“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.