Learn through Failure for Ultimate Success

Jim Huntzinger

Training within industry (TWI) is a micro version of “creative destruction,” a term used by some economists to describe a free-market capitalistic economy. Creative destruction means that new businesses, services or products enter and create the new markets while destroying existing ones — with the overall result being beneficial. Kaizen is no different, but on a smaller scale. However, let me explain this in the context of TWI.

I have done much research on industrial history, specifically on Toyota, Ford’s Highland Park plant, the development of accounting and TWI. In every case, many mistakes were made during the development of all of these ventures. Kiichiro and Sakichi Toyota, as well as Taiichi Ohno, all made some very costly mistakes from financial and personal perspectives, but the difference is that they eventually learned from these errors. They also never let these errors bring them down.

Learning is suffering; it is not necessarily a victory — although that does happen at times. The deepest learning comes from suffering (i.e., failure). That is the philosophy behind PDCA (plan, do, check, act).

By its nature, PDCA is an acknowledgment of failure, but a victory in learning. If PDCA was a victory, you would never have to go back through the cycle again, but that is exactly what PDCA intends for you to do.

This is the process of learning: fail, learn, fail, learn, and so on. This will equate to a victory. The failure I am referencing does not mean that things go bad necessarily; it means that a solution or a perfect solution is not reached. This is why Toyota frequently refers to these “tries” as countermeasures. Counter the problem and measure the results, then try again and again (PDCA). This is creative destruction at a micro level and is exactly what TWI manifests both mechanically and philosophically.

TWI is a mechanical means to achieve creative destruction — a pattern for a behavior. Once this behavior is learned and made into a habit, deep learning takes place and the learning cycle can become addictive.

How does TWI achieve this? It goes back to the old analogy frequently used by Toyota folks using stair steps. “Job methods” is the vertical part of the step — the change, the improvement, the experiment, the “try.” “Job instruction” is the horizontal part of the step or the stabilization of the experiment upon some level of success (or learning). “Job relations” provides an environment where both the leader and the subordinate feel comfortable and confident to work together through this change-stabilization process, which is a learning process running parallel with the mechanical PDCA process of the stair steps.

In this manner there is a symbiotic relationship between the organization and its people. The company gets an improvement (better performance). People get to contribute in a meaningful way and grow in knowledge and experience. Then each gets to further leverage the mutual benefit over and over again, thus making both better through many tiny creative-destruction cycles.

For anyone interested in further discussion and information on this process, I highly recommend Steve Spear’s book, Chasing the Rabbit. He gives excellent examples and descriptions of how and why this process works.

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