Mistakes Working at Toyota and Distilling Whiskey, “What Did We Learn Today?” — David Meier

Mistakes Working at Toyota and Distilling Whiskey, “What Did We Learn Today?” — David Meier

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My guest for Episode #94 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is an old friend of mine from professional circles, David Meier. When I first met him, he had left his career at Toyota and became a consultant in the Lean methodology around the world. He is the co-author of the books The Toyota Way Fieldbook and Toyota Talent.

In recent years, he founded Glenn's Creek Distillery in Kentucky, which I've been able to visit twice. I've interviewed David previously a few times on my Lean podcast — about Toyota/Lean and about the distillery.

Update — His “OCD #5” was named “US Micro Whisky of the Year” in the 2023 edition of the Jim Murray Whiskey Bible. Congrats, Dave!!!

In today's episode, David shares his “favorite mistake” story from his Toyota days and how they created a “no-fault, no-blame culture.”

Other topics and questions:

  • The Jim Murray Whiskey Bible
  • More background about what you learned at Toyota
  • Hard for people to talk about mistakes, admitting they’re human
  • Blame vs. responsibility? 
  • Toyota teaches that leaders have responsibility 
  • Blame with punishment = “accountability”?
  • Punishment replaced with learning and improvement?
  • Hard on the process, not on the people
  • Mr. Yoshino’s mix up with the paint area (Episode #30)
  • My episode about the nearly lost episodes (Episode #16)
  • Mistakes about mistakes?
  • Koko, the gorilla who learned sign language
  • Mistakes at the distillery
  • Mistakes vs. discoveries?
  • Whiskey transported in barrels – mistake or learning??

Scroll down to find:

  • Watch the video
  • How to subscribe
  • Full transcript

Watch the Episode:


Quotes

"Toyota teaches that the leader's responsibility is to develop and create processes and systems that allow people to do their best work."
"Mitigation is probably a better term [than error proofing]. And so, with that in mind, we do have to acknowledge that mistakes are sort of inevitable, but you can apply certain thinking to minimize them in some ways."

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Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)

Mark Graban (0s):

Episode 94, David Meier, founder of Glenn's Creek Distillery,

David Meier (6s):

Something that's hard for people to do sometimes to admit that they're human and that they can make mistakes.

Mark Graban (17s):

I'm Mark Graban. This is my favorite mistake. In this podcast. You'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes because we all make mistakes, but what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at myfavoritemistakepodcast.com for links, show notes, and more. Go to markgraban.com/mistake94, please follow rate and review. If you liked the episode, please share it with somebody, share it with your colleagues and connections on social media.

Mark Graban (59s):

Thanks. We're joined today by David Meier. David's a friend of mine we've known each other for what? Maybe 15 years or so cross paths

David Meier (1m 9s):

Probably. Yeah. Yeah.

Mark Graban (1m 11s):

Paths and working work circles in what I would call my day job. Maybe your, your previous job or, or would you still call that type of work that we've done the day job? Or is that behind you now?

David Meier (1m 25s):

No, I still do a bit of the consulting when things come along,

Mark Graban (1m 30s):

I'd give it a little bit more formal introduction to David Meier. We crossed paths after he had a very interesting career at Toyota. He has then worked as a consultant doing similar types of work. It's what I do. And he's also co-author of two really excellent books. One is called the Toyota Way Fieldbook and the other one is called Toyota Talent. And more recently, and this is of particular interest of mine. David has started he's the founder of Glenn's Creek Distillery in Kentucky, and I've had a chance to visit the distillery twice and I enjoy his, his products very much.

Mark Graban (2m 14s):

And I'm going to give a congratulations and a shout out to you that David has gotten really nice to claim in the Jim Murray 2021 Whiskey Bible. So David, congratulations for that recognition.

David Meier (2m 29s):

Yeah. Thank you, mark. I just actually saw that recently myself, so that was nice. And Mr. Murray visited the distillery a couple of years ago, so was kind of a good experience.

Mark Graban (2m 40s):

Yeah. And, you know, talk a little bit more about the distillery and the whiskey, but I think we're going to talk first about your experiences at Toyota and, you know, regular listeners who realized we're going to deviate from the standard a little bit here. Normally we jumped right into the favorite mistake question, but, but David's going to first tell us a little bit about some of the background of what he learned working at.

