Do, or do not. There is no try

“Do, or do not. There is no try”, says Master Yoda in a pivotal scene from the movie The Empire Strikes Back.

When Luke, his protégée, goes onto complain about his Master’s general insensitivity to how big the task in hand is, Yoda demonstrates it is in fact possible by lifting Luke’s submerged spaceship out of the swamp. Luke’s response is “I can’t believe it”, to which Yoda replies, “that is why you fail”.

On the surface what Yoda is saying sounds harsh.

I believe he is merely instructing Luke that he already has the necessary skills and discipline. If Luke believed in himself, he’d likely succeed.

This doesn’t mean he won’t run a risk of failure, like losing a hand in the final climatic battle scene of the movie. But it does create a mindset shift where he is more likely to see failure as a hurdle rather than an obstacle. It’s what Luke learns from that failure and how he uses that to go on and complete his task (and despite the considerable odds against him, fulfil his destiny) that is important.

Improvement based upon action

Toyota was founded by Toyoda (Kiichiro Toyoda to be exact), so it’s no surprise that as a company they have similar values to the great Jedi master. But also, and very tenuous naming link between Yoda and Toyoda aside, guess what? Car manufacturing involves quite a lot of UX, design and writing of software, so they share similarities with knowledge workers.

The Toyota Way is continuous improvement based upon action. Fujio Cho, their Chairman and former President explains:

“We place the highest value on actual implementation and taking action. There are many things one doesn’t understand and therefore, we ask them why don’t you just go ahead and take action; try to do something? You realize how little you know and you face your own failures and you simply can correct those failures and redo it again and at the second trial you realize another mistake or another thing you didn’t like so you can redo it once again. So by constant improvement, or, should I say, the improvement based upon action, one can rise to the higher level of practice and knowledge.”

The Toyota Way, Jeffery K. Liker

Some of you may dismiss this as merely learning on the job, but there is more to it than that. Toyota is a company which expects its employees to innovate and constantly improve on the way they deliver. To do that it must first release them from the paralysis caused by the unknown and the fear of failure. They do this by saying it’s ok, we know you’re not going to know everything up front. You’re skilled and disciplined, we hired you for that reason and we believe in you. If you fail, learn and move on, but above all else, do.