A tribute to Norman Bodek, my friend, my guide and a wonderful human being

The guy who put the S in TIMWOODS

It was on a lazy Sunday afternoon back in September. I was lying comfortably on the sofa watching some videos on management on YouTube. By sheer luck I have come across a lecture Norm was giving at Jon M Huntsman School of Business in 2012.

Nihat Karaoglu
Nihat Karaoglu

Nihat is a faculty member at the NK Institute of Human Advancement founded by Norman Bodek and Kazuyoshi Hisano. He is the president of ExeQ, a firm that provides leadership based on the principles of socially responsible business.

Back then I was pretty much oblivious to Norm’s service to lean, although I thought I knew a great deal about lean. I knew my “muda, mura, muri” alright. I even had my “light green” belt some years back. I deployed Hoshin-Kanri a few months ago. But I didn’t know the guy who put the ‘S’ in TIMWOODS. For my friends outside the industry, TIMWOODS is the acronym which is taught to lean novices to remember their 8 wastes. ‘S’ stands for “skills waste” or as Norm put it “the wasted human potential”, which he added to the original seven from Ohno and spent half-a-life time combating it.

For the past twenty-five years I have been in tech consulting and management with occasional visits to state-of-the-art manufacturing plants with yellow floor markings. My job had little overlap with the manufacturing shops, I was rather interested in the human side of the things.

The Miracle

I was captivated by the lecture I was watching. Norman Bodek, the “Godfather of Lean” was talking to the soon to be entrepreneurs and managers at this select business school in Utah. He was telling them how he sold his shares in Apple as an early investor, how he automated back office chores before Bill Gates and how he read that article on NYT which changed the manufacturing industry in America for good.

He was telling the soon to be entrepreneurs that the real goal in life for all of us was “to melt and disappear “ to allow that creative energy “to come into you and use you.

I told my wife “Wow this guy is amazing! I really wish he was around. I really wish I could talk to him”. I assumed he would have already retired by now and living somewhere in the States far away from the foots of the Swiss Alps where I live. I did not know that, that wish would be granted in a few days.

That night I bought his Harada method book and started reading it. After turning a few pages, I saw a message from him buried in the text under a picture. “If you want a bigger version send me an email at [email protected]”. So, I wrote:

Dear Norman,
I hope you are doing well. Thank you for finding and bringing all this wisdom to greater public and to people like me. I think you are fulfilling your mission in life well. I really enjoyed your videos on YouTube, how you approach life, and your sense of humour.

I was reading your book on Harada method and saw your note to send an email for a better copy of the MAP. Well, I would be grateful if you could send a copy of this to me.

I am a lean and self-development enthusiast. I worked with Hoshin-Kanri and OKR and I think Harada is really like the holy grail of all. Wish someday we could have a chat over a coffee. Your wisdom and knowledge need to be shared with more people.

I didn’t really expect a response. Maybe there would be an automatic reply or a customer service person replying to me or this address wouldn’t even work.

An hour later I received a response from the man himself “I’ve sent you the map. Join my study group”. I could not believe it was him until I exchanged several emails that night. Our exchanges continued. Norm insisted that I should get in touch with his long-time friend and protégé Christophe. Out of all places on earth he was living two hours’ drive from me. He and I hit it really well. That is when I learned that Norm and Christophe worked on social responsibility, a topic which shaped the last ten years of my life.

Here I am on Zoom with him and my wife asks, “Isn’t this the guy whose video you were watching the other week and said you wished he was around?

To me this was nothing short of a miracle.

I guess the stars were aligned when I made the wish to talk to Norman on that lazy Sunday afternoon. Otherwise, I would not be the person to encourage him to set up the “Institute” and hear his last wishes a few hours before he passed away.

Norm reached out to me from a message he planted 8 years ago in a book. I opened myself to the divine energy and let it use me to carry on his legacy.

On the video he asked a student “When are you going to pick up the phone and ask Norm how can I help you? I am waiting for your call”. Eight years later, I turned on Zoom and asked, “Norm how can I help you?”.

Ten years ago, after a series of life changing events, I made a pledge that I would dedicate two hours of my time every week to help other people without expecting anything in return.

Over the course of three months, we exchanged half-a-thousand emails, spent countless hours on Zoom. He introduced me to amazing people. In this short but intense period he helped me pass through a rough patch in my life with his guidance and support. He helped me to crystallize the purpose of my life. I will be forever grateful for this.

