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See One, Do One, Teach One With a Beginner's Mind

See One, Do One, Teach One With a Beginner's Mind

by Toni Benner

A common question is "How do I get started? How do I become a continuous improvement coach?" A typical response to this is the phrase "See One, Do One and Teach One (SODOTO)." But do we understand the greater purpose of SODOTO and the impact it can have on a person and community? Let's take a closer look at the history and use of SODOTO to develop competency and build relationships.


SODOTO is common practice within lean thinking, medical education, and training a craft. In medicine, for example, "This saying reflects the traditional method of teaching in Surgery when trainees, after observing a particular procedure once, are expected to be capable of performing that procedure followed by being able to teach another trainee how to conduct that procedure.1" It is based on an apprenticeship model that trains technical skills to subject matter experts and develops teachers and role models to lead improvement of the work.

When practicing SODOTO, however, we often view the experience as a linear process and only from the learner's perspective. Learning is more than three straightforward steps; it is an iterative dance, a beautiful, compassionate relationship that is the essence of the learning cycle, evolution, and growth—all built on learning-by-doing and reflecting, the spirit of the PDCA cycle. Let's go deeper and explore SODOTO to understand it as an iterative learning system.

The Importance of Reflection and Relationship

Does your SODOTO routine have a reflection built into and after each phase? See One (Reflect Together), Do One (Reflect Together), Teach One (Reflect Together). What if we were more inclusive and deliberate in the reflection during our learning practice, allowing our reflection to trigger and direct the next step in the learning process? What if it were supported by the foundation of a trusting, compassionate relationship?

Let's explore the purpose of each phase of SODOTO and consider how reflection pulls us into the next step by using the example of learning to ride a horse. A horse majestically carrying a rider loping carefree over beautiful terrain is an inspiring sight, but behind the scene are hours, days, and years of learning and experience. To become an accomplished rider enjoying the thrill of partnership with a huge animal, seeking out a proficient mentor will make the journey easier and safer.

Allow this to be a self reflection of your personal experience as a learner or coach. Can you think of a time you were learning a new sport, language, or musical instrument? What was the impact of reflections and the role of a coach, teacher, or mentor?

  1. The Deliberate Practice of 'See One': Reflection Creates a Mental Model of the Next Future Step

"At the heart of art is learning to see." – Seth Godin

To learn to ride horseback in the wild, wild west, the proficient rider demonstrates to the beginner how to ride. He shows the technique and skill of getting on the horse, riding, and getting off the horse. The beginner uses her observation skills, curious questioning skills, and active listening skills to create a level of awareness and prepares for her first attempt at riding the horse.

Through reflection, the beginner then makes sense of what she saw and heard in order to visualize the future. In other words, she synthesizes her observations into a mental model of mounting, riding, and getting off the horse. Once this is formed, the proficient and beginner move into the next step, Do One, and skill development. The invitation to take this next step may lead to See One again, iterating through the observation and reflection practice until an accurate mental model is created.  

  1. The Deliberate Practice of 'Do One': Reflection and Relationships for Iterations

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit." – Aristotle

When saddling up for the first ride, the beginner has the opportunity to play out the mental model and mimic what was observed during the See One phase of learning to now "learn by doing." The proficient rider observes the beginner, comparing the actual technique to the standard technique of riding. He may record video footage to offer a third-person view to compare the mental model to the actual attempt at doing. This debriefing supports reflection and initiates the deeper practice of riding by performing many iterations of breaking down the process into practice routines of mounting the horse, riding, and getting off the horse.

At each step and iteration of practice, the proficient rider provides feedback to advance emotional and physical competency—both the ability to learn and to perform—and to build the coach/coachee relationship. Working towards specific goals and frequent practice is the framework for feedback and building momentum towards daily improvement. How and when the feedback is delivered is a key driver to building a trusting relationship and a safe environment to play, practice, and try again. The role of a coach also helps stretch the learner by setting challenges and managing expectations.

  1. The Caution of 'Teach One': Reflection for Advancing Self, Body of Work, and Community

"When one teaches, two learn." – Robert A. Heinlein

As the new horseback rider's competency advances and confidence grows, the next step is to teach another beginner the basics. This is where deliberate and deeper practice to articulate and teach others advances the instructor's learning. Through explaining how to mount a horse, demonstrating the process, and answering the beginner's questions, the rider continues to advance competency. Rather than assume the position of expert, the horseback rider continues to improve and grow in the role of a learner.

Many in this position fall off the horse and travel a path of ego and expert, but the process of teaching, coaching, and mentoring are to help advance the sport, skill, and community. We must remember to have a beginner's mind and stay on a journey of continuous improvement. Never stop contributing, growing, and developing toward the greater good as a servant leader.

In this way, with a focus on reflection and relationship, SODOTO becomes more than a linear learning process and evolves into an iterative learning system—a social system that lives and breathes with the power of reflection and deliberate practice. By understanding how to position yourself and others within the system, we honor the purpose of learning, growing, and raising standards with self, others, and community.

1Plast Reconstr Surg. 2013 May ; 131(5): 1194–1201. doi:10.1097/PRS.0b013e318287a0b3.
Application of See One, Do One, Teach One Concept in Surgical Training
Sandra V. Kotsis, MPH and Kevin C. Chung, MD, MS



Toni Benner 
Founder, Lean Healthcare 2020
Lean Six Sigma Instructor and Executive Coach, Michigan Medicine
Toni Benner holds over 20 years of experience in facilitation, training, team development, and implementation. She is currently the lead instructor for the University of Michigan ISD's Lean Healthcare program, and serves on the faculty for its Kata for Daily Improvement workshop. 

Join Toni and her fellow instructors for the upcoming Lean Healthcare (September 25-29) and Kata for Daily Improvement (November 1-3) courses this fall in Ann Arbor.