Safety Experts Talk logo
Safety Experts Talk Industry leader interviews covering safety, 5S, Lean, Six Sigma and
continuous improvement topics. 30-minute podcasts on PPE, software,
tools, GHS labeling and more. Rich library of safety-related content.
Industry leader interviews covering safety, 5S, Lean, Six Sigma and continuous improvement topics. 30-minute podcasts on PPE, software, tools, GHS labeling and more. Rich library of safety-related content.

Starting A Visual Workplace – Pt. 2

Starting A Visual Workplace should not mean you’ll get a pink slip because of workplace efficiency. Dr. Gwendolyn Galsworth explains.

Dr. Galsworth

In this 2nd podcast with Dr. Galsworth, she points out that Visuality will create new efficiencies in the workplace. However, workers should not worry about being eliminated.

Gwendolyn also tells of her career history, how she worked with Norman Bodek, and was apprentice to the great Shigeo Shingo who is regarded as an expert in efficiencies in manufacturing and TPS, the Toyota Production System.

Gwendolyn is the president and founder of Visual Thinking, Inc. and The Visual Lean Institute.

Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Take a look at our website at for related links in the transcript of this podcast.

Introduction music

Dan Clark: Hello, this is Dan Clark, with Safety Experts Talk, and part 2 of our interview with Dr. Gwendolyn Galsworth. Dr. Galsworth is the head of Visual Thinking, Inc. and The Visual Lean Institute. She is also the author of the 2012 Shingo Award winning book “Work That Makes Sense: Operator Led Visuality.” Antonio Ferraro of Creative Safety Supply continues his interview with Gwendolyn on Safety Experts Talk.


Antonio Ferraro: Hello again, Gwendolyn.

Gwendolyn: Thank you, Antonio

Antonio: Can you tell us about Visual Thinking Inc., and The Visual Institute?

Gwendolyn: Oh, yeah, I’d love to. So I started my company in 1991 after about 10 years working for a premier company in bringing information from Japan called Productivity, Inc. My boss was Norman Bodek, who was pretty much a legend in his own time. And, ah, I paid my dues, there. But it was a wonderful, basic education. I went to Japan a lot, went to Australia, went to India. Went to the edge of the edge, and learned from the great Shingo, was my mentor and I was literally was his apprentice. I sat on his knee. He didn’t even know my name, but I was there a lot.

He didn’t know anybody’s name.

Antonio: Wow

Gwendolyn: The only thing that existed for Shingo was his work. And he recognized himself in the mirror, but he was a completely fanatical, driven contributor. A genius on every level. And, if you’ve ever been around these geniuses, they don’t know who you are. They know who they are. That’s what they’re concerned about: Getting all of this stream of information that’s in their head out so that when they die they are empty.

Antonio: Wow, that is so unique.

Gwendolyn: Yeah, really amazing. So I started my company in ’91. It was called Quality Methods. I was sitting in a little room, about a 10×15 or 8×10. When I opened my bed, which was a convertible sofa, I had to walk across the bed to get to my desk. And I sat there—I remember it was a February 9th, very cold out in Boston—and I decided I was going to start a company. I had left Productivity, and I was going to call it Quality Methods, because I wanted methodology that would get people from A to B, and B to C, and C to R very reliably.

I was very interested in cause and effect. And effect and cause. And I wrote down the name Quality Methods. And I remember saying to myself, “That’s not big enough.” And remember, there’s just me. And there’s not even a Rolodex, if people know what I mean. I didn’t take the Rolodex with me. And, ah, I said “That’s not big enough.”

And so I put the name “International” on it. Quality Methods, International. (laughs) This is just like Tom Watson, Jr., starting IBM.

Antonio: That right. Not just “Business Machines”

Gwendolyn: No, no, no! INTERNATIONAL Business Machines. It’s exactly that. So I went along and we started the Institute in 2005 to train and license people in nine core methodologies. And then in 2010, I think, or ’11, I changed the name to something that was closer to what we were doing. I changed the name to Visual Thinking.

And we specialize in the technologies of the digital workplace. We do DVDs, we do books, we do webinars—wonderful, big-screen webinars—so you can train 30 or 40 people. All pre-narrated webinars with our wonderful pictures of visual devices—we call them Teaching Slides—so that people really understand Visuality.

And we license in-house trainers. We’re doing a 14 plant rollout right now with a textile company. And it’s all remote.

I went…two years ago, I went to about, oh, seven or eight or nine of those plants. But now the training is long-distance. They bought a package. Very reasonable, very affordable. And I coach their trainers and coach their leaders. And we’ve translated that into Spanish, probably going to translate it into Chinese.