David Meier (3m 5s):

Yeah. You know, when I first saw your blog and really, really appreciated the idea of being able to talk about mistakes, because it's something that's hard for people to do sometimes to admit that they're human and that they can make mistakes. And you know, when I started at Toyota, I was, I was 27 and I was put into a leadership role there. And I had had some leadership experience in the past, but certainly not, not very much. And you know, one of the things that I found frustrating him kind of made me angry was that when my people would make mistakes, you know, the blame, it felt like it came down on me and, you know, Toyota operates a no fault, no blame culture, but we are brought up, you know, you listen to any two year old kid and they said, it's not my fault.

David Meier (4m 5s):

He did it. And you know, we're, we're, we're brought up with this idea of, you know, find fault and place blame. And, and, and there's a difference between that and being responsible, you know, Toyota teaches that the leader's responsibility is to develop and create processes and systems that allow people to do their best work. And, but, but certainly it was hard for me in the beginning with that situation. And as time went on, I, I got to understand the difference between, you know, responsibility for something and, and fault or blame about something.

David Meier (4m 46s):

And certainly, certainly when you, when you make a mistake, you, you have the responsibility for that mistake and, and it's expected at Toyota, then that you're also going to propose some corrective action or something to help prevent that mistake from occurring again. So there's

Mark Graban (5m 8s):

Learning that takes place then.

David Meier (5m 10s):

Right. And, you know, I used to, when, when one of my people would make a mistake, you know, I would, I'd go out to the process area and I'd look at the situation. And, and honestly, I think sometimes we'll ha how stupid can they be that they don't understand the correct way to do this. And it took me a while, a couple of years, actually, to, to be able to kind of clear my brain of any four thoughts about the situation, and then look at it from a novice's point of view, if you will, and say, okay, if I didn't understand this system, and since I was the one who designed it, it clearly I understood it.

David Meier (5m 55s):

And if I didn't have understanding, is it actually that clear to others? And you know, of course the answer is no, not really. And so you have to understand that, you know, when people make mistakes, it's not intentional and it's called a mistake. Right? And so, so, you know, that that really changed for me. And, you know, I have to distillery now and when we have a new hire or something, I just tell him, I said, look, you can't really make a mistake that hasn't been made here already. We've done this, we've screwed up that, you know, you've done this kind of thing. And so you're not gonna, you're not going to come up with something new and every now and then they surprise me, they come up with something that hasn't happened.

David Meier (6m 43s):

But, you know, everybody goes through kind of a similar learning process and, and, you know, certain things happen he's, you know, Hey, we don't wanna, we don't want to let a distillate go on the floor, but sometimes it does. And that's sad.

Mark Graban (7m 1s):

So I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit, David, you know, cause you hear things like it was variations on these expressions, be hard on the process, not on the people and this idea of not blaming the frontline workers. At what point is a frontline supervisor, a frontline leader, responsible versus also being part of the setup.

David Meier (7m 29s):

Yeah. That's that, that's exactly what I was struggling with. You know, initially is the idea that you have responsibility for process improvement or, or developing people. And you know, it, it's, it's one of those things where I don't know, it, it takes a while because the way we're brought up, I mean, we're brought up with this mindset and, and all of a sudden you're placed in this different situation. And when you're being sort of scolded in a way for what occurred, but not blamed.

David Meier (8m 12s):

I mean, it's, it's a strange thing to adapt to really, and it's just clear that, okay, you have a responsibility and responsibility, your responsibility is to ensure these things and to, to do these things and to follow through on these things. And that's not a criticism per se, that's an expectation, right? And another thing, you know, Toyota has, has the process, or, you know, out there we'd have error proofing or mistake, proofing, whatever you want to call it. And, you know, I, I always tell people, I said, there's, there's no such thing. I, I listened to your podcast about almost losing those, those podcast recordings.

David Meier (8m 57s):

And you, you talked about, you know, backed up and so on and so on. And, and at one point you, you kind of said, it's virtually fail safe or something to that effect. And I would say, no, nothing is, and you, you're gonna acknowledge that you're going to get a solid state drive. And it's certainly more robust than a, than a spinning drive, but there is no, there is no actual error proofing, right? In problem solving the Toyota uses the word countermeasure. You use that word countermeasure. And if you understand that term, it it's, it has to be deployed continuously in order to be effective.

David Meier (9m 39s):

And, and I always tell people, I said, look for every system that you put in place, okay. If a human puts a system in place, another human can work around that system or bypass that system or shortcut that system. Right. So the idea of error proofing isn't really to eliminate there it's to make it more difficult to make a mistake, but it's not, it's not possible to totally eliminate mistakes. So you

Mark Graban (10m 4s):

Might use a term like error mitigation.

