North American Kumon Vision 2008 developed in 2004 projected a student enrollment of 300,000 by 2005 and 1 million in 2008. All the gears were oiled and engines tuned up for such an exciting outlook. The “Dream Team” was created. Branding was in full force. The CMS software package got reworked. There was serious effort to foster “mutual trust & respect, open communication, innovation, and simplicity” within the corporate atmosphere.  That is “the real Kumon way” declared the top executives in New Jersey.

After spending millions of royalty income on these projects and transporting staff from all across this continent for “training after training and more training”, what is the outcome?                                             

In a scholarly article, “Forget about Causes, Focus on Solutions”, Fred Nichols of Distance Consulting explored several theories about Problem Solving. In his introduction, he writes, “The search for a solution is always a search for a course of action that will produce the desired results. This is true regardless of the cause of the problem, if a cause can even be said to exist.”

What is a problem? Nichols describes it as a discrepancy between actual conditions (or WHAT IS) and desired conditions (WHAT SHOULD BE). He explores further the ideal approach – Solution Engineering. He writes, “The search is not for the cause of the problem but for those factors that, if changed in certain ways, would produce the results desired.”

He continues, “This search is made more efficient and effective if it is carried out by systematically examining the structure of the situation in which the problem may be said to be ‘embedded’”.

To be highly critical of the “What is” condition at Kumon serves no purpose except to fan the flames of discontent and despair. What good would that do? Hence, the purpose of this post is to cause everyone, in particular, the leaders of the Kumon organization here in North America and in Japan to seriously consider the merits of Solution Engineering.

Certain facts are known. Corporate Kumon and instructors alike want to see enrollment goals realized. The goal of 1,000,000 students in 2008 in North America (What should be) points to a gap of 742,000 taking into account the actual enrollment of 258,000 (What is). It is an incredible gap.

There are other “What is” factors:

1)       Low earnings to hours work ratio

2)       Insufficient retained earnings to promote centre growth

3)       Instructor burn-out due to inability to expand staff requirement

4)       Poor or almost non-existent open market value for equity

5)       Poor or non-existent benefit for voluntary or involuntary withdrawal from center operations

6)       Poor business succession prospects

What are the responsibilities of business managers? Is it simply to keep the business running regardless of outcomes; regardless of failure to set goals and achieve them? Nichols points out that “The task of the effective manager and executive is to innovate to invent new ways of achieving improved results at lower costs….solutions must be engineered even if causes can’t be found or aren’t fixable.

Fortunately in Kumon’s case, causes of failure (to achieve goals) are facing us right smack on the face.

What are the main causes?

·       Punitive royalty structure

·       Excessive corporate spending on projects that barely contribute to outcome desired

·       Low staff morale

·       The obvious inflexible and tight control of private interest in Japan (Teiko Kumon and family)

In SOLUTION ENGINEERING, “To solve a problem, something must be changed. In complex systems, change is typically indirect. Results are achieved as a consequence of intervening at points that are often far removed from those where results are measured.”

The instructors’ Elite Retreat is an example of an indirect intervention (to achieve the desired result) but looking at the enrollment statistics, it has had no effect on the “Richter’s Scale”; neither has the branding project or the “thinking face”; or CMS; or Feedback; or Learning from excellent students; or corporate training – in spite of the managers patting themselves on the back.

What would seriously close the gap between “What is” and “What should be” are as clear as a rainbow after a storm.

·       Focus on improving the plight of all instructors anywhere in the world

·       Convince Teiko Kumon and her advisors that her wealth will more than multiply when she relinquishes her tight rein

·       Restructure the royalty structure to reward the most successful and create incentives for all others to achieve the same success

·       Establish marketability of centre equity

Like Dr. Larry F. Weber, Bob Evans is relatively unknown. Yet the works of these two men have changed the world. Bob Evans is the pioneer of the IBM mainframe computer. He died in 2004 at the age of 77. When thinking of plasma TV, we immediately have Panasonic or Pioneer in mind. With computers, we think of IBM, HP, Apple or Microsoft. Most of us don’t even know who Weber or Evans is. When we buy an Apple Macbook or Iphone, we don’t associate this with Steve Wozniak, its pioneer. Why, because all of these men have relinquished their control over their inventions. In effect, they have given their talent and inventions to mankind – unselfishly.

Until that happens to Kumon, the gap between “WHAT IS” and “WHAT SHOULD BE” will never be closed.


 Your insightful remarks are invited.