A Look at “Embrace Scientific Thinking”

by Ken Snyder

“Embrace Scientific Thinking” is a principle in the Continuous Improvement dimension of the Shingo Model™. This principle is included in the Model to guide people on how to do problem-solving. Embrace Scientific Thinking requires standard work. Without standard work we have no basis for making changes. With standard work, Embrace Scientific Thinking becomes a relentless and systematic exploration of new ideas. It allows for failures. It enables us to constantly refine our understanding of reality. It forces us to look for the root cause. It helps us find the problem in the system and fix the system so the problem doesn’t reoccur. Anyone in the enterprise can look at a problem and generate cycles of experimentation and improvement. Innovation and improvement are the consequences of repeated cycles of experimentation, direct observation, and learning.

Suggestions and Rationales

Three different suggestions have been submitted to improve the description of this principle:

  • “Embrace Scientific Method.” The rationale for this suggestion is that the process is better described by the word “method” as opposed to the word “thinking.”
  • “Engage in Scientific and Critical Thinking.” The rationale for this suggestion is that “engage” is more active than “embrace.” Also, “scientific thinking” is the experimental mindset, whereas “critical thinking” is the mental processing and analysis needed to extract the learning from the results of experimentation.
  • “Embrace Value Improvement.” The rationale for this is to switch the focus of the description from the thinking or method to the purpose.

All three of these suggestions have value that informs how we should teach the principle, and each has a solid rationale.

“Scientific Thinking” or “Scientific Method”

These terms are mutually dependent. Following scientific thinking drives scientific method. Following scientific method forces scientific thinking to occur. Either title implies both the “thinking” and the “method.”

We support different problem-solving methodologies – PDCA/PDSA or any variation thereof, DMAIC, etc. All of the methodologies observed follow “scientific thinking.” We are concerned that use of the word “method” might draw us into a distracting discussion about which methodology best supports “scientific method.” “Scientific thinking” is a methodology-independent term.

We prefer “scientific thinking” largely because that is what our namesake, Shingo Shigeo, always called it. Even in Japanese, he used the abbreviation “ST” as his own short-hand for “scientific thinking.” He wrote two books with “ST” in the title. We chose to follow his example when we developed the Model. We prefer to continue to follow his example.

“Embrace” or “Engage”?

It is suggested that “engage” is more active than “embrace.” Looking at the applicable definitions, there doesn’t seem to be a big difference. The dictionary definition of “embrace” is to “accept or support willingly and enthusiastically.” The dictionary definition of “engage” is “to take part in; join in; be involved in.” If anything, the “willingly and enthusiastically” aspect of “embrace” suggests the ideal behavior. Changing from “embrace” to “engage” is not compelling.

Process or Purpose?

The suggestion that we describe this principle in terms of its purpose is intriguing. Our concern is that defining the principle by its purpose would distract away from scientific thinking and method. We feel compelled to follow another principle which seems to apply – the principle of “Focus on Process.” This principle should support the process of problem-solving, and not the objectives of problem-solving.

The Proposal

Retain the current terminology of “Embrace Scientific Thinking.” It forces following scientific method. It is something that problem-solvers around the world can willingly and enthusiastically embrace. It supports the purpose by focusing on the process. It works in our workshops. And it follows Shingo.

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