Jidoka: Applying the “Human Touch”

When I met my boyfriend, he was driving a 1991 Toyota Corolla. It was quite the jalopy. The upholstery had seen better days. There were dents and rust.  But it ran. It always ran. Not only did my much newer Ford have more service appointments than that Corolla, but the Corolla also got better gas mileage. It was like the Energizer Bunny… it just kept going.

I never appreciated that Corolla. Until today. When I learned about lean manufacturing, Toyota, and the power of Jidoka.

Jidoka (or autonomation) is a Japanese manufacturing term that means applying the “human touch” to immediately address manufacturing problems at the moment they are detected. Employees are empowered to stop production line and solve problems without having to get permission from supervisors. But it’s not just about stopping production and fixing the immediate issue. It’s also about figuring out why the issue came to be in the first place, and working with teammates to prevent it from happening again.

There are four elements to Jidoka:

  1. Detect the abnormality.
  2. Stop.
  3. Fix or correct the immediate condition.
  4. Investigate the root cause and install a countermeasure.

The purpose, therefore, is that it makes possible the rapid or immediate address, identification and correction of mistakes that occur in a process.

Take for example this simple autonomation on the factory floor:

The problem of the containers tipping sideways could be fixed by the employee turning them upright every time, which fixes the immediate issue. But instead, the countermeasure of the rope reduces the odds of that same issue continuing to cause issues down the path. Toyota mastered this approach, and as a result, their cars are some of the most dependable (and lasting!) cars on the road.

Do you see the education analogy?

We can’t depend on formal assessments to detect “abnormalities” in student learning. We also can’t assume a packaged curriculum will address all student needs. Or think a personalized, adaptive computer program will fill in all the deficit areas.

We are the “human touch” students needs. The Jidoka.

When we let the tipped container of knowledge continue down the line, we have failed the child.

We are the ones that need to pull the cord and stop production if a child isn’t learning.

We are the ones who need to find a different method, a different resource, a different context to ensure that student’s needs are met.

We are the ones who need to reflect on our practice to determine why the learning isn’t happening.

And we are the ones who need to provide countermeasures to support each child’s growth.

We are the “human touch” students needs. The Jidoka.

Jidoka Source:
Autonomation on Wikipedia

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Belonging to the Tribe

I wasn’t the most athletic kid growing up. Haha. Who am I fooling? I’m still not athletic. I tripped trying to run to first base because my legs were moving faster than my body. I fell playing kickball because my foot landed on top of the ball instead of kicking the ball. I sometimes run into walls. So you can probably imagine that I wasn’t the first one picked to be on a team. And even if I was (eventually) picked, I certainly wasn’t in the starting lineup!

So it really resonated with me when Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, explained to my colleagues and I* why the employees at WD-40 consider themselves a tribe and not a team.

A team, Ridge explained, comes together for a purpose… usually a competitive one. There are top players, and benchwarmers, and people who didn’t get picked to be on the team at all. They practice together to meet their goal of beating the opponent. But when the game is over, they separate. They lead their own lives, independent of each other.

A tribe, however, is different. Tribes depend on the people within their unit for survival. Every member of the tribe has an important role based on their skills and talents. There are no benchwarmers in a tribe.

Tribes have other elements as well. They have values; they’re future-focused; they are warriors, when needed; and they place importance on celebrations. All of which are elements that contribute to a positive workplace culture.

And because the tribe is dependent on each other, the responsibility of the tribal leader is to be a learner and a teacher. Not only is the leader learning and gaining wisdom that will nurture and sustain the tribe, but s/he also must pass the wisdom down so that the tribe’s success continues without the leader.

The tribe is a much more intentional, and meaningful, connection than a team. People belong to a tribe. They have purpose within the tribe. They are protected by the tribe.

Seth Godin, in his book Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us, writes: “Caring is the key emotion at the center of the tribe. Tribe members care what happens, to their goals and to one another.”

Isn’t that, ultimately, at the core of what we want our classrooms and schools to be for our students?


*Before meeting Garry, I would have used the phrase “team” to describe my colleagues. But they are my tribe. As Seth Godin describes it: “Tribes are about faith—about belief in an idea and in a community. And they are grounded in respect and admiration…” Grateful to have found my tribe!

Learn more about the WD-40 tribe on their website.

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