Occasionally I challenge the wisdom of the Jedis by claiming that Yoda’s famous quotation from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back—“Do or do not. There is no try”—is just not a productive attitude for most of us. Yoda’s words tell us that we should be able to step off cliffs and not plummet to our doom. Or drive a Rally Ford Fiesta in a World Rally Championship event and win. But if you buy into this thinking, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of frustration and feeling like a failure. There’s a better way to approach doing, and yes, Yoda, there is a try.
There are things I think I should be able to just do without the try. Hitting a golf ball 250 yards straight off the tee comes to mind. But I am a 30-handicap golfer. I don’t play enough to have grooved my swing to a consistent process. So my results are, shall we say, erratic.
So why do I even begin to believe I can just do it? Skip Yoda for the time being. All my life, my Knower/Judger has been told I should just be able to do things. Dad frowned when I didn’t get a hit at Little League. I should have just done it. Mom only smiled when I got As. Mrs. Merriwether terrorized me with a look when I didn’t meet expectations. Some people I know had even less subtle training…the belt for Cs or getting yelled at for making a simple mistake.
So, today, when we aren’t able to do, we feel bad and our self-talk starts doing a tap dance on our heads. We replay the tapes from our youth when not winning or achieving yielded a disappointed response.
What if we started trying?
When W. Edwards Deming went to Japan at the conclusion of World War II to help the Japanese reconstruct, he gave them the tool that he could not convince industrialists in the U.S. to accept—the ability to maximize output by continuously improving on the processes that produce the outcome…the tries, if you will. The Japanese termed this concept “kaizen.”
The U.S. wasn’t interested in kaizen because there was so much capacity at the end of the war that being efficient wasn’t an issue. Houses were being built, the economy was set to boom, and everybody was starting families. The country was on an economic high. Why try anything when we were just doing it?
But Japan was in the crapper. Crushed. Nowhere to go but up. And its composite Learner/Researcher was open to anything that could get it on its feet again. Kaizen proved to be the cure. In the short span of 25 years, Japan became the economic power of the Pacific and started to beat the Americans in manufacturing and production.
Off the starting block, there was no way the Japanese could just do it. All they had was the desire to get back on their feet and join the world community again. So they accepted wisdom from all corners of the globe. Deming was just one source, but proved to be the one that made the difference.
So back to my golf swing. I’m not new to golf, but I’ve never really wanted to learn. My K/J just goes out and smacks balls. Some of them go where I want them to go. Good shot? Get back on the cart and hit again. Bad shot. Damn. See how the message builds up? The idea that there is no try is pure poison. I’m not trying when I show up for one of my six golf rounds a year. I’m doing (badly). And my emotional response to the outcome does not positively affect the next shot.
Now understand, I teach this process stuff. It’s my bread and butter. I get people to break their goals down into bite-sized pieces and work on the best processes to complete the pieces.
There’s a lot of data involved. Heading off track? Correct the course. Was this trial better than the last? Continue on. Was this curve at 98 mph better than the last? Attempt the next one faster.
This is all L/R activity. The Yoda (Dad, Mom, Mrs. Merriwether) messages need to be silenced, or every backward step becomes one of a thousand cuts we can die from. A try is just that. A successful try gets you closer to the do. An unsuccessful try gives you data to make the next try better.
Enter Dave Schwent, my new golf coach. With Dave, I’m going to try, and try, and try again. As a result, I expect to do a lot better at golf.
So Yoda, baby, I think you’re off track. There is no do without a lot of tries. And I want to develop the Joy of Trying. Sure, keeping the eye on the prize helps us keep trying. Knowing that kaizen eventually puts us where we want to be gives us confidence. But the tries that are enjoyable for their own sake are easier to continue with. Tries that are drudgery tend to take us back to rushing the do. And when the do doesn’t happen, we’re right back in the head trash.