David Meier (10m 6s):

Yeah. That

Mark Graban (10m 8s):

Sounds very absolute. Maybe, you know, there are simple cases where you can absolutely error proof something.

David Meier (10m 16s):

Well, I would beg to differ on that because you can always bypass something, right. If it's possible for a human to invent it as possible for a human to circumvent it. So yeah. Yeah. Mitigation is probably a better term. And so, you know, with that in mind, we have to, we do have to acknowledge that mistakes are sort of inevitable, but you can apply certain thinking to minimize them in some ways, some in some cases it's not possible to, to apply something we're certainly not easy to apply something.

Mark Graban (10m 51s):

Well, and you talk about, you use the word responsibility, a different ability word that comes to mind. I hear this way too often in healthcare. It's not exclusively a healthcare thing, but it's really common in healthcare. The word accountability it's thrown around and it gets weaponized. Well, we're going to hold people accountable, which is a polite way of saying we're going to blame them and we're going to punish them. So, I mean, it was part of the difference at Toyota that scalding or what felt like blaming was the punishment replaced with learning and improved,

David Meier (11m 25s):

Right? Yeah. No, that's a very good point. And that's a point that I often make and said, they want to make accountability this way. Right? You need to be accountable. And I say, no, accountability goes this way. Right? You need to, I need to be accountable. Can you help me be accountable? We're in this together. And if I agree that I'm going to live a certain way or a certain way, and you experienced me not behaving that way, then you, you helped me be accountable. So it's, I think I agree with you. We kind of weaponizing it between the words means, yes, we're going to, and here, fill out this paper to agree that you understand this situation so that if you fail to do this, then we can punish you.

Mark Graban (12m 20s):

Yeah. And, and the word accountability, I mean, going back to the root words and it means basically to give account, which is about explaining, right. Which is different than I think a notion of responsibility. And you know, that route of accountability, doesn't really, it wasn't meant to imply blame and punishment and explain what happened. That's a healthy thing to figure out. Right. So, and know. So you mentioned the episode where I almost lost where we talked about Jamie Parker interviewed me about the episodes. I almost lost. That was episode 16 for people who want to go back and listen to that.

Mark Graban (13m 0s):

But David, you had mentioned the episode with Mr. Yoshino, Katie Anderson and Mr. Yoshino. That was my gosh. That was episode 30. Let me double check that. So I don't know.

David Meier (13m 15s):

I think it was, it was one of your more recent ones. Yeah,

Mark Graban (13m 17s):

It was recent. Yeah. It was episode 30 for people who want to go back. Mr. Yoshino told a story about being very young early in his career at Toyota and he made a mistake. You could call it a slip up. He basically grabbed the wrong container of something in the paint area and it caused a problem. And you know, it sounds like that that error was too easy to make. So what was your reaction to that story? And some of

David Meier (13m 44s):

That, that's, that's exactly when, when I decided to reach out to you, because my mistake is very similar to that one. And I related to it quite well when he started talking about that and I said, oh, yep. Been there, done that. So I think I'll just, I'll just launch into it for you. And you know, the first thing is this wasn't really my mistake. And one of the things I try to explain to people is that at Toyota or, or, or just like your explanation of Swiss cheese, okay.

David Meier (14m 25s):

A lot of things have to line up sometimes for, for the quote mistake to actually occur. Right. And, and all those things. If, if, if all of them don't line up, then the mistake didn't happen. But you, you maybe had a near miss as you sorta described. And this, this is really one of those cases. So this was about, I think, four to five years into my Toyota experience. So, so we weren't newbies at that point. And one, one morning my team leader came up to me and I could see just kind of like white faced something. Wasn't right.

David Meier (15m 6s):

He says, you know, the bumper core process is powder. And I'm just looking at him and thinking powder, this is, this is supposed to be the energy absorber. They call it in the vehicles back then it was a polyurethane hard foam piece. I mean, not powder, right. Not. And so, so I walked over there with him and, and take a look at the situation. And, and it's like, you know, sometimes you experienced something that is so far beyond your realm of experience that you just can't process it.

