Don’t Limit Your Sources of Learning

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on February 11, 2011 · 7 comments

Everyone wants to copy the best. That’s why companies such as Toyota and General Electric have been popular sources of benchmarking. That’s why Chrysler was so highly benchmarked when we were the most profitable car company.

In the lean community, I have observed a common practice of filtering ideas based on whether they come from Toyota, and even further, how far back they go in Toyota’s heritage. There are many problems with this, but where’s one to consider:

Toyota didn’t learn from only one source, so why should we limit ourselves in this way.

Toyota learned from Ford Motor Company, from Kroger Grocery Stores, from it’s founder, from Shigeo Shingo, from Dr. Deming, from Frank Wollard, from Training Within Industry trainers, and from any other source that they felt could help them gain an advantage.

They were willing to learn from so many sources because…

…they had big enough problems that they couldn’t let pride or ‘not-invented-here’ get in the way.

…they knew that many were outperforming them, but no one was perfect.

…they are trying to solve many, many problems, and not just one big problem. That means the more answers they have, the more problems they can solve.

…they understood, either consciously or unconsciously, that the rate of learning is the one true competitive advantage.

Both companies and individuals must keep their minds open to many sources and many methods of learning. They should learn from training, books, blogs, benchmarking, problem solving, other industries, and other fields of study. When we developed the Lean Experience course, we counted no less than 40 different individuals or fields of study that influenced our design in either it’s content or methods.

I personally try to find lessons in fields as far from my practice as possible. Most of the books I read aren’t about lean, they’re about science or history or teaching.

Don’t limit where you are learning from. If you want to practice this behavior, when you find yourself in a conversation with someone that seems to have nothing over you, make a concerted effort to learn something from them. Do this enough, and learning will happen naturally.

Also, those in the lean community must stop using Toyota as a proxy on what works and what doesn’t work. They do not have a monopoly on excellence. This is why we’ve ‘stolen’ practices from many different organizations such as the U.S. Army and our clients as well. Keep an open mind. The next great idea might be right around the corner.

 
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1 Matt Wrye February 11, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I have learned from reading auto biographies. I have read Tony Dungy’s (Indianapolis Colts head coach) and Gene Kranz (Flight Director for NASA, the person Ed Harris played in Apollo 13). Both have great things that I was able to pull from the book about leadership and problem solving. It amazing where you can learn things that apply to lean if you look. Sometimes the learning is right in front of our face and we just can’t see it.

2 Shawn Patterson February 14, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Jamie, have you seen any companies that really excel at learning outside of their industry? If so, how have they done that? I think you bring up a great point about being expansive in the learning process.

3 Jamie Flinchbaugh February 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Shawn, I have seen companies that excel at it, but those that excel do it every way and it is more of a culture than a process. I think to pursue that, you need to build some of the processes that lead to that. So some examples:

1. While I respect a great deal companies that can promote from within, hiring from the outside with the explicit goal of learning from outside influences is one example.

2. I’ve seen some large organization trade “internships” – allowing resources from each other to come into their company on a project oriented internship, in one case being 18 months. In the 18 month example, it generated lessons that had a life of their own.

3. Joining collaborative groups whose purpose is to share ideas and practices. Local SME groups are an example, and the Michigan Lean Consortium (www.michiganlean.org) is another.

4 Vivek Naik January 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Hi Jamie,
I completely agree that Learning is an essential part of continuous improvement. As Confucius says

People usually choose the easiest. What makes them do that is the question we need to answer. I recently posted my thoughts about this in my blog
http://bit.ly/wuniKI

5 Vivek Naik January 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Hi Jamie,
I completely agree that Learning is an essential part of continuous improvement.
As Confucius says “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

People usually choose the easiest. What makes them do that is the question we need to answer. I recently posted my thoughts about this in my blog http://bit.ly/wuniKI

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