Cultivating a Culture of Learning: Overcoming Fear and Futility in Problem-Solving


“It is in Toyota's DNA that mistakes made once will not be repeated.”

— Akio Toyoda, Chairman, Toyota Motor Corporation

I love that quote from Mr. Toyoda, and I use it to lead off Chapter 4 of my book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation, on “Preventing Mistakes.”

"It is in Toyota's DNA that mistakes made once will not be repeated."

-- Akio Toyoda, Chairman, Toyota Motor Corporation

We should all aspire to avoid repeating our mistakes. That requires learning from our mistakes. To learn, we must react constructively to mistakes, focusing on improvement instead of blame and punishment.

If we don't have similar DNA in our organization, how can we cultivate a culture where this is true, or it's at least moving in that direction?

The good news is that the ability to learn from mistakes is not a fixed, or innate, trait like DNA. We can have a growth mindset about learning from mistakes. We can cultivate that over time. Anybody can. With the right leadership.

Many organizations copy Toyota's tools. I want to see more organizations emulating their mindsets.

To effectively learn from mistakes, organizations need two key mindsets and practices.

1) We need psychological safety, which means people feel safe speaking up about problems and admitting mistakes. This reduces the “Fear Factor.”

2) We also need effective problem-solving; otherwise, people will be reporting the same problems over and over again. We need to reduce the “Futility Factor.”

Let me know if I can help you and your organization in either or both of these areas.

What are you doing in your team or company to reduce both the Fear Factor and the Futiilty Factor?

A Mistake I Repeated the Other Day

I aspire to learn from my mistakes. I try my best to not repeat them.

I made a mistake the other day while hosting the KaiNexus webinar on, ironically enough, mistake-proofing (see the preview of it here that includes a link to the recording).

We all make mistakes. I'm trying to be kind to myself about it. Nobody got hurt, and it wasn't the worst mistake ever.

But, it's a mistake I've made before. Dang it.

As the webinar starts, I usually use the Chat function to share a link that attendees can use to download a PDF of the slides for notetaking purposes.

The Chat default, for me as a Host, is to chat with “Host and Panelists”:

I need to remember to click and change that to “Everyone”:

I forgot. I failed to click to make that change. So, I shared the link to the slides with myself and the presenter, John Grout.

I had verbally told the attendees that I was going to share the link with them. I'm not blaming the attendees, but nobody spoke up in the chat to say, “I don't see the link.” It would have helped if somebody had pulled the proverbial “andon cord.”

But it was my mistake and I own that.

I didn't notice my mistake until about 20 minutes into the webinar.

Checklists Must be Used to be Useful

Again, I've made that mistake before. When I make a new mistake (or discover a new risk), I update the checklist that I use for the final prep and execution of the webinars.

The checklist had a reminder to change that Chat setting.

As I've learned before, and seen in other workplaces, a checklist is only as good as your discipline in following said checklist. You have to USE a checklist for it to be helpful.

I'm normally pretty disciplined in using that checklist. I'm not making excuses, but one contributing factor was a bit of a technical glitch on John's side that he and were troubleshooting and didn't get resolved until about 12:59 (and the webinar started at 1 pm).

I got distracted and pulled away from that checklist. Ironically, the checklist should be MORE helpful in the midst of a stressful situation. In hindsight, I should have run through that part of the checklist earlier, before John had joined for the final prep. Making that change in WHEN I go through those steps should help in the future.

That's my reflection and my pledge to improve in the future. I don't want to repeat that mistake… again.

Thankfully, within KaiNexus, I don't work in a culture of fear. I could admit this mistake without being ridiculed, yelled at or punished. I have the ability to focus on the problem solving, and I don't think that's futile.

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

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Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing your learning about your mistake. You systematically reviewed your actions and were able to discover what happened. You got to root cause and you have a countermeasure in place. Let us know if adding “when” to your checklist solves the problem!


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