David Meier (15m 48s):

I mean, there's, there's, there would be nothing like this, the typical defects that we experienced, you know, that you deal with kind of day in and day out. This was so far out of that realm, that it just totally blank. So, so at, at Toyota, you, you understand some things. And one of those things is you have about an hour's worth of work in process inventory between you and the next process. And that case bumper paint and bumper paint has about an hours worth of inventory between them and the assembly line. So you've got about two hours before everything stops. So that's, that's number one. So, so you immediately call the managers and the maintenance and the engineers and everybody to come down to the, to the problem area.

David Meier (16m 33s):

And, and, and again, you know, in, in retrospect, and looking back on it, I think sometimes you, you're experiencing something, again is so far beyond the realm of, of your possibilities that you just don't know what to do, but, you know, the, everybody puts their heads together and says, okay, let's, let's take this action where we'll drain the chemical system and we'll refill the system and we'll start from scratch and we'll see how it goes. So, you know, this process alone to, to drain the system, you're talking an hour or so, we'd never done it before. It's, it's never had to happen. So we don't really know.

David Meier (17m 14s):

And then you got to fill it up and then the chemicals have to blend and such so on and so on. So, so, you know, you're, you're two, three hours into this thing before you can even have an effective chance at a counter measure and, and to make matters worse. Once you, once you pour these parts into the mold, it goes through a heating cycle that takes about 11 minutes. And I would say, it's, it's like when the astronauts go to the other side of the moon, you're waiting, right. You're sitting there waiting, hoping, and praying that these parts are going to be okay after all this, all this work and the mold comes around, opens up and powder again. I mean, it's just crumbly powder. So we're all scratching heads.

David Meier (17m 55s):

And you have to understand one thing here, Mark, in addition to those of us who had been with Toyota for years, we had a lot of seasoned Toyota veterans from Japan working with us at that point in time. I mean, 20, 30 year guys. Okay. And nobody had experienced anything like this. And so the decision was made this time and maybe the automated system was messed up somehow and it wasn't putting in the right material and so on and so on. And so let's drain it all down and then we'll refill it manually, which again, it never actually been done. So we've got to get the manual out and figure out how to actually make that happen.

David Meier (18m 35s):

So, you know, several more hours goes by and it w this, this happened to me more than one, one occasion at Toyota where we're, the process really was down for quite a long time. And it was kind of, I'd say you look up and all of a sudden, there's 25 people from all over the plant manager from every department. Tom's because they all want to know, you know, what are we going to do with our people? What should, you know, how long might this take and everybody kind of comes together. So let's say you have 25 new friends that you didn't know before. So anyway, go through this whole process of redoing it all manually.

David Meier (19m 16s):

And, and same thing, you know, put it in the mold goes around the oven, 11 minutes, you're waiting, waiting, and then mold opens up powder. Yeah. Okay. So now we're, I don't know, six hours into this seven hours into this. And, and everybody understands when you, when the line stops, it's everybody understands the significance of that and everybody's doing their best to try to get, get it resolved. So at that point, you know, people are kind of wandering around and looking and trying to think, what else could it be? What else could it be? And off to the side is my recollection is off to the side.

David Meier (20m 0s):

I hear somebody saying, what, what do you do as methylene chloride? My ears perk up, right? And I'm like, dude, what? Now, now I was familiar with methylene chloride because of my previous job. I worked as a safety coordinator and I had to deal with the chemicals and so forth, but we had no use for those in the plastics department. Right. There's no methylene chloride was needed anywhere that we did. So I, I immediately went over to where he was. I said, what are you talking about? He said, well, this drum here says methylene chloride on it. Oh my gosh, we're putting a solvent in where we were supposed to be putting a catalyst in.

David Meier (20m 43s):

Yeah. Okay. So instead of solidifying the material, it was degrading material. So, so when you, you know, when you analyze that at the end and we had to do an analysis and we had to do a problem solving and Mr. Joe, our president basically asked one question, what did we learn today? And the thing about it is marked the mistakes, the mistakes that led to the line, stop the downtime. Weren't actually the big mistake. The big mistake, which took me about 10 years of reflection to, to understand was what took us so long to figure out what caused the issue see was seven hours in.

David Meier (21m 32s):

And we missed, we missed one of the most fundamental lessons when a problem occurs. And when a mistake happens, one of the fundamental lessons, which, which we had been taught over and over and over at Toyota right now to analyze the mistake, what happened? Well, you could do a five why's and say, well, somebody put the wrong material in the system. Why? Because the wrong material was delivered and why? Because it was in the wrong location, you know, who knows it could have been, it could have been a mistake on the shipping and bill of lading or where they started at oil stores. The drum was the same color, the same size and the same manufacturer.

David Meier (22m 15s):

Yeah. So, so we know things like expectation, bias get in the way, right. We, it looks normal. This sounds like some medication errors. Yes. Yeah, yeah. Same, same kind of thing. Right. It looks normal. It doesn't look out of place. And, and so we literally walked by it all day long and failed. And it, again, it took me a long time to re really understand where we failed. And the thing about it is mark. In that case, all of us there failed in the same way. Okay. And I'm not talking two or three people, I'm talking 20 people, 25 people.

David Meier (22m 56s):

I very experienced people who should know better. And the failure was we didn't verify the standard. We didn't know, nobody thought to say, Hey, let's go and check all the chemicals that we're putting in the system, or, Hey, let's switch them all out and put a fresh batch in, right. The, the, the, the feeling we got latched into, and this happens, happens a lot too, where you latch into one possibility and it must be the blending system. It wasn't about what we put in the system. It was about the system itself.

Mark Graban (23m 36s):

That seems like that's a form of cognitive bias. I've heard others talk about the first solution that people come up with. We tend to lock in or gravitate too strongly toward that one. Even if we're trying to brainstorm multiple possibilities. I think our brain tends to stick with the first one, which yeah. That's at our own risk. I, yes.

David Meier (24m 0s):

Yeah. It is. It's extremely common. And, you know, particularly, I think in, again, in that scenario where we were faced with a situation that was so far beyond anything that we could imagine as, as a cause, and, you know, with your everyday defects or everyday situations that you've kind of dealt with before you kind of go back to what, you know, in this case, it was, it was, you know, too far out there. And I think, you know, as I recall, there was a li you know, there was a list drawn out about what, you know, what could be going on and so forth, but, but the, the blending system was focused on and we didn't, we didn't go and look and see what all the materials were.

David Meier (24m 54s):

Were they the correct materials? I mean, that's a fundamental thing is step number one is confirm that what you're dealing with is what is supposed to be

Mark Graban (25m 5s):

There. Might've been a bias or an assumption where people might have thought such a fundamental error like that wasn't going to happen. It must be something really complicated instead of being something really silly.

David Meier (25m 18s):

Well, yeah, that's a possibility as well. And, and again, you know, looking visually, I mean, literally looking that drum was the same color, the same size, the same manufacturer, you know, from several feet away, it didn't look at a place. It didn't look at normal. It didn't look like something was wrong. And, but still, you know, the, the, the idea when I, when it finally occurred to me that we all fundamentally failed to do the most basic thing, which is confirm and, you know, expectation, bias, or confirmation bias, you're absolutely right. Those are, those are things that often get in our way when we're trying to resolve a situation, or we're trying to avoid mistakes.

David Meier (26m 4s):

I mean, a lot of mistakes and healthcare, it's common expectation bias says, oh, I'm working with Mark. And Mark's a really good guy. And I trust mark. So I don't need to double check mark on what mark did, because he's a good guy. And so it's a very common phenomenon, I think, in, in the realm of making mistakes.

Mark Graban (26m 27s):

Yeah. So you mentioned it took quite a long time for this to really kind of come together in your mind. What, what triggered that learning or that, that recognition of like, for one, the memory of that, and then the recognition of the within trying to figure out the mistake?

David Meier (26m 48s):

Well, you know, the, what I call the bigger mistake, because if we had done, if we had checked and confirmed things, we could have resolved it within the first effort and drain the system because clearly it had contamination in it, refill it with the correct things and probably be back to normal much, much sooner hours, hours, and hours sooner. And I think, you know, back then, certainly I was not as experienced as I am now or became later when I finally understood it, you know, we sat down and we did what people do with problem solving.

David Meier (27m 29s):

Well, why did the wrong material end up in that place? And what mistake was that? And what can we do to make sure that mistake doesn't happen again? And I don't think anybody ever asks a question to say, but I learned this later is to say, how can we resolve problems more quickly? How can we get to effective countermeasures faster so that we don't experience the length of down. And we focused on how, you know, the mistake, which was putting the wrong chemical in the wrong place.

Mark Graban (28m 4s):

Well, and, and many organizations would have gone down the path of who put the wrong chemical into the machine. And Mike go down that path of what we're going to write them up or punish them, or, you know, and, and, and, and that doesn't, I, you know, that's not as effective of a path to learning and improvement and ultimately success for the team or the plant or the company.

David Meier (28m 30s):

Right. We, we did not have a process in place that said to the operator, verify the chemical before you stick those in it. Right. And that was one of the corrective actions that, that took place. And, and I think to make matters worse that the individual who actually did it was a temporary summer. It was summertime. And we would hire children of workers from college or whatever, to come and fill some jobs in the summer. But, but look, it, it was the Swiss cheese, wasn't it, wasn't the final act of putting it in. Certainly it was also the delivery of the wrong thing.

David Meier (29m 10s):

And it was also the pickup of the wrong thing. And who knows how far back to the series of mistakes actually went,

Mark Graban (29m 18s):

But then, like you were saying earlier, you know, error mitigation, or it might be very imperfect or people can work around a system, or, you know, if it's dependent on someone double checking the chemical, they might forget, or there might be distracted, or there might be some other human factor that, that gets in the way.

David Meier (29m 40s):

Well, yeah. And, and just like in any good system, like an aerospace or whatever, the more critical it is, the more redundancies you you want to have. And we had multiple redundancies and they went back all the way to oil stores, which is where the chemicals were received in the, in the plant and then delivered to us and the person who set it, there had to, had to confirm it, the person who was put it in the machine had to confirm it. And so, you know, and I believe if I recall, we actually got the supplier to change the color of the drum so that it didn't match methylene chloride or, or whatever. So, I mean, all of those counter measures were, were fine, but, you know, again, later I realized, wait a minute, why did we fail at this fundamental lesson that says, when something isn't working right.

David Meier (30m 31s):

Go back and verify the conditions or the parameters or whatever, verify the standard first thing. And if you find something that's out of standard, you put that back in standard and go from there. And, and it's kind of surprising, like I said, because there were so many people involved who all sort of fell into the same trap,

Mark Graban (30m 55s):

You know? So I appreciate you sharing that story. And, and, you know, the broader reflections from Toyota, I wanna bring the conversation back to Glenn's Creek Distillery and the work that you've been doing there. And I'll put in the show notes, you know, David and I have done interviews and my lean podcast series, where we take a real deep dive into what he's doing there. And, and I'll I'll point to that. But one thing I was going to ask, I mean, the thing that comes to mind, I don't know if this was a mistake or a discovery, and maybe this is urban legend, but the idea that a bourbon was transported down the Mississippi river, and it was put into Oak barrels for the purposes of transportation.

Mark Graban (31m 40s):

And then it was discovered that the time spent in the oak barrel changed the whiskey, taking it from a, you know, a clear distillate to something, with more flavors and, and, and color. I mean, you know, that that could have been framed, whether that story is true or not exactly, you know, what, might've been a mistake and transportation like, well, they, they, they didn't use an inert stainless steel container if that even existed at the time, but I quote unquote mistake actually led to the creation of a lot of value through that, that learning and that discovery.

David Meier (32m 15s):

Well, you know, I I'd go way back in human history, Mark, and say that that mistakes or things, you know, whatever you want to call, it led to a lot of new things. So my guess is that humans discovered that sprouted seeds fermented, and that's because there's a sprouting of the seed releases enzymes that then convert starch in the seeds into fermentable sugars. And two to discover that you probably had sacks of grain that got wet accidentally and then sprouted and started fermenting. And then you saw animals eating that for a minute of stuff and having a great time.

David Meier (32m 59s):

And he puts you into together and say, Hey, let's do this. But, but I think the story you're referring to is more urban legend. There's a lot of, there's a lot of legends like that in this industry. You know, who's the first distiller who first did this and that in fact, liquids were stored in oak containers. Well, before the United States was the United States. And if you look at it, you know, if you see any of these old shows or whatever, of course, you're going to see wooden barrels all over the place, because that was the way everything was transported. Not only did they not have stainless steel, they didn't have plastic, they didn't have cardboard and they didn't have any, you know, and so you had basically, you had two different kinds of barrels.

David Meier (33m 47s):

You had dry goods barrels. It didn't have to hold liquid and you had liquid tight barrels. And so anything liquid wine, honey molasses, lashes whiskey would have been transported, you know, in a barrel. I think the, the difference was barrel barrels for wine, for example, are typically toasted, but not charred. And so the charring process lends a lot to the bourbon. It gives it a more Amorish color and, and certainly some smoky flavors perhaps, and so on.

David Meier (34m 27s):

So that legend, of course, can't be validated eater that Elijah Craig was a tightwad and, and he had a pickle barrel or, you know, sardine barrel or something that liquid, and he wanted to reuse it. So in order to get rid of the flavor, he burned, burned the inside of it and create a good whiskey. But, you know, it's, it's all tale. I think the French, I understand that we're, we're charring barrels and storing whiskey and barrels years before. So yeah.

Mark Graban (35m 2s):

And then a Scottish listeners may claim some, some, some right of first discovery to some of that.

David Meier (35m 11s):

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I don't think they use charred barrels, but you know, humans, humans tens of thousands of years ago, the Vikings to discover that White Oak was pretty good for making boats because it kept liquid out and I'm sure then people realize you could use it to keep liquid in as well.

Mark Graban (35m 30s):

Maybe as a final question, before we wrap up, can you think of an example in your distillery operations, where you've got some sort of, maybe not mistake proofing, but ever mitigation strategy in place, and you said you've made a lot of mistakes already, but what, what sort of prevention do you try to put in place?

David Meier (35m 49s):

Well, that's a great question. I mean, a lot of what we do is, is sort of manual in nature. And when you have manual things, it's a little bit more challenging to put in error proofing. So what I try to do in that case is, is build, build the step into the standard work. Okay. So for example, you know, when you're gonna fill the steel, you've had to drain the steel and you certainly want to make sure that the valve is closed. Now we could automate that, right. I could put actuators in there and have all that automated, but that's expensive. And you know, it's an easy enough task, but it happens sometimes, but you learn to say, okay, step number one, close the valve.

David Meier (36m 35s):

And then step number two, when you get ready to turn on the pump, to put something in, is still look over and double-check the valve. And one of the things that taught us that Toyota is a Yosh, right? Y O S H is how it's spelled, but it's pronounced Yosh and basically means check, right confirm. And so when I trained someone, I said, look, you're going to, I want you to point at that thing so that I understand that you're doing what you're thinking in your head, because as you know, a lot of mistakes occur because our brains are sidetracked or on another thought, or, you know, in certain situations you basically fall into a hypnosis because of repetition or, you know, what happens at the distillery is what we call getting squirreled.

David Meier (37m 26s):

You're, you're in the midst of a task and something else, you go away from the task and then he'd come back and he miss a step. Right? And so at the end, you know, after the start-up is a okay double check, everything all the way, all the way around, we do have, we do have some, you know, more automated kind of error, mitigation, things, alarms, and things to tell us that something needs attention or, or, or so on. And we continue to try to incorporate those whenever a mistake is made

Mark Graban (38m 4s):

Well. And I mean, yeah, such as life mistakes are made. Hopefully they're not big, expensive mistakes, like shutting down an assembly line for a long time or dumping a barrel of, of whiskey.

David Meier (38m 18s):

You know, you know what I mean, what you deal with in healthcare. I tell people in healthcare, I said, you you're, if somebody makes mistakes, your consequences are huge. I mean, that situation at Toyota roughly was about $8.3 million loss, but a loss of a life is worse, you know, and the consequences are more severe. And in those cases, you have to be even more diligent about, about applying some thinking to, to minimize the possibility of mistakes to mitigate. And, you know, it's, it's part, it is part of life, unfortunately is part of being, being human. And, you know, we know we can look at all kinds of situations where there were redundancies in place in the, in the outcomes still occurred.

David Meier (39m 6s):

And I think you're, you hit it on the head. It's, it's, it's ineffective to punish somebody for failing because we all fail right now with that being said, of course, we talked about this a lot. And certainly people in the audience always raised their hands. Sometimes people are responsible. Sometimes they need to be punished sometimes a little bit. I said, look, if, if, if I look at a person and they make some significant amount of mistakes, more than somebody else, okay. Outside some normal range, then maybe that person isn't fit for the work that they're doing. And maybe they need to do something else at Toyota that the idea was if, if you make a mistake or something, I'm going to ask you what you think about that and how you can minimize that and what was going on in your head at the time and what kind of things can we do to try to minimize that happening?

David Meier (40m 6s):

You know, I had worked with one guy one time, and this was after Toyota when I was consulting as a manager. And he had this fundamental belief that if people had to fix their own mistakes, why they wouldn't make that mistake again. And I said, okay, they might not. But what about the next guy? What about the next person who comes into that position? How's that thinking, changing anything, all you're doing is saying, well, you fix your own mistakes. You won't do that again.

