The online class I’m taking gave an assignment last week based on a common innovation exercise: The Five Whys? This exercises is well known as the one Toyota uses to incite innovation among its employees. Someone brings in an idea or prototype, and other people ask, “Why?” five times. The idea is that each “Why” is really asking the person in the hot seat to further clarify or respond to what they just said, and that by the time you hit that fifth “Why” you’ve really drilled down to an idea worth working on.
It’s been rather successful for Toyota, but I noted in my reflection that it was somewhat ineffective in our class setting. We were given the assignment detailing the process, and then given a week to find a partner and do the exercise. Despite finding a partner and completing the activity relatively quickly, both my partner and I admitted that we’d self-interviewed ourselves already. We’re both the sort who do that. In effect, we ended up doing the assignment twice and not the way it was intended. (That said, I did come up with an extension for my object that I hadn’t thought about before while self-interviewing, but I’m used to doing that with my own work.)
This week’s podcast explained how to do the assignment…the day after it was due. Apparently, I wasn’t the only student concerned about how the assignment shot itself in the foot, and the professors kindly informed all of us who are like me that we’d done the assignment wrong. (The instructors have proven open to conversation on this.) Again, we’re overthinkers. It’s our nature. With the assignment sitting right in front of us, how could we not?
I’ve been sitting here since listening to the podcast trying to think about how they could have conducted this assignment to get the actual reaction they wanted. In a classroom, it would have been simple. We wouldn’t have been given the assignment until after we paired up. In a distributed classroom situation like a MOOC, they could have asked us to pair up and then contact them for the assignment. But we’re working in teams and everything goes into the team documents. Once the first pair completed and posted the assignment, the other pairs would know what the assignment was and it would trigger any overthinking tendencies in them.
But Toyota employees grounded in realspace know that The Five Whys is a common practice, and it’s one that still benefits the company. So, maybe they’ve figured out a way to not self-interview themselves.
Or maybe they haven’t. I’m not sure there is a right answer here.