But it’s very, very satisfying work. It’s particularly satisfying because it can be done long-distance. Because, then, I’m not the limitation. I’m not the bottleneck. I really train very, very well and everybody wants me to come out. But these packages are allowing us to reach a lot more people.

And the radio show, we get like 70 thousand people a month listening in. And growing. And, so, people are beginning to understand that Visuality is a language that they can use to take the struggle out of work, and that’s what my company is mostly about.

And I do keynotes, and I do talks, and this and that and the other thing. But what I want, the vision that I have, is for there to be a Visual Workplace. Whoever you are, the Visual Workplace showcase—a showcase of visuality—within 50 miles driving distance of you, whoever you are. So, there’s a lot of work to do. And I’m afraid I’ve caught the same disease as my sensei, Shigeo Shingo. I want to be empty when I pass, and I want it all to be out there. And that’s one of the reasons, Antonio, that I’m happy to be talking to you.

Antonio: I want to move on to our next question. There are several fallacies out there, in regards to Lean. When many people hear that their employer is implementing Lean practices, it seems that some people automatically think that they’re at risk of losing their jobs in an effort to cut costs. Can you decipher this fallacy, and why this belief is untrue, or, I guess, may be true?

Gwendolyn: Yeah, so there used to be a big, big worry back in the ‘80s when I began—I’ve been doing this work for about 30 years—that improvement would, in fact, take people’s jobs away. And it happened at the beginning, because companies were so excited about the improvement they had not laid the plans for “what do we do when we no longer need people because we have reduced the time and the space of operations itself?”

And when Lean first came in, which was called JIT and Cellular Design at the time, there was a lot of commotion around mistakes made in that regard. As many of you know, these paradigms of thinking, these knowledge pots, came from Japan where Japan made it a policy, pretty much nationwide, of giving people permanent, lifetime employment. That was a, pretty much, a federal policy that people, when they work, would have lifetime employment.

Much of that actually existed and exists even today in Europe. You can’t fire people from their jobs, but you can in the United States. And these initiatives, or these approaches, really grabbed hold in the United States and then they populated outwards to other western countries.

And that did happen and unions were rightly outraged by it, because, you know, when you reduce the space, when you break the silos and start stringing value add operation in a logical sequence, in the actual sequence of production, you are going to automatically get rid of a lot of your material handlers and as you move toward Standard Work—not standardized work, but Standard Work. There’s a big difference—Standard Work, you are going to become much more efficient.

So that did happen and it took quite a while for that situation to right itself. To kind of become better aligned with the values that are also a part of the model of operational improvement. But, I will be very frank with you. Over the last 10 or 15 years, even though many companies have learned that there’s a better way that it is very uncool to let people go after they’ve given you of their brains and their hearts and helped you improve, a lot of companies continue to do that.

So, I know this isn’t quite the answer you want me to give, Antonio, but this isn’t Disneyland. This isn’t a previously designed environment that we enter into. This is real life, dynamic struggle of how do we be prosperous, and still help other people participate in that prosperity.

And it is a war of values because some people believe that their prosperity is more important than the prosperity of others. It’s called greed. And, some companies act this way, but fewer and fewer of them do. So, the first thing that has to happen is the leadership, the executive leadership of your company, needs to make a decision about this. And that needs to be a board room decision. And they need to come out, and come out clean, with not just the statement that no one will lose their job, but as importantly, not just the declaration of values, but “how do we make that operationalized?”

“What will we do? What is our plan? What will we do when someone, whose job has been made redundant because of their own contributions to improvement, what is our strategy? What are we going to do? How are we going to reabsorb them? What are our plans for this? Because, if they’re not planned, if we don’t know what will happen when the inevitable happens—which we say we want to happen when we become more efficient—if we don’t have a plan in place, then people will be compromised. And we will not be able to stand up to stakeholders. We will not be able to stand up to the money people and say ‘this is how I am justifying retaining this person that we no longer need.’”

So I think that Lean is still going through a process of maturing, but we mustn’t just spout homilies and say this is the way we “should” behave. We know there’s a danger there, and I would say the models are emerging about giving executives choices in that regard. Some of the models are extreme in their positivity, they’re so amazingly inspirational and forward moving that they’re out of many companies’ reach.

They’ll say, “Wow, that company can do it, but, you know, Google can do it, and Nike can do it, but we don’t have that level of prosperity. We don’t have those deep pockets. We’re going to have to be less inspirational in our choices. And less politically correct.” So, it’s a very serious question. It should not be hidden. And I really honor those companies that are struggling with this question, and the answers will not be easy. But you have to find answers.

