Rewiring Behavior

One of the more intriguing analyses of how to change behavior working with, rather against, the nature of how the human brain operates – specifically the basal ganglia, or the brain’s “habit center” – is Mike Rother’s work titled “Toyota Kata.”

“Kata” is a Japanese word that embodies the idea, often found in martial arts, of a repetitive routine performed contemplatively and deliberately so as to make the actions, through the repetition, routine and natural.

For Rother, Toyota’s “kata” is a way of thinking, of developing solutions, that is a four-step process:

  1. In consideration of a direction or vision
  2. Grasp the current condition
  3. Define the next target condition
  4. Move toward that target condition with PDCA, which uncovers obstacles that need to be worked on.

One of the key points is that one can embed this thinking routine through deliberate practice, supported by coaches. What is vital to grasp is that what we could choose to use this method by focusing on something tactical like imparting a specific new task, or we can apply this approach to imparting a way of solving problems, which is universal and non-specific. It is the difference to a company expending energy to train employees to learn a certain set of actions versus using the energy to teach people how to solve problems effectively, which has greater long-term payback than simply having people learn how to properly use a new widget.

Management’s task (and their requisite skill set) moves from telling and rewarding/punishing to supporting practice and by coaching.

To tie this back to the idea of rewiring behavior, let’s consider the idea of  deliberateness of practice and the role of a coach in aiding in this kata.

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