I get quite a few e-mails every year pointing out errors I have made in spelling and punctuation in various speeches or blog posts. And for the record I sincerely appreciate the feedback so I can correct the oversight or error in question. The most common e-mail (by far and away) every year is the suggestion that I have misspelled the lean phrase “Gemba” because I have instead written it out as “Genba”. For those who don’t know the term in Japanese it means actual place or specifically shop floor and refers to the location where where actual work is performed. For example the phrase is used in the title of Jim Womak’s book Gemba Walks.
In reality the correct spelling of the term in Japanese is “Genba” as the first written character in question is 現 in kanji or げん in hiragana for “Gen” and the second is 場 or “ba” meaning location or place. However when you pronounce the Japanese n and ba sound together in English it sounds like an “m” and hence the confused American English spelling of this term defaulted to Gemba out of that pronunciation pattern. In reality it does not much matter unless you care about spelling and punctuation as some of my readers apparently tend to do :-) I am sometimes haphazard on this topic although I am improving.
Personally I use the “Genba” spelling version simply because I learned it that way in Japan in language classes long before I ever worked for Toyota Motor Corporation in Aichi Prefecture or became a lean consultant. Old habits (especially when they are technically correct) are hard to break. And this one I really don’t think particularly matters all that much in the end. British English and American English often for example have words which are spelled or pronounced slightly differently and yet we manage to communicate.
As a related side note since we are on the topic of Japanese phrases, in lean thinking environments you will often run across various phrases which begin with the prefix Gen as part of the word. For example is Genba, but also the phrase GenchiGenbustsu with means actual place and actual objects. In English it is translated commonly as “go and see” with the implication that you are going to see the actual objects and actual locations in question first hand.
Sometimes you might hear the phrase “3 Gen Principle” or “3G’s” for problem solving investigations referring to the terms Genchi, Genbutsu, and Genjitsu in Japanese. In English these words in turn simple mean emphasize 1) going and seeing the actual location of where the problem occurred, 2) verifying the actual objects, and 3) obtaining the actual facts. The above graphic is one abbreviated representation of that phrase depicted in Japanese kanji for example.
As I mentioned above there are quite a lot of Japanese words with begin with the character Gen. My dictionary has dozens of them some of which are common and some of which are pretty obscure. The most common places you will here the Gen terms in Japanese are probably crime based TV shows involving police investigations. Since they are problem solving in their style it is no surprise they invoke many of same terms we do in lean thinking or the Toyota Production System.
Here is a list of what I call the 8G’s of problem solving for digger deeper into the current situation. I am sure there are more than eight such words but these suffice to get started. So now you can impress (or bore) your audiences with even more Japanese terms and phrases. From a marketing point of view I guess the term Gemba Walks sounds better for a book title than Actual Place Walks :-).