The Term “Gemba Dojo” is not used often. When I have heard it used, it demonstrates a powerful visual connection and practical application. Let me explain.
In my Wing Chun training, my Sifu emphasizes the “learn as you go” philosophy — that is, I learn the material slowly, but my way of learning is also emerging — that is my capability to learn gets better and my capacity to learn increases. This notion is very much what I also experienced at Toyota and, might help to explain, why so many companies outside of Toyota are now trying to adopt The Toyota Production System — from healthcare to government to ecommerce (such as Amazon.com — Jeff Bezos is a Lean Manufacturing fanatic). Today, I want to explicate on the Toyota notion of how the Gemba is the Dojo.
Let me first explain Gemba and Dojo, before explicating how one relates to the other…
What is The Gemba? What is The Dojo?
Gemba is the Japanese word for “the actual place” or “the place where virtue or truth is found.” In a business setting, Gemba is often referred to “the place where value is added.” For example, in a factory, the production floor is where value is added.
The Dojo is a place of training. The Dojo is formally a place where martial arts is taught, but generically refers to any place where teaching and learning happens. Historically, the learning and teaching had to do with more holy or spiritual teaching.
The Gemba is the Dojo
Unlike most companies, when an associate begins at Toyota, most often the first thing the associate does is actually go out on the factory floor and begin working — without much training, except for the safety module — in other words, the first place of training for a new associate is the Gemba.
This is quite unusual — but there is a reason: the new associate needs a fertile heart and mind to become teachable — there is no better way to achieve that than to humble the new associate by throwing them on the production line, allowing them to struggle, be scared, be lost, and wish they had some training. From my experience, Toyota allows the new associates to go through this experience for about 1 hour during their first week, prior to entering the Dojo.
After the “trial by fire” exercise, the humbled associates’ heart and mind are ready to be taught. The formal teaching happens in what is called the Dojo. The Dojo is a training location that has miniature production lines, video cameras, and nurturing teachers — but very tough teachers. The new associates go through formal training, where the training is by example and practice: the teacher teaches by example and the practice is repetitive, wherein the associates are also video-taped and, in formal feedback sessions, the teacher compares the new associate against a seasoned associate in a side-by-side video, focusing on the finer points of body mechanics, flow, and motion.
Excuse the spiritual overtones, but they are almost inescapable when speaking of Toyota — The Toyota Production System is, at bottom, rooted in the philosophy and spirituality of the East.
As part of my Wing Chun training, I am reading the Chinese Classics, beginning with Confucius. I finished reading “The Great Learning”, written ~500 BC. In that text, Confucius says the following:
The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the kingdom, first ordered well their own states. Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.
If you follow the 5-Why’s on Confucius’ logic above, you get the following:
- [Investigating All Things] leads to [Extension of Knowledge]
- [Extension of Knowledge] leads to [Becoming Sincere in Thought]
- [Becoming Sincere in Thought] leads to [Rectifying Your Heart]
- [Rectifying Your Heart] leads to [Cultivation Of Your Person]
- [Cultivation Of Your Person] leads to [Regulation Of The Family]
- [Regulation Of The Family] leads to [Order Well Their States]
- [Order In The State] leads to [Virtue Throughout The Kingdom]
The Gemba is the Dojo — precisely because the heart and mind need to be ready for teaching; the student must be humble enough and teachable enough to be taught.
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