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Saturday, 26 July 2008 00:08

A WORKBOOK AND ONLINE COMMUNITY
for Co-CREATING OUR SUSTAINABILITY ETHIC

Section VI - The Curve of Hope
Chapter 4 - Transformative Learning

 

How did the creek get the song? asked the man. I don't know, answered the elder, but sometimes songs are like that. If they don't have anyone to sing them, they'll give themselves over to a creek for safekeeping. ... Many things such as songs, dances, stories, and prayers, that our culture sees as strictly human fabrication, seem to be viewed by some traditional cultures as entities that exist on their own..... much of what people need to know is seen as residing in the world around them, with a mind and spirit of its own; in certain situations such knowledge gives itself over to people.

Malcom Margolin, ‘Indian Pedagogy',
Sacred Fire Magazine, Issue Six, p.18

 

How might each of us transform our learning by recognizing the limitations of what we think we know?

This facet of exponential improvements is so important that all of section III is dedicated to it.

Let me share with you an example of a transformative learning experience for me. I was taking a class titled, ‘Business as a Living System' taught by Dr. Tom Johnson of the Portland State University Business School. Part of our reading was the manuscript for a book he was co-authoring titled, 'Profit Beyond Measure: Extraordinary Results Through Attention.'

I mention this because Tom's book is largely based around his work with Toyota automobile manufacturing. He tells a story of the CEO from Ford visiting a Japanese plant in the early 1980's when Ford was in serious financial straits. The CEO had never seen a manufacturingOO_VI-4_2009-02-27 operation like Toyota's and asked his host the source of Toyota's uniqueness. The embarrassed host told him, "The Rouge River Ford plant in Michigan."

What the CEO was accustomed to seeing was a very segmented workstation environment in which components from the car were all built en masse, assembled at the end of the manufacturing process, and after a quality check, often sent back for rework. What he saw in Japan was a manufacturing flow in which each worker knew what was expected from the person who passed work to him or her, and the quality required of the part or assembly that he or she was passing to the next worker. It turned out that if there was a problem, each person was authorized to shut down the production line, and all were expected, without blame, to participate in solving the problem in a way that met quality objectives and had minimum impact on the process. There was a natural rhythm to the work, and it is often said by those who consult and help develop these kinds of processes that they know it is working when they can ‘hear the music.'

I tell this story because the American Ford process was developed by what we perceived to be our smartest engineers. The process is a product of our mechanical way of thinking - reductionism in which the worker does the task to the spec created by someone else, and with an underlying assumption that workers need to do just what they're told. Toyota's process, on the other hand, is an organic flow and assumes that a well informed work force has a quality ethic and will add value to the manufacturing process as well as contribute to customer satisfaction. At that time only a handful of Americans could discern the Japanese approach to manufacturing as more effective and efficient in the long run. We were, as a culture, myopic, and thus is the nature of cultural paradigm shifts. We must 'suspend disbelief', be open to learning, and in most cases make the shift in our worldview from mechanical to organic - discerning life as a living system, and appreciating both other cultures and nature as mentors and models.

This was a significant learning for me that was made much easier because of my own work experiences with Japanese manufacturing plants while with IBM. One such learning came in the late 1970's when IBM was delaying its announcement of the S/370 - the heart and soul of its product line. The reason for the delay was caused by our inability to produce satisfactory yields of logic modules using newly developed microchip technology. We had tried in the U.S. and Germany without success, and so we turned to the Japanese. I was privileged to be on the team from U.S. headquarters that evaluated the Japanese plan, and it was through this process that I began to understand their guiding principles of continuous flow, a quality ethic embedded in everyone, and the futility of both rework and hierarchical measurements. The Japanese produced the S/370 logic modules with yields that were higher, and at a cost that was lower than originally specified. I think it's fair to say that each of us on the headquarters team had our understanding of best practices in manufacturing transformed.

 

Reflection

We have each experienced being sure of what we know, primarily because the culture around us is in agreement. And we have each had the experience of learning something contrary that usually triggered our rejecting the new learning, followed by some listening and reflection that changed what we previously thought we knew. Think about an experience you've had where you were quite sure you knew the answer, but it differed from someone else, and it turned out that they were correct.

What was the experience, and the specific learning?
Are you more open to listening, even seeking, new learning for yourself?
Has it changed how you look at, listen to, and appreciate others?

 

Rev. 2009-02-27 MOM

 

 


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