“That’ll teach you - Part 2, Good learning starts with a question” (#38)

Last week I recounted the story of Gary feeding back to Tony (#37) after his Team Brief. I hinted pretty heavily that neither a better brief nor strong feedback were the real intention. The intention being to nurture self-reflection in Tony. If he can reflect, he can find his gap. From there it's a small step to self-teaching (assuming that the "standard" for a strong Team Brief is made clear). 

Some years ago I heard a saying along the lines of 'we don't remember days, we remember moments'. I tend to agree with this sentiment, especially in relation to my formative lean years. Indeed, on previous occasions I've written about my sensei Mick-san and his typically harsh Toyota old timer teaching style. 

A cold January Edinburgh evening in 1999 springs to mind as Mick-san shouted "bakayaro" at me through our sheepish interpreter. I'll let you google the word to fully appreciate his brutal appraisal of my performance. Only later, on reflection, did I realise that his frustration was not with my skill level (low at that point), but with my inability to critique my own performance adequately.

The prime objective was unstated at the time, to show me how to critique my own performance, find the gaps in my knowledge and teach myself. Teaching me TPS was just a means to an end in keeping with Teruyuki Minoura's comment that the T in TPS stands for 'Thinking'.

Apart from regular reunions with Mick-san like this China trip (#6)I have continued to teach myself in 3 ways (beyond reading books and blogs):

(i) By keeping close to a handful of people more skilled than me to pick their brains mercilessly

(ii) Taking on client activities in areas that I was good enough, but less experienced, in

(iii) Perhaps most importantly I've sought out chances daily to learn.

Point (iii) is the subject of today's blog.

My twitter feed, dross to one side,  is full of things that have piqued my interest and led me to think daily. By way of example, I recall pondering the capacity management of the lifts in the Empire State building which was woeful during my first visit to New York in 1999. Equally, mentally calculating line balance metrics in the queue at Subway (trying to calculate the time I'd be served based on my quick fire observation of the line balance ratio, efficiency & a rough TAKT calculation at whatever time I was there) passed a few minutes.

Both of these are to do with the mechanics of tool based lean and reflected where my thinking was then. No problem with that and I still consider such things to this day, as per the blood donation tweet at the head of this post, or the time I spent on a Ryanair flight recently thinking about the lack of seatback pockets...

My rough train of thought started with; Why are the emergency instructions printed on the seatback not on a card? because there's nowhere to put the card because there's no pocket. Why haven't I got a pocket? (feeling momentarily aggrieved). Because this avoids trash and crap building up, making it quicker to clean. Who does this benefit? Me or Ryanair? Not me, I've got nowhere to put my book, or my crap :) It's gotta be about minimising turnaround time, avoiding penalties and reducing labour cost. Unsurprisingly this suits Ryanair much more than it suits me, the customer!

I went from "hmmm, that's interesting" to "Is this a problem, and if so, who is it a problem for?" Crucially, I started with a question, a habit that Mick-san drummed into me 20 years ago.

Interestingly I think about this stuff slightly less now in favour of looking out (a) for how businesses engage their people and (b) how to build a simpler system to do this, maintain control & nurture a regular supply of improvements. 

Today's message then is to always have a question, good learning starts with a question. This is the pre-requisite to teaching yourself. I'll end with Mick-san's words from an interview I did with him for a magazine some years ago. I'd asked him why his teaching had been so harsh...

"In Japan the teaching environment was to let you think. When you hear something, rather than just absorbing it you have to think, "Why is he saying that?'...I feel the British process of teaching is different to this. The answer is too readily available. It should be that if you don't think of a good question, nobody will tell you. In order to have a question you have to think"


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