It’s only a failure if you don’t learn

How does your organization react to mistakes or failure? Think of a time you made a mistake at work. What did you do? How did your manager or others around you react? How does this impact a culture of continuous improvement?

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Want to get a preview of Mr. Yoshino’s words and stories from Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn? Just for you I’m providing a sample download that includes Mr. Yoshino’s Letter to the Reader and the story of his first mistake at Toyota! CLICK HERE to download the book sample!

Learning from reflection — and from failure

Isao Yoshino and I had the honor of serving as the opening keynote for the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) conference today and explored the topic of learning from failure.

It was an honor to be able to kick-off the AME 2020 event and for so many people to learn from Mr. Yoshino directly.

Learning Together

When asked what is the most important lesson I’ve learned from my years of collaboration with Mr. Yoshino — a 40-year Toyota leader with whom I’ve had the privilege to partner with to capture his leadership memoirs in the book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn — there is not one simple answer. Today was no exception when I was asked this same question.

My conversations with Mr. Yoshino have enriched my life and approach to leadership in so many ways. But if I have to call out one thing in particular, as I did in follow-up discussions at the conference today, it is the focus on learning through reflection of our successes — and our failures.

Mr. Yoshino’s reflections on failure

Isao Yoshino’s 40 year tenure at Toyota Motor Corporation was bookended by two serious mistakes — one as a new college graduate and the other as a senior executive towards the end of his career overseeing a multimillion dollar venture. In both cases, Toyota’s senior leaders had the a similar reaction to mistakes and failure.

A career bookended failure – and a culture that embraces learning

The Lean Enterprise Institute recently published two excerpts of my book “Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn” that describes Mr. Yoshino’s two “failures” — this one about his experience as a new hire and how it reinforced the type of leader he wanted to be (or CLICK HERE to download the full story) and this one about his lessons from his bigger business failure. In both articles, you get a glimpse into the stories contained in the book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn.

Bad news first

Though the book you will explore how the concepts of “bad news first” and “no problem is a problem” are critical mindset shifts for leaders wanting to create a people-centered learning organization. And you can dive into the full complex saga of the failed water-ski boat business in the book — including Chairman Fujio Cho’s reaction to the failed business, his own role in providing support, and how the leadership of a company has responsibility too in owning failure and learnings.

Mr. Cho’s response to failure

Mr. Cho’s reaction to Mr. Yoshino’s failed business is one of the most impactful experiences of his entire 40 year. In this blog post – just after my second visit with Mr. Yoshino back in 2015 just as we were getting to know each other – I share how I actually (by happenstance) met Mr. Cho while walking through Nagoya train station, and how that day Mr. Yoshino talked to me for the first time about the water-ski boat busines and how Mr. Cho actions were so meaningful:

Mr. Yoshino has having some challenges with the business and reached out to Mr. Cho, who was in California for some leadership meetings. Mr. Cho asked Yoshino “what can I do for you to help?” Mr. Yoshino asked him to “come to Florida” – to go to gemba to see what was going on. Despite not making any other site visits on that trip, Mr. Cho found one day to come out to Florida to see Yoshino.

When he arrived, Mr. Cho asked Yoshino, “Tell me the problem you are facing. What help do you need?”.

When Mr. Yoshino started sharing some of the successes he was experiencing as well, Mr. Cho stopped him and said that he didn’t want to be sightseeing – he wanted to be there to see the problems and to help.

It took me five more years of conversations to fully draw out the full story of the the water-ski boat business failure, which you can read in detail in the book, but leader’s reaction to challenges, mistakes, and failures is what stands out the most.

Discussing Learning From Failure on the WLEI Podcast

Also, if you want to hear more from Mr. Yoshino himself, check out this recent podcast that Mr. Yoshino and I recorded for the Lean Enterprise Institute’s WLEI Podcast. You can hear Mr. Yoshino he reflects on the topic of failure and learning – and get even more previews into the content of the book and our partnership together.

Tom Ehrenfeld, Katie Anderson, and Isao Yoshino recording the WLEI podcast

Inspired to learn more about a culture that embraces failure?

Pick up a copy of Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn to dive into Toyota’s culture of learning and leading, striving towards perfection but embracing failure as a source of learning. This is the foundation of continuous improvement, of Plan-Do-Check-Adjust!

As Mr. Yoshino says, “The only secret to Toyota is its attitude towards learning”!

Don’t forget to download the sample chapters!

Want to get a preview of Mr. Yoshino’s words and stories from Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn? Just for you I’m providing a sample download that includes Mr. Yoshino’s Letter to the Reader and the story of his first mistake at Toyota! CLICK HERE to download the book sample!

Your reflections

What do you think about failure? How do you learn from it? How is it embraced — or not embraced in your organization — and what impact does that have? I welcome your comments below.

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