I am lucky enough to kick off the PEX Advisory Board column, PEX Advisors: Observations on the Journey. It’s a column about anything and everything process improvement, written by continuous improvement practitioners from around the world.
How simple stories can teach profound lessons about continuous improvement
Children love stories. Bedtime in my home is a flurry of bathing and pajama finding, teeth brushing and tears…then comes storytime. Stories are magical. They soothe the temperamental and inspire the dreamer. Not surprisingly, not only do children love stories, adults do too.
Stories have been used throughout human history to entertain, engage, and educate people of all ages. Fables, parables, myths, legends, epics, tragedies, and comedies. Many styles and forms all with a common thread: convey ideas…
This week’s Foxtrot. I remember plenty of pizza process improvement exercises during training, but none where the pizza delivery process was this tightly scoped! It’s true, every process can be improved. Just remember, value is in the mouth of the consumer!
Remember this commercial for Monster.com that debuted during the 1999 Super Bowl? When I grow up… I think this commercial is brilliant, clever and really funny. “I wanna be a yes man!”
Continuous improvement argues that it’s good to be a yes employee – given the right context – as stated in the second commandment:
Think “yes we can, if…” instead of “no we can’t, because…”
Thinking “yes we can, if…” does not turn you into the stereotypical yes man. It’s not about being a puppet. “Yes we can if…” is about perspective. It’s about making the effort to look at problems from a new vantage point. Instead of the most natural human approach — thinking of reasons why something can’t be done, start looking at scenarios where it can.
Children are especially good at “yes we can, if…” It’s the parents who play the “no you can’t, because…” card all of the time. Give your child a reason why they can’t play outside, build a fort out of the couch cushions, or eat a snack, and they will always invent scenarios where they can.
Seth Godin says this “yes we can” attitude is a strong characteristic of a Linchpin (someone indispensable to the success of a company). A Linchpin always finds a way to say, “yes, it can be done.”
If you want to be revered as indispensable – a Linchpin in your company – the next time you meet an opportunity where “no, because” is on your lips… reign it in with an experimental “yes, if…” and just see what happens.
(Be sure not to go Jim Carrey with the whole Yes Man thing though…)
The first and great commandment of continuous improvement:
Open your mind to change.
Take a look at the picture above and count all of the triangles. How many are there? One, two, five, eight?
In reality, there are no complete triangles at all. You may see them but they are simply not there. In this optical illusion, called the Kanizsa Triangle, your mind automatically draws the lines to create the illusion of a triangle.
Raed the fowloinlg txet and tehn tlel me yuor biran is not wniokrg bihned the sneces cntireag wrdos out of jriebsibh. Your mind sees what it wants to see, what is familiar. In this case: words. The first and last letters are in the right spots, but the middle is garbled. But still, you figured it out fairly easily.
There is an important lesson we learn about change from these mind tricks: when we are introduced to something new we tend to view it with pre-conceived expectations. It’s how the brain works. We fill in the blanks with what we expect will be there before it actually happens.
When we are introduced to change our thought patterns automatically start accepting or rejecting it based on pre-conceived notions we have accumulated over a lifetime. This is particularly true when working through the change required to embrace continuous improvement.
To be successful we need to first understand that we are viewing change through a lens; only then can we choose to look beyond these filters. In other words, we need to open our vision to the possibilities of the new, recognizing that our minds might be making mountains out of molehills, or in this case, crafting triangles out of thin air.
There are so many things the company is doing to keep their culture alive and growing. One thing that really stood out throughout the book was Tony’s humility when it comes to talking about Zappos. He said they didn’t pioneer anything new with the Zappos culture, they just applied what they learned from others, such as reading Good to Great and Tribal Leadership. They put the research that is available to all of us, to work at Zappos.
It is also evident that Tony’s previous experience, the mother of all learning, played a large role in building the Zappos brand.
One solid takeaway from Delivering Happiness — for all the continuous improvement buffs out there: In chapter 6 Tony talks about Continuous Incremental Improvement (which by the way was #25 on Zappos’ initial list of 37 core values).
“So the challenge to everyone is this: make at least one improvement every week that makes Zappos better reflect our core values. The improvements don’t have to be dramatic. It can be as simple as adding an extra sentence or two to a form to make it more fun, for example. But if every employee made just one small improvement every week, to better reflect our core values, then by the end of this year we will have over 50,000 small changes that collectively will be a very dramatic improvement compared to where we are today.”
Continuous improvement is about the small stuff: consistent improvements from everyone. Matt Wrye at Beyond Lean finds the Lean parallels in the Zappos core values.
One last thought from the book. Forget what you learned about networking. Tony says to stop trying to network in the traditional sense. Build lasting relationships instead. Then in 2-3 years something might become of the relationship. The Huffington Post posted a snippet about Tony’s networking philosophy.
So there you have it. Improve continually and build relationships. If only we did these two things we would be on the path to greatness. But more importantly, we would surely be happy.
Have you ever found yourself asking…What does continuous improvement actually mean? Well it could mean a lot of things to a lot of different people and companies. But generally speaking, continuous improvement is the effort to continually improve the business processes, products, and services a company provides.
While there are many methodologies such as Lean and Six Sigma (along with their respective principles and tools) that can help companies improve processes, the heart of continuous improvement is people and culture.
Take a look at the Ten Commandments of Continuous Improvement below and you’ll see that each guiding principle is driven by human behavior – not technical knowledge, statistics or tools.
While each of these commandments is essential to building a continuous improvement culture, number ten is the one that puts the continuous in just plain improvement. The journey never ends.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be diving into these commandments, posting my thoughts and examples as I find them in business and everyday life.
Ron Pereira at Gemba Academy produced a nice video summarizing these commandments. This video was the inspiration to write this series of posts. After a 2 minute introduction to Kaizen, he jumps right in to the Ten.