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It's About Best Practicing

by Mike Rother
June 17, 2014

It's About Best Practicing

by Mike Rother
June 17, 2014 | Comments (3)

“If you make the same mistake three times, that becomes your arrangement."

- Jorma Kaukonen, Jefferson Airplane guitarist 

Jeff Liker, author of The Toyota Way, has a knack for taking in information, reflecting and synthesizing. As a lean teacher, he asks tough questions that prevent us from becoming complacent in our lean thinking and doing. In a video I made with Jeff recently, he used the analogy of learning to play guitar to illustrate:

  • That most of us will need to deliberately practice specific routines before a new concept will influence our behavior, let alone become a habit and mindset.
  • That using the Improvement Kata pattern to break tough challenges into an emerging series of smaller target conditions can be a joy. Jeff talks about how The Toyota Way is the big picture and Toyota Kata gives us a means for how to get there.
  • That it’s normal to not know in advance how we will reach a goal, and that this requires a mindset and way of working that incorporates experimentation and reflection. Many organizations don’t have this kind of culture yet, though more and more are working on it.

Practicing the scientific pattern of the Improvement Kata is a way of dealing with what we call the Threshold of Knowledge, where we lack facts and data and start guessing. In my experience, developing skill with the Improvement Kata pattern helps anyone and any team more successfully navigate beyond that boundary, which in turn makes people more able to acknowledge their knowledge thresholds. The team grows more comfortable with not yet having all the answers, developing the self-efficacy to say, "I don't know," and, "Here's our next step for figuring it out." 

The Threshold of Knowledge. We never know for certain what the path to a goal will be, or even what exactly is going to happen next.

Just like practicing to learn to play an instrument, practicing the Improvement Kata helps us learn to view uncertainty more as an opportunity -- “I’ve never done that before, but I know how to figure it out and find the way.” The increase in self-efficacy happens because when we learn a scientific pattern of working it gives us something to hang onto when the path is uncertain (which it normally is). We can shift from hanging on to preconceived notions, to becoming more open in applying our natural, but often latent, human creativity.

The most significant factor affecting self-efficacy (confidence in our ability to play) is the experiences we collect over time. In other words, just knowing the steps of the Improvement Kata is not enough. The challenge is to develop new skills experientially, so that we can actually do what we know. This involves daily practice of specific routines, especially for the beginner, with corrective input from a coach. But we're not talking about just general coaching concepts here. A golf coach won't help you acquire the skill of playing the guitar, or vice versa. You need a coaching kata that's specific to teaching the scientific thinking pattern of the Improvement Kata.

I believe that scientific thinking is not just for scientists, but an essential and widely-applicable life skill for everyone, which anyone can develop through practice. Sure, some guitarists will be professionals on stage and some will be amateurs strumming around a campfire, but they all will be playing those same six strings and making music.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  culture,  kata
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3 Comments | Post a Comment
RalfLippold June 17, 2014

Thanks a lot Mike for great post - what will be essential in a world where engineers tend to focus on the tangible, and concrete outcome on actions to solve challenges in the production (or any other relevant process) is the willingness to trust their subordinates that their personal learning will help them (the boss) to achieve the goal. 

When in organizations there is time, and space for employees (and managers alike) to learn individually and collective to apply the scientific method and thinking to their challenges they have to cope with then really the KATA improvement will leap forward.

What Google has preached for a long time with the 20% "free time" to play on own dreams could very well find its way into every organization in some modified version. 

The positive outcome from that (from my personal perspective, and experience):

- trust across disciplinary boundaries
- learning culture that is based on team-based learning
- transparency and trust improvement
- processes will improve at accelerated pace, using resources at hand

Best regards from Dresden
Ralf 



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Vasu June 17, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this comment

That was a great post Mike. Most times we see this in organizations where the Leaders want all he steps defined to say how do I get there? If we are able to build a mindset that is open to accepting the fact that we may not know all the steps, but have the will and passion to get there, then we have succeeded in creating not a path but a mindset!!

One needs to be strong willed to say "I don't know" and it is absolutely OK for not knowing everything. That is how we can help drive intrinsic change...

Simple buit often overlooked. Thank you

 

 



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Dave Hogg June 23, 2014
If I had only known Jorma earlier - My life would have held less stress.  Mike, such a neat way to get the point across quickly - visions of KATA Orchestras or KATA bands bring inspiration.  It's changing my elevator speeches to get better conversations started.  Thanks.

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