Antonio: It’s always unfortunate to see people lose their jobs, but sometimes the business makes that decision because they think it’s best overall thing to do to cut costs.

Gwendolyn: Yes, but, Antonio, what I’m saying is that we cannot land on “its always unfortunate.” What we have to do is, if we are going to invite people to contribute their brains, and if we dare say to them “and you will not lose your job as a result of it,” we darn well better be prepared to act on that and have a tactical response and a strategic response. A plan for making sure that that doesn’t happen.

And it’s not going to be “oh, too bad.” Because, you know what? Revolutions are started on that emotion. It’s called rage. Because it will be not just unfortunate, it is, what I call, wrong. And wrong in a very, very big sense. Ethically and morally wrong. And the prosperity that it’s built on, that level of wrongness, is no prosperity at all. It’s very, very temporary.

Antonio: It’s amazing, Gwendolyn. You are a true natural when it comes the topics of Visual Workplace and Lean. I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to be with us today. Any last-minute thoughts or comments that you might like to share in regards to implementing a Visual Workplace?

Gwendolyn: I don’t think that you can get to excellence without it. And I want you to know that it is the same as language. And do not underestimate its power. And also do not accept the definition, and I’m going to be politically incorrect about this, I find that the folks doing Lean do not know about visuality as a language. They support point solutions. And the same way with the folks in Six Sigma.

And it’s not their fault. They were not taught widely, this paradigm did not exist. And it doesn’t exist in many people’s minds that there is a wide definition of Visuality, and that it’s highly functional.

Maybe I will leave you with this image. If you would think of Visuality as one wing of the bird. A bird has two wings. It needs both wings to fly. One wing is about Visuality. The other wing is about Lean and Six Sigma. Or, if you will, about Lean.

Lean is about implementing a predetermined business benefit that is called “Pull”. It is made up of Kanban, and it is made up of Standard Work. Standard Work and Kanban. And what you are doing when you put Pull in place, is you’re are harnessing time.

When you put Pull in place, you’re are harnessing time.

But you cannot create Pull if you don’t have the other wing. The other wing is about information and flow. And that wing is Visuality.

So, if you think of operational excellence as two wings of a bird, then you’ll have Pull and information working hand in hand. They are of equal importance. Not one is more important, the way it is with the bird. A bird can’t favor one wing over another because it’ll crash. It will never get off the ground, and never reach its destination.

The body, of course, is people. The body of the bird is the cultural piece, and that alignment.

So I would like to leave you with that image for you to have the right size when you think about Visuality. It’s that important. And it’s been my honor and pleasure for this to be my life’s work, and talk with you, Antonio, and the good people who are listening.

Antonio: Before you go, please tell us about your radio show, and how we can go about finding it.

Gwendolyn: Right. Thank you for asking. So the radio show on Voice America,, and just look under The Visual Workplace. “The” will be part of your search. You have to, if you put Visual Workplace, it won’t show up. It’ll be The Visual Workplace, or you can look under my name, Gwendolyn Galsworth.

Again, the podcasts are on our website, So it’s a very, very good training tool. And while we’re talking about me, let me mention that my last two books, the books that Antonio mentioned in his opening remarks, are very good ones. But there’s another five books on Visuality.

These two books are also on Kindle and Print On Demand. We’re trying to get them in countries all over the world. “Visual Workplace, Visual Thinking,” which is the overall model. And the second one is “Work That Makes Sense. Operator Led Visuality.”

I’m going to be coming out about the next six or seven months with a book on visual leadership, “The Principles And Practices Of Visual Leadership.” I think that’s going to be two volumes, because I think we want to do a whole volume on supervisors. Kind of the way I was talking about, before about how do you help people change their identity, change their job description, and thereby change their identity, so that supervisors are leaders of improvement, rather than just expediters and worriers.

Antonio: Gwendolyn, it has been an honor to have you on today. You gave us a lot of information, and I think everyone will appreciate this.

Gwendolyn: Thank you very much

Antonio: veryone, it’s about that time where we have to say goodbye. This is Antonio Ferraro, and thanks to all of you for joining us.

(Outro Music with Voiceover)

Brandon: Thank you for joining us on Safety Experts Talk. If you have suggestions for future podcasts, send them to
For more safety experts talking about safety news, OSHA regulations, PPE, lean, 5S, or Continuous Improvement, go to


conveyor image © ℗ 2011 PEO ACWA / KEN Young – Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives

Additional Resources