I’ve been reading an interesting book by Mathew May, a senior advisor to the University of Toyota:  The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation.

The Toyota Production System (TPS) and Lean Production are legendary of course (and becoming more so in light of the self-destruction of the North American car industry) but the book doesn’t tread this well worn ground.  Instead it extracts principles from the Toyota Production System of use in non-manufacturing and knowledge work settings.

An excellent chapter of note for learning and performance professionals is “Let Learning Lead“.  In it May argues that learning and innovation are intimately linked but that learning must come first–that it is a precondition for innovation. Through learning, ideas are converted into action. The conversion happens through a natural, informal learning cycle. He’s not referring to loose and simplistic approaches to informal learning, but rather building the essential steps of The Scientific Method into jobs and workflow.  Broadly, those steps would be Questioning, Solving, Experimenting/testing , And Implementing .   W. Edwards Deming translated the method to the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle that is at the heart of the Toyota system and most Quality approaches since the 1950’s .

May uses the chapter to describe his variation on PDCA targeted at knowledge work and innovation:  I.D.E.A. Loops – a learning cycle for innovation. His cycle is

  • Investigate
  • Design
  • Execute
  • Adjust

In this video the author (May) explains the Let Learning Lead premise and and comments on formal and informal learning. Towards the end he asks “to what degree is experimentation (learning) built into your work processes?”. Good question.


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