For those of you who are not familiar with TWI, a.k.a. Training Within Industry, well, have you ever seen those WWII era posters lionizing Rosie the Riveter? The collective ability of Rosie and her many colleagues to manufacture tanks and B-29’s at an astonishing rate was one of the main reasons why the Allies won the war. But Rosie and friends were not master machinists.
They were housewives and secretaries, hurriedly pressed into service. There was no time to train them to be true masters at any given machine shop trade, so instead, the people running the factories invented “TWI.”
TWI is a complex concept, but a big part of it was to break jobs down to their basic elements. This allowed previously unskilled workers to learn much faster, and quickly become a productive worker on the assembly line.
This approach was so successful that Japan modeled its post-war economic recovery on it, and just fyi, when we talk about Toyota Lean Manufacturing, this all began with TWI.
It’s unclear whether it was TWI’’s influence or just the general industrial economy that has led to it, but this break-it-down-to-simple-steps approach has migrated into much of our culture. If you look around the blogosphere or the bookosphere or the consultosphere, you will see this element of TWI in many other iterations; all sorts of non-manufacturing tasks have also been reduced to their fundamental basic steps, with the same promise of increased productivity.
The trouble is, what works in manufacturing environments doesn’t necessarily work in non-manufacturing environments. Some tasks– like, say, healing, teaching or leading– can’t be reduced to a simple series of steps, at least, not beyond bare minimum functionality.
Just one example: I spent ten years at the virtual feet of various “experts” who offered simple laid-out linear systems of how to publish a book. In the end, I found the answer was not writing the perfect query letter to an agent, nor was it “great writing,” nor was it in “getting on Oprah.” Turns out the “trick” wasn’t a trick at all; it was writing a book that people actually wanted to read, and having the guts to risk failure and rejection by putting it on sale.
I had the exact same experience in learning music, dance, and management. There is no standard system for discovering your unique capabilities and pushing them to their highest potential. Training, advice, and mentoring are certainly helpful, but in the end, if you want to “get good,” you just gotta hunker down and do it.
While the idea that someone else has broken things down for you and made it easier is very appealing, these systems actually get in the way of developing true mastery. When you work towards true mastery, these previously adopted “quick and easy” approaches often evolve into bad corner-cutting habits needing to be undone, making the process less efficient, not more. Worse, it is very easy to become overly reliant upon these external systems and lose faith in yourself.
So when it comes to achieving “excellence,” cultivating creativity, or developing maximum leadership potential, yes, many people will offer you five easy steps for leading a horse to water, but if your goal is to make him drink, that requires a reassessment of your perception of the universe and your place in it, not to mention a complete rethink of your relationship with the horse.
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