According to research reported from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Picower Institute for Learning and Memory we don’t learn from our mistakes. Oh-ho. If this is true the whole scientific basis for kaizen is in trouble. Professor of neuroscience Earl K. Miller (no known relation) is quoted, “We have shown that brain cells keep track of whether recent behaviors were successful or not” regarding a series of experiments involving monkeys. It appears that monkey brains process information more sharply after a success, but not after a failure. The conclusion presented from these experiments is that brain processing improves after successes, but not failures, and therefore we don’t learn from our mistakes. There is a bit of a leap there. On balance most of us fail far more often than we succeed, so we could say that in total we learn more from mistakes than successes. Also, unlike chimps who have been wired up in a Massachusetts lab, we can reflect on our mistakes rather than apishly repeat our successful or failed behaviors. Of course this requires that we choose to do so. If our brains are wired to gain no performance boost from failures, while for whatever reason such as the chemical rush of success or the stored information on success parameters in neurons, we need to deliberately take advantage of our failures.
We must reflect on the mistakes, as well as the successes, and turn the PDCA cycle back to plan. This is where lean thinking is once against counter-intuitive and perhaps against our very biological nature.