Meeting Norman Bodek for the First Time; Healthcare and Mistakes


Last week, I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Norman Bodek in person for the first time. After all of our podcasts and electronic correspondence over the years, this was a real treat. I had a chance to chat 1-on-1 and to see him present to two different healthcare audiences about Lean and, in particular, Quick and Easy Kaizen (as you can read about in his book The Idea Generator: Quick and Easy Kaizen).

I'll share a few of his thoughts and insights.

First, I thought he made an excellent point that the goal for hospitals should be to “NEVER harm the patient.”

This is a different goal and mindset than “don't make mistakes.”

Saying “don't make mistakes” holds people to a superhuman level — are we going to penalize people for mistakes?

We have to create an environment of learning and open problem solving — being open about mistakes is our way of solving that problem so we don't have it reoccur in the future.

Norman told a story (also discussed here online) about our innate creativity. He asked the room what percentage of people thought they were “highly creative.” About 20% of the room raised their hands. He said that was surprising, since most studies show 2% of adults self-identify as “highly creative.”

Norman asked how many little children are highly creative? All of them!

What happens to this innate ability we are born with? A study showed that, by the end of Kindergarten, only 90% are still highly creative. By the end of first grade, it's only 10%. By the end of second grade, the number is down to adult levels — 2%. That's sad.

The system beats the creativity out of us. It's the education system. Norman asks what happens in first grade — the introduction of formal grading systems that punish us for making mistakes. If we learn by making mistakes, how do we have an educational system that punishes us for that?

Norman says:

“you've been brainwashed… you're still creative.”

I guess schools (and many businesses) want people who are passive and easily controlled, so the creativity is drummed out of us.

He then told a story about visiting Japan — this was a new one to me — and he saw a board in a factory with pictures of the employees. A worker came over and started writing something down under their picture. They were writing down a mistake they had made. Can you believe it? That wouldn't fly in most organizational cultures. In that factory's culture, mistakes would not get you fired or punished – otherwise, who would write something down?

They embraced their problems as learning opportunities, as something to be shared.

I don't think that's something most of us can go implement until we have a highly advanced “Lean culture” in our workplace.

Anyway, it was a real pleasure meeting Norman. He's currently in Japan (his 68th trip), leading yet another study mission. I hope you all get a chance to meet him — or, at the least, listen to his podcasts and read his books.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I’ll be conducting a video conference with Norman Bodek for businesses in my local region in June. I’m really looking forward to that. I’ve talked with Mr. Bodek, even done some live V/C testing with him. He’s an interesting man with a wealth of knowledge.

    Lucky you to meet him face-to-face!

  2. Interesting guy. I want to introduce Quick and Easy Kaizen where I work. Anyone know if there is a way of getting a question to Norman or indeed anybody who has expertise in this area as I am stuck?

  3. You can contact him through or email me using the link in the left hand column of the blog and I’ll pass your message along.


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