Norman was a visionary. He knew what people needed before they realised. He had a talent for finding talented people. I witnessed this and many people testify for that. He was full of divine energy. I will cherish forever what he wrote me once:

Yes Nihat
My life has been filled with miracles – it keeps happening.  You are one of my latest miracles.
I am 88 years old but feel I am 40.  I work just as hard as I ever did.

Yes, I also know that in truth this body is on lease and someday my spirit will join with the divine.

We will do miracles together

In the morning he sent us a video with a message “Having just an amazing day. It never happened to me before. They were coming and eating from my hand!”.

I replied to him “I think you still have a mission, and that is to pass on whatever knowledge and wisdom you have to other people. And we gather around you like the birds feeding from your hand

Yes, we gathered around him like those birds he fed.

The Institute

Years ago, Norman witnessed the power of study groups, when he and his friend at Omark bought and brought 500 copies of Ohno’s book to the US. This is how lean story began which revolutionized the manufacturing industry as well as many other industries such as the software industry, giving lead to ideas like Agile, Lean Software and DevOps.

Over the years Norman accumulated lots of material from the grand masters like Ohno, Shingo and many others. He wanted these materials to be shared and studied by his mentees. He wanted to create study groups to pass this material on.

I thought at the time study groups would only continue as long as Norm was fit to lead them. There should have been something sustainable, which could take Norm’s principles and teachings for a century or more just like the big business schools out there. I thought I convinced him to the idea, or he led me believe that I did so. We’ll never know. This is how we got started with the institute overnight or at least started using the term. In the following days, with several of Norm’s close friends we started elaborating the idea further.

One thing was clear, everyone in the band he gathered had a common purpose in life; do good for other people, create a better world where people are happy at work, create a sustainable economy which helps society and humanity to advance. In other words, we each were representing different pillars of his idea of socially responsible business model.

His Legacy

I used have regular calls for the past few months. I had my last call with him a couple of hours before he passed away. We discussed his projects at length. He was excited and full of passion and optimism about the future.

He wanted the institute to reach 2 million people. This was the last goal he has set for us. He wanted to teach people how to be autonomous, develop themselves to the fullest and create happy workplaces that contribute to the happiness of the society and humanity. That is why we called it the “Institute for Human Advancement »

He was really passionate about social responsibility. Many of us know that, he was a visionary. He knew what people (society) needed before they realised, just like ‘productivity‘, ‘harada method‘ and ‘gold vision‘. He believed that a socially responsible business model is what the world needs. He was putting together a workshop to put that into practice. His last work was a manual for the workshop. We would finalize it this week and give you a first taste of it during this week’s study group. Suresh and I did the review of the material last week, there were just a few things left.  But we as the people worked closely with Norman at the institute, have all the intention to carry on with his work and bring everyone his last teachings. He was really excited about this work. 

He wanted to increase the frequency of his groups to twice a week. He wanted to finalize his manual for socially responsible leadership.

He wanted everyone to have the same level of best care wherever they live. I have been involved with the health industry both professionally and privately as president of an NGO. On that day, he asked me to rapidly organize a roundtable with leaders from the healthcare and the lean community.

Norman cared deeply for people. No matter who you are, if you’d asked for help, he would sit with you and try to help you.

Norman was always very positive and open to what life brought to him. He kept on learning every day. I was amazed how he was able to get around with all the technology and new things I have shown him.

I think Norm prepared everything for his passing as if he knew. He diligently scanned all the papers and notes he received from the masters like Deming, Ohno, Shingo and many others he has met over the years. He gave this material to us to study, share and build on. He made sure the his last find in Japan, Kazuyoshi Hisano‘s book “CEO coaching” has been published. He finished writing his manual for social responsibility and engaged us to complete his work. He set goals for us and gave directions for the future. The day he passed away, he backed up everything on his computer to hard drives.

He was a wonderful human being. I consider myself lucky that I had a chance to know him in this lifetime. I will miss him deeply. I hope I can fulfil what he left as a mission to me.

Last Saturday, he told us “You know I am 88, this means Norman is not going to be around for long. So you need to think about your future and goals. I want you to work on your “balance wheel” (something from Hisano method) this weekend. Send me your balance wheel and we will work on how you can achieve your goals.”

This was as if he was preparing to leave. This touched me so deeply that right after our session, I wrote him;

88 is just a number,
You die when your passion dies. 
And you still have lots of passion in you. You keep amazing us ! 
You die when the last person remembering your name dies. 
And you have lots of people who know your name ! » 

His desk was still full of his notes on things he would do. We will make sure that his passion and name lives on and lasts hopefully even after me and my children.