“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.” Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
Successful use of process improvement tools requires that we be open to learning. We can’t challenge our assumptions if we’re not ready to accept new observations and new thoughts.
Lisa Scheinkopf explains that we use the Thinking Process tools in the Theory of Constraints to discover, express, and confront assumptions. We begin with our own assumptions. To discover and challenge our assumptions requires that we adopt a questioning attitude.
A questioning attitude about our assumptions is quite different from the attitude we have been taught to hold. All our lives we have been taught that people expect us to know the answer. In school as children and at work as adults, we have been rewarded when we are confident in our knowledge.
When we make a presentation at work, the audience assumes that we have done our research and resolved all the questions. If we receive a lot of questions or challenges to our proposal, everyone takes it as a sure sign that we weren’t fully prepared.
But how can we improve if we already know the answers? Scheinkopf isn’t saying we shouldn’t prepare well when we make a presentation. She’s saying that we have to take it a step further. If we want our organization to improve, we have to go to the places where we are not doing as well as we want. We have to go there and look for the assumptions that can be challenged.
Scheinkopf suggests that we follow Peter Senge’s advice in The Fifth Discipline to become a learning organization. These are organizations where “new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured.” They are places where “people are continually learning how to learn together.”
Organizations are composed of people. There’s no abstract entity that sets a purpose, deploys technology, solves problems, and develops workflows. People do these things. To state the obvious, if we want to be part of a learning organization, then we have to all become learners.
That means we have to shift our attitudes. Instead of believing that we need to have all the answers, we have to be open to learning. Scheinkopf says that “it’s time to challenge your assumptions, explore possibilities that your assumptions prevent you from seeing, and listen to others challenge you in a very rewarding way.”