Looking back and looking ahead: 5 Years of Learning in Japan and Plans for 2020

There are some moments in life that are inflection or pivot points that forever shape the tapestry of your life. For me, moving to Japan five years ago (this month) was one of those pivotal moments in my life. Japan is now intertwined in the fabric of who I am – professionally and personally – and the opportunities I had, took advantage of, and created in the 18 months while I lived in Tokyo have shaped my past, present, and future.

Shinkansen reflection time

I am writing the draft of this blog post while traveling on the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Fukuoka to Nagoya (though am posting this finally a five days later, the first time I have had more than 5 minutes on my computer). The only other time I’ve traveled this route was in 2015 after visiting the Toyota Lexus plant in Kyushu and Aso Iizuka Hospital with my friend Miwa Kudo, and then spending my 8th wedding anniversary with my husband in the hot spring town of Yufuin.

I am on the train today during a week of preparations for the two Japan Study Trips that I’m leading in 2020 (my 3rd and 4th such trips in the past two years). Tonight, I will meet with my dear friend and writing partner Isao Yoshino for dinner and tomorrow we will be taking a photograph of the two of us to grace the back cover of our book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, which we will release for your reading pleasure in June! (Stay tuned for pre-order information and more over the coming months).

Here is the view from the train while I was drafting this post:

Five years of learning in Japan

I am grateful for the deep learning about Japan, Toyota, customer service, and the principles behind what we call “Lean” practices, that I have had experienced by visiting so many Japanese businesses, walking their gembas (shop floors), and talking with their leaders over the past five years. Many thanks  to everyone who has opened doors for me here in Japan so that I can share these experiences here on this blog with you and on the Japan Study Trips. Later this week I will be seeing more of these key people from my time in Japan, including Tim Wolput, who has taken me on many gemba experiences the past 3.5 years,  and Shimpei Hashimoto, a retired Mitsubuishi executive who made important introductions to me at St. Luke’s Hospital, Aso Iizuka Hospital, and more.

Five years was the beginning of another big change

Five years also marks another profound change in my life: the beginning of my father’s decline due to what was ultimately diagnosed as ALS and his subsequent death three years ago last month. The loss of my father too has had a significant influence on the shape of my life – and that of my family and our friends – past, present, and future. I have a different perspective on the world and strive every day to live my dad’s motto of “today is a great day.”

Annual reflections and plans

I had intended to write a post on my reflections of 2019 and plans for 2020 earlier in January, but two colds and everything that I needed to accomplish to get ready to spend 10 days in Japan found writing pushed to the end of my “critical must-do” list. So, I am happy to find a few hours of downtime as I speed along the southern border of Japan’s Honshu island.

In the spirit of not worrying about perfection and crafting the first blog post of 2020 that I intended (like these posts that I wrote in 2018 and 2017), I’ve decided to just write *a* blog post to kick off 2020. (And now this post is being uploaded 5 days later, my first time to have more than a few moments on my computer).

Looking back on 2019

2019 was a year of practicing hansei – of purposeful reflection – and lots of writing, as I interviewed Isao Yoshino throughout the year to dive deeper into his memories and reflections on four decades of learning and leading at Toyota, and subsequently synthesizing them into a manuscript.

You can listen to the podcast “The Importance of Hansei & Revitalization” that I recorded with Ron Pereira of Gemba Academy less than two months ago, to learn more about the practice of hansei and why I think looking backward with purpose is critical to use looking head.

Last year was also the year of clarifying my voice – not that it didn’t exist before, but I was intentional about finding own unique perspective. did this through the process of writing with Isao Yoshino and by creating new learning experiences for private clients. I It is my intention to continue to expand on this in the coming year for more custom events and public workshops (such as at LEI and Catalysis).

Looking back, 2019 was also a year of collaboration – particularly Isao Yoshino, Jannes Slomp in the Netherlands, and with my friend Karyn Ross.

Karyn and I only met just over two years ago, but have become fast friends. Our relationship has been a gift in my life and she is like a sister to me now. Last year on one of many visits I made to Karyn and her husband, we decided to launch an experiment of “Katie and Karyn’s Coaching Communities”, or K2C2 – a six-week series of on-line interactive coaching sessions and community building (which we talked about in this Gemba Academy Podcast).

We are now in the midst of cohort #3 and are kicking-off cohort #4 at the end of February (for the latest cohort info and how to register, go to our Eventbrite page). What a delight!

Intentions and Hoshin for 2020

Last year I wrote about how I view the difference between intentions and goals, and how both are important for us to clarify.

Intentions are connected with what is important inside of us. Our hearts, our passion, our purpose….

Conversely, goals are more tangible. They have a more clearly defined end point or target. Goals are usually determined through reasoning, logic and analysis using our minds. They are measurable.

My intentions – who I want to be – continue to guide my life:

  • Be present for my family (not every day is balanced, but look at the totality of the month) – especially my kids, my husband, and my mom (who lives 20 minutes from us in the house I grew up in)
  • Be fit — Exercise most days of the week for at least 30-40 min (6/7 days) (I keep this up even when I travel!)
  • Develop community and connect with people around the world – part of what I do every day and connected to my professional goals below
  • Learn and share – also a big connection to my professional goals. Learning is part of how I approach the world every day. I accomplish sharing in part through this blog (thought I have been writing less frequently due to focusing my writing on the book), social media, podcasts, and in person.

Goals and planning for 2020

As I have written about before, I’m not a proponent of “new year’s resolutions”, but I do believe in creating a vision and a plan to achieve it. In Japanese this is considered “hoshin”, or strategic plan.

My professional hoshin (read more about the concept of hoshin for personal use as Isao Yoshino first taught me) for 2020 is focused on the similar priority areas as 2019. I’ve always enjoyed having my fingers in many pots, and the diversity to my work is stimulating and allows me to connect with many people around the world. My challenge is not to say yes to anything more than I am already committed to for the first half of the year. I’m getting better at saying, “not right now” to more things, thought it still is hard because so many things sound interesting.

The four “buckets” of my professional focus include the following categories (and goals):

  1. Book: Publish, launch, and promote Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn with Isao Yoshino
  2. Japan Study Trips: Lead two successful Japan Study Trips in 2020 and continue to expand my network in Japan
  3. Coaching, Consulting, Speaking, and Facilitating– via my private clients, the K2C2 Coaching Communities with Karyn Ross, custom workshops, speaking engagements, and public offerings at conferences (such as LEI, Catlysis, AME, through HAN University in the Netherlands) – check out my media page to find details of the publicly offered events
  4. AME San Francisco Bay Area Consortium – continue to expand, facilitate, and organize collaborative practitioner-to-practitioner learning experiences in the Bay Area though the Consortium and associated events.

As I rapidly approach Nagoya station, it is time for me to wrap up this post. It will continue to be a week of learning, and I have been sharing daily updates and photos on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Thank you all for being part of my community here and for helping me learn, share, grow, and make the world a more connected place.

Practicing hansei

As you reflect on the past, consider the following questions:

  • When you look back, what are some of those inflection points in your life – either planned or unplanned? How have they shaped the fabric of your life?
  • As you look ahead, how are you prioritizing your time? What will you say no to?
  • How do your intentions shape your priorities and goals?
  • What have you learned?

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