I do.” Why? Why does she love what she does and the other man is going crazy? Because her job requires focus and concentration. It requires high skill.

I look at a great violinist, and he or she spends eight hours a day practicing over and over again.  Why are they not bored?  There are two important aspects: one, they’re trying to be absolutely great in what they do, always learning and growing and two, they are becoming a great master of their skill.  Everyone should have the same aspiration to be a master at something that other people need.

I go to Japan often, I’ve been there 88 times. When I go, I love to go visit masters and Japanese living legends, so I went last time to one place that had a living legend making pottery. I’m looking at this plate, and it was selling for about $2,000. And that’s for a new plate! It wasn’t an antique. Yes, real skill has real value.

If you can pick something that you can become a master at, then you can have a great life—a wonderful life.Click To Tweet


But this is what I teach in the Harada Method. If you can pick something that you can become a master at, then you can have a great life—a wonderful life.

Q5: What is the most important question employees should be asking leaders?

I want to do the best possible job for this company, so what should I do better for you? What can I do better for this company?

The CEO and managers should have an open ear to listen to the people. They're filled with marvelous ideas, but we don't have systems that work that way.Click To Tweet


And of course, the CEO and managers should have an open ear to listen to the people. They’re filled with marvelous ideas, but we don’t have systems that work that way. We have a screwy system where we reward the power with more money instead of dispersing the power throughout. Getting people to really be responsible, learning and self-reliant is the challenge.

Q6: What is the most important question we should be asking ourselves?
One, how can I grow as an individual? Number two, how can I improve my service to others? And third, how can I get off this world gracefully? How can I really die beautifully? How can I realize the ultimate truth?
Q7: Do you have any closing comments or observations you’d like to share?

It’s a very challenging time, especially here in America at this particular time in our existence, because most American companies are really squeezed more so than ever on profits this quarter. This is not true of smaller companies that can have a longer-term vision. I like the Japanese. Japanese corporations, most of them have very long-term visions. Some companies like Panasonic had a 100-year vision.

Unfortunately, our age is burdened with leaders seemingly only focusing on profits and not on developing a great company for all its members. Years ago, when I owned Productivity we sold training for $1,000 a session and my books were sold for $60 and up. They sold like gangbusters—multi-millions of dollars. Companies were investing in their people. I don’t see it today. Unfortunately, our leaders do not fully realize that their actions are deteriorating our wonderful American society. I hope they wake up before it is too late.

If you strengthen these people and give them the opportunities to grow and become creative, the company itself gets stronger and more successful. Click To Tweet


Of course, a company should value their employees and recognize that a real company is made up of people. If you strengthen these people and give them the opportunities to grow and become creative, the company itself gets stronger and more successful. Most companies in America are very short term focused instead of being long-term focused. When that shift will come I don’t know, but hopefully soon.

The problem today is many companies are just too big. It is virtually impossible to manage a company with 200,000 to 300,000 people. Apple, Google, Amazon and just a few others are the exception. Most American corporations are too big for one individual or one group of individuals to manage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *