Think like a Black Belt, Act like a Ninja. Part I – Talk Without Speaking

ninja1Think outside of the Lean Six Sigma vernacular for a moment and name some of the connotations of the term “Black Belt”. I think of the screaming of words that for all I know could be gibberish. I think of  purveyors of a discipline that is somewhat unknown to me, and I think they like that. I also think of a lot of things being smashed because they could.  Most of all I see actions that scream “Look at me! Look at what I can do!”.  If all eyes weren’t suppose to be on the Black Belt, I don’t think movies would portray the Black Belt’s antagonists as folks who all look alike.

Unfortunately for the folks who pay their bills by practicing continuous improvement, there are a good number of “Black Belts” out there who act more like Bruce Lee than they should. In some cases it’s an issue of ego and in some cases it’s due to company culture. Many shops use the Black Belt role to show senior management how many bricks and boards a promising talent can toss around without getting hurt.

Don’t you love the fact that Lean Six Sigma is all about making processes effective and efficient, yet the actions of the “Black Belt” are far from effective and efficient?  A ninja, on the other hand is a different story. Brush a man’s teeth without waking him?  That’s elegance. Elegance is a word that is rarely spoken in LSS circles. Act like a ninja and that will change.

This is my first posting in a series I would like to call “Think like a Black Belt, Act like a Ninja”.  In these postings I would like to speak to how you can help your team get out of their “Kicking and Screaming” mode and begin to do the cool things ninjas get done. In the end I think your team will thank you for it and most of all, your company will thank your team for it. Because truth be told, if you are continuously acting in true “Heee-yah!” form, then the folks in your company are sick of your nonsense. They really are.

This introductory posting speaks of the 1st cardinal rule of being a Lean Six Sigma Ninja: Always talk without speaking.

As an avid sports fan I have listened to a lot of sports radio broadcasts over the years. One particular broadcast still sticks with me after several years solely because of the announcer’s stupidity.  In this broadcast Colorado Rockies broadcaster Wayne Hagin speculated on Todd Helton’s use of performance enhancement drugs.  Hagin said “I’m going to say something that is the absolute truth, and he will be mad at me for saying it if it gets out, but Todd Helton, a tremendously gifted baseball player, he tried it.”.  The questions if Wayne Hagin had the right to call Todd Helton out on the air and if the statement was justified have been vetted on the internet to exhaustion, and at the time that wasn’t even what I found ridiculous.  When I first heard the statement I thought “He will be mad at me for saying it if it gets out? You are on public radio, you idiot.”.

What was Wayne Hagin’s ‘Black Belt’ offenses?

Saying anything about anyone to anyone and think it’s staying in the room. It just doesn’t.  No one wants to hear comments about them, their team or their project second hand.  A ninja speaks only to those who should be spoken to.  Act like a ninja in this regard and you come across as a person who is above politics, has a bee-line focus and is also someone who can be trusted. Once that trust is gained a ninja begins to descend more “into the know” and as I will discuss in a later post, leverages that to a significant advantage.

Speaking ill of others in order to try to improve your perceived value.  I can’t count the number of times I have heard a Black Belt say something along the lines of “I (yes…”I”) just finished a project that saved two million in accounts receivable. Boy, they were a mess over there”. Why? If you (yes….”you”) really saved a department two million dollars, you really need to be shouting about it? Really? If you really had such a knockout success on a project you must have had some incredible business owner support. Support from the same folks who just called out as “a mess”.  A true ninja never sounds their own trumpet. Why?  Because a ninja knows there is always someone else with a much bigger one. You mess with the trumpet player that plays for the “house band” and you just may hear a tune that isn’t to your liking.  In the case of Lean Six Sigma, it is the stakeholder’s. On the flip side, nothing speaks louder than praise from a business owner. If you really help rope in a multi-million dollar savings I guarantee words will be spoken.  When the same words come out of the mouth of a stakeholder you have a combined internal reference, you have verification and validation.  That’s a three for one. Ninjas know that.

I haven’t seen too many martial arts movies where a ninja’s mouth is running a mile-a-minute, let alone uncovered. Now you know why.

In my next posting I’ll speak of the ninja trick that in too many cases gets associated with those poser Jedis – the mind trick.


About Russ Sacks

Russ is the current Managing Director of Exceptional Outcomes. He has over twenty years of experience in the areas of operations research, process excellence and software development. Russ has worked with organizations such as United Technologies, Allied Signal, GM and NASA in implementing computer aided optimization and continuous improvement methods. Russ is a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, and has worked in the area of process excellence in both the healthcare and information technology industries. Russ holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Union College, a Master of Science in Management from University of Maryland University College and a Master of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Vermont.
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