As we are only human, we have accepted that once in a while, we are bound to commit mistakes in our everyday lives.
Some, of course, tend to err more than others and thus are more prone to doing damage not only to themselves but also to others.
This is where the concept of poka-yoke could prove quite useful to adopt. The Japanese phrase, which roughly means “error-proofing,” posits that most mistakes can be caught before they actually do harm.
Said to be adopted by renowned engineer Shigeo Shingo in the 1960s, poka-yoke was first applied to industrial processes in his factory to prevent human errors. When he found that factory workers often forget to insert the required spring under one of the switch buttons while assembling a small switch, Shingo decided to redesign the process.
In the revised procedure, workers were told to perform the task in two steps, first preparing the two required springs and placing them in a placeholder, then inserting the springs from the placeholder into the switch. Through the new system, workers would then know that they had forgotten to insert it when a spring remained in the placeholder. They could then correct the mistake immediately.
By simply adding that behavior-shaping constraint, poka-yoke ensured that workers didn’t skip any steps of the process, thus avoiding future errors.
With the success of this process redesign, poka-yoke soon became part of the Toyota Production System, and eventually, the rest of the world followed suit.
Today, poka-yoke is implemented in almost every modern technology to keep error-prone humans from unintentionally starting a car, placing a hand inside a turned on microwave, ending a video game without saving it, or even accidentally launching a nuclear missile if one only intended to buzz in a diet coke.
We can also minimize our common nuances by thinking how we can incorporate poka-yoke in daily living. Tapping our internal Shigeo Shingo does not need to be complicated, but it always takes a bit of planning and training oneself to a new “system” or habit.
Consistently forgetting to set aside money for some savings? Poka-yoke it by setting up an auto-debit savings account with a trusted bank.
Problems with organizing and maintaining cleanliness in your home? Poka-yoke it by dedicating a few hours a week to tidying up your home. Do it regularly and make sure to include it in your schedule as you would an important meeting.
Always forgetting where you placed your car keys? Poka-yoke this by designating a holder and training yourself to actually placing them there each time you come home.
Forgetting your wallet becoming a common occurrence? Poka-yoke that by storing it near your car keys so you develop the habit of checking for both items before leaving.
There are numerous other ways where one can apply the concept of poka-yoke in everyday life but this can only start by having a willingness to improve. While one can not be as totally error-free as a modern, highly-efficient car manufacturing plant, being self-aware of your common mistakes and doing something about it can definitely make a difference.