The Sensei Café Dilemma: Why Lean Thinking Makes Lunch Annoying


Last week, I published my first cartoon collaboration with a skilled artist (and medical assistant), Carrie Schurman.

You might call that cartoon “Strategy Dog-ployment.”

None of us expect this to be a weekly thing, but sometimes you strike when inspiration hits.

Here is our latest collaboration, the “Sensei Cafe.”

sensei cafe with caption

Again, at the risk of killing the joke by explaining it…

I've heard stories about Toyota managers grilling their employees, respectfully, about their Kaizen ideas.

The manager (or you might call them a “sensei” if they are very senior and very well respected) would not just say yes or no to an employee idea. I've heard before that Toyota managers rarely say “yes” to something the first time. They'll ask questions. Do you really understand the root cause? What alternatives have you considered before deciding on a countermeasure to test?

The idea is that the sensei is trying to understand the thought process. It's not just “did you develop a good countermeasure?” but more of “how is your thinking?” That's a better way to develop people than just approving or disapproving (and coaching on) their answer.

I'm sure the guy at the counter is thinking, “Hey, I just want that patty melt.”

Anyway, hope you like the joke. The server is wearing a name tag that says “sensei.” A “Mississippi Muda” pie sounds pretty tasty, eh?

You can see more of Carrie's artwork on her Tumblr site:

Want this image on a mug?

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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. This could have also had a Toyota Kata type caption:

    “OK, but before I put your order in, I have to ask… what is your target condition? When can we go and see what you have learned from this meal?”


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