Mark Graban (40m 32s):

That sounds like the equivalent of putting a dog's nose down in poop on the floor. Right. I don't know if that's really effective. No, it might feel like it's doing something you might feel better, but now,

David Meier (40m 47s):

Well, you see, and I'll come full circle. That those are the same kind of things that I had to adapt to and understand and come to terms with my own self. I mean, I certainly had those urges as well, you know, to, to, to punish or to, you know, retribution or some something. And, you know, it's, it's sort of embedded as in us, it's it's around us, it's in our culture. It's, you know, are arguably

Mark Graban (41m 16s):

That blaming is human nature. <inaudible> you can go back to the story of Koko who passed away. I think a year or two ago, there was a gorilla that trainers researchers, taught American sign language. And there's a famous story about Koko where Koko had a real live pet kitten, loved it and took care of it. And there was some day when the hat, I don't know if the right word is, they'll say researchers came back in and there was a sink fixture that had been torn out of a wall. Well, there's only one explanation for what happened, I guess.

Mark Graban (41m 57s):

And they asked Koko what happened. And the story goes, that Koko said in sign language “cat did it.” I mean, that's what I'm saying. There's, there's somehow we're somehow wired. It must be an evolutionary, evolutionary survival tool. If you can pin blame on someone else and smile, survive your, your genes carry forward. So

David Meier (42m 21s):

Yeah, I think you're right, but

Mark Graban (42m 22s):

We do the best we can to create cultures where, you know, we're focused on fixing the process instead of blaming people. And, and to me, that's one of the lessons that I'm fortunate to have learned from, you know, the former Toyota people I've worked with and been mentored by and through my own work and experience. But it's like a lot of things. It's a hard habit to break. Yes. So, well maybe I'm going to go pour some of your whiskey. That's a habit that I think is, is one. I'm not trying to break it's it's a good one. David's products are produced at Glen's Creek Distillery and the website, there is GlennsCreekDistillery.com for people who are looking to possibly buy and try your whiskeys.

Mark Graban (43m 12s):

Can you tell a little bit, tell people a little bit about the distribution and what parts of the country they might be able to find you? Well,

David Meier (43m 19s):

First of all, don't blame me that we can't ship, make the laws. I just have to follow the laws and people misunderstand those all the time, but distribution is, you know, we're, we're small, but we're in four states — Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Michigan. And I don't know, it's not enough yet. And we get requests from people all over the place for them, and we're doing the best we can. We've grown and we've expanded production. And we had, well, I guess we turn one happy mistake into something. We, we, we ran out of rye once our, one of our secondary grains and John asked a question, what would happen if we made a hundred percent corn bourbon?

David Meier (44m 4s):

And usually I say, I don't know, let's see, let's try, let's do an experiment. Yeah. So we have currently what we call Cob Corn Only bourbon that is aging. And hopefully we'll be able to release that shortly, but born out of a, kind of a kind of a mistake. Oh,

Mark Graban (44m 22s):

Interesting. So when things get back to normal and when I'm in that part of the country, I'm going to come see you again and hopefully get to pick some of that up and try. Yeah. And I'm glad that Jim Murray really liked in particular. I think, you know, my, my favorite of your whiskies is the Cafe Ole product. Now that was intentional. That was not a mistake, right?

David Meier (44m 44s):

Correct. Yeah. That was intentional. Yeah.

Mark Graban (44m 47s):

It turned out great. So, well, our guests, I think some, so it's turned out. Great. So thank you for that. David. Our guest has been David Meier, his books, which I really like a lot as well, the Toyota Way Fieldbook and the other book Toyota Talent co-authored with Jeffrey Liker. And again, it's Glenn's Creek Distillery. So someone could combine the two poor, do a pour of whiskey, sit down with a book next to the fire, read and learn and have a sip and reflect. So David, thank you for kind of helping us combine those worlds a little bit in the discussion here today.

David Meier (45m 24s):

All right, mark. Always a pleasure. Thank

Mark Graban (45m 27s):

You. Thanks again to David Meier for being our guest today, to learn more about him, about his distillery and his books and more, you can go to markgraban.com/mistake94. As always. I want to thank you for listening. I hope this podcast inspires you to reflect on your own mistakes, how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive I've had listeners tell me that they started being more open and honest about mistakes in their work. And they're trying to create a workplace culture where it's safe to speak up about problems because that leads to more improvement and better business results. If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me at myfavoritemistakepodcast@gmail.com.

Mark Graban (46m 7s):

And again, our website is myfavoritemistakepodcast.com.


Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus. He is also a Senior Advisor and Director of Strategic Marketing with the healthcare advisory firm, Value Capture.