Learning from Observation

CEOs, COOs, and consultants like myself do NOT know everything. We shouldn’t pretend to, nor expect ourselves to. We do need to constantly focus on learning, thinking, and applying what makes sense.

We all too often overemphasize the differences and underestimate the similarities of our operations with that of others. Becoming skilled at recognizing which differences truly matter in a specific circumstance and which similarities allow us to learn the most is crucial to the effective leader of a manufacturing business.

Lazy leaders believe that copy/paste is a step forward, when it is doomed to fail. For example, failing to comprehend the thinking system behind its tools, many see a Toyota tool like kanban and try to copy/paste it into our own operations. Toyota developed, and continues to evolve kanban and every other visible tool it has to address its own business challenges and its own current state. They don’t have you in mind.

When we observe others, strong leaders will focus on the thinking behind what they see that seems effective; then we ask ourselves how that thinking might make us better. Some of it won’t. It’s up to us to recognize the difference.

That’s why Toyota lets everyone, including its competitors visit its factories. No one can see what they do that makes them special, and the vast majority of visitors are seeking silver bullets, not entirely different thinking.

You and I can learn by observation, listening, and thinking. The first two without the third are dangerous. The third without the first two is stymied by our own myopic blinders.

Let’s actively prioritize learning from everything we observe, and applying to our own businesses the thinking that helps us move forward.

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