In Japan, teachers had always depended on jugyokenkyu, which translates literally as “lesson study,” a set of practices that Japanese teachers use to hone their craft. A teacher first plans lessons, then teaches in front of an audience of students and other teachers along with at least one university observer. Then the observers talk with the teacher about what has just taken place. Each public lesson poses a hypothesis, a new idea about how to help children learn. And each discussion offers a chance to determine whether it worked.

Another fascinating observation of the differences between American and Japanese teaching from Elizabeth Green’s Why Do American’s Stink at Math?.

Jugyokenkyu reminds me very much of some of the tenants of lean production, in particular the testing of hypotheses and the five whys. It also brings to mind the enlightened trial and error of design thinking.

Five whys

In mass-production plants, problems tended to be treated as random events. The idea was simply to repair each error and hope that it didn’t recur. Ohno instead instituted a system of problem-solving called “the five why’s.” Production workers were taught to trace systematically each error back to its ultimate cause (by asking “why” as each layer of the problem is uncovered), then to devise a fix, so that it would never occur again.

Not surprisingly, as Ohno began to experiment with these ideas, his production line stopped all the time, and his workers easily became discouraged. However, as the work teams gained experience identifying and tracing problems back to their root cause, the number of errors began to drop dramatically.

from The Machine That Changed the World, p. 56.

The five whys is an essential tool that I use often, but not often enough. The mistake I often make is believing that asking the questions is my responsibility alone, rather than the responsibility of the whole team.

Put the customer first. Invent. Be patient.

We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: put the customer first. Invent. And be patient…

In my experience, the way invention, innovation and change happen is [through] team effort. There’s no lone genius who figures it all out and sends down the magic formula. You study, you debate, you brainstorm and the answers start to emerge. It takes time. Nothing happens quickly in this mode. You develop theories and hypotheses, but you don’t know if readers will respond. You do as many experiments as rapidly as possible. ‘Quickly’ in my mind would be years.

Jeff Bezos talks about some of the ideas behind Amazon’s success. In this short paragraph, there are at least three things I’ve been thinking about for a while now: collaboration, ideas emerging over time and customer focus. Not surprisingly, these also seem to be some of the themes that are emerging on this blog.

Related posts

Better search through experimentation

In our research, every time we found a site where the search results were doing what they should, we also found a team that had worked really hard to make it that way.

Those teams all have something in common. They’ve experimented thoroughly, trying out dozens of designs and repeatedly watching users. They’ve frequently scoured their search log data, studying the terms users employ and comparing them to the results the site generated.

They’ve ended up with great search result pages, but it has taken months (and in some cases, years) of constant studying to get to this point. There is no way, as far as we know, that you can produce a great search results page without spending the time and effort to build it.

Jared M. Spool, Producing Great Search Results: Harder than It Looks, Part 1